January 7, 2015

"Unbelievable as it may sound, you only have to experience a state of perfect order once to be able to maintain it."

"All you need to do is take the time to sit down and examine each item you own, decide whether you want to keep or discard it, and then choose where to put what you keep...."

Advice — which I am in the process of following — from Marie Kondo, in "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing."

The struggle with clutter has been bothering me for a long time, and in the midst of a very harsh cold spell, I noticed this book was in the top 5 best sellers at Amazon. I watched this video...



... and decided to get the book and give it a go. The key is discarding, not storing. The promise is that you only need to go through the process once, and there will be no rebound — no need to continually de-clutter — because you've discarded all the items that do not "spark joy." ("[W]e should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.")

You start with all your clothes — everything from all parts of the house — and then you begin with the tops. Ladies, how many tops do you have? Perhaps hundreds! (Even if you, like me, periodically throw/give away some away.) You have to touch and handle each one and make a decision. Let's say you have a sweater that you ordered and paid good money for but never really enjoyed wearing. You honor it as you put it in the discard pile. It's served its purpose, which is to have given you the pleasure of feeling that you were getting something you liked and teaching you that you don't like it. Now, you are relieved of this item.

There's also — and I'm still on the tops here — the process of putting away what you decide to keep. This entails folding, and by folding things the right way:
The piece of clothing keeps its shape when stood on edge and feels just right when held in your hand. It’s like a sudden revelation — So this is how you always wanted to be folded! — a historical moment in which your mind and the piece of clothing connect.
UPDATE: I've finished the book, and I have a little warning.

71 comments:

Original Mike said...

"because you've discarded all the items that do not "spark joy.""

So I can, for example, discard my old tax returns?

MayBee said...

The promise is that you only need to go through the process once, and there will be no rebound — no need to continually de-clutter — because you've discarded all the items that do not "spark joy."

If only!

I think it can be done, but I think once we are adults we have natural tendencies that take work to overcome.
I've organized my file cabinet so many times in my life, but I just can't train myself to keep it organized. Even though I love the look of the organized desk/closet, it is just so easy to let it get unorganized again. It's just so easy to find a new sweater to replace the old, joyless one.

A clutter-er will have to work to remain a decluttered person.

But thanks for the link to help my struggle!

Ann Althouse said...

"So I can, for example, discard my old tax returns?"

She recommends throwing out virtually all papers but does acknowledge a category of papers that must be kept.

"Papers are organized into only three categories : needs attention, should be saved ( contractual documents), and should be saved (others)."

The word "tax" does not appear in the book.

Ann Althouse said...

@MayBee

Kondo would say that you haven't yet done the big process that she recommends, which is why you are caught up in the hopeless cycle of decluttering and getting recluttered. She says that with her method there is NEVER that rebound effect that you (and many other describe). But you MUST do it her way. It's a very strong remedy, but you only do it once.

CStanley said...

The quote in the title is ridiculous. Experiencing order after you declutter certainly can help contribute to better habits, but there is no magic transformation to abolish our unhealthy attachments to stuff.

Order is nice though. I just reorganized my kitchen cabinets (next up, today, is the pantry.) I have enjoyed emptying the dishwasher for the last two mornings and will start enjoying meal prep a lot more once I get today's task done. The mindfulness about it does help with maintenance, I think (just that it's not a complete turnaround.)

Ann Althouse said...

"Have you ever tidied madly, only to find that all too soon your home or workspace is cluttered again? If so, let me share with you the secret of success. Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go. If you adopt this approach— the KonMari Method— you’ll never revert to clutter again."

Original Mike said...

I don't like it, but I've always got the clutter of "project piles". If I put them away, I forget about them and then they don't get completed.

tim maguire said...

I love the idea of clean lines and open space in the home. Absence of clutter is a wonderful thought. But I'm dubious about achieving it within the bounds of life as it's really lived. I've gone through periods where I lost or gave away nearly everything, it all creeps back in. Clutter breeds and accumulates so this decluttering needs to be done regularly.

