Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Life Lessons From My De-Cluttering Binge

It was about the end of January that I cane to confront the hard truth.

Over the past year or so, I had many excuses to explain away the clutter: I was pregnant, I had a new baby, I was sick, our tiny apartment was too small for a four-person growing family, if we lived in a house it would all be better. . .

But I finally confronted the truth. All excuses aside, we were just lazy, disorganized, messy people.

The beds were never made, there were always dirty dishes spread over all the counters, books and clothes and toys and mail and whatever random crap just piled up everywhere. I about died of shame any time anyone popped over for a surprise visit.

It was depressing.

So when I came across Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up, at my local library, I grabbed it up eagerly. I knew we needed help, and something had to change.

Okay, let's start with the caveats. Marie Kondo is Japanese. All of her clients are Japanese, and it is obvious that all of her experience with organizing and decluttering is heavily influenced by her culture (sometimes I had images of neon flashing Hello Kittys or big-bellied Buddhas speaking to their underwear coming through her advice). Not everything she says or does translates perfectly to an American home. She never addresses how to handle holiday decorations, her aesthetic is clearly much more spare and modern than most Americans are comfortable with (unless you really dig that minimalist, modern look, which is cool if you do, but I find it depressing), and she does NOT have kids. Or a husband, as far as I can tell.

And yeah, if I didn't have a husband and kids, I'd like to think my little apartment would be sparkling clean all the time.

BUT, caveats aside, I literally found this book to be LIFE CHANGING! I know, it sounds extreme. Let me see if I can explain.

Kondo has developed and perfected a method (the "KonMarie" method) for organizing and tidying that she guarantees, if followed, will lead to life-long organization. She claims that she has a 100% success rate, and that none of her clients have ever relapsed. You can't argue with numbers like that, so I was more than game to try out her method.

She has five categories of things to declutter and organize:

1.) Clothes
2.) Books
3.) Papers (Files, etc.)
4.) All Other Objects
5.) Sentimental Things

To follow her method completely, you must tackle each of these categories in order (the order is very important to her), and proceed to throw out or keep items based on the criteria of whether or not it brings you joy. Then you organize only the possessions that bring you joy in a logical way where everything has a place. She goes into much more detail in the book with suggestions and tips I don't have space to discuss here, some of which I found super helpful, and some of which I'm going to ignore completely (she had some super extreme and ridiculous suggestions, I just looked past those).

As soon as I finished the book, I jumped into my own decluttering project, sticking as close to her method as I found practical. So far I've worked my way through my clothes and books (the story of my books deserves it's own post), and I'm working through my papers, but this is a HUGE project. It is going to take months to finish, but this process has already been so transformative for me. I've had so many epiphanies, finally internalized lessons I've heard all my life but never taken to heart, and learned things about myself as well. Really, I am not over exaggerating when I say the process of organizing my home has been life-changing.

Here are a few of the epiphanies I've had through this experience:

A House of Order
When I think about my home, this home that I am creating, and the ideal home I want to have, certain words come to mind. PEACE is a big one. JOY is another one. I want a home that is peaceful, calm, filled with joy and light and happy memories. And when I imagine what this home looks like, clutter is not a part of it. This home isn't obsessively clean, or stark and bare (no home with children should be), but it is a home where things have a place, and they are generally kept in place. I want a house of order, and this process has helped me focus that vision and bring it closer to reality.

"Joy" as a Material Philosophy
I've been searching for a philosophy about how to relate to material possessions. Our consumer culture focuses very much on "More! More! More!" and sometimes it's hard not to feel that pull. However I think we all recognize that's not a healthy way to think about things. The philosophy in my home growing up was "Necessity vs. Want," and while I think this is a much healthier view of things, I've talked before about how sometimes there is a fuzzy line between needs and wants, and this wasn't providing clear guidance for me. I've dabbled in the Zero Waste Home philosophy (way too stressful for me) and other minimalist philosophies, but ultimately, none of these philosophies really spoke to me.

But when Kondo started talking about only keeping things that bring you joy, that totally clicked with me. Suddenly, it doesn't have to be about whether I need it or only want it, it doesn't have to be about function, or hoarding, or not being wasteful, or other things that tended to add stress to my life. Instead, it gets to be about joy! This idea has been super profound for me. Not only is it allowing me to let go of A LOT of things we already have (we've hung on to so many ugly, low quality, broken, or underused things because it felt wasteful to throw them out), it's changing the way I bring things in. Now when I shop, instead of asking questions about value and discount and coupons and sales that leave my head spinning, I think about whether it brings me joy. When it has to actually bring you joy, you buy a lot less stuff.


Outer Order Brings Inner Calm
Possessions carry a lot of weight. Not just physically, but mentally. I really felt this the last time we packed up our lives and moved across the country (the event that started me thinking about a minimalist philosophy), but I can't believe all the stuff I still felt was necessary to hang on to (like that box of all my lesson plans from when I taught school years ago. I have them all on my computer, why have I been lugging around the physical paper? Why?) It wasn't until I started throwing things away that I realized how great it felt mentally to let that weight go. Life feels lighter, physically and mentally. I feel more in control. I feel calmer and more at peace.

Order Creates Energy
One of the things that worries me the most is the effort it takes to keep things tidy and organized. Laziness has always been the cause I've attributed to all the clutter. I'm just too lazy to clean up and put things away. It takes effort.

But what I've noticed from this experience is that when I REALLY focus on the joy of my possessions and finding the perfect way to organize them, it creates the energy and motivation in me to keep it up. Kondo talks about how no one who follows her method ever relapses, and I think it's because of this energy that is created by the order. You feel so good when everything is in the right place, when you only have things you love, that you don't want to lose that good feeling by not taking the extra five seconds to fold your pants and put them away. At least that's the way it's been working for me.

Everyone Needs a Sapce
At the end of her book, Kondo talks about how everyone needs a space, a place for their things that are their own. Considering that in my entire life I've NEVER had my own room, this idea really struck a chord with me. It also helped me gain perspective on how to deal with the tidyness habits of those I live with. As much as I like to think that this little home is my domain and I have control over everything in it and can force tidyness on everyone, that is simply not true. Kondo says (after making this mistake herself) that you should never throw out or reorganize the possessions of any other person. I'm trying to respect this line with my husband, and leave his possessions and his space to himself. However, I'm finding that my new tidyness obsession is contagious; my husband has asked for my help cleaning out his clothes too and got really excited over the idea of getting bookshelves for his game collection. I'm even trying to respect this line with my three-year-old, while at the same time teaching him how to care for his possessions and keep them tidy. It's an experiment right now, this realm of kids and clutter, one I'm still working through, but I'll write it about it in more depth some day.

This process of decluttering and reorganizing my life has been a profound experience for me. Even though I understand how this book might not be for everyone (you really have to read past the cultural quirks) I highly recommend a good decluttering binge. Look for more posts as I continue to work on this process over the next few months. I'm hoping there are even more lessons to be learned.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds wonderful. Keep me updated. I like the idea of asking if it brings you joy! I often ask myself something similar before new clothes or shoes, do I LOVE it? If not, I don't buy it. But, come to think of it most of the stuff in the home doesn't really give me joy. Hmm, I see a major declutter coming up in the future.