If you are feeling crushed by burden of clutter, and crave a tidy, pleasing, functional home, these tips from The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy by Marie Kondo may help. As these best sellers took off, plenty of Konverts have used the KonMari method to transform their homes, and, sometimes, their lives.
If talk of tidying up and letting go of stuff raises your blood pressure, do not read this. It’s just for those who are irked by clutter and seek a different, practical solution.
For a pep talk with a different perspective, see Decluttering 101: How to Let it Go and Get On With It.
Does Clutter Stress You Out?
Let’s start with the assumption that you are unhappy with the current, cluttered state of your home, you have tried numerous decluttering and organizing methods over the years, but you have never managed to fully tame the beast.
Your home stresses you out, it’s difficult to clean, you have plenty of things you love and would make more use of—if you had the time to find them. You feel ready to take the plunge and open to a new method, hopeful that this could be the one that brings the changes you crave.
Old Methods versus The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up
Traditional methods of decluttering often suggest a room-by-room method where you look over all your belongings, get rid of some unwanted items, add some clever storage solutions, and put everything back, nice and tidy.
The KonMari method, as it is called, goes at it from a whole new angle.
The idea is that you are going to truly declutter and sort your entire home, ending up with things you love and enjoy. To do this, the focus is on items by category, not room-by-room, and what you want to keep.
Knowing that your belongings are finite, and, no matter how overwhelming they may seem, everything you own fits into one of the KonMari categories (get your free checklist, below). So, you can see that, if you really do work through every single category, you will, in the end, have pared down and sorted your entire home.
Another key difference with this method is the criterion for deciding what to keep and what to let go: does this spark joy?
Right there, many people abandon ship and reject the method because, at face value, that sounds rather impractical or woo-woo-ish. Keep in mind, spark joy is a soundbite. It is not the whole picture, nor is it completely self-explanatory. I urge you to read on—if you are serious about decluttering and tidying up—to learn more about it and what it really means, and see if this method may be just what you need.
The KonMari Method
I mentioned that this is a category-based approach. It also focusses on what you want to keep, rather than the purge or discarding. That is also why we refer to it as tidying up instead of just decluttering.
Because tidying up—the read deal, not the reshuffling of things—can be an emotional and draining process, the KonMari method asks that you approach the categories in a specific order, leaving the more challenging ones until the end.
The broad categories are:
- Misc. also known as Komono
It is suggested that you work swiftly, moving through one entire category within a ‘sorting event‘ (decluttering session), intended to be a special, absolutely thorough, once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
Personally, I’m working through our entire home, category-by-category, but I suspect that many people are happy just to complete the clothing category. That in itself can be very rewarding. And that’s fine, of course. This is just about getting your life in order the way you want it and nothing more.
How to Tidy Up in Four Steps
If you still have questions, you may want to read the books or listen to the audio books for a more complete understanding of the method. They are huge bestsellers, so libraries will certainly have copies as well. Also, there are several videos (below) that I found helpful.
1. Envision what you want your home to be like. Often just a single picture or drawing will do.
2. Make tidying a special event.
- Sort by category, gathering every single item in that category into one space.
- Work in this basic order, leaving the emotionally-charged items for last.
- Do not store, display, or arrange until you have completely sorted each category.
- No matter how cluttered things look along the way, don’t pause, don’t stop, don’t quit.
- If you get stuck on an item because it carries a lot of memories, move it to the mementos category for later.
- If you are so inclined, some people like to thank or acknowledge items before letting them go. I know some find this odd, but, for others, it is an important part of the process.
- What ends up being the right amount of stuff depends entirely on you and no one else.
When you have worked through every category, go on to Step 3.
3. Store, Organize, Display, Decorate
“The essence of the storage process is to appreciate the things you own and to strive to make your relationship with them as special as possible.”
- After everything is sorted, you know what you have and can start deciding how to be display or store it.
- By storing, we do not mean tucking away in a bin somewhere, never to be seen again. We mean finding a logical place that makes it easy to enjoy.
“Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.”
- Learn to fold fabrics including clothes, towels, and linens. I’ve provided examples in videos (below).
- Give everything a place.
