I’m reading a book that is revolutionizing my life. It’s about tidying—as in organizing your home. Like your home, mine accumulates stuff. My family is pretty neat, but a household of six can’t avoid some disorder. So what’s the big deal about keeping unused and unwanted things around, assuming the mess they create is small and unobtrusive? Marie Kondo explains in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
Kondo is a celebrity in Japan, where she is the author of bestsellers, featured in a TV movie, and has a three month wait list for her organizing services. Her approach to tidying is revolutionary because it is philosophical. Even though her methods are supremely practical, she doesn’t approach home organization in a utilitarian way. Getting rid of the unwanted and unused is not ultimately a material endeavor in her view, but a spiritual one.
Her method comprises two central principles:
1. “Keep only those things that speak to your heart, then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” The litmus test is always whether an item “sparks joy.”
2. Don’t buy organizational products: You have everything you need, and they only enable you to store things you probably should be discarding.
A couple of corollaries:
A. Sort by category, not location. Meaning: Don’t organize the office supplies in your kitchen versus those in your den or home office. Do them all together at once.
B. Get rid of kimono: miscellaneous stuff like old phone chargers, computer cords, buttons, etc. Free up your space for what sparks joy.
Here’s an example of how I used her method and its effect on me. In my formerly overflowing T-shirt drawer the majority of shirts fell into one of these categories: unneeded duplicate, too loose or tight, never liked, gift I felt too guilty to get rid of, nostalgic but unworn, bad color, or littered with those stupid holes where the shirt hits your belt buckle. This drawer was folded pretty nicely, but taking a philosophical angle, what happened each morning when I went to dig up a shirt I actually would enjoy wearing and feel good in?
1. I felt guilty about having so much stuff I don’t want or wear, and a tinge of anxiety as I plunged into an overstuffed and thus hostile drawer.
2. I wasted time finding what I do want to wear and then refolding or tidying the unwanted stuff that got messed up during my search.
3. I ended up forcing myself on some days to wear things out of guilt that didn’t make me feel good about the way I looked and impacted my confidence that day.
4. I was being ungenerous by not sharing with others shirts that I hated but that they may have loved.
We could continue this list, but the point is plain. Surrounding yourself with the unwanted and unused is not innocuous: In some real sense, it depletes and diminishes you.
I spent about a half hour on this drawer, following Kondo’s method: I dumped everything out onto the floor, and then only allowed myself to return to the drawer shirts that I actively wanted to be wearing. I was ruthless and put everything else in a giveaway bag.
The result? Crazy as it sounds, I felt light and joyful! Every time I go to use this drawer now, I see only things that I love—that speak to rather than drain me.
I was excited to share my discovery with my kids, so over the course of the next several weekends, I helped them “spark joy” in their rooms. Out went the unliked or outgrown clothing, the boring and unwanted toys, the broken crayons and dried out markers in the desk drawers, and all of the clutter that made their rooms, closets, and dressers messy and unfriendly. I can’t tell you how utterly delighted they were by the end result, and how transformed they felt in their rooms.
By clearing your environment and surrounding yourself only with beloved and special things, you “change your mind-set.” It really isn’t about material things at all. It’s about fashioning a reality in which you are surrounded by only that which pleases you and uplifts your spirit. Kondo promises that “When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too.” She’s right.