Hacking KonMari: Bringing the Life-changing Magic Home in a Large Family

It’s spring, and I just have an itch to get everything out of my house and start completely over. Perusing all the immaculate spaces on Pinterest probably doesn’t help. I just cannot believe there are that many people in the world who don’t constantly have partially destroyed books on their shelves or stray bits of toilet paper strewn all over the bathroom floor. So, I return once again to Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I once again set out to bring the KonMari magic to our large family. And once again I realize, “This isn’t going to work.”

So much promise.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually do love it. First of all, the title of the little book is brilliant. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I mean, it’s poetry. So much super-charged promise in a mere 7 words (6, if you’re a stickler about hyphens). Life-changing. Everyone wants life to change. That’s why we read blogs, buy things we don’t need, and (hopefully) ultimately seek God. Then there’s Magic. I think we could all use a little magic in homemaking. Just wave our wand and shout, “Scourgify!” And suddenly everything is perfectly clean. And, finally–Tidying Up. So innocuous, so simple. How difficult can it really be?

At its core, it’s breathtakingly simple. All you have to do is get rid of EVERYTHING. Everything except that which “sparks joy”. And apparently, it’s extremely applicable to lots of people. The book is replete with testimonials and stories of actual clients who’s lives have truly been transformed. Even to the point of landing a dream job, losing weight, and getting married. All milestones that her clients attribute to the KonMari method.

So what’s the problem?

But here’s the thing. I’ve tried it.

And tried it.

And tried it.

And it’s worked really well for me. Up to a point. But then, something, I don’t know. Could be all these offspring who have all their own things that don’t bring me any joy, but apparently somehow fill the hearts of my youngsters with bliss. And fill my living room with chaos. Then, too, there are all of those things that aren’t that amazing, but no one can live without. Things like toilet paper and toothpaste. And vitamins and vacuums. So, simply put, the larger the family, the more stuff there just has to be.

A Quick Overview of the Rules

I don’t want to spend much time actually reviewing the book. It’s been out for some time now, and I’m sure you have seen the plethora of reviews all over the internet. But in order to understand my personal application of the book, I thought it would be beneficial to revisit a few of her particular “rules”.

Tidy all at once.

“All at once” does not necessarily mean in just a weekend. The contrast to “all at once” would be tidying as a permanent way of life. Getting rid of a few things here and there. This is discouraged as it doesn’t produce a long-term change in the overall tidiness of your home.

Find your why.

Just wanting a tidy home is not really a strong enough motivator to keep after the process when it gets difficult. You need to visualize what you want your home to look like and how your life will be different when you get your house in order.

Keep only that which “sparks joy”.

It sounds a bit nebulous, I admit. But you do have to go deeper with this than just asking “Do I like this or use it regularly?” To really get to the joyful life you envisioned in the previous step, you have to keep only joy-giving items. As I mentioned, toilet paper and toothpaste may not fill you with bliss. But I like to think of it as contentment. Do I really need 7 half-used sample-sized tubes of toothpaste? How happy am I using the scratchy 25₵ toilet paper?

Tidy by category, rather than location.

Every single item of clothing at once. All the books in the entire house at the same time. Before discarding any particular item, find all the items from that category and go through them at the same time. This offers the chance to actually see how much stuff you own, making it easier to let go of the excess.

Follow the correct order.

Begin with the least sentimental items to exercise your discarding muscle. As you move through the various categories, you get better at discarding and will be able to tackle the photos and memorabilia at the tail end.

  • Clothing
  • Books
  • Papers
  • Miscellany
  • Memorabilia

Keep all related items in the same location.

For example, all of your clothing should go into one closet and dresser. She does not advocate storing out-of-season clothing in a separate location. All office supplies should be at the desk. All medicines and vitamins should be in either the bathroom or kitchen, but not both. All books should be stored in a central location.

Mel’s version of KonMari

There is definitely a lot of value in the book. There are also some parts that go directly against my beliefs. As a Christian, I just have to scoot past the parts asking me to thank my items for their service to me. Instead, I find it fitting to thank the Good Lord for the sheer abundance in my life while simultaneously acknowledging my poor stewardship in accumulating so much! Thank God for His grace.

I spent a fair amount of time analyzing why this method seems to go awry with the addition of so many people. What I figured out was that not only does each person add to the overall accumulation of general items, but also our family’s particular set of activites, especially homeschooling, brings extra assorted collections of items. Some of her suggestions, therefore, are simply going to be impossible to implement. It’s time to hack KonMari.

What follows, then, is the set of rules I’ve come up with for making this work in a large family where work, homeschool, and life never slow down, and organizing has to get in where it fits in.

Tidy when you can, as often as you can

With 10 people in my house, there is no way I can get through all the belongings in the house, garage, workshops, and vehicles in a relatively short amount of time. So while I have aspirations of going through her categories one-by-one, I also have to be realistic about how frequently I can actually drag every single item in a particular category into the middle of the floor to discern how much joy it brings me. With a houseful of kids who need my attention, trying something like that would have me chucking every bit of it in the garbage because that insanity would definitely not spark any joy!

What I do instead is find opportunities. Do I have a bit of extra time because I decided to use the crockpot for tonight’s dinner? Then maybe I’ll go through my cookbooks and discover that I only have a handful of books that I regularly use. After that, some may still spark joy. They stay. Everything else can go. After all, I can find any recipe I want on the internet.

