In June 2016, I came across the audiobook “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Japanese organiser, Marie Kondo.
The subject of the book is the KonMari Method, a revolutionary method of decluttering your home and life, which centres on the idea that everything you own should have a purpose and make you happy. Unlike traditional decluttering methods, Marie Kondo’s process shifts the focus from the negative to the positive. You assess every item you possess using one simple question: “Does it spark joy?” This changes your entire perspective, and can lead to some very unexpected results.
Importantly, the KonMari Method is not a form of minimalism – it is about getting the right balance for you, and surrounding yourself only with what serves a purpose, functions well and ultimately, that makes you happy. So whilst a minimalist may only have a tiny capsule wardrobe, by contrast, the KonMari does not impose any restrictions, other than to rid yourself of the items which do not spark joy, and are therefore clutter.
According to the KonMari Method, you tackle your belongings, category by category (not room by room), in a very specific order.
For each category, you pull out every single item within said category so that you can truly see and appreciate just how many items you own of that type. Next, you must handle or touch each item, one by one, asking yourself one simple question “Does this spark joy?”
There are five categories:
- “Komono” (Miscellany)
- Sentimental items
The order of the categories is important because, according to Marie Kondo, clothing is a category which most people find the easiest to tackle, whilst the sentimental category is definitely the hardest; thus, by the time you have worked your way through the first four categories, your sense of what you need and what sparks joy has been finely tuned, and makes the decision-making process much easier.
Marie Kondo says that every item has one or more of three values: functional, informational, and emotional. For example, sentimental items have emotional value combined with rarity which is why people find them so hard to part with.
Reorganising your belongings so that like items are stored together, is also a key component of the method. You should not have similar items spread out throughout your home, but kept together, all in one space. Likewise, Marie Kondo has very specific advice in relation to how to store different types of items, such as clothing, which should be hung and folded in a very specific way.
And Marie Kondo claims that if you apply the method as she suggests, then you should only need to go through this process once. The reason is that the KonMari Method encourages you to practise mindfulness and to surround yourself only with the things which make you happy and which you will take proper care of.
Does It Work?
I listened to the entire audiobook in one go. I was deep cleaning my house as I listened, and by the time the book was finished, I was feeling very, very inspired. When my husband returned home from work that evening, I explained the method and we agreed to begin the process of decluttering our entire home that night.
The book recommends tidying in one go, as quickly and completely, as possible. The suggested timeframe in which to complete the decluttering and reorganisation of every one of your belongings is six months or less. We managed to complete the KonMari Method within ten days.
Watch the video to see the results of the KonMari Method as applied to our own home.
Tim volunteered to tackle his clothing first. We emptied out every single item of clothing he owned, including coats, hats, gloves, shoes, boots, you name it.
We both knew he had a lot of clothes, but even so, the enormity of the pile once we had accumulated everything together, was staggering!
We created three piles. One was for the items which Tim felt sparked joy, the second was for clothing items to be donated, and the third was for items which were to be binned/recycled.
It took the whole evening, but by the end of it, we had bags of clothing and footwear which had been purged from my husband’s collection. It was an extremely encouraging start, because we had both thought that Tim would find it hard to let go of anything at all!
What Does “Spark Joy” Mean?
The next day, I followed suit, collecting all of my clothing and footwear into a massive pile.
It had been easy enough for me to help Tim go through all of his things, but faced with my own clothes, alone, I felt overwhelmed. I stood knee deep in jeans, shirts and tops, hoarded over the years, picking up item after item, asking myself if it sparked joy… but I could not decide. In theory, I understood that I was seeking out the items which made me happy, but in practice, it was a totally different story. I simply could not wrap my brain around a piece of clothing sparking joy.
Eventually, I took a different approach. Rather than picking up articles of clothing at random, I decided to seek out one of my favourite tops. Holding it in my hands, I felt a smile spread across my face. Finally! I understood what it felt like to have something spark joy!
