Sarah Fought’s full length memoir, The KonMarist, is available now in print and digital form.
Do you remember how Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood started each episode?
“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Fred Rogers would sing as he walked through the door. He followed the most predictable yet delightful routine. First, he would swap his dress coat for a cardigan that he zipped up over his tie, all the while, still singing. Then, he would sit on a bench and playfully swap his work shoes for his sneaks as he ended his song with, “won’t you be my neighbor?” He smiled at us through that TV and we knew that he meant it. He was a happy man.
Without fail and I believe, intentionally on his part, he modeled these joyful rituals for children of my generation because ultimately, living within the rhythms of the natural world allows children and all human beings to thrive.
Konmari feels like the intro to Mr. Rogers.
Konmari also feels like gardening, I imagine.
Konmari is the taking care of beloved things.
To me, konmari feels like summer camp. There are still the necessary routines, responsibilities and expectations of life but most of the time is time to play.
Konmari is where you get to be yourself.
Konmari is Cheers.
Konmari is the good life.
Konmari is vacation mode.
Konmari is letting go.
Konmari is breathing easy.
Konmari is becoming present.
Konmari is a meditation.
Konmari is forgiveness.
Konmari is bonsai.
If these don’t sound like things that you want in your life, probably don’t keep reading. But, if your heart is telling you that your day to day craves simplicity and honesty, trust me when I say that just a few months ago, never in my wildest of wild dreams would I have imagined anyone asking me to share advice about tidying, except for maybe contribution to an article about what not to do. But, here I am, able to share my story of spending time over the last three months of my life, coming face to face with every single thing that I owned.
One of my favorite childhood books was called ‘Mooch the Messy’ about a rat who loved his messy life. All my life I have been labeled, rightly so, as the messy one. Chores were such a bore and a waste of time to me. I would rather be doing a million other, more awesome things. I liked my messy ways just fine.
Since moving to our little brick rancher on the south side of Richmond, Virginia in a sleepy old neighborhood tucked between a golf course and the James River Park System, I have viewed my home as a constant work in progress. There was too much stuff for our space and the storage areas were filled up so much so that it was difficult to walk into them. There were stashes of clothes that didn’t fit, food we wouldn’t eat, teenage photos of myself that I felt ashamed of sharing, random wires without homes, art supplies I hadn’t touched since college, bins, boxes and trunks full of tax files, journals of angst with lots of childhood ephemera thrown in.
I had compiled my own little life museum. But, why? Why move these things from city to city, boyfriend to boyfriend to husband, eventually, from job to job and life to life?
In the words of Sturgill Simpson, “Just let go.”
My husband, Rickey, has been helping me with these memory hoarding tendencies for a while now, since we first met, really. We have moved together three times. Each move he has treated as a strategic time to talk me out of some of my attachments. He is good at leaving the past in the past and he already knew just how great it feels when you discard something that no longer serves a purpose. He has been on this path for many years. He is one of the great teachers of my life.
He urged me to allow empty space when we first bought our home but instead, I did the opposite. I took over closets, sheds, dressers, cars, porches and utility rooms. There was no hideaway from Mooch the Messy. If there was space, I was likely to fill it.
I’ve apologized a trillion times since I started the konmari method. He, of course, always accepted and loved me just as I am, anyhow.
“I’m gonna love you til the wheels come off.” -Tom Waits
Everybody needs a hideaway. This is something that I learned from konmari. Everyone needs to spend some time with themselves, breathing and just being surrounded by the beauty they love.
I can tell that he is amazed, relieved and happy that I have turned this new leaf over. I’m still Mooch the Messy deep down but with far less things to manage, even Mooch can find her keys, these days.
Three months later, things are still leaving our home.
Cleaning and maintaining my house used to feel arduous and I often left tasks unfinished. Dishes would stay piled on counters for days. I would spread projects across the dining room table all week long. We lived like nomads in our own space. Sometimes, we would eat in the living room because of the messy table. Toys took over every room. I have moved my messes from room to room and from house to house since I can remember.
I’m so sorry, Rickey.
Now I can clearly see that mine was, in many ways, a life out of balance and I had no idea how to ever actually make a change. I didn’t believe that it was in my nature. I had resigned myself to a life of clutter and disarray. I was Mooch the Messy, incarnate.
Recently, I had even suggested, only half jokingly, that we should let our den disintegrate into a frat party themed room because of the constant mess that stayed there. I was cool with it. There were plans discussed for a double decker couch. I like parties. I like cover bands. I like bud light lime. I like tube tops. I can be that version of myself. I’m your party pal, Mooch!
I was about to give up on my dream of escaping my hoarder ways as I just could not curb the onslaught of things that I myself continually brought into our lives. I thought that I was happy enough living that way or that we would just get used to it. We would have the party crib!