I have a problem with the "don't store, throw away" idea. Sure it sounds nice, but the Christmas decorations, the Halloween decorations, they are getting stored. As are the camping equipment and bicycles in winter and the snowsuits and skates and sleds in summer. You can have an awful lot of stuff without having anything that doesn't serve a legitimate function.

Henry said...

She says that with her method there is NEVER that rebound effect that you (and many other describe). But you MUST do it her way. It's a very strong remedy, but you only do it once.

She must not have a mother-in-law.

Ann Althouse said...

The windchill here is -30° and I can hear the wind howling.

I have not left the house — except for a minute to photograph Meade's Christmas tree scratch-scratchings — in 4 days!

Ann Althouse said...

"The quote in the title is ridiculous. Experiencing order after you declutter certainly can help contribute to better habits, but there is no magic transformation to abolish our unhealthy attachments to stuff."

Well, then, you admit she's right when she says it sounds unbelievable.

MayBee said...

Kondo would say that you haven't yet done the big process that she recommends, which is why you are caught up in the hopeless cycle of decluttering and getting recluttered. She says that with her method there is NEVER that rebound effect that you (and many other describe). But you MUST do it her way. It's a very strong remedy, but you only do it once.

Hmmm.
So failure only happens if I don't do it exactly right? And if it failure happens it's because I've done something wrong, not because she is wrong about her method working?

I am using that reasoning for every promise I make from now on.

Original Mike said...

"I have not left the house — except for a minute to photograph Meade's Christmas tree scratch-scratchings — in 4 days!"

About the same for me. I shoveled yesterday, but have been home since Saturday. Retirement is grand! You can deal with the weather by not dealing with it.

JohnGalt said...

What a great idea! I touched and handled my wife's top and decided not to give it away.

I'll have to do that again tonight.

Henry said...

My wife worked as a professional organizer. What she found noticeable was how muddled her clients were about what they wanted to keep and what they didn't. Often her job was to confirm obvious choices (and magically remove the stuff before it could get reabsorbed into the clutter). THEN came the organizing.

In most cases her clients were relieved to get rid of stuff and surprised at how easy it was. In a few cases she slogged through emotional minefields with people with profound attachment anxieties to everything. These were torture.

CStanley said...

So failure only happens if I don't do it exactly right? And if it failure happens it's because I've done something wrong, not because she is wrong about her method working?

I am using that reasoning for every promise I make from now on.


Sounds like left wing politics.

I'm off to honor some old quinoa and barley that are no longer bringing me joy.

MayBee said...

I will say this:

I have moved a bazillion times and gotten rid of more and more stuff each time. I have whittled my wardrobe down substantially. I have folded my clothes into beautiful stacks and given each pair of underwear a place.

But. When I am tired at night or about to run out of the house and I just need to get the laundry put away, it ends up in crumpled piles that collapse the stacks into each other. And the papers in the "needs attention" category build up and build up until I have a pile covering my desk top, because yes they need attention but I don't know exactly what to do with them. And the hangers in my closet go askew and make it hard to close the door. And the new Scanpan I got for Christmas has to kind of get pushed into my previously organized kitchen cabinet.

As I said, it is a struggle. It is not my natural tendency. It never will be.

John Lynch said...

I have a rule- if I haven't touched something for a year, it goes. Very few exceptions. If I can do without it for a year I almost certainly have either forgotten I had it or don't need it. Either way, it can go.

E-books make de-cluttering much easier. I have one book shelf left in my house, mostly filled with reference books.

Tank said...

Ann Althouse said...

The windchill here is -30° and I can hear the wind howling.



When I left for work it was 20 above and I thought "frozen tundra."

Tank is a wuss.

I am fairly organized though. I'll be going through that exercise in a few years when we move to a warmer climate.

St. George said...

I skimmed the book in a store last week. It is the same ol', same ol' Heloise/Martha Stewart-type stuff, but because she is Japanese...she is cool and of the moment.

There are some guys called The Minimalists who have the same ... /www.facebook.com/theminimalists

They are American. Not as cool. But they are Zen dudes, so maybe there are cool, too.

Hagar said...