Following that breakthrough moment, it was mostly plain sailing and I was able to pick out the items which truly made me happy, which were a pleasure to wear, which fit comfortably, and which honestly reflect my current lifestyle.
Left with three piles, one of items which sparked joy, another to be donated, and a third to bin or recycle, I began reorganising the clothing, shoes and boots I was keeping, hanging heavier, longer items on the left of my wardrobe, gradually rising to the right as I hung ever lighter and shorter tops as I reached the right hand side of the wardrobe. Marie Kondo believes that the visual of seeing our hung up clothing “rising to the right” inspires positivity and subconsciously uplifts our minds.
Next, I meticulously folded all of my items to be stored standing up, in drawers, following the specific method demonstrated by Marie Kondo in numerous YouTube videos.
The largest subcategory affected in my decluttering was that of formal officewear. I had given up working in an office environment years earlier, in favour of working freelance from home. I had no need for the stacks of office clothing that remained untouched in my wardrobe. I don’t know why I had been hanging onto these relics from my past life for so long.
Once the decision had been made, I was utterly ruthless, and tossed them all into the donations pile, whispering goodbye and thank you to each and every item I was discarding.
The result of the KonMari Method clothing purge was a feeling of relief, unburdening and the stark realisation that I was in desperate need of some new clothes.
Having now whittled down my clothes and shoes to only items which sparked joy, I find myself being even pickier than ever before in what clothing I will purchase, because I know that each item now has to live up to a very high standard. On the flipside, over half a year later, I find myself able to let go of clothes I don’t absolutely love so much easier than I ever could have dreamed before embracing the KonMari Method.
The joy I feel each day when I open up my wardrobe to pick out my clothes is incredible. Every single piece of clothing and every pair of shoes, slippers or boots are items I love, which fit, are comfortable and reflect who I am. I no longer have long, agonizing deliberations over what to wear because the clutter is gone, and I love all my clothes.
Books are definitely one of Tim’s biggest weaknesses. He was most definitely a hoarder of books. I would not have described him as a collector of books so much as a hoarder because his books were not well organised or cared for, and honestly, he had only read a small percentage of them, despite carting them about from house to house each time we moved.
Between us, we had literally hundreds and hundreds of books.
Again, we tackled our books as individuals. Tim went first. He sat at the kitchen table as I carried through armful after armful after armful of books, for him to pick up, one by one, asking himself if they sparked joy.
As before, I was convinced that he would be unable to let anything go, as was he.
However, as the hours slowly ticked by that evening, the piles of books to be let go of grew and grew. Tim ended up discarding over THREE HUNDRED books that night! I carried away box after box of the books we were donating, whilst Tim began to organise the remaining books into piles, according to size and author.
Between us, we organised the books so that they were in a sensible order and showed off each collection of books to best advantage.
The next morning, I tackled my personal collection of books and also managed to discard a good number of books.
One of the most enlightening things that Marie Kondo’s book taught us is that it is okay to let go of gifts that do not spark joy. She says that the purpose of a gift is in the act of being given. So, if you find that a gift you have received does not spark joy, you should feel free to thank that item and let it go.
Likewise, items which you have kept for years and years just because they are associated with memories of a loved one, but which do not spark joy, do not manifest those memories; your memories are stored within you, not items, so if they do not serve a purpose or they do not make you happy, then it is okay to let them go.
The best thing about keeping only the books which you love and make you happy is that the gems are no longer hidden and buried amongst books that you don’t really care for, which are effectively just visual noise and clutter.
This was the category which I was dreading the most! How can bank statements and bills spark joy? Well, they don’t, but if they serve a real purpose and you must keep them then do so, but according to the “Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, you should keep papers to an absolute minimum. Bank statements and bills are online these days, as are most product manuals.
For several years, I had run my own business, and had box files upon box files of important documentation and paperwork carefully filed and organised. But I closed down that business to pursue other ventures over five years ago so I was able to shred and discard all of that.