- Keep categories together, storing by material: cloth, paper, electrical, ceramic, glass, and so on.
- Be careful not to over-categorize. ‘There is a booby trap in ‘storage.’ Too many file folders or bins becomes hoarding, not organizing.
- One key idea is to leave breathing room. Never fill a space to capacity. Always allow room to move things around. A dresser drawer packed with tops is awkward to open and nearly impossible to select clothes from without making a mess. The same drawer at 90% capacity allows room to add and remove items and maintain order.
4. Get on With Life
- With your belongings pared down to that which sparks joy, and everything in its logical place, you will start to see possibilities. You now have more time and space to do the things you enjoy. A new reverence for your belongings will set in.
- Even if you do not tidy daily, it is simple to put everything back in its place. Cleaning is easy.
A Clothing Sorting Example
This is Step 2 of the Four Steps.
Here’s why the KonMari method is so thorough. To get started, gather every single piece of clothing you own and put them in one place. If you have items stashed around your home or in off-site storage, be certain you have everything, except things that are in the laundry.
It may seem like a lot of extra work to bring everything in one category to a single location for sorting, but, think about it. It’s the best way to really grasp just how much you truly have —this can be truly shocking for some people—and, a very good way to prioritize by comparison. With all the clothes laid out in front of you, it is then much easier to decide which ones stay and which ones go. You also can’t just stuff things back where they were.
Every single item is to be held and considered, asking does this spark joy (or your version of this question)? We’re going with the gut-reaction, not the secondary rational thoughts.
Before you roll your eyes or declare “sparking joy” to be too strange or unrealistic, keep in mind the broader meaning. The joy can be found in how useful, beautiful, or enjoyable something is. A favourite piece of art and a really good hairbrush that you use daily may both meet the criteria. It’s a matter of, yes, I want this in my life. The choices are to be made quickly without too much thought.
Sure, you spent a fortune on those jeans but you don’t like how they feel when you wear them, so, let them go. You can sell or donate what you are letting go of.
And the best part is, it’s your game. This isn’t a method where someone else sets a random number of belongings you should have, or decides what is useful or meaningful to you. This is you knowing that you are not comfortable in your space as it is, and, feeling overwhelmed by too much stuff and disorder, you want to reduce what you own, not to get rid of things per se, but to uncover the life you envision for yourself.
The idea is, even if it takes weeks or months, by the time the last category is sorted, you will have reduced your belongings to the ones that ‘spark joy’.
In some cases, you may encounter something you love, but, you feel your time with it has been completed. In true KonMari fashion, you can thank the item for the lessons, help, or joy it provided, and add it to the donations bag.
From there, you have your best belongings and can proceed to display or store them where they are easy to locate and enjoy. Ideas for folding and displaying items are shown below, and there are many examples in the books as well.
In the end, when every category is complete, every roll of tape is in one place. Every t-shirt is folded in a nice bundle (see below), standing upright in your dresser drawer. Every bottle of craft paint is ready for use. There is a comfortable place to sit and play your guitar. There is not over-crowding or missing items. You know what you have, you know where it is, and you love what you have.
In this video, Marie Kondo works with a woman in Brooklyn, New York to tidy the apartment she shares with her husband and children.
This podcast episode (audio recording) by the Women’s Podcast features a home-visit with Marie Kondo as she helps ‘self-confessed messer’ Roisin Ingle get started with the KonMari method.
Janine of A Young Mum on YouTube chronicled her entire tidying up process. You can tell in the first episodes that she was absolutely determined to get her home in order and a great match for this method. Upon completion, she decided to take formal training and become a KonMari-certified consultant to assist others.
KonMari Folding Methods
You may have already heard about the KonMari folding methods for clothes and other fabric items like sheets and towels. Initially, I assumed it would be a time-consuming chore without any real benefits but I have found the reverse is true.
It takes just a few minutes to learn how to properly fold clothes so they fit nicely in a drawer, with everything standing up in neat bundles that you can see at a glance. It’s also a great skill to have when packing a suitcase. The folded bundles work much better than rolling clothes. I have totally joined The Folding Cult (I just made up that name) and love it.