If you don't make a mess to start with, you do not have to clean it up.

MarkW said...

My personal rule for getting rid of stuff is what I think of as the 'gift test' -- ask yourself, if you didn't already own this thing but somebody offered to give it to you, would you accept it? If the answer is 'No' -- out it goes. The idea behind this is trying to overcome what Psychologists refer to as 'The Endowment Effect' -- the tendency to overvalue things that you already own.

However....even though that strategy works well for me, there's still no way I'm going to lead an uncluttered life (I'm married).

Henry said...

One more observation: That's way too much folding. Every time you do the laundry you double or triple your folding time. What's more important, a drawer full of shirt burritos or free time?

I have a simple approach to folding: what is the minimum amount of folding to ensure that clothes fit in the bureau. Since everything is folded to fit the bureau, everything stacks.

Ignorance is Bliss said...

You honor it as you put it in the discard pile.

... items that do not "spark joy."

So this is how you always wanted to be folded! — a historical moment in which your mind and the piece of clothing connect.

Apparently I have a very different relationship with the material world than she does. I have no interest in joining her cult, even if my countertops would be a bit neater.

Deb said...

It is a well known fact that if you discard something you will need it in the near future - a week, or a month perhaps. This is true if you have not touched that item in a year. Then you will go mad looking for it.

Clayton Hennesey said...

I am pleased to see Ms. Kondo feels her book is an item to be acquired rather than discarded - or at least paid for, after which you can pretty much do with it as you wish.

Cheryl said...

I bought that book last month and found the writing delightful. Combining it with Dughiss' book about habits has given me a lot to think about.

My four kids just cleaned out their clothes using the KonMari method. "sparking joy," as silly as it sounds, was a really freeing way for all of us to get rid of gifts and hand-me-downs. Now they are 16 bags of clothes and trash lighter to start the second semester.

My closet is next.

Bob R said...

"You only have to experience..." She misspelled the word "I."

Bob R said...

Have to admit that I did plan to clean my closet this week.

Tari said...

Does this only apply to the home? Because I'm looking at my desk at work right now, and nothing on there "brings me joy" - not a single agreement, power point presentation, and certainly not the Foundations of Data Privacy Law book I'm supposed to be reading. Can I just throw it all away and find happiness?

Grundoon said...

Hey, packrats! Here is an inspiring thought for us. We don't NEED all that stuff to have a good life. I have seen it happen. Now I need to make it happen in my own life.

I recently helped my elderly mother move into a small apartment in an assisted living building. It has a living room, bedroom, and bathroom. There is no kitchen because the idea is that residents eat in the dining room if they can get there.

She has about 4 pieces of furniture with sentimental value that make her little living room look like home. She was not a packrat but it took a team of about 6 people several days to go through the items in her house and decide what went to charity, what went to family, and what went to the trash. She is pleased with how the downsizing project worked out.

Original Mike said...

" Can I just throw it all away and find happiness?"

Why, yes. Yes you can. I do not think the happiness will last, however.

Neither will I be happy when I find I have thrown out the thing I hadn't touched for a year but now need.

David said...

From Amazon:

"Ms. Kondo delivers her tidy manifesto like a kind of Zen nanny, both hortatory and animistic." -- The New York Times

"The most organized woman in the world." -- PureWow


Does the most organized woman in the world have an untidy spouse? I bet not. Let's see this genius solve that one.

Coconuss Network said...

I've been clinging to clothes 2 sizes smaller than me in the hopes of regaining my figure. I think the joy is accepting me as I am and sharing those lil comfort treasures with charity. Will definitely de-clutter my basement armoire. Thanks for the inspiration. As a side note, I'm wearing my polar parka in solidarity with Wisconsin and Illinois.

Biff said...

My mother was a severe hoarder, as severe as almost any of the people you might have seen on the tv shows. Marie Kondo's approach is not too far removed (no pun intended) from the approach advocated by many therapists who treat hoarders. Keep in mind that for most professional organizers, a very large percentage of their clients are hoarders.