As fate would have it, around back to school time, Rickey came home from work once evening and told me of a contest he heard about on the radio for a renovation show coming to town. He explained that all I needed to do was make a video to enter. I have a policy for entering sweepstakes, contests, drawings and anything that is 1. Free to enter 2. simple to enter 3. has a cool prize I would actually use. Make your own luck, I say.
So, a few weeks later we shot a GoPro video that I even edited with music and a blooper real. I have been known to go above and beyond with my creative endeavors. I filled out an application. I wrote essays. The Graduate School version of myself showed up and got herself motivated! I made it happen and they picked us for the TV show and a free renovation that happened all in one day!
The first week of December, we shot our episode of Fix it and Finish it with host, Antonio Sabato Jr. and an amazing team of local business owners, laborers and traveling TV making people. They totally revamped the front screen porch and half of the front landscaping in one rainy and cold winter day! They flew a drone camera around my yard! It was one of the more unique experiences of my life and I met very interesting people who lived in a nomadic way, going from town to town, creating television. Changing spaces and changing lives. Thanks y’all. It’s been such a wonderful gift to us.
The stick-with-it-ness of the whole crew to make this thing happen with such a tight timeline was inspiring and motivating! It was just so great. We loved it. We felt comfy on TV. Rickey grew a mustache just for this show. It felt like a magical thing that happened for us.
Then about a month later, in the glow of our new renovation and the new year, on a sunny Saturday morning in mid January, I clicked on the most serendipitous link of my life.
Little did I know, while lounging with coffee on the couch in my pajamas looking at my social media stuff that my life was about to change, forever. The link I clicked was a magazine article about Marie Kondo and her book ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’.
Immediately after reading said article, I downloaded the book to my kindle and devoured it by late afternoon. I was so moved by the konmari way that I resolved to begin my first category bright and early that next morning and get er’ done, Fix It and Finish It style.
I felt compelled to start the process as soon as I understood the method and have continued to feel compelled all along, as though I am participating in a sacred rite of passage, being moved by unseen forces. There is a spirituality present during the konmari experience, if you want there to be.
I can’t quite explain it except to say that I know that I will find homes for each and every thing that I own and I always knew that I would from the start. The things themselves will tell me where they want and need to go. It is sort of like going into labor and knowing that the baby is going to be coming soon and the best way to get there is to accept it and go through it. Once the baby is born, the real fun can begin!
Konmari is a birthing.
Marie Kondo claims that if you feel that this book was written just for you, than you are correct and that fate has brought you to this book. I believe that remarkable statement to be absolutely true.
I needed a reminder that I am already the person I was hoping to become. If we focus on joy, we keep the best of ourselves and let the other parts go. We forgive ourselves and we forgive others. We edit our past by the gentle carving away of the hurt parts and leaving only the happy memories to be what we think upon and nurture.
“It’s never to late to have a happy childhood.” — Tom Robbins
Marie Kondo guides us through our attachments to the objects of our lives and her path is absolute perfection. It is simple, healing and empowering . It promotes self efficacy and mindfulness. It relies on gut feeling rather than arbitrary rules. Her method stays the same for everyone but the results vary greatly from person to person.
To each his own.
How does konmari work?
It’s super simple. Focus only on what to keep rather than what to discard. Ask yourself the same question for every single thing that you own as you hold each item in your hands. Sort through things by specific categories following a very specific order.
Does this spark joy?
Ask that very same question over and over and over again. Then, feel the magic unfurl. Let the healing begin and let every other non-joy-sparking thing go away.
Give gratitude for the purpose served and the time spent together. Wish them each well on their journey to the next person and/or place and remove them from your home as soon as possible.
I literally hugged a sweatshirt goodbye that first day. I hugged my sweatshirt because I needed to hug my past self and finally say goodbye to her. She is already long gone. Let her go. She grew up. She found true love. She found motherhood, she found mindfulness. She is me, now.
I have made mistakes. I have hurt people. I am asking for forgiveness. There have been times that I was terribly careless with the hearts of people that I used to know. I am sorry, friends and lovers. I loved you so imperfectly.
“Forgive me and I will you. May God bless all you do.” — From Canyon Road by Ben White of Richmond, Virginia.
Release me, past. I release you.
The second stage is to store things together by categories and give every single joy-sparking thing that you love a special place to call home. But, finish discarding first.
It’s easier than you may think.
It feels so good to do it. I felt as if I could breathe easier. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.
Konmari feels like a ceremony and a celebration.
Konmari is an act of love.
It does take lots of time and patience and gumption, like most good things.
Tidy up once, perfectly and you will never have to do it again, Marie Kondo promised. I started this process three months ago and I am proof that she is the real deal. She is a hero of mine. She freed me from the traveling life museum I had built around me, trapping me in.