When you think about it, it is astonishing just how much paper comes through the door in a year. And if you are not ruthless about recycling or binning it as it arrives on your doormat each day, then you could have a serious amount of papers cluttering up your home in no time.
Tim and I had been absolutely terrible about dealing with old and unneccesary papers over the years. We had tried to stay on top of it, but it was seriously out of control. The papers themselves were organised but there were just so many of them!
It took us a couple of days of serious sorting and reading to hone down our paperwork to the absolute minimum necessary. And for the next few evenings we spent hours and hours recycling and shredding. In all, we purged over TEN large black sacks of papers.
Nowadays, we have a very simple system. All papers are dealt with and discarded unless needed, on the day they come through the door. Everything that has to be kept is filed in a very simple, compact filing system in a desk drawer. Papers such as recipes we love, pet insurance, old manuals we cannot find online, and a few brochures we are keeping for future redecorating projects are all stored in clearly labelled box files.
This category is the one which seems to cause problems for a lot of people, because it is all-encompassing and vague. Komono is the category under which everything else falls, other than clothing, books, papers and sentimental items.
The first subcategory I decided to tackle was kitchenware. I addressed kitchenware as one massive subcategory and removed every single item from the drawers and cupboards of our kitchen, handling each item in turn, asking myself if it served a purpose and if it sparked joy.
So can a spatula really spark joy? Well, yes, actually it can. What was interesting and unexpected in this category was that there were definitely some utensils, pots and pans which did make me happy and made me smile as I held them, whilst there were others which I did not like at all.
There were surprisingly few items to declutter from the kitchen. I have always maintained what I would consider to be an organised kitchen, and I have always found it easy to be honest with myself about which kitchenware items I simply do not enjoy using, and been able to donate/recycle them, so there were very few items which were purged in this subcategory, although I will admit to finding a number of shockingly out of date jars of herbs and spices.
The one problem I did face was over the massive collection of glassware which my husband insists on keeping. It is not the number of glasses which bothers me so much as the quality of them, or rather lack of quality. We have a number of ugly Ikea glasses and wine glasses which irritate me on a daily basis. I just do not like seeing them and I would be so much happier to replace them with beautiful new glasses, but my husband won’t let me because he claims to like them.
And so we have had to compromise. Tim gets to keep his ugly glasses, and I have bought myself some cute new drinking glasses for myself.
Having dealt with the kitchen, I moved on to collect together all of our electronics. And that was quite an ordeal because we had the most ridiculous amount of electricals. We literally had a drawer full of old cameras and phones, plus old computer keyboards, mice and hard drives, massive boxes stuffed full of knots of random cables, three games consoles plus all their many accompanying games and accessories, hair straighteners, shavers, all sorts of things! This was an alarmingly large category.
I went through all of my personal belongings, once again asking myself if it was serving a purpose and if it made me happy; and then put aside the rest for Tim to deal with. I can clearly remember the rage on his face when I told him he had to stop hoarding cables. He spat back at me, “You never know when they may come in useful!” If I had a penny for every time I have heard that over the years…
Well, it took a long time, but eventually, working together, we got the cables and extension leads down to a single box. Even Tim saw there was little wisdom in keeping twenty plus of the exact same kettle leads.
In previous years, I had definitely reached points where I had amassed the most ludicrous amount of cleaning products. The problem was those multi-buy deals where you could save so much money per item if you bought four at once, or buy one get one free. I am such a sucker when it comes to bargains, that at certain points in the past, we had shelves and shelves full of cleaning products.
Fortunately, by the time we were decluttering our home in June 2016 I had already dedicated myself to taking a much more natural approach to cleaning our home, and had replaced all sorts of chemical cleaners in favour of simple multi-purpose cleaners such as white spirit vinegar, Castile soap, baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol.
However, what I discovered when I pulled out all of my cleaning supplies was that I still had a surprisingly large collection of now defunct chemical cleaners, which had just been pushed to the back, gathering dust.
