I considered myself a fairly ruthless discarder of things until I happened upon Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up at the bookstore one day. In fact, I almost didn’t buy the book because I don’t like to accumulate books (e-books take up far less space). But something about the neat, quiet font and the practical decluttering tips softened by acknowledging an almost spiritual connection to inanimate objects, spoke to me and I was converted. Despite feeling like I was running pretty lean in our 1400 sq. ft. bungalow, over the course of the next month I shocked myself by discarding over 30% of my possessions. And I now think I could have discarded so much more! Creating more space in my home also created more space in my mind, and I feel the positive effects of that everyday.
The timing was perfect as we were set to move in the next month, and the addition of our second child had made us feel so much more cramped than we already were in our little house. I jumped in, and after my husband saw how much stuff I was discarding, he got excited too and started his own Kondoizing.
Kondo has two phases for “tidying.” The first phase is by far the most arduous (and exhilarating) and gets the most press – discarding. The second phase is storage – every item gets to rest in a particular place when not in use. As I promised in my zero waste post, here’s the breakdown of how I got rid of so much stuff without any regrets.
Discarding Things to Declutter Your Mind
I was initially skeptical of Kondo’s advice to gather every object in my household, by category, and touch it to see if it sparked joy. Do socks spark joy? But this is where Kondo’s strict category rules really shine. By starting with clothes, and then starting with the subcategories of tops (off-season first!), then bottoms, then jackets, then socks, etc., Kondo got me on a roll with the low-hanging fruit so I understood what “sparking joy” meant when I got to socks. I did one category at a time because with my small house and small children, I would never be able to get through all of my clothes at once.
And it wasn’t that hard actually. The sheer volume of the stuff was hard, but the decisions were fairly easy if I was honest with myself. Did that top that still had the tags on it spark joy? No, because it was ill-fitting / made with itchy fabric / a size up or down from where I was … but I could see how much I paid for it! How do I discard it without feeling wasteful? This is where Kondo’s firm but empathetic voice would remind me that it was more wasteful to keep an object hanging useless in my closet taking up space and not being worn than it was to donate it where it could be useful to someone else.
It also helped for me to figure out how that unused or underused object had been useful to me – maybe to teach me what trend doesn’t work for me or to provide me with a feeling of security that I was prepared for an unlikely eventuality, like the ability to wear heels again – and thank the object for its service before releasing it to go be useful to someone else (donate) or in another capacity (recycle).
The hardest category for me was actually the children’s toys and gear. Kids grow in and out and back into toys like the sun flashing through clouds, quickly and randomly, so there are few items that definitively no longer spark joy. I culled mostly the freebie items and packed away toys that weren’t in regular rotation for my son to grow into.
In total, we donated around eight SUV loads of items to the local thrift shop. That included at least 30 pairs of shoes, 8 big garbage bags of clothes and accessories, and my too-expensive wedding dress that was heartbreakingly turned from white to an unredeemable dirty beige by the dry cleaner. We also sold a lot of clothes, jewelry and out-of-date electronics on eBay and some items on craigslist which helped dull the sickening ache in my stomach of having purchased all of those items in the first place.
Any Decluttering Regrets Six Months Later?
When I was filling carload after carload with un-and underused items that I had paid too much money for, first, I worried that I would regret giving things away, and second, I resolved that I would not buy things online without a free return shipping policy, and that I wouldn’t let things get so out of control again.
I can say now, six months later, that I have rarely regretted discarding something. Even after moving to a new house where I was concerned I would “need” something I gave away, I have either not needed it at all or easily improvised a substitution. For example, I sold my juicing attachment to my kitchenaid because it was huge and I never used it, ever. But recently I wanted to make lemonade for my daughter’s birthday and it would have been useful. However, the little hand squeezer I made quick work of the lemons, required much less cleaning, and stores easily in a drawer. No regrets.
I do wish I had been more proactive about replacing items I needed with ones that spark joy. I have very few tops left after all this discarding because my clothing size has fluctuated so much with having children and nursing that I had been buying cheap tops online that did not spark joy. I don’t miss those junk tops, but I do wish I had gone out immediately to purchase a few new tops that fit well and that I liked.
It’s still hard for me psychologically to spend a lot of money on something, even if it’s a quality item that will last a long time. I default to the cheapest (and usually then the most discardable) objects which is something I am working on. This mindset also fed my online shopping habit, fueled by flash sale sites with super-cheap clothes but hefty shipping fees. I would often get a great deal, only to find that it didn’t fit me right and I couldn’t return it or it wouldn’t be cost-effective to do so. Then I’d just keep it in my closet thinking I’d make it work somehow, and never would. I have heeded my vow to avoid these sites for the most part (I’m still a sucker for cheap kids clothes and toys) and my wallet and closet are much better for it.
As for maintaining the new order, Kondo states in her book that her clients have never had to do the big decluttering process again if they did it thoroughly enough the first time. And while that may be true, I do think that because we’re in a transitional time of life with young children and moving around a bit, we will have to do smaller versions of this process to discard items that no longer spark joy as our life evolves.
Kondo strongly advises against keeping things “just in case” you need them later because those things add up and the odds that you will actually need them (and not be able to borrow or buy them used) are so low as to not justify the space and upkeep necessary to house them. I do agree with this generally, but I did keep some storage and furniture items “just in case” we needed them at the new house. Now have a running list of things to discard when we move again. Buh-bye wedding china that takes up four boxes and is hardly ever used! Adiós ottoman that is WAY too large for its space!
All in all it was a liberating and energizing process. I deal with so much less stuff now on a day to day basis. Fewer things to clean, mend, find, dig through, and store means much more time for writing, reading, and relaxing. Decluttering my space also decluttered my mind.
How do you tame the clutter? Have you tried Kondo’s method or are you a “one item in, one item out” type person?
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