A few years ago I saw Marie Kondo, the author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” on a morning news show. It was a brief interview but had an immediate impact on me. She demonstrated how to fold clothes. I copied her technique and started to fold my clothes accordingly. I liked the way it looked in the drawers and I saw the wisdom in being able to see each piece of clothing rather than them being in piles where you could only see the top layer.
“The act of folding is far more than making clothes compact for storage. It is an act of caring, an expression of love and appreciation for the way these clothes support your lifestyle. Therefore, when we fold, we should put our heart into it, thanking our clothes for protecting our bodies.”
But I stopped there. I didn’t actually do any decluttering or other tidying up at the time. We kept a pretty neat home in general, but like most American families had tons of “stuff” we didn’t use on a daily basis. “Things” we didn’t need that were put away out of sight or even neatly “organized” in bins and shoved away. We definitely weren’t minimalists.
Honestly I thought there couldn’t be much more in her book that I needed to know outside of what I had already learned from my passive observation. I mean I was a pretty organized person. I wasn’t a hoarder…right? But I had this nagging feeling that all of our stuff was indeed weighing on me.
I GAVE THE KONMARI METHOD A TRY
In early 2018 I finally decided to read her short, concise, little book. I finished it quickly and was ready to start Kondo-ing my house! It’s actually called the “KonMari Method” but I just say “Kondo-ing” or “Kondo’d”.
Marie is very specific on how to go about implementing her technique. You must not go room by room. You must go by categories in a certain order.
You’ll see on this handy KonMari list for example that the first three categories in order are:
It’s important to do clothes first. Clothes are a bit like a training category. You develop some Kondo muscle that will help you later with more difficult categories. Additionally, clothes are items that your average person typically has way too many of so a great place to get started.
Back to not organizing room by room. Don’t just do the clothes in your closet. Gather up ALL the clothes you own from all the different spaces in your house: your dresser, your coat closet, the entry way where you store gloves, hats, and scarves, that trunk where you have a bunch of of old purses and belts, and all your shoes from all of the places you throw them.
Put them in one giant pile. The pile is important because it has a visual impact. It says:
“Look at me. I’m a huge monster. You didn’t even know I was this big and unwieldy did you?” It stares you right in the face and says “I am the product of your mindless consumerism! Think of how many hours you worked to pay for me! Mwa hahhah!!”
If you share a home with others, you want to be mindful about trying to Kondo other people’s belongings. They may have no interest in thinning their clothes-monster so unless someone has agreed to let you do their stuff just start with your own.
WARNING: It takes time. It’s messy. It’s a lot of work. It’s not something to get started late one afternoon when you have to work the next day. You want to have a free weekend or even take a day off. You’ll need time to take all the things out, sort through them, and put them back thoughtfully.
Then there’s what to do with all the stuff you want to discard. You’ll likely have trash to deal with, items to sell, and bags of stuff to donate.
For me it’s an ongoing process. Here’s what I’ve done so far.
In March of 2018 I started with my clothes, per her instructions.
Here’s my gnarly pile.
Once you have your pile it’s time to sort through it. Marie’s method for deciding what to keep or discard is to hold each item in your hand and ask yourself if it sparks joy. That may sound silly but the way she explains it is quite thoughtful. She gives guidance on why you might be hanging on to certain items.
For example, she writes “But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
Some items are easier than others to determine if they spark joy. I found myself holding a top that I wear to work. I don’t wear it anywhere else. It’s one of those tops that fulfills the function of acceptable thing to wear to work.
Does it spark joy in me? No. Well then should I let it go? If I did that I would be left with only about three items that truly spark joy: my jeans, a soft t-shirt, and yoga pants. I couldn’t very well toss my entire work wardrobe.
So at this point I asked myself another classic decluttering question: have I worn this in the last year? No? Then toss it. If yes, then, do I really like it? Will I feel good when I wear it? Keep if yes. Toss if no.