If nothing else, learn now to fold a fitted sheet. Once you do this, that gnarly ball of fabric becomes a neat, wrinkle-free square that fits easily in your linen cupboard.
Here’s a good demonstration of how to fold clothes by Laura of GYST.
This shows how to fold a fitted sheet. There are more options on YouTube if this one doesn’t click for you.
Tidying versus Cleaning
Tidying puts things in order. Cleaning manages dirt.
The harmony comes when everything in your home has a logical and easy-to-access place. From there, daily or weekly tidying up is simple, and cleaning is much easier.
Is this Minimalism?
No. “The act of discarding things on its own will never bring joy to your life. Discarding is not the point; what matters is keeping those things that bring you joy. If you have nothing left but an empty house, I don’t think you’ll be happy living there. Our goal in tidying should be to create a living environment filled with the things we love.”
Why We Sort
“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
Two Basic Types of Clutter
“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
Either an item that is not currently useful is kept for sentimental reasons (the past), or, we think it might be handy one day (the future).
If you have more sentimental items than you wish to own, thank them for what they have given you in life, and let them go. Keep just the ones you want.
Hanging onto to stuff because it might come in handy one day can be a trap. The few times we need these things, we have so much clutter, we can’t even find them. Dial it down to the essentials and sort them so you can make use of them.
How Can I Get My Husband or Kids to Tidy Up?
You can’t. Or not directly. All you can do is get your own belongings in order and live a good example.
“The urge to point out someone else’s failure to tidy is usually a sign that you are neglecting to take care of your own space.”
“Only when we accept unconditionally people whose values differ from our own can we really say that we have finished tidying.”
“You don’t have to make yourself like someone else’s things. It’s enough just to be able to accept them.”
“When you have truly finished tidying, you’ll see what you want or absolutely must do next, so you really don’t have time to waste on complaining about others.”
The hint here, which I have experienced myself is, once you don’t have the clutter to bother you, you feel free and invigorated to get on with doing the things you love.
How Should I Deal with Gifts?
“Evaluate the joy that each item gives you as close to the time you receive it. Do not wait until a later time to deal with the item. Since we are most likely to experience the greatest joy upon receiving the item, it seems unlikely that something that does not cause you to light up when you initially get the item will somehow seem more appealing to you at a later time.
If you keep an item that does not bring you joy to confront it later, you will grow indifferent about owning it, and the urgency to discard it will have diminished. As this continues to occur, you will find that you have kept things without really considering the value it brings your life.”
How Long Will it Take?
As long as it takes. In the books, it is urged that you complete one category in one ‘sorting event’ or work session. If you have too many items to achieve this, you can create sub-categories (download the free printable for ideas).
I have seen people who own mountains of clothing break it down into tops, bottoms, and so on, tackling one of these sub-categories each day. You’ll know which categories will likely overwhelm you, so do go ahead and break them into smaller bites.
Overall, it appears that anyone with an average-size home by North American standards, with the usual amounts of clutter could take 6-12 months to work through every category, if there are jobs and family to tend to along the way. Those with small apartments and nothing in storage elsewhere, might just get the whole thing done in a week.
“As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you.”
While you’re trying to be as thorough as possible on the first pass, there’s a change of perception that happens as you go. I have found that my taste becomes more refined as I go and things I kept during round one, are clearly not keepers when I review things later.
So Where is the Lifechanging Magic?
“A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”
“When you put your house in order, you put your affairs in your past in order, too.”
For those who work all the way the through, there does seem to be a true transformation. Everything seems different once the burden of clutter is no longer nagging us each day.
True Konverts report that tidying their homes was just the first step. Next comes changes to their relationships, interests, and careers.
And that’s the basics to the KonMari method. And remember, “Tidying up is just the tool, not the final destination.”
Are you going to tidy up? Let me know!
Free Printable KonMari Sorting Categories
This list is a starting point for you to decide how you will approach tidying up.
In a cluttered home, it’s easy to forget exactly what you own.
Review the list, complete your sub-categories, and get started.
This free printable is 4-pages in PDF format. If you need help with downloading, this post has step-by-step instructions.
Get the Books
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