Monday, August 15, 2016

In which I am Kon-Mari'd

I waited on the library hold list for five months before I finally got my eager mitts on a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.  Is this book really life-changing?  Let's see!

Marie Kondo's method involves first engaging with each of your possessions, holding it in your hand and asking if it "strikes joy" and discarding it if it doesn't.  You must follow her specific order, and only once you have finished discarding things, do you work out where to store what possessions you have left.


The book had been in my possession less than twenty-four hours before I had taken every stitch of my clothing and dumped it into a huge pile on my bed.  In the end, I discarded three trash bags of clothes.  I was undecided about several items and forced myself to wear each one.  There was one dress and a shirt in which I felt uncomfortable and miserable in all day, so they went into the discard pile along with a few other things that I realized I was dreading having to wear.  I kept a handful of the items from the undecided pile, but most of it was discarded.  Going through my wardrobe was a bit of an eye-opener about my mental health.  I seem to only want to wear dark and shapeless clothes lately.  That's one thing about the Kon-Mari method: it forces you to confront a lot of facts about yourself.

After thinning my wardrobe so much, it was easy to store everything.  I'd had an entire drawer devoted to clothes that I never wore!  Now it holds all my workout clothes, which formerly had been tossed into a huge basket that also holds my yarn and fabric stash.  I was able to remove my bulky sweaters from an underbed bin, because now they fit in the drawer.  I use Marie Kondo's folding method, so everything is stacked vertically and the entire contents of the drawer are visible at a glance.  (She says that "nothing" is more satisfying than finding each garment's sweet spot for folding.  I don't know about "nothing" but it is satisfying.)

Clothes, waiting to be sorted


Kondo wants you to keep only books that you absolutely positively will want to read again, and she recommends photocopying favorite pages from some books and keeping them all in a binder and tossing the books themselves.  I couldn't get on board with a heathen practice like that, and as I went through my books, I realized that one of the great pleasures in life is browsing through a bookshelf.  Furthermore, my bookshelves serve as a browsing ground for my children when they're at a loss for what to read next.  I remember how much I loved browsing through my mother's bookshelves. I don't want to take that away from my kids, so I slowed my roll when it came to discarding books.  Even so, I filled the back of my car with books and donated them to the library book sale.  (Nice books-- unreadable things like old textbooks, I put into the recycling bin.)
One bookcase after the Kon-Mari treatment.
No more books lying horizontally on top of the others!
Still have a double row of books on each shelf though.


My paper clutter problem is serious and Kondo rationalizes that almost no papers need to be saved.  I had stacks of papers all over the house, which is one reason I like Kondo's "tidy by item category rather than by room" strategy.  It was freeing to just tackle all the papers at once.  I threw out check registers dating back to 2006.  I threw out school orchestra packets from the middle school that none of my children attend.  I threw out ALL our appliance owner's manuals and warrantees.  For crying out loud, I had saved the owner's manual to a lamp that I bought three years ago!  I threw out tax returns from 2006, 2007, and 2008, and marveled at our quaint 2006 income. I threw out the receipt for the scooter that was stolen in 2006 (with police report tucked inside).  All told, I threw out enough paper to half-fill our huge recycling tote.  Kondo doesn't want you to buy storage solutions while you're discarding, but I did buy a fireproof document safe.  What???  Do you mean that the deed to our house and our passports have been stored in a flammable wooden desk all these years?  The safe itself has become a problem because it weighs over fifty pounds and now I can't decide where to store the key, but at least our social security cards and nursing licenses are safe from fire.


