[Editor's Note: Do it once, and never again. That's the bold claim organizing consultant Marie Kondo makes in her new book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." With that kind of promise, it's no wonder the book has already sold 2 million copies worldwide. Copy in hand, one of our editors tackles her own clutter and shares a few takeaways from the KonMari method.]
I've always said that I'm a connoisseur of stuff, which is really just a silly way of saying that I have way too much of it.
I collect kooky knickknacks from flea markets and souvenirs from my travels; I amass paper, paint and pencils for that next project that I always promise myself to get to next weekend. Oh, and then there's my antique bottle collection, my bird statuettes, my books... You see my problem? So when I heard circles buzzing about the book on the trendy, life-changing organization method known aptly as "KonMari," I knew I was the perfect candidate to try it.
The organizing consultant's name is Marie Kondo. Her "KonMari" method of simplifying and organizing the home led to the runaway bestseller "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." She's even garnered a cultlike following—they call themselves Konverts and proudly share before-and-after photos of their properly folded sock drawers and emptied closets. These Konverts were made just from reading her book. The real-life Kondo has a three-month-long waiting list.
In her native Japan, Kondo says, tidiness is a way of everyday living. She applies feng shui principles to the tenets of her tidying and ditches long-held organizational beliefs (such as cleaning little by little every day, storing items according to the seasons and discarding one item for every item brought into the home). She says that these principles, though meant to help, are the very reasons why we seemingly are never able to maintain our mess.
Instead, she advocates for one epic cleaning sweep: Keep only what "sparks joy," discard everything else, and assign a home for everything within your home. Easier said than done, right? Kondo claims that this can be done but can take anywhere between a few hours to six months. I know what you are thinking—that is a crazy time span. But let me assure you that it can be done.
For the purpose of trying the KonMari method myself, I did this in a three-day weekend in the middle of winter (when the spring sunshine wasn't going to lure me outside). My apartment was due for spring cleaning, and I was stuck indoors on a slew of blustery, snowy days, so why not? I had run out of excuses. It was time to take control of my clutter, once and for all. These were the philosophies I had to adopt:
Lesson 1: Let Go of Things to Make Room for the Things That Matter
And I don't mean material objects either.
Before you move a single thing, the first step in Kondo's method is to visualize the life you wish to have with a clutter-free space. A free closet or uncluttered walls isn't deep enough. Dig deeper. What does a life free of clutter mean to you? Maybe it means hosting more parties for your friends or adopting a pet or raising a baby. For me, I visualized a more creative home life: one in which I could bake more, draw more, paint on canvas more (a hobby I've all but abandoned since my move to New York). These things have been put aside for dealing with my everyday messes. And who wouldn't want to spend time with friends over organizing china in the cabinet? Kondo asserts that by discarding things, we're freeing up space for the things we love.
Lesson 2: Keep Only the Things That Spark Joy
What does that mean exactly?
One of the first steps in Kondo's method is to identify what does, indeed, "spark joy" for you. Pick it up (don't just observe it from afar on a bookshelf or under-bed storage box), turn it over in your hands, study it—how does this possession make you feel? How do you feel at the idea of discarding it forever?
The things that spark true joy for you won't always be rational and in fact, Kondo encourages this intuition. There is an excerpt from book when she refers to one such item in her home—her Kiccoro T-shirt; it's a memento from an expo she attended years ago and despite scoffing from others ("How can you keep this? Aren't you embarrassed? How can you wear that? You should throw it away...") she has held onto it with fierce affection. "These are the types of things you should boldly hold on to," she writes. "If you can say without a doubt, 'I really like this!' no matter what anyone else says, and if you like yourself for having it, then ignore what other people think."
Lesson 3: "Someday" Never Comes
This is one of the little lies we tell ourselves. We can rattle off all the reasons (read: excuses) we "need" to keep something—whether that's extra clothes, containers, or craft supplies. But "needing" something is not the same as "loving" something or even for recognizing the item for its inherent value.
Think of these "someday" possessions you own. For me, it might be a pile of magazine clippings or a bundle of unidentified wires or a stockpile of beauty products. But what I realized was that I held onto these objects for all the wrong reasons. Instead, as I picked them up, I felt a creep of anxiety at the idea of letting them "go to waste" and the excuse bubbled up, "Well, what if I need it for…?" Yes, it's good to be prepared, but at what cost? I barely noticed them in my home so obviously they weren't desperately "needed." I only felt anxiety at the idea of losing them. In fact, according to Kondo, possessions are stripped of their dignity when they go unused in the home. It is better to let them go.
Lesson 4: Treat Your Possessions as if They Were Alive
I know, odd concept right? But before you doubt this theory, stop to consider how we treat our possessions on an everyday basis: We unceremoniously drop our coat, shoes and keys at the door. We stuff our drawers with sweaters, socks and shirts; and we banish our least-used items to the back of our closets. This is how a home becomes messy and, even worse, how we lose track of our own possessions. When deciding what to keep and what to discard, Kondo suggests pulling every single item out (by category) to display on the floor at once. Her clients are often shocked at the sheer amount placed before them.
To prevent this from happening, she encourages you to better respect the items for the use they provide you. This means storing items so they can each easily be seen at a glance, giving each room to breath, and even acknowledging the items with a mental "thank you" before putting them away at the end of the day. In other words, there should be a place for everything and everything in its place.
Lesson 5: Your Possessions Reflect Your State of Mind
Wonder why you can't let something go? Kondo says that we hold onto things for one of two emotional reasons—a fear of the future or to preserve the past. In my own KonMari tidying, I found that I'm guilty of the latter. In the depths of my desk drawers, I unearthed things I had long forgotten. Once brought to the light of day, they unleashed a flood of bittersweet memories: a painted seashell from the islands of Cinque Terre, a clotted cream fudge tin (long since empty of fudge) from Harrods in London, a tea cup from Cambridge where I studied abroad, a bag of sea glass collected in the early morning with my father at the seashore, a friendship bracelet from childhood, and of course, piles of photographs that have yellowed from the passing of years.
For me, this collection carried a special sort of power: They reminded me of my collected life experiences, but mementos do not celebrate the present and Kondo encourages us to celebrate the present. In doing so, I reclaimed power over my possessions; my possessions have no power over me.
Feeling inspired? Watch how to organize your clothes using the KonMari method: