On KonMari, Clothes, and Cleaning Up.
I spend my entire life cleaning.
OK, maybe that’s an overstatement. But, no, I spend my entire life cleaning. Or, at least, thinking that maybe I should clean. There’s always laundry that somehow gathers in a pile next to the hamper. There’s always a sink full of dishes that cascades onto the kitchen counter. There’s always a trail of litter on the floor that I’ll sweep up tomorrow. Maybe. There’s always hair in the drain or a closet door that won’t quite close or an empty can of Coke on the nightstand or a sheet corner that has come loose.
There’s always clutter.
I’ve always been messy. As a child I remember having to wade through a moat of clothes and toys that surrounded my four poster bed. In high school I couldn’t open my locker without notebooks and my backpack and yesterday’s lunch falling on top of me. And in my college dorm room I kept most of my things jammed under my bed (much to the chagrin of my school-assigned roommate who, no joke, would Lysol me in my sleep).
I’ve just never been good at keeping things clean.
I thought that, maybe, traveling would help. I mean, before I left to travel I got rid of about two thirds of my possessions (see the great purge part one, part two, and part three). And, on the road, for three years of my life, I lived on nothing more than what could fit in a backpack.
When I eventually moved back to Chicago and moved into my own apartment, I thought, “this is it. I have my own place. I have fewer things. I will surely keep my space clean.”
And things did start off okay. Having a place to myself did help. Every closet was mine. Every drawer was mine. Every cabinet was mine. I could put things away exactly where I wanted. I could arrange things exactly as I wanted.
But every closet was mine. And every drawer was mine. And every cabinet was mine. And, inevitably, things multiplied. And things piled up. And things covered up other things. And I got lazy.
Do you ever notice that when your surroundings are cluttered it’s harder to think? Do you ever notice that when you know you need to clean it’s harder to get anything else done…even if you never get around to the cleaning? Do you ever notice that when your surroundings are nice and tidy and sparkling how much more relaxed you feel? How much more clear your head is?
I do. And, yet, I never manage to keep things clean for more than a short spurt of time.
I try. Every so often I go on a cleaning spree and force myself to put everything away, do all my dishes, finish all my laundry, and scrub every single surface down. And when everything is spic and span and polished and organized I say to myself, every time, that this time I will keep it that way. That as soon as I wash a dish I will clean that dish. That when I change into pajamas I will not just throw my dress on the floor of the bathroom. That I will teach the cats to put their toys away in the toy box. That I won’t ever let things get that bad again.
But they do. They always do. Cleanliness will last a few days, sure. Maybe even a week. But then, maybe, I’ll be watching something on TV and say to myself that I will wash that dish when the program is over. And then the program ends and another begins and I don’t ever get around to it. And then since there’s one dish in the sink why not make it twenty. And since there are dishes in the sink why not groceries on the counter and clothes on the floor and empty bottles on the coffee table and that plant the cats knocked over two weeks ago still on the floor.
And then everything is so far gone that it seems like so much effort to claw myself out again and so I put it off. And put it off. And put it off.
And it weighs on me. Because when my surroundings are that cluttered it’s harder to think. And when I know I need to clean it’s harder to get anything else done. And because I know that when my surroundings are nice and tidy and sparkling I feel that much more relaxed.
But I’m too unrelaxed to do anything about it.
I’ve been on this self-help book kick lately, reading books on empowerment and motivation and finding the right career and living creatively and having less anxiety and all that kind of crap. And, in the midst of adding every book ever written to my Amazon cart, I added The Life‑Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I’m sure you’ve heard of the book and of the author, Marie Kondo, and of her tidying method of KonMari. It was a hugely popular book when it came out a couple of years ago. In a nutshell, the book and KonMari is about keeping only those things that spark joy in your life and discarding everything else.
I wouldn’t necessarily call KonMari minimalism, though most do. I would, personally, call it delibratism. Or some non made up word that means the same. I guess I see minimalism as a “GET RID OF EVERYTHING AND HAVE NO THINGS” point of view where as “delibratism” would mean deliberately curating what you own. Only owning things that make you really happy or serve a truly useful purpose. (I mean, a can opener doesn’t have me bouncing off walls but I can’t live without one, right?)
Of course, if you read the book you’ll see that Marie Kondo does seem to live pretty minimally. And that very little seems to actually spark joy for her.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about cleaning and tidying and paring down. Partially because I feel like I am always cleaning. Partially because I really am just a mess of a person. And partially because I have it in my head that I eventually want to move to a smaller apartment.
And so I bought the book, not really knowing much about it, and I read it and, in reading it, I decided that I should probably get rid of everything I own. I mean, even before finishing, at every page, I soaked in what Kondo was saying and was reminded of things, here and there, that I own, that I have in my apartment, that I don’t really need. Or, even want. Or, even like.
I have clothes that I hate wearing and only wear because they fit. I have clothes I will never ever fit into again but I keep because they are pretty. Because I once loved wearing them. I have things I keep out of obligation. I have things I keep simply because I bought them.
I have a lot of things I don’t need.
And I started thinking about what my life would be like if I didn’t have those things. Would it free me physically to not have to battle with an overstuffed dresser? Would I be more likely to put something in the closet right away if I could easily close the door? Would it free me mentally to get rid of some of those mementos from my past? Those things that remind me of things I probably don’t need to be reminded of? Would I get more done if I wasn’t always cleaning? Would I get more done if things were just clean?
Are all of these things just weighing me down? Wearing me down?
Do I need them?
Before you start to tidy the KonMari method asks that you visualize why you want a clutter free space and how you see living your life in a clutter free space. And “I want to live clutter free” or “I want a clean apartment” or “I am sick of my kitchen smelling like mold” aren’t good enough answers.
Personally, I want to enjoy the lightness and airiness of my apartment. I want to come home from work and be able to sit at my laptop, distraction free, and work on the things I really want to be working on: writing blog posts, writing fiction, designing websites. I want to come home and put on a face mask and light a candle and drink hot chocolate with marshmallows with a kitten curled at my feet.
You know that feeling after you’ve just washed all of your sheets and they are crisp on your bed and fresh in your nose and you just sink into them? I want that feeling every day.
And I want my kitchen to stop smelling like mold.
With that in mind, I started going through my things.
There a few tenets to the KonMari method. The first is to do it all at once. Don’t do a little here and a little there. Just do it all. Go through everything. Now. Now, obviously I can’t do everything in one day. But, I can, every day, or every weekend, do something, and should have it all completed in a month or two. (I think I heard around six months is good but my place isn’t really that big.)
The second is to organize by category, not by room, and there is a certain order to the way you must tidy: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and, last, personal keepsakes (mementos, photo albums, things that are really, really, hard to part with). So you don’t start with the bedroom or the bathroom or the kitchen.
You start with clothes.
You pile up every piece of clothing you have on the floor. It doesn’t matter if that clothing is kept in the bedroom or the hall closet or the bathroom or the kitchen. You gather it all. And then you consider each item. And you ask yourself: “Does this spark joy?”
If it does. If it really, truly, does spark joy, keep it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
It’s not about throwing things away or getting rid of everything. It’s about finding the things that you want to keep. It’s about finding the things you love. It’s about finding the things that spark joy and then only keeping the things that spark joy.
Another tenant of KonMari, another thing to keep in mind when going through your things is that “someday” will never come. I’m sure we all have those books we’ll read someday. Those papers that might be useful someday. Those clothes that might fit someday. But if you haven’t read those books by now or haven’t ever looked at that notebook again after a class or haven’t fit into those clothes in years, that someday is never.
Here, I admit, I failed a little. Truthfully, most of the clothes in my closet don’t fit me. But, also, truthfully, the only clothes in my closet that sparked joy were ones I don’t fit into. So, I ended up keeping a lot of clothes I love that I can’t wear and keeping a lot of clothes that don’t love but I can.
I was somewhat realistic and got rid of everything that was an extra small or a size two. I am certain I will never be that thin again. But I kept a lot of pretty dresses and pretty tops and pretty pants that are a couple of sizes smaller. For that someday. Because, maybe actually being able to see those clothes in my closet will inspire me to get back to the gym?
Is that an outcome of KonMari?
What I was surprised with was how much I was able to get rid of. And the realizations that confronting your closet can bring.
I got rid of almost every skirt I own because I never actually wear skirts because I am terrible at pairing skirts with tops. I’d rather just wear a dress where you only have to concern yourself with one item.
I got rid of that ski jacket I haven’t worn since the last time I went skiing in 2008 that I was keeping around so I wouldn’t have to buy a new one the next time I went skiing. But, guess what, there’s a reason I haven’t been skiing since 2008. I hated skiing.
I got rid of an entire drawer full of old bras despite being sexy or cute because they don’t currently fit and even if I do lose weight and go down a bra size I will just buy new ones that haven’t been decaying in a drawer for however many years.
I got rid of those shirts that have a hole in them or are too worn out even though I still love them. Because I never wear them because they have a hole in them or are too worn out. As KonMari would say, they served their purpose. Let them go.
At the end of the day, after going through every item of clothing in my apartment, I got rid of nine garbage bags worth of clothes.
I’m sure that on some levels I completely failed at KonMari. But I ended up with half empty drawers that were once overstuffed. I ended up with one less shoe rack. I ended up with one less hanging organizer. I ended up with a box full of unused hangers. I ended up with a closet door that would close without me pushing a scarf out of the way every single time.
And I ended up with a dresser and closet that only contained things that bring me joy (whether they fit or not).
And that I am OK with.
Now, onto books and papers and miscellany and keepsakes…
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