This was one of the quickest and easiest subcategories for me. I binned almost all of the old chemical cleaners, purchased a few inexpensive baskets, and reorganised all of my cleaning supplies.
Health and Beauty Products
If I used to have one particular weakness when it comes to stockpiling, it was health and beauty products. I was a makeup junkie and also collected all manner of toiletries.
At one point in our old home, we had a massive chest of drawers in our downstairs shower room, absolutely packed full to the brim with soaps, shower gels, moisturisers, scrubs, talcs, all sorts!
On the day I decluttered this subcategory, I remember pulling out every single item I could find that came under the Health and Beauty banner, and sitting in the middle of the bedroom floor, surrounded by toiletries and beauty products.
I honestly thought I was going to have a very difficult time getting rid of a single thing. But I recall thinking to myself “Be honest with yourself” and I was. At first, I felt guilty at the idea of discarding items which I had spent my hard earned money on, but then came the thought that the money had already been spent, and if I had not used it by now, and I was only keeping an item out of guilt rather than because it made me happy, then it was time to let it go.
I was able to discard so much!
Now, I have just one traincase and a small basket of my absolute favourite, joy-sparking, makeup, and a mostly empty drawer which I use to keep spare bath salts and shower gels. Every single item is a favourite, they all make me happy, and I look forward to using every item I have. A far cry from the frustration I used to feel at having to wade, wrist deep, through drawers full of clutter, trying to find that one elusive product I was looking for.
Bedding and Towels
The KonMari Method provided me with a legitimate reason to finally ditch the decade old towels and bedding we had been using forever, and at last upgrade to all new items.
Some of the towels were placed in a storage bin in our garage to be added to our collection of dog towels, whilst others were put aside to be kept as hairdyeing towels or suchlike.
Finding new bedding we truly liked was much harder to do. But the important thing here is that the decision to upgrade had been made. Due to our new found mindfulness, and the very high standards we had adopted with our belongings all having to spark joy, it took a few months to gradually replace it all with new joy-sparking bedding. As we purchased new bedding, we donated most of our old bedding to charity shops, and kept the rest in our crafts room to use in future projects.
My main hobbies are of the arts and crafts variety. Tim’s is of the board games variety. I have a crafts room, and Tim has a board games room.
It took me a long time to go through every one of my arts and crafts supplies but I did it, and I actually did not discard very much in this subcategory. Almost all of my paints, paintbrushes, papers and fabrics, etc all spark joy, so there was very little to discard. Regardless, I had pulled every single item off the shelves and out of the drawers, handled every item and asked myself if it sparked joy.
Despite not having discarded a lot, this gave me the perfect opportunity to reorganise my entire crafts room, which was most certainly a worthwhile exercise.
Likewise, Tim and I went through his massive collection of some 300 plus board games, and whilst he did not have that many games to purge, it did give him the opportunity to rediscover some favourites, and reorganise the entire collection.
Due to the ridiculous frequency at which new board games somehow find themselves in our home, just last night, some seven months after our original KonMari Method decluttering project, Tim and I went through the entire board games collection. This time, we filmed the process.
We emptied all of the shelves, drawers and cupboards of every single game, stacking them into piles around the floor according to size and shape. Next, I cleaned all of the furniture from top to bottom, as Tim began the task of picking up each game, and asking himself if it sparked joy.
In all honesty, I believe he rather enjoyed himself. Tim is passionate about his board games collection and the joy on his face as he talked through the merits of each game and why it sparked joy, or not as the case may be, was obvious.
It took us until 1:30am, but together, we completed the task, with his curated collection beautifully displayed, and entirely reorganised; now, with unplayed games on the left hand side of the wall unit, and tried and tested 100% joy sparkers on the right hand side. Smaller games were organised into the drawers, whilst all of the games to be traded, sold or gifted were put into the cupboards, with donations being placed in bags ready to be taken to the charity shop at the earliest opportunity.
