Tidying up: Decluttering your space and its unexpected benefits

Decluttering your home

I finished reading The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. In the book, she explores her method for decluttering the homes of thousands of messy clients around the world. She champions counterintuitive organizational methods.

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Why bother decluttering?

Kondo argues that our possessions are the physical artifacts of our decisions. Thus, a messy room indicates that our minds are disorganized. The state of our belongings is a reminder of what we value and plan to maintain. Ordering the home helps us order our lives. It helps us focus on the objects and thoughts that matter most to us. It helps us reduce decision fatigue and streamline our priorities.

Declutter once and for all

Because clutter begets clutter in mindset and in physical order, Kondo recommends tidying everything in one big session. She has observed in her organizational consulting career that gradual decluttering leads to frustration. For details on why, grab the book. The theme of batch processing of organization comes up in several places. You don’t have to do it all in one day, but this should be done over the course of a week or two. Envision what you want your home to look like.

How to attack the clutter

Lay out all your belongings in categories. Each respective category should be laid out in it’s own respective open space in your house. You won’t be moving your objects from one meta-hoarding space to another.

Discard what you don’t need first. Her method for choosing what to discard sounds hokey. But, it seems to work for me. Hold each object in your hands and note how it makes you feel. Do you love this object? Does it bring you joy? Do you feel guilt about it? Do you fear losing it would effect your future? Do you fear you’ll be disrespecting a family member or your own memories by discarding it? If you want to create your home as a joyful and guilt-free place, the objects in it should be thoughtfully chosen to evoke these feelings. How does it feel to walk into your living room and think: “I wish I could get a new TV, but my cousin was so nice to fix this one for me, I couldn’t get a new one.” Do you really think you’re cousin would be happy to know you’re not getting the TV you want because they fixed it? If an item doesn’t bring you joy or a sense of wholeness, get rid of it. Don’t dump it on another family member, don’t store it for future use. Get rid of it.

The Decluttering Order

Kondo specifies an order to discarding things, ordered from easiest to hardest to discard.

  1. Clothes

  2. Books

    1. Discard everything but the books you love keeping and the ones you are reading. Don’t keep around books you’ll “read someday”. The time to read a book is within a couple months of attaining it.
  3. Papers

    1. Discard all except items you are
      1. Using now
      2. Need for a short time
      3. Need forever
    2. Keep them all in the same place.
    3. Discard manuals, keep warranties (until they expire.)
  4. Miscellaneous

    1. Discard product boxes, you rarely need them.
    2. Throw away excess cords and spare items.
    3. Discard health craze items (ab roller, weight loss machine, etc).
  5. Mementos/Photos/Nostalgic Items

    1. This is difficult, but important, because it helps us come to terms with our past and keep it where it belongs (behind us.) Our space should reflect and amplify who we are, not who we were.

Storage

Kondo doesn’t like storage. In a contemporary society with Amazon and local stores, it is unneeded. Regardless, some things are prudent to keep around. They are best kept in closets out of the way (mentally and physically). Similar items should be kept together (clothes with cloths, electronics with electronics, etc…) They should be ordered vertically so each item can be easily picked from the storage area without having to dig through a stack or pile.

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Offseason items can go on top of shelves.

Hang sponges so they dry out. Keep bathroom items out of the tub area so they stay dry and don’t collect scum.

Keep items off the kitchen counter. This is a space for food preparation.

Remove words on items showing words. They bring “noise” to an area. Get the book for a deeper discussion as to why this is.

Bags can go inside each other to maximize space.

Specific advice on clothing storage and folding

The book has some important tips on storing and folding various types of clothing. Keep your clothes vertically folded and standing next to each other. Not stacked. You’ll have to watch videos for a better explanation.  Everything gets folded and placed into drawers in your closet unless that is impractical as is the case with coats, jackets, skirts, suits, dresses, and some pants. Socks never get balled up (and stretched out.)

When are you done?

When you feel like your space clicks and doesn’t have any excess objects. This is purely qualitative. Kondo finds applying metrics only upsets people and leaves us feeling out of touch with the process of having the space the way we want it.

When to stop the decluttering

Every item will have its place in a room. It will be simple and natural to return it to that place when you are done with it. The items left after the declutter will feel important and worth treating well. It will naturally be easier for things to have a place, when there are fewer items vying for places.

Her clients show more respect for their belongings and feel a deeper sense of gratitude for them. They come to an understanding of what they value. They learn to let go of physical possessions that are holding them back.

The Magic of Tidying Up

The book was on my list for a while because it’s at the top of Amazon organization lists and I have a fascination with optimizing space. Programmatic organization first interested me last year when an NPR show pointed me to a book on personal organization by a computer scientist. The Magic of Tidying Up was one of my favorite reads of all time. I definitely recommend you get the book for a more rigorous  examination of the ideas explored here.

Over the past few months, I’ve been striving to live in a more simple environment. I’ve been purging belongings I don’t need. As Kondo mentions in her book, our fear of needing things is overblown. I can’t even remember the things I’ve discarded. And I notice that my mind is freed up to think about the tasks and thoughts I want to focus on, rather than on the clutter of objects in my space. Having a messy space means constantly being physically reminded by the objects around you “where does this go?” “what should I do with that?” “I should address this thing on this paper”. Clutter begets clutter in the mind and the world. I think it’s good to have things and think about the things in your physical space. But, these things should be thoughtfully ordered such that your mind is focusing on the things that bring you joy and fulfillment; the things that order your life to the production of the tasks that move you to your goals, whatever they may be. Are their objects in your space, on your desk or in your drawers, or on your floor, bring mild discontentment into your life? If you’re OK with that, ask why.