The last time I moved, my rooms were filled to the ceiling with boxes. I felt weighed down, both literally and spiritually. “How can I feel free to pick up and move — to a better city, to a better house — if I’m surrounded by all this STUFF?” I wondered.
Enter Marie Kondo, the Supernanny of tidying. A cleaning consultant in Tokyo, she spends her days helping clients lighten their load —literally. When I discovered her guide The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I realized I had been going about decluttering all wrong.
By following her strategy, I managed to donate, recycle, and discard so many bursting bags that I lost count. In the spirit of helping others crawl out from under the clutter of our overly commodified lifestyle, here are 10 tips that helped me the most.
- Sort by category, not location. I used to go through one room at a time. One weekend I’d tackle my bedroom. The next weekend, the basement. According to Kondo, this is a fatal mistake. To truly see what you have, you must gather every single item in a particular category in one place, then consider them all side by side. (One friend who read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up went through his shed, basement, and garage and realized he had . . . drumroll, please . . . 15 hammers
- Pick up each item and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?” Actually hold each item in your hands and consider it anew. Then ask yourself if it brings you joy. If it gives you a thrill as you hold it, keep it. But if it doesn’t, that’s all you need to know: throw it in the donate pile. Seriously, try this—it’s eerily accurate.
- Don’t downgrade clothes to loungewear. If you have clothes you know you’ll never wear outside, don’t let them pile up as loungewear. I had an old sweat-stained t-shirt that I would wear on the weekends. But it became a barrier to going out, because in order to do an errand or see a friend, I would have to change into something less embarrassing. So I would just stay home. When I freed myself of this t-shirt, in a way, I was saying “yes” to life.
- For unread books, “sometime” means “never.” There is a small window of time to read a book after you purchase it. Once that window closes, and it has gathered dust for a while, your chances of reading it are slim to none. And forget about rereading books you liked. How many books have you actually read a second time? Donate that unneeded book to someone who will get a thrill when they pick it up, and spend your time on the one book you’re excited to read right now.
- Recycle those piles of papers. Kondo’s rule of thumb for papers is “discard everything.” According to her, papers will never inspire joy. Old lecture materials? Recycle them—you got what you needed from the experience of attending the talk. Credit card statements? Check them for errant charges, then into the shredder they go. Kondo reveals that her clients who had the hardest time getting rid of papers were a lawyer couple. Their refrain: “What if this document is needed in court?” They finally got rid of almost all their papers, and guess what? They’re fine.
- Don’t keep gifts out of guilt. Admit it: you’ve gotten gifts you don’t like. The point of a gift is to express someone’s feelings. After the joy of the gift-giving moment is through, you can donate the gift without guilt; it has served its purpose In my experience, people don’t notice when their gift is missing from your house; they notice that one gift that you kept and love to display.
- Recycle electronics packaging. As soon as you get your new cell phone or iPod out of its packaging, recycle both the box and the manual. You can always get answers to any questions online. All of Kondo’s clients have recycled these, and according to her, not one has ever been inconvenienced.
- Rid yourself of komono. This is the Japanese word for “miscellaneous items.” Spare buttons, unidentified cords, free novelty goods . . . the list goes on and on. Clear ’em out and make space for the things you truly love.
- Declutter photos and mementos. You don’t need to keep all those old birthday cards and blurry photos of European architecture. Kondo promises that if you take out each photo from your album and ask yourself if it inspires joy, you’ll end up with only about 5 photos per day of every trip. They will be the photos that best bring back the joy of that time. Let the rest go. Ditto with old birthday cards and love letters. Their time in the sun has passed. Repeat Kondo’s mantra: “Cherish who you are now.”
- Storage experts are hoarders. Beware focusing on clever storage solutions before you’ve gone through every item in your house. Many storage experts focus on stuffing as many things as they can into your closet, without stopping to examine whether they bring joy. Don’t make that fatal mistake.
Once you’ve gone through every item in your house, Kondo says to designate a spot for every single thing that’s left. This is her key to staying clutter-free forever. The result? A house full of items that bring you joy, each in its place.
Kondo’s promise is about more than just stuff. It’s about intentionality and mindfulness, with a sprinkling of Zen philosophy.
So turn off that episode of Hoarders and gather up all those errant hammers (or coats, or shoes, or purses). You—and your house—will thank me.