Minimalism seems to be the new black. People are selling everything, moving into tiny (sometimes portable, according to the new HGTV shows) homes, and living a bare-bones lifestyle.
Meanwhile, I feel like I belong on an episode of Hoarders.
I decided to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It’s a highly recommended book about the process of learning how to declutter.
Marie Kondo promises that if you follow her principles, known as the KonMari technique, you’ll be able to declutter your house once and for all. She gives examples throughout the book about past clients and how they were able to purge.
It couldn’t hurt to read the book, and I thought I’d at least learn a new organization technique or two.
What I learned surprised me, and I had mixed results.
A Review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I was able to organize some of my home with the help of the book, but some things, like paper clutter and photographs, required extra hand-holding. Even so, it was a learning process, and these are some of my biggest takeaways.
Start decluttering your closets first
Apparently, there’s a certain method to Marie Kondo’s decluttering madness. She recommends starting with your closets so that you can learn to make objective decisions. The thought is that once you get to sentimental items, like photos, you’ll be able to easily determine if items “spark joy.” Unfortunately, it was still really difficult for me to pare down my wardrobe.
Marie Kondo recommends that you pull out everything at once. This makes sense so that you don’t miss anything, but you’ll end up with a mountain that you have to leave for days, which (take it from me) is depressing, messy, and a fire hazard.
My advice: if your clothes are already organized, handle everything, but divide it as you’re going through it and go through your house in sections.
If your clothes are well-organized in different sections of your house, go ahead and organize them in sections. I keep some clothes in my closet and seasonal clothes in a dresser in the guest room, despite the fact that the book suggests that each person should have their own designated space with everything kept together.
In my case, I would’ve been better off decluttering my closet one day and moving on to declutter the guest room on a different day, rather than following the “pull it out at once” method.
Help others declutter
Marie Kondo stresses that you shouldn’t declutter for anyone else. This principle makes sense, but sometimes it’s necessary, especially if you have kids.
I “helped” my kids declutter their toys (I threw out all the broken toys and McDonald’s junk when they weren’t looking), but I didn’t go through my husband’s clothes. That said, I’ve been begging my husband to go through his closet for months and it’s still not done.
If you need to go through someone’s clothes, divide them into three piles:
- Keep (the ones you know he regularly wears and still look nice)
- Questionable (the ones you’re unsure about or ones he doesn’t wear and you think he should)
- Discard (clothes that don’t fit or are worn, stained, etc.).
He can quickly look through the keep and questionable piles and make a final decision, and his closet will no longer stress you out (you may even end up with four bags of clothes to donate, like we did).
Declutter your accessories (even if it’s painful)
Do you have an overwhelming amount of accessories? I have a ridiculous amount of accessories (handbags, jewelry, etc.) that I’ve collected over the years.
As I decluttered my accessories, some ideas in the book worked while others didn’t.
For things like handbags, discard the obviously worn purses and keep the ones that you love and will use.
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo suggests stacking purses inside each other based on matching colors and textures. I then I kept the purses in a large, clear tub that I had on hand.
The book recommends cleaning out your handbag at the end of every day. While I love this idea because my handbag is extremely cluttered, I have forgotten my wallet and phone at home on more than one occasion because I didn’t leave it in my purse.
While I love the idea of having a designated place for everything, some things, like my wallet, belong in my purse!
For now, I clean out my purse when I have a few spare minutes, like when I’m pumping gas in my car, or on Sunday nights. I empty it, clean it, and then only return the items that belong.
Jewelry and other collections
When decluttering your accessories, there may be some things that you don’t purge at all. For example, I didn’t declutter my jewelry. I already know that I use and love everything that I own. Some items also have sentimental value, like the rosary I made to match my wedding jewelry.
If you have a collection of something that truly “sparks joy,” keep it well organized, but don’t feel pressured to get rid of it just for the sake of decluttering.
Be ruthless as you declutter toiletries
This was my favorite part of decluttering. I had been saving green nail polish from high school, old lipsticks that my mom had given me to play with as a child (how they ended up in my current makeup is beyond me), medication from ten years ago, and more hotel shampoos than an actual hotel.
Toiletries are more cut and dry than clothing, and you’ll probably be able to quickly declutter this section. I was able to fill two garbage bags using the KonMari technique. 😉
As you’re decluttering your toiletries, keep these tips in mind:
- Throw out everything that you’re no longer using or is expired.
- Only save what’s necessary (take the time to go through your decorations and stockpile). Marie Kondo recommends using shoeboxes rather than buying new storage solutions.
- Update your toiletry tracking/stockpile system. If you don’t already have a tracking system, try creating one. According to the KonMari technique, once everything has a designated space, you can easily see what you have on hand, and you shouldn’t need to use a tracking system. However, if I don’t regularly check my supply or order something as soon as I’m low, I either order too much or completely forget to order anything. With a tracking system, I can check it regularly and always know what I have on hand and what I need.