This can be scary. What if there is so much dissatisfaction with my wardrobe that I am left with nothing to wear? It’s a bit of an emotional roller coaster. But it was also quite illuminating and sometimes surprising.
I had a dress that used to be too small and when I could finally fit in it I was never inspired to wear it. I tried it on and was surprised to realize that I didn’t even like it anymore. It was just a symbol of emotional baggage tied up with weight loss that I was hanging on to. It was very cathartic to let it go.
After completing the process with my clothes pile I was left with a much smaller collection. I hung some up neatly in my closet. I got rid of all the extra mismatched hangers and kept just the needed amount of nice ones. Now when I walk into my closet I can clearly see each item. They’re not all scrunched up together. They can breathe.
The rest of the items were folded neatly KonMari style and placed in my dresser drawers. Here too there was so much more space now. When I pull open a drawer I can see each piece clearly. It may sound odd but when I look in the drawers or my closet it gives me a sense of peace. It’s a pleasure to they eye.
It’s also easier to pick out what to wear. It eliminates decision fatigue. My clothes are now a curated collection of truly useful and enjoyable pieces.
After success with my clothes I was on a roll. I tackled books that same month. I piled all of them on the living room floor.
My pile of books
My take-aways on what Marie has to say about books:
- Your book collection should be like a hall of fame. Only the very best are allowed to be on your shelf. Whatever qualifies is up to you to define by using her sorting guidelines.
- Also it’s not about quantity. If you are a book lover and have 100 books that truly spark joy then keep them. For some there might only be 10.
- Sometimes we buy books because they sound so interesting and making that purchase gives us a quick dose of pleasure. But there they sit unread. We imagine ourselves reading them SOMEDAY. Meanwhile we are purchasing more books. If you haven’t read them yet what’s the likeliness you ever will? Don’t keep them out of guilt over impulse purchases.
- Don’t hang on to books just because they were useful to you in the past but are no longer something you need. Like a textbook or some other educational material.
When I sorted through my pile I examined each book and asked myself which ones were really my favorites. Which were truly special and meaningful? Just because I had read it didn’t mean I had to keep it. I got it down to about 20.
I also had a bunch of books that people had generously passed on to me. They may not have been books I would have picked out myself but I kept in case I had nothing else to read (fear for the future). I let go of any that I wasn’t truly interested in. I got it down to about 5.
I love cookbooks and I had a lot. Some I kept for purely decorative reasons and others because they were gifts. I kept many because the recipes looked so great and I wanted to make them SOMEDAY. There was no way I would actually ever have enough time in my life to try the thousands of recipes contained in those books.
I whittled it down to the ones I actually referenced on a pretty regular basis or contained recipes that I truly thought I would try. That turned out to be four books. And guess what? After discarding the others I can’t think of one time since then that I thought to myself “oh dang it I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that book…”.
I put the winners back on our book shelves. The open space around them was calming. I was able to actually SEE all my favorites. There’s less to dust! Everything looks and feels lighter. I know that our cabinets are not stuffed with long forgotten heavy encyclopedias, dictionaries, and textbooks. They’re free of clutter and dust bunnies, open to store other items.
Paper is a doozy. The thought of pulling all of the papers out of the office and from all around the house was overwhelming. We have been married over 22 years and moved many times dragging our files of papers with us.
We had four giant stuffed file cabinets. There were drawers and shelves with boxes of documents. We also gathered up all the other miscellaneous papers from around the house like papers stuck on the fridge, school papers, random mail, receipts, printed recipes. That “in box” near the kitchen full of crap.
Mr. Root helped with this task. As a business owner he also uses the home office for business purposes.
Marie says to just throw all the papers away. Ha! But if you must keep papers at least dispose of any that don’t fall in one of three categories:
- Currently in use
- Needed for a limited period of time
- Must be kept indefinitely
Vital documents like wills, passports, birth certificates, and insurance policies get to stay.
