Back in January the rage in the literary world was a book by Japanese author Marie Kondo entitled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”
I heard of it a few times before I borrowed it from the library, and though she had some great points, it wasn’t all that new to me.
By no means am I an expert organizer, and especially not a declutterer, though I am known for my organizational skills and talents. It is an innate quality I’ve carried around my entire life. My mother likes to remind me when I was a toddler I sorted all of my toys/knick knacks by color into folded down brown paper bags. My closet has been organized by color and style since I was able to organize it myself. In college my roommates called me “Danny Tanner” (from Full House) for my almost compulsive need to organize. I once organized the M&Ms in my office’s lunch room by color and when someone asked who did it, someone else said, “Who do you think?”
Reading “Tidying Up” reminded me of my own past. I, too, would organize my family’s closets and pantries, often without asking. Once they learned I knew what I was doing, they asked me to help. I still do to this day, but they’re getting better at it on their own. I am quick to tidy up other’s items due to lack of emotional attachment. It’s always easier to clean up someone else’s papers or clothes or books when I have no memories involved.
I almost felt as if I had written the book myself, save for a few chapters, which made it difficult for me to want to continue reading since it was all too familiar. But, I wanted to walk away from the book with some useful tips because I knew I could learn from her experience.
The main thing I learned from her book was to physically hold an item and see if it “sparked joy.” This became a mantra when cleaning out any space in my home. And it significantly helped my guilt subside when donating an item that I never used. It’s easy to look at an item and think “This is still useful to me.” But holding it provides that tactile connection that is key to allowing yourself to really understand the item’s purpose in your life.
I regularly donate items to charities, and I part ways with these things by thinking the following thoughts:
- Someone else can get use out of this.
- This no longer serves its purpose in my life.
- For clothes: This never fit properly/this no longer fits properly/this is out of style/this is no longer my style.
- For books: I still haven’t read this/I read this and don’t like it/I can find what I need from this book online.
- For gifts: This gift was well-meant but does not serve me.
Adding Marie’s criteria of sparking joy opened a whole new world. I carry guilt with items because I don’t want the gifter to feel bad that I’m not using their gift, or for myself to feel guilty for spending money on something I never used. But thinking of items in terms of joy is helpful on all accounts.
Another key I learned from her book was a take-away from another reader (courtesy of ApartmentTherapy.com). It’s called “Completing the Cycle.”
My father tried to instill this in me as a child. “Don’t go up or down the stairs empty handed.” That is, if there was something that needed to be put away on either floor from another floor, I should bring it with me and kill two birds with one stone. I try to do this now – if I need to go to the basement I bring as much as I can carry if anything needs putting away. But it extends much further than that. It means completing what you’re doing so you don’t have to do it later.
In other terms: Put a new trash bag in the can. Put the towel back on the rack. Wash the dishes every day. Put away the laundry. Make the bed. Put away the mail. Fill up the gas tank.
As I mentioned above, I am no expert at organizing. I am also no expert at completing the cycle. I can point out at least 10 spots in my home at this very moment where I have not completed the cycle. I do make a conscious effort to improve this skill, however, and it is working.
One of the biggest places this makes a difference in my life is with the dishes. Every night, the sink is piled with dishes. Sometimes the dishwasher needs emptying as well. It doesn’t take long to do, but it is a daunting (and noisy) task. Right now I’m typing this post instead of doing the dishes. When our kitchen was being remodeled and we had no sink, we piled the dishes in the tub. I had to do the dishes before bed because otherwise I would have to do them in the morning before taking a shower, and that did not fit into our morning schedule. So I did them every night and put them away every morning once they were dry. Despite washing the dishes in the bathtub, it made me feel good every morning to have the dishes done. I’m sorry to say I’ve sunk back into my “normal” routine of doing them when I can because I no longer “have to” do them each night.
I know most things take mere seconds – putting a new trash bag in the can, turning off a light, closing a closet door, putting kitchen items away once I’m done using them. Sometimes I get distracted with a toddler, but most times I take those seconds to make my life easier later that day.
All in all I’m glad I read the book. It helped me improve a few things around the house which helped improve my outlook on my home. Since that’s where I spend the majority of my time, I’d it’s well worth it.