How to Tidy Your Home and Your Life

I recently became aware of a particular approach to organizing one's home called the Konmari method. Supposedly I could learn to declutter my life while also learning about myself and my values. I was intrigued. 

I have always liked the relaxing simplicity that is Japanese design. It has an uncluttered elegance to it. Now my living space has a similar feel and I couldn't be more pleased with the result. I really enjoyed the whole process, so much so that I was slightly disappointed when it concluded because the activity itself was so pleasant. 

Konmari was invented by Marie Kondo and is described in detail in her book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." I had actually read the book previously, but had subsequently forgotten about it. I picked it back up and read it again after hearing Marie's interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast

What Specifically is the Konmari Method?

Konmari is a process for reducing your total number of possessions and then organizing the remaining ones. The result is an organized home where everything has its own specific place. From that point, it's easy to keep your space tidy because cleaning becomes simply a matter of returning items to their already designated locations. 

The surprising and deeper experiential portion of Konmari concerns clarifying your values to yourself. In deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, you learn about yourself and what is important to you now.

The method is actually very straightforward. For each type of possession, you put everything you own in a big pile. This gives you a visual impression of how much stuff you have, which is probably going to be a lot more than you thought you had. Then, ideally in total silence but otherwise with calming music in the background, you pick up one item at a time and ask yourself if it sparks joy within you. If yes, keep it. If no, discard it (I donated my discard pile to charity). If "sparking joy" seems a bit strange to you, think about it as your subconscious giving you an immediate yes or no response when you hold the object. 

You only decide where things go after going through all of your possessions in that category individually. To reiterate: you decide what to discard before you even start deciding where any of the keepers go

You repeat this process for each of your major types of possessions, tidying by category rather than by location. The Konmari method dictates a specific category order to minimize the risk that you will be derailed in the process. This is accomplished primarily by organizing the most emotionally sensitive items last. When doing Konmari, you evaluate your possessions in the following order:

  1. Clothing
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Miscellaneous
  5. Sentimental Items

I did not realize how important the order was until I actually started working through the process for myself. The order is very important both for efficiency and to ensure you actually complete the project. Here are some of my observations from undergoing the process: 

Gaining More Stuff

I started with my clothing, as recommended, and I immediately noticed a bit of a paradox. Although I threw out (ie. donated) around 100 items of clothing, I actually felt like I had more stuff than when I started the process. I was reminded about pieces of clothing that I really liked but had forgotten that I owned. Now they were rediscovered all over again. Not only did these possessions seem new again, but I really liked each of them since they were all clothing items I had purchased before. 

For each article of clothing I kept, I imagined the particular circumstance when I would use it. For example, now I have an outfit specifically for when I'm painting and another one for when I'm gardening. Now I have a way better idea of what is available to me in my own closet and when I would potentially use each item. 

Ridding Yourself of Useless Junk

Contrasted with this feeling of having more stuff, of course you actually have less stuff. It's a really pleasant sort of purge because you find out that you have no emotional attachment to stuff you don't want. These items were simply wasting space in your habitat. 

When you do get to the organizing portion of the project, there is a lot more room. Closets which were previously full now have plenty of space and probably a little extra. I also get a nice feeling when I open up my closet now because every single item I encounter makes me happy.

Recovering Key Memories

Many memories came flooding back to me during the process of holding the items. Interestingly, the items I chose to discard conjured up just as many memories for me as the items I chose to keep. Not every item triggered a memory, but when a memory did get triggered I noticed that the memory seemed to appear more clearly than would typically occur during normal recall. I think this is because of the combination of visual, touch, and sometimes smell connected with each item. Together these factors proved to very effectively conjure up clear memories from my past which had been previously unvisited for years. I found myself literally hugging a couple of items before discarding them.

I later shared many of these freshly recalled memories with people who lived them with me at the time. So there seemed to be a sort of pay-it-forward effect to the process as well. 

Clarifying My Values to Myself

When I threw something away, I took a moment to consider where I had originally obtained the item. How old was I? Why did I buy/obtain this item? What expectations did I have when I purchased it and did these expectations still apply today? Some clothes I thought would look cool but didn't end up looking cool. Some were impractical once I started using them. Some were damaged or defective. In some cases, I noted that I had changed as a person since obtaining the item and therefore it was no longer relevant to me. 

The Sentimental Pile Does Get Emotional

Some memories that came up were painful. I do feel the Konmari process did help me to get a bit more of a sense of closure regarding certain difficult events from my past compared to when I started. It's now very clear why sentimental items are the very last category. When something hits you that deeply, all you can really do is drop everything and experience.

There were a number of beautiful moments for me. The wisdom of the method is gaining enough momentum that you can take the time to really feel when you get to the sentimental portion, without feeling rushed. It was really nice. 

My Final Thoughts

I'm quite pleased with the results of my experiment in Konmari. My home is clean, well-organized, and gives me a pleasant sensation each time I return. The process surprised me by teaching me about myself and my values. 

I was also lucky enough to re-experience certain memories which touched me to my core, but which hadn't occurred to me in years. I feel more connected to my own story and to the positive ways in which others have touched my life. These are pretty amazing results from a simple process for tidying.