It took us over five hours, but Tim was able to pull out around FIFTY games which he did not wish to keep. Some were duplicates, others did not spark joy, a number are intended to be given as gifts, and yet more will be traded, sold or donated.
In June 2016 we had two Alaskan Malamutes, and two cats (since then, sadly, one of our cats, Shadow, has passed away). We had a huge amount of dog products, and a reasonable amount of cat products too.
The cat products were already fairly decluttered, but I did identify a few old blankets and beds they did not like anymore, and a number of toys that never seemed to interest them, so donated those.
The dogs had a huge number of leads, collars, working harnesses, back packs, grooming products, and some toys. I went through absolutely everything, assessing whether it was actually getting used, and whether each item made us/the dogs happy. I discarded a number of leads and collars and a few grooming products too.
The remaining items all sparked joy and were useful to us. But the problem was organising it all.
That is when I decided to finish off a project I had started much earlier, which was to build from scratch a mud room hutch, with a hidden storage area to hold the majority of their leads, collars, and working gear.
Not long after we bought this house I had found a matching bench and shelf set in our attic, which I thought would be perfect to incorporate into a mud room hutch. I designed on paper what I wanted it to look like, and set to stripping off the veneer and sanding down the bench and shelves, ready to paint, stain and varnish.
When I had done all I could, I called in a professional joiner to build the frame of the unit and put it all together for me. Then I painted the new woodwork, added some adorable moose hooks made of cast iron which I had picked up on a trip to Alaska a couple of years earlier, a cast iron latch, and mounted a long rail in the hidden storage from which to hang S hooks, to hold all of the dog gear.
The shelves at the top hold a head torch and gloves, some candles and a lighter which are used in the mud room, plus a stash of dog poo bags, ready to be grabbed as we head out the door.
Now, our mud room looks completely clutter-free but it actually holds a great many things, all of which are tidy and organised, plus it provides a bench for everyone to sit on whilst removing their shoes or boots, as well as a space to store shoes underneath the bench.
There are not many things which I own personally, which I would consider sentimental items. The one glaring exception to that would be my massive collection of photos. Since going digital, my photograph collection never increased beyond a few photo albums and external hard discs.
There was however a large box full of loose photos which had been pulled out of albums, or perhaps I had simply decided at the time that they just were not good enough to go in an album. Either way, there were a few hundred photos at least to go through. I examined each one and assessed if it sparked joy. I kept those that made me happy, and ruthlessly discarded those that did not, and I have not had a second’s regret since doing so.
There were a few soft toys which remained from our childhoods, which Tim and I decided to keep all of. Including a very, very scary looking clown which Tim insisted on keeping. It is one of the creepiest toys I have ever seen, and so whilst Tim has kept it, it lives in a bag in a box in our attic.
There were a few other items to be considered, such as my wedding dress, which was a no-brainer,and is going nowhere ever. I LOVE that dress!
So was it easier to deal with decluttering sentimental items having followed the suggested order of categories as outlined in “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”? I would have to say yes!
Had we attempted the sentimental category right at the start of our decluttering journey, I think we would have felt totally overwhelmed and probably have wanted to quit before we had even really got started. The order in which you tackle the different types of items in your home does make a difference, because some of the categories are much easier to make decisions about, and less emotional, than others.
It took us ten days in total to completely declutter and reorganise every single item in our home. And we had a LOT of stuff. We filled our garage many, many times over with all of the belongings we discarded, recycled or donated. And the key to success in this area, is to get the items out of your home as quickly as you can. Every day, Tim was filling the car with boxes and bags to be gotten rid of, to make space for the next load to fill the garage before being carted away.
Visually, our home does not actually look vastly different before. That is because whilst we had a HUGE amount of clutter which we eventually discarded during this decluttering process, almost all of it had been organised so that it was stored out of sight, filling cupboards, drawers and every hidden storage space available.
After ten days of spending every spare hour we had applying the KonMari Method, the end result is a clean, clutter-free, stress-free, organised home, filled with only the things which we love and make us happy. Life doesn’t get much better than that!