There is a reasonable amount of academic literature, backed up with brain scans, that suggests that hoarders are wired in a way that they have great difficulty, even painful difficulty, distinguishing between high value and low value objects. In effect, to many hoarders, everything is valuable. As a result, one of the few approaches that seems to make a difference for some hoarders is to ask them to "honor" items by recognizing the value they may once have had, and then honoring them further by putting them to a better use via recycling or otherwise respectfully discarding them.

Unfortunately, that process is very slow, and it does little to address the needs of other family members who find themselves trapped in squalor. It can be a tragic situation, all around.

David said...

"She recommends throwing out virtually all papers but does acknowledge a category of papers that must be kept."

Papers can "spark joy" much later, for others. I have a small trove of seemingly random papers of my father and grandfather. Household bills, some business and personal correspondence, a few clippings and the like and even some school report cards. There is nothing earth shaking about them, but they give me an insight into their lives in a time long gone. They do give me joy.

I also have all of my father's voluminous letter written to my mother during WW II. These do not give me joy, and they caused me pain when I read them. But I keep them.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

I recently came across a website with a somewhat similar ethos, expressed perhaps in a more American way:
Unfuck Your Habitat

Maybee said...So failure only happens if I don't do it exactly right? And if it failure happens it's because I've done something wrong, not because she is wrong about her method working?

Almost all diet books I've read use exactly that pitch to deal with complaints.

David said...

My mother kept an entire closet of empty boxes, but discarded all the Lionel trains that my father, brother and I had set up on a plywood table in the basement every Christmas. I concluded that the boxes might have been a place to put her lost marbles, should they ever turn up.

David said...

For some, items that do not "spark joy" nevertheless cause pain in discard. They may even cause pain in passive retention for some. If this connection becomes indiscriminate, it is hoarding, but many people are make it. They too are hoarders, but it may be they are hoarding emotion not objects.

Christy said...

If you find a system that works for you, go with it. I've been a FlyBaby for years. FlyLady is big on baby steps to train ourselves to declutter as we go. I love her 27 Fling Boogies. You set the timer for 15 minutes, run through the house with bags and find 27 items to be thrown away, 27 to be given away, and 27 to be put away. The give-away bag gets closed up and immediately goes into the trunk for Goodwill. The put-away items are deposited in the rooms where they belong (even if you don't have a place for them yet.) The 15 minutes means you make easy choices at first. This is done over weeks and months. Don't try to declutter everything in a day; it all comes back if you do. I found that the more I tossed, the easier the next choices became. I saw how I got along just fine with only 3 can openers. Then 2, then one. I trained myself to not clutter in the first place. Anyhow. It worked for me. I painlessly rid myself of hundreds of books over about a year.

EMD said...

Wow. That video is so Japanese.

brio said...

I bought this book a few months ago. I read it after it sat by my bed for a month. I was not impressed. Maybe I am already too organized for my own good. The clutter in my house consists of artwork (books, posters, photos, ceramics, handmade paper objects). It all gives me pleasure.

I already have a place for everything and people are amazed at the amount of "junk" I have in my home office--the majority of it is stuff I use to make artwork myself. But it is organized in plastic shoe boxes along an entire wall.

So unless I move, I rarely find a need to declutter and throw stuff out. Even then, I am down to the things I really want. But I live by myself and I keep things tidy as I go along.

She is raking in some serious bucks on this book which didn't offer me anything new about clutter, order, or folding. It didn't change my life as she claims.

I don't have hundreds of tops or dozens of any other clothing item. Want to really declutter your closet? Do what I do (and Jughead from Archie comics did)--use a "uniform." I found a polo shirt I liked and bought 7 in the same color. Along with 7 pairs of identical jeans, it is my everyday dress (uniform). When I go through all 7, it is time to do laundry. I have 2 dress pants and shirts for special occasions.

rehajm said...

Rule #1:The one year rule.

Rule #2: If you bring it home to keep it, something else has to go.

People with no want or desire to live uncluttered reject and impose their will. Gifts are problem.

rehajm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rehajm said...

Tax returns can be stored on a thumb drive

CStanley said...

