How to Declutter Your Life

Happy New Year! HTLYT took a bit of a break for the holidays but now we’re back, better than ever, and excited to leave our two cents on latest viral-because-of-a-Netflix-special trend. So Grace and I wore blindfolds for a week and…

#birdboxchallenge #arewecoolyet?

Kidding. Assuming you’re not blindfolded, you’ve seen the title and concluded we’re talking about decluttering, with heavy reference to Marie Kondo’s twice-viral (once as a book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and now in her Netflix Special, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo) KonMari method and minimalism generally.

You only need to glance through my bathroom drawers to know that I’m no expert at decluttering, but I have had an on-an-off flirtation with the KonMari method and minimalism for at least three years now. Here’s my best advice for bringing at least a little of it into your own life.

(This post assumes you’re at least somewhat familiar with what the KonMari method is, either from the show or your friend who won’t stop talking about it. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you might want to start here for a rough overview.)

The very basics, explained by Emily Gilmore

Do your research.

By research, I don’t just mean reading the Buzzfeed oversimplification or watching a Youtuber distill Marie Kondo’s life’s work into 10 minutes and 12 seconds.

If you’re going to try to follow along with the KonMarie method, I’d highly recommend actually reading her book for two reasons.

First, even though it’s called a method, it’s really more of a philosophy – at least if you want the neatness to last beyond that weekend frenzy of throwing things away. And building a new philosophy for yourself requires more than just one question (does it spark joy?) and a cute folding method. You have to understand not just what she’s doing but why she’s doing it, and decide what parts of this actually resonate with you. You don’t have to follow her book to the letter, but it’s helpful to understand the purpose of the parts you’re ignoring so you can modify to fill in that gap.

Second, reading the book helps you understand where this method is coming from. Marie Kondo seems to be this model of perfection (and I adore her deeply), but this is all based on her obsession with tidying as a child. Jolenta Greenberg and Kristin Meinzer tried out the KonMarie method in their podcast, By the Book, where they live out a self-help book for two weeks. In their review of The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, they point out that most of these books are written by people with extreme personalities – and those personalities tend to take things to the extreme. Which is to say: if you can’t adopt her extreme perspective whole-heartedly, that’s okay. Reading the book might help you realize why you don’t line up exactly with her perspective, and that’s okay too.

Before you remove the clutter from another’s life, you must remove the clutter from your own.

After reading her book (or watching her show, or reading that Buzzfeed article), you’re going to start to notice all the stuff that surrounds you. And not just your stuff, but everyone else’s. You might become stressed by your mother’s drawers and conclude she’s a borderline hoarder, leaving a copy of the book on her nightstand as a hint. You might conclude that your friend has way too many clothes and sit on her bed as she sorts through them, heckling her and constantly asking Does that spark joy? Does it really?

Or maybe you won’t be as obnoxious as I was.

Maybe you’ll realize that joy is a feeling and we don’t all feel the same way. The KonMari method isn’t about minimizing your possessions to some manageable number, but about curating a collection of objects that fill you with delight. Maybe you’ll recognize that joy is different for everyone, and maybe having the same shirt in three different colors brings your friend the same joy that you have when you carry around books that you’ll never read again. Or maybe it doesn’t bring them joy at all, but that’s their journey to discover.

Maybe you’ll realize when your mother’s clutter stresses you out, it’s actually you projecting guilt about the joy-less objects you still hold on to.

Maybe you’ll yell at your friend anyway, because it brings you both joy in a fun, teasing sort of way, and she asks you to help and you know you can’t actually bully her into giving up anything that she doesn’t want to let go of.

Decluttering is a weirdly personal and sometimes sensitive journey. Embark on it solo; don’t touch people’s things unless they ask you to (like when your mom’s in the eleventh hour of packing and actually needs you to make decisions for her). And remember you can’t judge someone else’s joy.

It’s okay not to do it perfectly.

Marie Kondo paints a picture of a perfectly tidied home, where every object has a place and brings a specific joy. But life happens, and messiness is not a moral failing. I know I said I’m focusing on physical clutter in this post, but one of the best things you can purge from your life this year is guilt about not doing things that are supposed to help you perfectly. A halfway decluttering still feels really good.

But push yourself if you can.

The most fun part of the KonMari method is getting rid of and re-organizing your clothes. Tackling other objects, especially sentimental items like photographs, gifts, or paper/digital clutter is a lot more stressful. And it’s okay to start with and stick to clothes for a while – whenever I’m feeling stuck or in a rut, I revisit my closet. But you can also get a lot of relief by moving through the harder objects as well. You might realize you don’t need to hold on to as many files as you thought. And if there’s a gift that didn’t quite work out, it’s okay to let go – the giver would much rather see it donated or cleansed from your life than lingering around, stressing you out.

If I’ve ever given you something that doesn’t fit in your life, I’d hope you let go of it. (And I hope you feel the same way about the things you give me, because it might be too late.)

Find joy in the process.

Decluttering is all about curating surroundings that are perfectly suited to you. And that’s pretty damn cool.

I could go on about this forever, but I think this is a good place to stop for now. If you’re interested in expanding from decluttering into minimalism, I’d recommend reading minimalist blogs like paris-to-go or zenhabits (also extreme-ish lifestyles/personalities, but very inspiring). If you want to hear me talk more about decluttering or minimalism in a more step-by-step way or generally, let me know! I’m thinking about discussing digital clutter in a later post.

Are you KonMari-ing or have you found joy in other ways? Let us know in the comments.

xoxo, Kim

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image courtesy of andrej

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