Komono is Kondo's word for miscellaneous items: household supplies, small electronics, spare change and all the other things that clutter our lives.  It was the biggest challenge for me to get through our komono and I had to depart from the "discard by category" rule because we have so many miscellaneous items stored in different places all over the house.  Some things were easy, such as the VCR videos and my CDs.  I tossed them all, although I copied some of the CDs into itunes.  The sound may not be as good, but my quality of life is better not having the CDs in the house.  Skin care products and make up come next, and these too were pretty easy to deal with, but soon I was in murky areas, dealing with craft supplies, pens and pencils, office supplies and pet supplies.  I can't BELIEVE how many pencils we had.  Or the spare change, which I found in every drawer and corner.  Kondo says you must put all change straight into your wallet, but if I'd done that, I wouldn't have been able to stand upright while carrying my purse.  I put all the change into a mason jar, to take to the bank later, even though Kondo specifically says NOT to do this.  I focused solely on discarding, not on cleaning and rearranging, so as I progressed through our komono, certain areas of our house had the forlorn look of moving day.

The bathroom shelves in the midst of the Kon-Mari treatment

Some komono was hard to part with. The nebulizer, for example. We haven't used it in years, the kids rarely have asthma attacks and the albuterol vials expired in 2006. Still, I had a feeling that as long as we had the nebulizer, we were safe from asthma. Yet my two worst asthma sufferers live an hour away. The nebulizer can't rescue them. It couldn't have rescued Brigid when she lived in Cape Town or Switzerland. So I let it go. (Actually, I left it on the front porch for a few weeks and then I let it go.) Stuffed animals were also hard, Of course I didn't throw away anything that was truly beloved, but even the animals that had never been loved, I had to remind myself over and over that they were just cloth and stuffing. I'm a shameless anthromorphizer, although even I was giving Kondo the side eye for claiming that our socks have feelings.

Bathroom shelves today. The shelf where the nebulizer was now holds the toilet paper.*

We used to have to keep the toilet paper under the bathtub.
I know the bathroom floor is in a shocking state. It's 26 years old.


Photos and sentimental items are left until last.  By the time you get to them, you're supposed to be a pro at discarding. Around the time I should have been doing mementos, it was Christmas and the flow of purchases into the house at this time killed my momentum. I did go through old photos and throw away a fair-sized stack of blurry ones, plus all the pointless pictures of my garden. I keep sentimental items in bins under my bed, and after going through them, I elected to keep everything. I can't part with the dresses I hand-smocked for my daughters or the antique quilts that my great-grandmother made or any of my other treasures. I also couldn't bear to throw away old letters. I did toss a huge pile of my old school papers, which I had saved for some inexplicable reason.


Was my life changed? Perhaps temporarily, although that's probably an oxymoron. My house is not magically tidy all the time now. I'm still oppressed by what I perceive as the excesses of other family members, although after watching me sort my clothes, Jon was inspired to get rid of a lot of his old tee shirts. During the height of the process, I felt a sense of freedom and lightness. Going through the Kon-Mari method forces you to complete little tasks that you've been putting off. For example, I replaced missing buttons on a few shirts that I wanted to keep and I dropped all the old printer cartridges off for recycling. You gain enormous satisfaction from completing low-priority but ever-nagging jobs like this. Now, months later, putting away my laundry is no longer stressful. As I said, I was forced to confront some facts about myself. Seeing the clothes I wanted to keep made me realize more than anything else, how depressed I had become, although it was several months before I actually did anything about it. In that sense, I'd say Marie Kondo did change my life.

* Obviously, we do not have a very aspirational bathroom. It has potential, but raising four kids and three dogs, and a bunny in a house kills off a lot of home improvement energy (and money). I think our empty-nest project will be to turn this house into the awesome urban farmhouse that it deserves to be.


  1. The Kon Marie method seems very interesting in theory but I'm still a room-by-room declutterer. Every time I see someone with a pile of clothing on a bed (or, god forbid, the floor) I want to shriek about hangers -- even wire ones, Joan. I am, however, inspired by this post, to throw out old credit card statements, warranties, and instruction manuals. The thing I wonder about the Kon Marie folding method is how it works if your drawers are half empty in between laundry loads. Does everything flop over?