If the information can be found online, like bank and credit card statements, or appliance manuals, toss the papers. Got a bunch of bills you receive paper mail for? Can you switch to a paper-free online option?
This was a multi-weekend process for us. We realized once we tamed our paper monster that we didn’t need those big heavy file cabinets anymore. We replaced them with two single-file sized white Ikea cabinets and a matching small set of drawers. And while we were in the midst of tearing up the office we were inspired to paint it.
Mr. Root used his freakishly handy skills to build some decorative shelves. He replaced the heavy desk top we had with a nice light counter and added an extra desk just for me. I have always wanted my own space for my sewing machine and other crafty endeavors.
The result was a serene, fresh space. A clean slate. We put our massively reduced papers neatly back into a quarter of the amount of hanging files we used to have. Our office was now an inviting space that was an enjoyable and inspiring room. Another cathartic experience!
Being that the office is kind of the hub of our financial life and the place where Mr. Root runs his business this sense of clarity felt very meaningful. According to Feng Shui our office is positioned in the Prosperity corner of our house. So it’s important for this space to be organized and motivating as it represents the energy of our money-making potential.
If our office is in order then our financial health is more likely to be in order too. We felt like we had tackled a huge burden and it felt so liberating. Like a big weight lifted off our shoulders.
Having tackled the BIG THREE: clothes, books, papers, I moved on to areas in the “Komono” category which is “miscellany”. Over the summer of 2018 I Kondo’d most of these sub-categories in our house.
I pulled everything out of our stuffed cabinets and drawers. We had accumulated lots of Tupperware, extra pots, pans, dishes, and utensils over the years. I kept only what we used regularly and was in good shape. Various little cooking gadgets and small appliances that never got used were discarded.
When we were done we had multiple empty drawers and cabinets. We put everything back neatly. There was lots of space for each item so when we opened a drawer we could SEE everything clearly. I know this sounds weird but when I open my knife drawer now I get a little dose of pleasure.
I even Kondo’d the fridge, freezer, and pantry. We got some help from Root Jr. to empty out the pantry. Mr. Root tore out the old white wire shelving and added some nice sturdy wood shelving. Now when I look in my pantry everything is visible and has it’s place. It’s peaceful.
The junk drawer was epic. Instead of a jumbled mess it’s a collection of little containers that hold categorized junk. Nails go with nails. Glues and other sticky items go together. Random small tools lay together in harmony.
FIRST AID, MEDICATIONS, ETC.
Our medicine cabinet was stuffed with all kinds of things. The last time I had given our pharmaceuticals any attention was when Root Jr. was a baby. For safety reasons I put all of the meds in a storage bin with a lid and put it on the highest shelf. We have moved a couple of times since he was a baby and each time I just moved that bin with us, never taking the time to sort through what was in it.
I pulled out the bin and dumped out it’s contents. I also went through our other bathroom cabinets and drawers and gathered what I found to add to the pile.
I divided up what were kid meds, our meds, and first aid and put each category into their own boxes.
We used to have Band-Aids and random tubes of Neosporin all over the house what with Root Jr.’s frequent owies. Now all of those Band-Aids are in ONE place. We all know, including Root Jr., exactly where to go when someone needs a band aid. It’s liberating I tell you!
The last category I did over that summer was arts and craft supplies. We had a deep drawer that contained all kinds of crafty things. We had art supplies in the playroom and in Root Jr.’s bedroom. There were paints and brushes outside on the patio and in the garage. I gathered it all up and made a pile on our dining room table.
It was really interesting to examine this collection of stuff. It represented a whole timeline of supplies purchased over the years.
Finger paints from when Root Jr. was a toddler. All the school supplies that come back to us at the end of each year. Every time Root Jr. showed the slightest interest in any kind of crafty or artsy project I happily went out and bought all the things from the hobby store thrilled that he might be discovering a new passion.
And there were gifts. Multiples of nice sets of colored pencils, paints, and coloring books.