Marie Kondo gives us knowledge and wisdom and a mindful path to travel upon. A darling friend of mine, Sara, went to hear Kondo speak in California then stood in line for an autographed copy of the book. This signed volume was immediately added as a treasure of my life. It sparks immense joy to know that her hand itself now graces my home.
I have successfully changed my relationship with the things in my life. I am unafraid of letting go of whatever I find in my life that has overstayed its welcome.
It feels really good to go your own way. Tidying is becoming habitual because it feels so rewarding to put things back in their homes. I only keep the stuff that I love and it is easy to care for things that are loved. It is a pleasure to do so.
The stuff that gets to leave is more than glad to move on. The house is super excited to be appreciated, too. Marie Kondo stresses the importance of recognizing the place of the house itself in this process. It is not just your stuff that you are dealing with, it is the space in which it lives that finds balance as well. Everything will have a place to just be here.
Nothing wants to sit in an old box filled to the brim, in a too hot or too cold attic for twenty years and never even be held by a person or used for any intended purpose or even re-purposed. Our things want to be of use to us and if they aren’t useful or at the very least, attractive, they are taking up space and adding untold sums of mental weight. They want to be freed from the life museum prison. They want at least a chance to have another go at making someone happy. Let them go!
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”- William Morris
The magic is what happens when we trust in this method and really, truly say goodbye for good to physical things as well as emotional things. We have to hug goodbye to our old selves if we want our current selves to be free in each new moment.
I ended up ceremoniously burning most of my journals that had been traveling around with me for a decade or so. Once I sat down to look through them, I realized within a few moments that most of the writing wasn’t happy. I used to write to work out my feelings and I guess I still do, except now, I feel very differently. I feel a lot better. I want to keep it that way.
I held onto my hopeful future lists and my collages of my dream life, created so many years ago, foreshadowing my present life. I saved only a few of my drawings and I am painting over most of my old canvases. I am heading out in my little sail boat and I can no longer have all this ballast to slow me down.
Once I released these things, the energy was transformed and renewed. Space was created for other things to come into my life. The me that I have been made a way for the person that I am now. I have learned and grown from those past mistakes and regrets. What more is there to do? This is the human experience. Our failures of the past make us the humans that we are. Live a little and then live some more.
I am finding balance and alignment for the first time in my thirty five years and what it took was finally and permanently letting go of a whole lot of my own stuff. Another good friend, Amy, told me that I have saved myself thousands of dollars of talking therapy simply by konmaring my house. I think that may be true. If all of these journals and bad vibes were still around in that attic, I could talk myself blue in the face about my upset heart and nothing so dramatic and life altering would come from that unless I let these things go.
Konmari is like sailing. It feels wild and free yet calm, steady and deliberate. It’s like kayaking, too.
Konmari is like running a river.
One of the things that saved me at another time of my life was kayaking. My cousin, Jerry, is an instructor for whitewater boating and an owner of rafting company and kayak school owner up in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania. He is another of the great teachers of my life. He taught me that on a river, you must be aware of your surroundings, you must be on the watch. You also will need friends to take care of you there, too. This has been so true in the past nine years since I first got in a kayak alongside my best friend, Erin.
The community of people that I connect most with are like minded with regards to the river and to waterways and water in general. My best friends hold great regard for the Earth. In our free time, we are on river, we are in the woods. We connect to the moment, the flow. These river people are my people. Summer camp people are my people. Humanitarians are my people. The dreamers, the lovers and you are my people.
Konmari is like kayaking.
During my college years, I worked five summers at Camp Thunderbird, a YMCA camp in South Carolina. We would close every session with the classic camp song, “pass it on”. Counselors would distribute little candles to the campers, then one of the directors would light their own candle, turn to the person sitting next to him and share their flame.
From one person to the next, a ripple of light would travel across the members of the song committee on stage and then would swell up the steps of the amphitheater until the starry dark night was filled with lake sounds, singing voices and a shining sea of candle light.
It was magical.
Since camp, I haven’t run into all that much magic in my grown up life. I’m a painter and an art teacher which does allow me plenty of moments for inspiration and even some moments of awe but not that camp sort of magic.
Marie Kondo offered up magic as a byproduct of the konmari process and because of that, I fully committed. If nothing else, I knew immediately that through konmari, I had found a way to conquer the greatest challenge I have known, my own mind and its attachments to the past and fears of the future. I was suffering but did not know. I thought life was grand, and it was. Except now its more than grand. Our lives are precious gold dust, spilling from a little hole in the bottom of a bucket. Each moment just as valuable as the one before.
Life is the rarest of precious metals.
“We are stardust, we are golden.” — Joni Mitchell
I have started exactly right where I am, using what I already had all along to build my own little dream life: a life filled with love and empty calendar space for spontaneous adventures and fun.
In this good life, I sit with my family and friends around a fire, in my backyard, sharing food and sharing stories. My dream is a vacation life of time outside, on rivers and lakes and in mountain streams. My dream is music always, dancing always, art always, meditation, compassion, gratitude and joy. In this renewed life, I speak love. I teach it.