Folding and putting away laundry is a great time to discard anything starting to look a bit too ratty for the kids to even play outside in. Are the girls’ drawers so full I can’t even put their properly-folded clothes in? Ask them which ones they are ready to get rid of, and use this as a teaching moment to try to help them find those clothes that spark joy.

Don’t waste a lot of time over-analyzing your “why”.

Really, you already know why you want to put your house in order. There aren’t that many unique reasons. You don’t want to go crazy hunting for things all the time. You feel better in a beautiful space. Your kids will be calmer. Your family will be happier. You’ll enjoy having people over more.

One thing that might be helpful, if you can avoid the trap of discontent, is to pin images that “spark joy” because of their orderliness and calm. Try to avoid focusing on exactly how a space looks, and more on how it feels. You will begin to see that you can create a feeling of calm in your home without having to go out and purchase specific decor items. Doing that would really be counter-productive to the whole decluttering process!

Keep only that which “sparks joy”.

This really is the heart and soul of this system. And if you keep after it, no matter how slowly, you will over time be surrounded only by what you truly love. That is the hope, anyway! I am far from the finish line! But if there is only one rule you choose to live by with regard to evaluating your possessions, let this be it. I have enjoyed a couple of transformational effects from this one rule.

First of all, my eye for quality has improved dramatically. Did I not recognize junk before? I think I did, but it seemed to me that something was better than nothing, so I kept things that I thought should or might have value to me someday. “I might run out of something else and need this.”

Second, I now recognize my own personal style much more quickly. I can appreciate the beauty of something without feeling the need to own it. An item can “spark joy” sitting on a shelf in the store. But I can now evaluate its ability to bring me joy at home without actually having to bring it home. Will I love finding a home for and taking care of this item? Dry-clean only? Extremely fragile? No, thank you.

Tidy by category AND location.

If I know I’m going to be decluttering a certain category, say, plastic dishes, I will gather up all the sets of Tupperware, sippy cups, plastic bowls, and sports bottles into one location before I start working so I can see what all I have. Any item missing a lid or which is discolored or misshapen from being in the microwave or dishwasher gets pitched. If I’m working on clothing, I will focus on a certain type–p.j.s, underwear, sweaters, tank tops, etc.

But while I’m in that particular location, I might notice a stack of books or a file drawer that needs attention. Remember Mel’s rule #1? Do what you can when you can. If I listen hard and don’t hear a crying child, I’m darn sure gonna grab anything I can get rid of even it’s in the wrong category. Don’t let perfection keep you from living your best life!

Tidy whatever is bothering you the most.

I think by now you can see that I’m not going to get too caught up in the “correct” order of tidying. But I will say that I found it very helpful to start with clothing. If you can, begin at the beginning of her process as though you plan to work it from start to finish. By the end of tidying your own personal wardrobe, you will understand what I mean about exercising your discarding muscle. If you’re anything like me, you’ll likely move on to books, and get rid of a LOT there.

But then you might revisit clothing because you put on an outfit that wasn’t quite right, realizing you still have some work to do in your wardrobe. You’re getting pickier, and this is a good thing.

After that, when something isn’t right in your home, tackle it. Spice cabinet a shambles? Clean out anything you haven’t used in a few months or don’t like the taste of (for me, that’s 5-spice powder and herbes de provence). Way too many videos? Figure out which ones you would choose to watch more than once a year (except holiday movies–if you love them, keep them), and get rid of the rest. There is enough variety on Netflix or Amazon, you won’t even miss them.

Store things where you (and other members of your family) use them.

We store toilet paper in each bathroom because no one should have to suffer the indignity of running across the house for a roll. We store pens on Mom’s desk and in the children’s supply bins because Mom’s desk is sacred (HA!). We store paper in the school area and near the printer because we don’t live in a 500 sq. ft. apartment.

I learned from the book Organizing from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern, that storing things where they made the most sense makes it easier for family members to put things away. She suggests finding the normal hotspots of clutter, analyzing what the problem is, and creating a storage solution to solve that problem. For a large family, this makes more sense than Marie Kondo’s assertion that once everything in your home has a place (and only one place), you will keep your house tidy because you will never want to go back to the way things were before putting your home in order.

That’s all well and good for adults, but with 5 boys in my house, it doesn’t work that way. I’m pretty sure science will prove, if it hasn’t already, that males, in general, don’t see clutter. That’s my theory anyway. So we want to give them as many tools as we can to make it easier for them to keep things neat. When you figure out how to do that please let me know.

One final point regarding KonMari in a large family

Discussing large-family organizing necessarily must include a point about values and children. Getting rid of things is SOOO hard for children. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t lived long enough to realize that things are always going to come to them, whether or not they want them to. Going through this process with them WILL be painful, but it’s important.

It’s also very important for you to let them decide about their belongings. So what if that noisy toy that grandpa bought is made from cheap plastic and came from China? It’s theirs, and they love it. And they never play with the high-quality wooden toys and handmade dolls you forked out big bucks for? Well, if you love them that much, you can keep them, and store them in your space. But don’t force children to keep what they don’t enjoy. They have to learn what sparks joy. And if you give them the freedom to do this, trust that their discarding muscles and quality detectors will mature sooner than yours did. You’re actually giving them a head start by giving them the freedom to find the spark for themselves.

Have you tried the KonMari method with your family? How did it work out? Or do you use some other method? Tell me about what systems work for you. Also, please share any tips about how to get boys (or girls) to keep their belongings picked up!

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