When it comes to clutter, I'm fairly clutter-free. Well, let me be more honest: I'm kind of a neat and organization freak. I'm constantly on the hunt for clutter around the house, looking for something we don’t need that we can get rid of. More than a few times my husband has had to chase after me as I was about to throw away something actually useful or necessary (say, our in-progress tax returns or a battery he was about to install).
Naturally, when I came across a little book titled The Life Changing Method of Tidying Up, I was intrigued. Written by Japanese professional organizer, Marie Kondo, it describes a simple method to declutter your life, from clothes to books to knickknacks. What attracted me to it is how simple her method is and what it's based on:
The idea of joy.
While many other organizing methods ask you to think about whether you’ve used a certain item recently or whether you plan on using it soon, Marie Kondo wants you to answer just one simple question when it comes to any of the items in your house:
Does it bring you joy?
If you answer yes, you keep the item. If you hesitate or say no, you donate it or throw it out. It’s simple, it’s brilliant, and it’s something that's completely intuitive. You can spend a lot of time justifying how something might at some point be useful to you and therefore decide to keep it, but whether something brings you joy is an emotional question and one that can be answered almost instantly: If you feel joy or if you don’t feel joy: there's no need to make it more complicated than that.
Despite my nearly-clutter-free life, I decided to give the KonMari method a shot, spending a few hours on a recent Saturday decluttering my clothes. It’s spring (finally!) and it felt like a great way to do a little cleaning and clearing out: of my closets, as I expected, and of my emotions, as I didn't expect. Here are the 5 simple yet life-changing things I learned as I decluttered my clothes using the KonMari method:
1. Joy is simple yet powerful. Marie Kondo asks you to take all of your clothes and put them in one big pile in one room. (Her idea is to declutter by item type vs. by room.) You then pick up and hold an item and ask yourself one simple question: Does this bring me joy? What I realized in my bedroom as I faced my giant clothing pile was that joy is both really simple and really powerful. As I held up each piece of clothing, I didn’t have to think for a long time about whether it brought me joy: I either felt it or I didn’t. If I hesitated, I knew it was not joy but rather some version of shopping guilt (“Well, I should have worn this more..” or “I paid a lot for this and haven’t worn it"). While it was difficult to put a bunch of barely-ever-worn clothes into my "donate" pile due to the shopping guilt, I found the decision process itself really easy: Joy is a simple filter we can apply to a lot of things, beyond clothes or stuff. We know it when we feel it, it’s strong and vibrant, and it can be a really great lens through which to view other life-choices.
2. There are different ways to bring joy. I loved Kondo’s advice about dealing with the sense of regret you might feel when you have to donate that neon pink dress with the tags still on it [substitute whatever article of clothing you were excited to buy but never really wore]. Perhaps the dress brought you joy when you bought it and at that moment you felt the thrill of the shopping-hunt and thinking about ways you were going to wear it. If so, Kondo says, that's great -- that item of clothing has served its purpose: it brought you joy at some point. Now you can remember that and put it into the donation pile without guilt.
3. We don’t hang on to things; we hang on to emotions attached to those things. Some of the clothes I found easy to put in the donate pile -- they didn’t bring me joy any more, I didn’t really like them, and I felt good about parting with them. But some I really struggled with. For instance, there was a pair of jeans that I probably hadn't worn in about seven years, but at the time I bought them I was going through some major life changes. Those jeans remind me of that time, of what I was feeling then, and I realized that while I'd probably never wear them again I'd kept them in an attempt to hang on to those emotions I'd connected them to. The jeans were just jeans; but the emotions they'd elicited were what I was hanging on to. When I put them in the donation pile on my floor, I felt a huge sense of freedom and relief -- giving away a pair of pants was a way to let go of feelings I no longer needed carry with me.
4. Fewer things you love is better than many things you kinda like. I’ve always wanted to be like those really stylish French women who have a few perfectly-tailored outfits they wear with flawless ease, and whose closets are the epitome of style and quality. Well, I'm not French, and that’s a fantasy, but I can tell you this: Having a closet full of clothes I really love, even when there are less of them, is a huge improvement over having a closet filled with a lots of clothes I only just kind of like. And here’s what really surprised me: When I was done decluttering I didn’t want to run out and shop for new clothes. I had less than before -- I estimate that I donated about a quarter of all my clothes and shoes -- but I was so much happier with what I now had that I lacked that familiar desire to chase something new. What an unexpected benefit and a huge lesson.
5. It’s not about what others think. At some point during my decluttering process I put on a black sweater I’ve had forever and showed it to my daughter and husband. They both gave me their thumbs-up-that-looks-awesome approval, so I put the sweater back in my closet. But it kept nagging at me so I picked it up again and asked myself out loud: "Does this really bring me joy?" No, it didn’t. I really liked that my husband and kiddo liked it, and positive emotions from others are always important, but when it comes to joy -- about what you’re wearing, or what you're eating, or what you're doing with your life -- you have to feel it yourself. If you don’t, it doesn’t much matter what others think: their joy is not a substitute for your own.
Does it bring you joy? A simple and incredibly powerful question to ask about everything in our lives, beyond mere clothes and books and stuff. I felt hugely inspired to make this question a constant part of my life and I hope you will, too.