The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was already selling millions before I heard about it. All I knew was that a Japanese lady organizes homes and something about spark joy. I was intrigued, but I didn’t immediately look for the book. I thought I knew plenty about cleaning and organizing. After all, I have been doing that for fun since about 5 years old. Then, as if destiny intervened, the book miraculously showed up in my life (read about it here). I got hooked after reading the first few pages. I felt humbled and very inspired. I finally understood why Marie Kondo’s tidying method was such a world-wide phenomenon. And ever since then I’ve been sharing her philosophy, and have been working toward becoming a KonMari organization consultant myself. Talk about life changing magic!
Kondo has a 3 months long wait list to help clients transform their homes into joyful spaces. Her claim to only tidy once and never have to do it again might be hard to believe, yet her clients have a zero relapse rate. The process to decluttering and organizing a home takes an average of 6 months to complete. Having tried it myself, I am a believer. This is not to say your house never gets messy, it just takes a lot less time and effort to return things to where they belong. And more importantly, the mental detox from the experience is what motivates her clients to keep it up.
What sets apart her philosophy is the focus on using your feelings as the standard for what to keep. This process connects us to what we truly value. These feelings affect how much we use something, how well we take care of them, and why some items end up, as she calls “being dormant”. She explains that we hold on to certain things because of either an attachment to the past, or a fear of the future. And this fear of letting go has led to homes to be packed with stuff that have lost their purpose, and become a burden to those who owns them. They are reminders of our inability to confront our feelings of guilt and fear attached to material things. They keep us from enjoy being who are now.
It was an eye and mind-opening experience to go through every item in the house and decide whether or not it brought me joy. At first it seemed strange or even crazy. But the more times I felt that joy, the easier it became to recognize the feeling. It’s not about how frequently I used it, how much I paid for it, or who gave it to me. Like with any relationship, if you aren’t feeling it? Let it go and wish it well.
I once bought a pair of rain boots from an online store. It looked great out of the box but it wasn’t comfortable. After realizing there was no free return shipping, and it would cost me $30 to ship it back, I decided to sell it. Unfortunately after 2 weeks on Craigslist and Ebay, there were no takers. One rainy day, I had no choice but to put them on. The walk was excruciating. I was also frustrated by all the trouble I’ve gone through trying to get rid of them. Later I said goodbye to them at the thrift store after only wearing them for 30 minutes total. And wished they’d find the feet they were meant for. The lesson that I have not forgotten, that cost me $70, was to never buy anything online again without free return shipping.
One thing that people may find strange is how Kondo teaches you to connect to objects like they are alive and have feelings. For example, greet your home when coming and going because it’s the one place that accepts you just the way you are. And your socks deserves to rest in the drawers after they’ve worked so hard all day jammed in your shoes to protect your feet. It may start to seem less unusual when you think about how little kids naturally talk to inanimate objects, a baseball player might talk to his glove to help him win a big game, or when you yell at your car or computer when it’s not working. I have definitely found that once I started imagining my things have feelings, I took much better care of them. In return, they last longer and saves you money.
Another big idea is to sort by category, not by location. We often keep multiples of the same thing in different places. This creates confusion where to put it back. When decluttering and seeing everything from the same category all at once, you may be shocked by the volume of what you own, which will then affect you to take action. I was very surprised when I found 5 tubes of diaper cream in various containers when my kids were already out of diapers! Many of the homes I’ve helped, had over 30 bottles of cleaning products!
Tidying up in the correct order from the easiest to the hardest category
will help build sensitivity to your own joy meter:
Komono (Miscellaneous items)
The success to maintaining an organized space is to thoroughly discard first. Once you realize you love everything you are keeping, storing those items becomes very easy. (Your cravings to shop will also decrease because you feel satisfied by the things you own.) Kondo believes your house will be able to tell you where things naturally want to be placed. The folding technique iconic to the KonMari method, and storing everything vertically will make what you own visible and accessible. Fold your items so they can stand tall (with dignity) and they will work harder for you. From clothing to dish towels, even my shower cap and reusable tote bags, I fold them all the same way into little rectangles. This method keeps everything neatly “filed” and stays that way when you take one out. You can see exactly what you need at a quick glance. It takes up less space so you can fit more. In a recently travel, I found I was able to pack and unpack my suitcase in less than 10 minutes. Watch this video to learn how to fold the KonMari way.
And lastly, can every little thing tell you if it sparks joy? Well, my first time recognizing that joy was from dish soap. I am quite thrifty and I never buy fancy soaps. I always bought the major brand of green dish soap with the artificial “clean” smell. Doing the dishes did not bring me joy and the soap did not keep my hands soft like advertised. I used a lot of it, and maybe subconsciously I was trying to get rid of it. One day I decided to try a pricier brand dish soap with all natural ingredients. It came in a normal sized bottle that was easy to hold. The clear soap had a delicious refreshing scent of orange and basil. I used it sparingly to make it last, but it worked just as well if not better than the green soap. And washing dishes suddenly became less of a chore when accompanied by the aromatherapy. I felt like was doing something nice for myself, for my dishes, and good for the planet. Later I realized I actually saved money with the new soap because I cared about how much I was using. My whole attitude about doing the dishes change. So, even dish soap can spark joy.
To change our behavior, we first have to change our way of thinking. When we can look deeper into what we own and why we have them, it gives us the insights to our emotions. We all just want to live a happy life. And we can start by filling our homes with all the things that truly spark joy.
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