    1. I think you can find owners manuals and credit card statements on line now, so there's probably no reason to keep them. Yes, if your drawer gets too empty, the clothes will flop over, but that's easier to deal with than trying to cram shirts into an overstuffed drawer.

  2. I adore your posts, the reflection as you go along with the program and explain your feelings and your processing. I haven't read this book, but I have done a lot of this on my own after dealing with older relatives and their hoarding. What you wrote about the wardrobe has a lot of truth. I guess we lie to ourselves a lot and that's why we keep things--aspirational hoarding? Years ago I dumped all the craft supplies I'd acquired because I accepted the truth that I am NOT crafty.

  3. I've been waiting for you to blog about this and I am so glad to read this. I'm really struggling with the other humans in my household, as they have massive amounts of stuff and they want to keep everything, not to mention they don't feel like dealing with the few things they don't want to keep. I feel like every three steps forward I get with the mess, I end up taking one or two back. It also doesn't help that we're in the middle of a never-ending construction project, so our backyard, garage, and basement are currently in chaotic disarray until the project is done we can find finally move things back where they belong.

    1. I hoped that I would set a good example by paring down my own possessions. I also felt that shared family possessions (such as the nebulizer) fell under my jurisdiction for disposal, so I got rid of a bunch of stuff that wasn't really mine, but also didn't belong exclusively to anyone else.

  4. This is such an inspiring post! You were so successful... I somehow stalled after my clothes :(

  5. My daughter and I made a good start at Konmari-ing the house, but we also stalled out at the komono phase (mostly her--I did fairly well) She has a lot of future-home furniture and kitchen things, and of course we kept over half our books, but the truth is, if thirty or forty boxes and bags get thrown out or donated, the house is undeniably lighter and happier. Lord--all that PAPER! We intend to get back to work and do even more, because we've had a taste of success. (In the follow-up book, Kondo admits it can take a long time, not the non-stop tornado of tidying she initially insists upon.) Great post!

  6. We've discussed my doing the konmari thing, but when I informed the others that live in my house a number of the items that I already knew did not bring me happiness belonged to them and that they would have to do their own konmari thing, the topic went away.
    I did recently get rid of a bag of books though.

  7. Wow, I think you're much like my husband, in the keeping-sense! He used to keep everything! So many just-in-case items. I don't think I could have done any decluttering if he hadn't started the process, because I just don't keep a lot of stuff.

    I enjoyed reading about your experience, and I wonder if there are some possessions that we all feel more attached to than others. I'm with you on books --even though I almost exclusively read on a Kindle now, and love that experience, I will never be able to give up having books on a bookshelf to browse through. I think about how much our bookshelves say about who we are, to anyone else browsing.

    I think my favorite thing about this path (and we did it via The Minimalists and Becoming Minimalist, rather than the Kon-mari method) is that we now are SO much more mindful about what we purchase. Last Christmas, after starting this, we realized how much crap came into the house each Christmas, and bought almost nothing that wasn't consumable or about an experience for each other.

    This whole exercise also sent us down the path of mindfulness and meditation, and that has also been a wonderful experience. I'd never explored meditation before, and I find it to really help me face the world.

  8. I remember how much I loved browsing through my mother's bookshelves. I don't want to take that away from my kids

    This ^ is one of my major clutter stumbling blocks. I have these wonderful, WONDERFUL memories of spending hours in my parents "office" going through their odd assortment of books (probably half inherited through their own parents): a Time Life series of "yearbooks" about the 50s, 60s, and 70s; Erma Bombeck books, Garry Trudeau, All Quiet on the Western Front. I think I've already robbed my kids of this by keeping all my favorite things on Kindle.

    1. Gosh, this brings back memories of my parents' bookshelves.

  9. I purchase workout clothing in many colors. The raisin and heather charcoal have the same feel and weight as the black ones. A thicker cotton feel. I did find the raisin to be a tad bit larger and seemed to have more stretch.

  10. You got a lot of good out of this process, and did not follow where it did not seem right to you. Well done.