“Speak happiness.”-Bob Marley
Konmari is a joyful path through the layers of living that have built up and obscured the endless possibilities that dwell only in the present moment.
Some of the moments of the past year have brought me to my knees. We lost some of our very dear friends. One of these losses was sudden, unexpected and it still hurts, sometimes. It sent me spinning for a while. I spun out into some unexpected places.
I found myself watching a television series called, How the Universe Works which blew my mind. Contemplating the reality that we are all made of stardust makes the immediacy of pain from loss, less painful, I guess. I found myself through the music Sturgill Simpson, a country singer crooning about space and time relativity and a luminary. He is also the real deal. I found outdoor yoga and moving meditation. I built a routine of morning walks in the woods with my baby boy. I started painting again and I gave my paintings away, donation based.
There was already a shift in my way of being but it turns out what I was seeking was something I couldn’t quite grasp in my day to day life. I was seeking a way to arrive at the now.
“What you seek is seeking you.” — Rumi
I pay attention to the words of poets, songwriters and authors and to the teachings of prophets, visionaries and scientists. I look to people of wisdom and peace. I was holding out my own little candle in the dark, waiting for the light to find its way up the stairs and down the aisle, to me.
The biggest lesson that I have learned is that we are not so much afraid to let the stuff go. We are afraid to let the people go. There is something that causes us suffering in this life and that thing is attachment. The only way to ease suffering is to contemplate impermanence. Change is the nature of things. The only way to end suffering is to be present in the moment.
“Imagine all the people, living for today.”-John Lennon
I held a yard sale at the end of that first week of konmaring. I discarded at least half of my belongings, maybe more. At the end of the day, once I dropped my second truck load off at the Love of Jesus Thrift on Midlothian Turnpike, I felt euphoric. I did have a fat stack of cash in my pocket but even if I had just held a yard free, I would have still felt this lightness of being.
You have to do this process as quickly as you can. I got lucky and had a string of snow days at home when I was in the thick of discarding. I moved through my home with a swiftness, I built momentum. Each catergory was easier so that by the time I arrived to the final one, sentimental things, I was a graduate of letting go university. I was methodical. I followed the exact path Kondo lead me down. She was my teacher.
Konmari is like pulling off a band aid.
Konmari is a tornado that loves you.
My best friend, Erin, lost her husband last year, our dear friend, John Duncan Wilburn. Through an act of love for all of his friends, she has allowed us to participate in the difficult task of releasing him. She sent to many of us a portion of his ashes and asked that we take him out and put him to rest in a beautiful place. He loved this Earth.
I did not know how I was to complete this task until the end of that yard sale day. That day would have been his 31st birthday, January 17th. The euphoria that I felt that day allowed me to gather my family and walk, with my husband and little boy down the trails near our home to our beloved James river.
This is where we put him. His energy was released. I did not feel the bitter sadness of loss. Instead, I felt peace.
When we see the lone blue heron, we think of you, John. His is a legacy of planted trees and love that lives on in his beloved, Erin.
‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ found me at just the right moment of my life and it lit the little candle in my heart. It helped me to heal.
I want to pass it on, to the other seekers and to those in need of healing, too.
Since that first day in January, I have documented and shared almost every step of my Konmari journey through photos and captions on instagram and through writing on my website.
I could not keep to myself what was happening in my heart and in my home each time I took on another category. With each decision made to keep or discard, I took another step toward embracing the sacred mystery of this life I have been given.
“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” — Mary Oliver
My konmari journey is almost complete. Things are still finding their homes. The last few items that can’t find a suitable place to live or a purpose here, are destined for the door. It becomes very clear that if you can’t find a place for something in your life, then you no longer have room for it.
Those things that hold memories of those loved and lost now have a home in a shrine, above the top shelves of the cabinets in our laundry room. Every thing finds it’s way home in konmari.
Storage is not the answer, letting go is.
I don’t know if this book is for everyone or not but it was meant for me. If life feels out of balance, even a little bit, then this book may be meant for you, too.
The daily routines, rhythms and rituals I am currently building for my life allow time for the freedom to follow some of Thourou’s advice and “go confidently in the direction of my dreams”, to live a life only I can imagine for myself.
“How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard.
I have embraced the truth that it is within my ability to change my own mind. I can choose a life lived through mindfulness and I can literally change the way my brain works, going forward. I will take time to breathe and be. I will be joyful. I will seek awe. I will be grateful.
“So, please use your life well. It truly is like having a bucket of gold dust with a little hole in the bottom.” — Dr. Dan Perdue
I don’t want to waste the treasure of this life. I want to savor the moments of this gold dust life. I want my life to shine.
The way is compassion, please hear me.
Thank you, Marie Kondo.