I'd really like to digitize most of my documents. I love the NEAT scanners but they seem overpriced and overrated. I'm currently toying with Evernote premium for the ability to create searchable PDFs, so that I can retrieve things when I've forgotten where I've filed them.

Does anyone have any experience with it?

Conserve Liberty said...

There is a sardonic term used by obsessive photography gear accumulators - Lens Buying Addiction, or LBA - that describes their (our) susceptibility to buying interesting camera lenses that are rarely (never) used; which are then sold off in bouts of guilt; which renders an opening for more lens-buying.

The only recourse seems to be buying three or four insanely expensive lenses and using them to actually take photographs instead of browsing eBay for deals on used gear.

Benjamin Franklinstein said...

It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.

Freeman Hunt said...

I recently decluttered an outdoor storage room (that was not supposed to be a storage room) that way. I rented a dumpster and considered everything in the room trash. I put all things that didn't strike me as wonderful in the dumpster. When I finished, I ended up with a tiny collection of things to keep and a dumpster completely full of junk.

I have been trying to do the same with books indoors. There are limits to that because we have young children and think that young children should have a library of physical books.

Freeman Hunt said...

CStanley, my husband loves Evernote.

Freeman Hunt said...

The best time to declutter is when annoyed. If one is already feeling annoyed, junk will only intensify the feeling, and one will be happy to discard junk that is annoying him.

janetrae said...

I am about 3 weeks into the KonMarie method -- 42 garbage bags of stuff out of the house -- and I can find anything I want in 3 rooms right now. Still working on the basement. I have been able to "discard" 3 bookshelves and an Ikea armoire. I am finding pleasure in empty shelves and open space on the floor. I really like this book, and gave a few as Christmas presents (KINDLE books, of course). The process is very liberating, and I recommend it. I can see why her clients do not backslide.

janetrae said...

Oh, and, David: The papers you describe are not papers, but "sentimental items" -- which are handled only after everything else has been processed. She doesn't really have a limit on the sentimental items, unlike the papers. Under her spell, I have really discarded (shredded) 3 garbage bags of papers, and my keep pile has been reduce to about 6 inches of shelf space. This includes hard copy of 3 years of tax returns. Again, I recommend the book.

janetrae said...

Hey, Maybee: Here is what is wrong with organizing papers. Maybe in an office where 50 people are expected to know where to find something you need an elaborate system. But this is just you we are talking about. I too had alphabetical files, monthly files, etc. But, why? And why was I keeping warranties for something I no longer owned? And if I didn't throw it away when was I going to trip across it next and get rid of it? I was very skeptical about the paper part (I am a lawyer and my lifeblood is paperwork) BUT it turns out this book is right. (Now, some papers ended up in the sentimental pile, and I haven't gotten there yet, but remarkably few -- the hospital records and bill from my son's birth, for example.) Still, the breathing room these discards afford me sometimes takes my breath away.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

I do not agree that a state of perfect order is hard to maintain. I know a couple of people at work who operate on the clean desk and empty inbox principle. They never look for stuff because they know they don't have it.

I am not that sort of person. When I was a teenager, I once cleaned out my mother's garage so ruthlessly that she wouldn't let me have a go at the basement.

It was the old trick of doing the job so well that you get fired from ever having to do it again.

CStanley said...

The idea of keeping things (papers) is that you know there are times that you need some of them later. For each new paper that comes into your possession it is hard to predict whether or not this one thing will be that thing you will need. It is easier to default to keeping everything, but without a good file system and a fastidious nature, you end up keeping everything but never being able to find any of it anyway.

I am almost at the point of accepting this and acknowledging that I might as well throw it all away and then deal with the consequences later, but then I always remember times when I really was able to recover lost stuff because I knew that if I kept looking it would be there.

I'd like to think that I will do a better job keeping up with it all electronically, but I am probably kidding myself.

CStanley said...

Thanks, Freeman- does he use it for this purpose though (saving reciepts for taxes and expense reports, as well as medical and school records and such?)

I've played around with (basic) Evernote a bit but can't decide if the premium would be worthwhile for the search ability. It seems like if you add the right tags you should be able to find stuff, but I don't trust my ability to set it all up properly 100% of the time.