Here’s the thing that became clear to me as I looked at that pile. A giant mess of art supplies does not inspire creativity.
I categorized all the items and kept just what we might need for creating brilliant works of art, birthday cards, and popsicle stick structures.
If a sudden urgent need comes up to make glitter slime it’s really nice to know exactly where the glitter is.
It’s hard to describe the feeling of serenity I got from having these items decluttered.
Sounds crazy right? I swear it though. If you’re having a cruddy day, try opening one of your decluttered drawers or cabinets and looking at it. It’s instantly calming. Take a deep breath and go “ahhhh… look at this lovely collection of tidy and beautiful things.” It’s soothing.
MY REMAINING CLUTTER TO DECLUTTER
I am two years into my decluttering adventure. I have been putting off the hardest category for me – SENTIMENTAL ITEMS. This includes photos, heirlooms, and keepsakes.
I predict photos being a huge undertaking. This is the main reason I am procrastinating on tackling this category. It’s not just hard copy photos and photo albums but it’s our library of digital photos and videos too. This is not something that can be accomplished in one weekend.
Heirlooms and keepsakes are going to be difficult because of the emotions involved. In fact I’ll need to give that section another read in Marie’s book before I do it.
I have cute little baby outfits from when Root Jr. was a wee one. Baby blankets, baby shoes, and many pieces of art saved over the years. I know they are not being appreciated stuffed in storage containers and it’ll feel great once it’s done. I just need to be in the right frame of mind and have some time put aside so I can give it the attention and thought that it needs.
STAYING DECLUTTERED TAKES ONGOING MAINTENANCE
Once you have decluttered your home you will find that keeping it that way is a lifelong practice. Things have a way of sneaking into your house. Whether they are items you buy yourself, gifts, or hand-me-downs you will somehow accumulate more stuff.
One trick is to look for one thing to discard every month.
Another way not to lose ground on decluttering is the “one in two out” method. For example, buy one new top, find two clothing items to discard. This not only keeps your stuff from growing but can keep you on the path to paring down your belongings over time.
We received some cute new Christmas ornaments in December as gifts. When I put away the decorations after the holidays I sorted through the old ones to discard a few that weren’t our favorites or didn’t make it onto the tree at all to make room for the new ones.
It is wonderful to experience the good fortune of having people in our lives that generously give us gifts.
But what about a gift that does not spark joy? It’s okay. Marie says that the act of giving the gift was joyful for who gave it. The purpose of the gift was to convey someone’s feelings for us. You don’t have to hold on to the item to enjoy and appreciate that gesture.
Now set it free. Stop making it live in a dark place where it’s never seen or used. Pass it on to someone else.
“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To throw away what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful.”
DECLUTTERING AND FINANCIAL INDEPENDENCE CROSS PATHS
In January of 2019 Marie Kondo’s Netflix series aired. It was winter break and I was home with Root Jr. I totally binge-watched the series and Root Jr. kind of got into watching some with me. The series sparked renewed interest in me to keep going with Kondo-ing the rest of the house that I hadn’t gotten to the previous year.
Around the same time that month I found FIRE and everything changed. I had a complete shift in mindset. I was focused on increasing income, bucking consumerism, and living below our means so we could save money and invest for our future.
And here was a huge AHA moment for me as I learned everything I could about Financial Independence. The principles of FI and decluttering support each other. I had spent the past year decluttering and here was the message of FI giving me all the more reason not to undo the progress in decluttering by buying more STUFF.
I think there is an overlap of ideas in the life changing movements of FI and decluttering that mesh together beautifully.
Like valuing what we already have and knowing when we have enough. As Paula Pant from Afford Anything puts it so eloquently:
“The more items we own, the less we value them. The less we own, the more we enjoy the few items we have. Owning less isn’t deprivation. It’s curation. The less we own, the more space in our lives for things that matter.”
