My Experience "Tidying Up"
I was recently tasked with writing two blogs for clients about Marie Kondo’s KonMari organizing method, which is gaining traction all over the world thanks to her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her new Netflix show, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I’d seen a lot of buzz about the show online, but I avoided watching it because I knew it’d make me want to overhaul and re-organize my home. Sure enough, it did.
I already love tidying up. I stress clean, I re-arrange and re-organize regularly, and almost everything in my room already has its own home. So, I thought watching Marie Kondo’s show would only reinforce my habits. I went in with a skeptical eye, but after just one episode, I was hooked. Kondo introduces an entirely new idea to cleaning and de-cluttering; she introduces the concept of joy.
I thought the idea of something “sparking joy” for me was a load of crap. How in the world will I pick up a random piece of clothing and experience joy? I wondered. But I wanted to experiment. I was anxious about starting the process, especially because I felt like my time was possibly better spent working, practicing yoga, or doing something more “productive.” But as I kept watching the show, it became clear to me that the KonMari method is less about decluttering than it is about reacquainting yourself with what brings you joy. And that’s something I wanted to experience.
Does it spark joy?
Never does Marie tell you that you need to get rid of something. She simply asks: Does it spark joy?
If it doesn’t, you toss it. If you does, you keep it and figure out a way to store it. It’s that simple.
In episode after episode of Tidying Up, individuals and families work through the KonMari method with Marie Kondo herself, and simultaneously work through some of their demons—practicing letting go of physical and emotional baggage. I was amazed at the breakthroughs, but it makes sense: our personal items hold meaning and memories, and some can be difficult to part with, even if they don’t bring us joy.
*IMPORTANT: The ability to Adopt the KonMari method is a privilege
Important to note is how privileged one has to be in order to adopt the KonMari method. The method inherently suggests that one has too much stuff and can afford to get rid of some of it. Of course, not everyone can, and the idea that having less will bring you more joy is an idea available only to the privileged few. That said, I am privileged enough to have too much stuff. So, inspired by Marie Kondo, I started tidying up.
The KonMari method consists of five steps, each of which refers to a different category of items to sort through. In order:
Komono (all other miscellaneous items)
And here’s what you do. You pile all of your belongings within that category into one big mountain, and then you look at it and acknowledge how much you have — and how you have more than you need. Then, one by one, you hold each item in your hands and ask yourself: Does it spark joy? Kondo says if it does, you’ll feel it. She says you’ll feel all the cells in your body rise up beneath the surface of your skin.
When an item doesn’t spark joy for you, before tossing it aside, you must thank it for all it has brought to your life.
I love this concept. Gratitude—what a simple idea. Following the KonMari method, gratitude is a must. Kondo’s clients share that by thanking the items that no longer bring them joy, they feel at peace getting rid of them, instead of later feeling regretful or sad.
My experience Tidying Up
I was scared to do it, if I’m being honest. I’ve always been pretty materialistic. I love to shop, and I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. At the same time, because I only occupy one room in a house shared with others, and because I just moved in at the end of September, I simply didn’t think I had that much stuff — maybe not enough to warrant a true “tidying up.” I wavered back and forth, and kept glancing in my closet as I contemplated when to begin. Spotting five pairs of shoes I knew right off the bat don’t bring me joy was the final push I needed.
The weight of clothing
I anticipated that sorting through my mountain of clothing and being honest with myself about what does and doesn’t spark joy would be tough. And at points, it was. But I was surprised to see the “give away” piles stack up higher and higher while fewer and fewer items made their way back into my closet and drawers. I found myself asking, “Why did I think I needed to hold onto this?” over and over again. And looking at my closet now, in comparison to how it looked before, certainly sparks joy. I didn’t need all of those clothes and shoes to feel good about myself.
The transformation is astonishing. I can actually see all of my clothes … and, uh, yea … these are the items I actually regularly wear. Like Kondo’s clients, I didn’t feel bad about what I got rid of. I said thank you, more genuinely to some pieces than others, and felt great once I packed everything up and took a look at what was left: the items I actually like. The items I actually need. (And then some.)
There were some items I wanted to spark joy for me, but they simply didn’t any more. That’s why we thank them — to express gratitude for what they gave us at one point, while acknowledging that they no longer bring us joy. For the items that didn’t spark joy, even though I felt like they should, I found comfort knowing that these items very well may spark joy for the next person who wears them.
BOOKS, PAPERS, AND MORE
A couple days after I finished “KonMari-ing” my closet, I moved on to my books, papers, and “komono.” All in all, it took about 10 hours for me to tidy up all my stuff—but keep in mind, I only have belongings in my bedroom, bathroom, and linen closet (I share a kitchen and living room with others, so I didn’t declutter those areas. But I did re-organize our spice cabinet.) When all was said and done, I got rid of:
8 Garbage bags of items to donate to Goodwill
5 Garbage bags of trash
Focus on what you want to keep
Despite its flaws and many critiques, I have to say I love the KonMari method, and I love the Netflix show Tidying Up — because I love the underlying lesson: focus on what you want to keep, not how much you have left to get rid of. Sure, it may sound cheesy, but this is a metaphor for life, too. We spend so much energy focusing on what we still have to sort through—the mounds of physical and emotional baggage that seem too daunting to approach. What Marie Kondo has recognized is that joy comes from focusing instead on what we want to keep in our lives.
Does it spark joy? It’s such a simple question, but it carries so much weight. In episode four of the show’s first season, one of Marie’s clients says, “Fear isn’t a good reason to hold onto things. It should be something more positive.” Something like joy, perhaps.
Life is more enjoyable when we focus on the good. When we let joy control our decisions, instead of fear, we can start to gain control over our lives.
Knowing I had too much was one thing. Physically seeing it sprawled out in front of me was another. Sorting through everything I own, item by item, was tedious and yet incredibly fulfilling. How many of us have ever decluttered item by item? Usually, when I’m cleaning or re-organizing, I toss aside heaps of junk without acknowledging any of it for what it once brought me. This was a different experience.
Interrupt anxiety with gratitude
One of my favorite yoga teachers often says, “interrupt anxiety with gratitude.” I think this is ultimately what Marie Kondo is getting at, too.
Living in cluttered, disorganized chaos is stressful. Just look at the families Kondo works with on Tidying Up. Each is riddled with stress, anxiety, and unease as they try, unsuccessfully, to gain control over their homes and ultimately, their lives. But then, Kondo steps in and suggests that maybe instead of needing more, they need less. To “gain control” over our anxieties, perhaps we need only express gratitude for what we have.
What started as a writing assignment for work turned into a really valuable experience for me. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been feeling more anxious than usual, and I was having a difficult time letting that go. But in clearing up some physical space, I freed up some mental space, too. I’m glad I “KonMari’ed” my space. I’m hopeful that things remain organized, and I can’t wait for Tidying Up season two!