Freeman Hunt said...

I do not keep any car repair and maintenance records. The car broke while still under warranty. At first I thought I had made a great mistake in not keeping those records. But it turned out that every service place has all the records, and one only has to ask for them. The car's engine was replaced under warranty.

If taxes require that another place keep a copy of the record in question, you can throw it out, and it won't really be gone.

Freeman Hunt said...

"Thanks, Freeman- does he use it for this purpose though (saving reciepts for taxes and expense reports, as well as medical and school records and such?)"

Yes, though not anything as confidential as medical records. But yes, many tax receipts and such.

tds said...

Does she know how to get rid of unsolicited U2 album?

holdfast said...

There's no way this works with young children.

That said, I am rather proud of the massive re-org of my desk and closet over the holidays. The file cabinets will be tackled in this month (I am picking up a new burn barrel this weekend) and the garage will be done in February. I expect our local Person-to-Person charity will do very well out of it.

Julie C said...

I just bought the book and read the first few chapters and already like what I'm reading.

I'm a pretty organized person but it's the little things that seem to multiply overnight that I can't stand.

Mugs, for instance. I swear to God we must have 50 mugs in this house. We've got some from companies, from sports groups, ones the kids decorated, etc. Plus the 8 mugs that came with the set of dishes! Who needs that many mugs?

Freeman Hunt said...

I did a big reorganization project over the holidays like holdfast. Part of the project was to redo the children's bedroom. I took out all the toys, books, and clutter, and left only dressers, beds, and a keyboard. (The toys and books were moved to a playroom, which was another part of the project.)

The resulting look was very spartan. They were thrilled. They pronounced it better looking, more comfortable, and easier to sleep in. It's definitely more restful. I'm thinking of going for the same feel throughout the house.

David said...

janetrae said...
Oh, and, David: The papers you describe are not papers, but "sentimental items" -- which are handled only after everything else has been processed. She doesn't really have a limit on the sentimental items, unlike the papers. Under her spell, I have really discarded (shredded) 3 garbage bags of papers, and my keep pile has been reduce to about 6 inches of shelf space. This includes hard copy of 3 years of tax returns. Again, I recommend the book.


They are sentimental items to me now, but they were not sentimental items to my father and grandfather when they failed to discard them.

My point is that one generation's junk can be the next generation's joy.

David said...

As to papers, anything that might be needed I now scan and discard the originals. It reduces the storage need, but more importantly it enables me to find stuff when I need it.

Except stuff like wills and contracts--then I scan and keep.

MayBee said...

All of you who have been more cluttered and are recent converts to no clutter: Let me know in a year if you have remained perfectly uncluttered, or if you have gone back to your less perfect state.

Laura said...

Japan. Perfection. Robotics. Self marriage. Sashimi. Bicycles. Joy. Sparks. Getting Burned.

Hint: Where's my spatula? Sold the white van since the latest model fits nicely in a smaller vehicle: http://ratchet.wikia.com/wiki/Sexiest_Robot_Alive.

Must. Learn. HTML.

America's Politico said...

Thank you Prof. Got the kindle version from your site.

Scott said...

I bought the hardcover book through your Amazon link. This is a part of my life with which I struggle.

Larry J said...

When we moved to another state 2 1/2 years ago, my wife and I decided to downsize. We got rid of a lot of our accumulated stuff. Among the more painful was getting rid of books I'd collected since I was a teen, well over 1000 titles in all. Furniture, nick-nacks, papers, we cleared out what we could. We would've gotten rid of even more stuff but the move was on a very short time frame (2 weeks) and we ran out of time.

Every now and then, I find myself wanting to refer to one of my old books. Believe it or not, all the world's information is not available online. Too bad, so sad, but them's the breaks.

One problem with clutter is that it grows. My wife went through an angel collection phase many years ago. Even after she stopped, she kept getting angels as gifts for many years. People know I like airplanes, so I still get airplane decor as gifts. They're taking over my office.

Freeman Hunt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.