It’s not about getting rid of all your stuff or living a life of deprivation. It’s about making room for the things that bring you joy. If joy for you is piles of gorgeous old books then go for it. Just clear out all the other junk so those gorgeous books have space to breathe and shine so you can appreciate them every day.
Likewise it’s not about never spending any money. It’s about spending with intention and buying what supports your values and goals.
Marie says “the KonMari Method encourages living among items you truly cherish.”
I think this aligns elegantly with what Financial Independence means for me.
INCREASING INCOME AND LIVING FRUGALLY
During my previous year of decluttering I didn’t pay much attention to the possibility of selling my unwanted items. But after finding FI I had a DUH moment! I could sell my unwanted items and make a little extra income! I could use that money to pay down our debt faster!
Electronics and DVDs/CDs are sub categories under KOMONO. I sorted through what we had and put aside what I thought I might be able to sell. I sold a digital camera for $25 on the Mercari app and $62 worth of CDs and DVDs on the Decluttr app.
Pre-FI-me might not have had much appreciation for the extra $87 made that month but FI-me was thrilled because I knew I would use that money to pay down the credit card debt.
In March I Kondo’d our shop. Mr. Root has a giant workshop on our property that doubles as our garage where we store all of our outdoor stuff. We got rid of tons of stuff and kept a couple of items to sell.
I posted these items to Facebook Market place and sold a Red Flyer wagon for $45 bucks and a helmet for $20! I took that cash straight to my bank to deposit into our emergency fund account.
I love the double whammy benefit of how decluttering can also get you closer to your financial independence goals by increasing your income!
There’s also a frugal aspect to the KonMari method. I can recall numerous times in the past when I went to the Container Store or Target to buy all sorts of pretty tubs and bins to “get organized”!
What I love about Marie is that she doesn’t want you spending money to “get organized.” She takes issue with stores that sell us what we “need” to store all of our excess stuff. Using large quantities of containers and storage bins to stuff all the things you never use away in a closet is the antithesis of decluttering.
Marie says “Storage experts are hoarders.”
What you will have is a collection of your favorite stuff that you’ll want to put away neatly in your drawers and cabinets.
Empty boxes are perfect for this. Nice shoe boxes, electronics boxes, and gift boxes work great for tucking into your drawer Tetris-style to create little receptacles for your freshly categorized stuff. You don’t have to spend any money to declutter the KonMari way.
Another way I found to save money by decluttering is by Kondo-ing our freezer, fridge, and pantry on a regular basis. This makes it easy to shop the pantry when making my weekly grocery list. I can clearly see what we have on hand. There’s no long lost forgotten bag of peas buried at the back of the freezer. Shopping the pantry helps me keep my weekly grocery bill low.
NOTHING WORTH HAVING COMES EASY
The effects on our daily life were transformative. The spaces in our home became reenergizing sources of joy and peace. The process made us mindful of what we spent money on to bring into our home.
“A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming. Marie Kondo
Looking back I think that decluttering the previous year may have prepared me to receive the message the universe was sending me when I found FI one year later. Indeed it was in our newly decluttered office that I sat at our computer inspired to start tracking our expenses in MINT.
I knew exactly where all our account information was because we had decluttered our PAPERS. I experienced a change in mindset that helped me to improve our financial health in ways I never thought possible.
Just like working towards Financial Independence, decluttering takes work but the pay off for both is immense. My physical space, my mind and body, my financial health have all benefited.
“It’s a very strange phenomenon, but when we reduce what we own and essentially ‘detox’ our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well.” Marie Kondo
So whether using the KonMari method or taking a minimalist approach, decluttering your home not only has the magical effect of boosting your energy and improving mental clarity, but if you’re working towards Financial Independence it can help you get there. Decluttering and FI are both about living with intention and making value based choices.
Have you done any decluttering? Have you come across any ideas on how to organize digital photos or preserve kid art? Do you have any tricks for maintaining declutter? Let me know in the comments!