Resolve to minimize your paper clutter
As a former employee in highly regulated industries like financial services and auditing industries, I have a love/hate relationship with paper. I’m trained to keep it forever, but I really hate having it clutter my home.
My happy medium:
- Agree to go paperless as much as possible
- Keep tax information for 7 years
- Keep everything else for 3 years
I went through my filing cabinet and purged an entire garbage bag of files. It was liberating!
Decide how you want to organize your photos
I refused to use the KonMari photo organizing technique for my photos since getting married and raising a family. However, the technique came in handy on some of my childhood photos. To an extent, I both agreed and disagreed with the recommendations in the book.
Marie Kondo’s recommendation is to go through photo albums and touch each photo. If the photo doesn’t bring you joy, then discard it.
That seemed silly and ineffective.
I have two albums filled with zoo animals from my elementary-school field trips. The pictures are blurry and you can’t tell the difference between the elephants and the giraffes in the pictures. I had no qualms discarding those pictures.
However, I drew the line on my wedding and family photos, and I didn’t even bother to take the photos out of the album sleeves. I love showing my kids pictures of themselves as a baby, and we sometimes spend “family night” going through old albums or watching family videos.
I ended up turning to 10 Steps to Organizing Photos and Memorabilia to get my photos organized without having to throw away our beloved family photos. This book gave great tips for saving kids’ artwork, as well as tips for dealing with loved ones’ possessions.
My non-Kon Mari photo tips:
- Organize your pictures as you develop them. Try to weed out duplicates, blurry pictures, and random pictures of your thumb. Organize and discard pictures again when you store them in albums (give duplicates to family members and discard blurry or random pictures).
- It’s better to be organized on the front end. Unless the pictures are of something or someone who you’d rather not remember, there shouldn’t be a need to discard them.
Get rid of duplicates in the kitchen
I have a really small, galley-style kitchen, so I was excited to declutter it. Unfortunately, practicality prevented me from purging much.
I was able to easily get rid of duplicate items (ten coozie covers and three sets of measuring cups, anyone?), but my decluttering stopped there.
I ended up turning to 30 Days To A Clean And Organized Kitchen: A 30 Day Walkthrough To Declutter Your Kitchen And Maintain A Clean, Organized Space. 30 Days to a Clean and Organized Kitchen offered more advice and practical solutions to get my kitchen organized and clutter-free. It helped me clear the kitchen, something that seriously needed to be done, in a manageable, realistic way.
As you’re organizing your kitchen, keep in mind that there’s no need to buy new storage containers. This was my one takeaway from Marie Kondo. 😉 I store lids for containers in a deep plastic container, and I cut the top off a box to store small items, like pens in my “junk drawer.”
Clean as you declutter
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up mentions cleaning after your house is already tidy. I disagree. It’s the perfect time to clean while you have everything out.
To clean as you’re decluttering, try these tips:
- Make up a “traveling cleaning kit” before you get started, and move it throughout your house. In my cleaning kit, I kept a damp general purpose e-cloth to wipe and remove germs from surfaces, masking tape and a sharpie to label items, and extra garbage bags. I also had several clear plastic tubs with me when I was decluttering the bedrooms and kids’ toys to store clothing, purses, etc.
- Wipe down shelves as you declutter or vacuum the bottom of your closet when it’s empty.
- To clean the toys, I sent my kids around with a basket and told them to grab everything that didn’t have batteries or fur. We tossed everything in the kitchen sink and “gave the toys a bath.”
Make the KonMari technique work for you
Don’t feel guilty if you end up following a modified version of Marie Kondo’s technique. Some things, like toiletries, were much easier to discard than clothing or accessories. The important thing is to declutter your house and bring joy to your life.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is organized based on the decluttering methods that Marie Kondo has found to be most effective with her clients. I loved the idea of holding each item, remembering how you used it, and determining if it would still bring you joy. The book promises to hone your decision-making skills, and by the end of my decluttering, I found that I was much more willing to let go of items.
Some of the statements in the book were a little “over the top,” like the suggestion that you should keep a personal shrine in your closet and carry around a talisman for a year. Even so, the basic principles of the book are inspiring. I also loved reading the follow-up book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, which included diagrams of folding clothes, in addition to more decluttering tips.
The end result of decluttering with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up should be a home that is organized, clutter-free, and where every item has a designated place. That sounds magical, and something I would love to achieve, but I’m not so sure that my home is at that point. Even after reading Spark Joy, I still felt that there were areas in my home that needed improvement.
If you’re a self-starter, live by yourself (i.e. no kids or a messy spouse), or if you’re a minimalist, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up may work for you on the first try. However, if you’re struggling to keep your home organized and feeling each item to see if it “sparks joy” seems a little wonky or overwhelming (raising my hand), you might need a little more hand-holding.