My Favourite Decluttering Tips from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I reached a point sometime in June where my house suddenly felt clean. Not as clean as my mother-in-law’s house, of course, but clean by our standards. And then it was still clean the next day. And the day after that.
On that third day of cleanliness, I panicked and took the kids camping for the night — anything to get them out of the house and keep the clean streak going. A last-minute camping trip was easy to do because I could find everything quickly. You know, because my house was clean and tidy. I didn’t have to do four loads of laundry first or dig the air mattress out from underneath the Christmas decorations. We basically packed up the van and went.
Of course, I realized the stupidity of my plan when I returned with three filthy kids and beach’s worth of sand in our bags. But the kids took a bath and I did two loads of laundry and then, after maybe an hour of tidying up, everything was put away and the house was clean again.
The following week, my house was still tidy and I remember being a bit … bored. I didn’t know what to do with myself. One day, I cleaned the window in the front entrance out of desperation. Turns out, the glass isn’t as frosted as I originally thought. Another day, I attacked the window sills and the baseboards in the kitchen. I don’t know if I’ve ever done those three things in the same month before. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s just that a stairwell covered in toy cars — or as I like to call them, tiny death traps on wheels — takes precedence over a window sill that is really only visited by the odd spider.
How did I get to this new-found level of clean? A big part has been months and months (and years) of decluttering.
For the past few months, my decluttering strategy has been simple: every time we’re going to be driving past our favourite thrift store, I fill up a bag or two, throw it in the van, and donate it that day.
It’s usually not difficult to fill up a bag — except then it was. Suddenly I was at a point where I would wander from room to room and not come up with a single thing that I should really get rid of.
I had plateaued.
When I realized that all the obvious clutter was gone, I knew it was time to take my decluttering to the next level. I needed to consult the master.
I grabbed a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo from the library, in hopes that rereading it would give me a jolt of inspiration. Instead I was reminded that I’m the only person in North America that doesn’t love that book. Oh, right…
I read this book a few years ago, expecting to fall madly in love with the Konmari method. Instead, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so much. Why wasn’t Kondo’s charm working on me?
The book started off okay, I guess. I was happy to sort through my clothes and purge. But then I was told to rip the best pages out of my favourite books and throw the rest away. That made my left eye start to twitch, but I persevered, covering old twitchy and reading on with my right. The advice got kind of random.
I read that I’m supposed to empty my purse every time I come home (p. 153), but that doesn’t really apply to me: I have a one-year-old. Believe me, my purse is dumped upside down on a regular basis, and the contents of my wallets are liberally distributed every other day. This has not made my life better.
On another page (112), Kondo tells me to routinely put all of my spare change in my wallet and nowhere else. That’s ridiculous — why would I store my money in one place, allowing my kids to steal it all at once? On the contrary, I believe that stashing loose change behind couch cushions is a valid savings plan.
Rereading the book just confirmed that I must live on different planet than Kondo. If I understand her correctly, folding my socks together like lumpy potatoes is depriving them of a chance to rest (p. 81). I’m also failing my clothes because I don’t run my hands over my shirts and pants while I’m folding them to transmit positive energy and make them feel appreciated (p 73). I’m pretty sure that my clothes aren’t alive. You know what’s alive? The three children that are destroying the house while I tell my pants about my day.
Then, at the end, the book gets down right depressing as Kondo talks about her childhood:
“Because I was poor at developing bonds of trust with people, I had an unusually strong attachment to things. … It was material things and my house that taught me to appreciate unconditional love first, not my parents or friends. (p. 180)”
This is the point of the book where we all awkwardly look at the ground, desperate to avoid eye contact. Hey, what’s that over there? A stray sock? Thank goodness! Let me put this book away and roll that up like a cinnamon bun! Oh that quirky Kondo, isn’t she charming?
All that being said, there are a few memorable pieces of advice in this book that have made a noticeable change in our home — advice that made the book worth reading (twice).
My Favourite Decluttering Tips from the KonMari Method
(1) Designate a spot for everything.
So much of my clutter will always be clutter because it doesn’t have a designated place of it’s own. Now if something doesn’t have a home, it doesn’t stay in mine.
Until last this summer, our vacuum didn’t have a home and so it was always in the living room or the middle of the hallway or the bedrooms. Always in the way. And since I can’t live without a vacuum, I had to find it a home. Same with our brooms and our floor mop. I reconfigured the hallway closet, and now those things have a place where they belong and we’re not constantly tripping over them.
Children’s artwork, chalkboard chalk, river rocks, stray lego pieces, etc, etc — they all have a home now. It’s made a huge difference.
(2) Store your shoes in your bedroom closet rather than at the front door.
I’m pretty sure I laughed out loud when I first read this. Can you imagine kids trudging through the house in their muddy shoes, and then kicking them into their carpeted bedroom closets? Actually, that would never happen, given that I can’t even get my kids to put their shoes in the closet that’s six feet from the front door.
However. After I finished my condescending chuckle, I realized that there are a LOT of shoes in my front closet that I don’t wear that often. Rain boots, for one. My nicer sandals. My older flip flops. Possibly my running shoes, but I’m not ready to admit that yet.
Once I realized that there is no reason that these “sometimes” shoes need to take up space in the front closet, I moved them to the bedroom closet. Inspired by the immediate difference that made, I moved the jackets that we rarely use to the bedroom closets as well. It’s not like it ever rains this year, so why waste hangers in a cramped hallway closet for rain coats? I can just pull them out if my rain dances under the full moon ever actually work. Hey, don’t say I don’t do my part for the farmers.
(3) Does it spark joy?
I have mixed feelings on this piece of advice, actually. I understand what Kondo is saying. Everyone has a couple shirts that they love, right? Well, why not just keep the few items that you absolutely love and discard the rest. Then, no matter what you wear, you’ll feel like a million bucks.
But it turns out that it’s easy to take this too far. It took me awhile, but finally I got rid of all the clothes that I hated — horribly clingy or tight or worn out things that I bought before I had my three kids. I was a decluterring MACHINE. But then we had an unexpected visit to a funeral home a couple weeks ago and I discovered that have nothing even remotely formal left. I ended up choosing a long casual cotton skirt and a tank top, and then I tried to hide the whole underwhelming ensemble by wearing an overtired toddler in an elegant ring sling on my front. It didn’t really work. My one-year-old was not aware that he was a key part of the ensemble.
I love the idea of a trendy 33-item capsule wardrobe made up of only items that I love, but I’m actually going to have to buy clothes to get there, and I believe that I will require another book for that. If anyone finds something along the lines of The Life-Changing Magic of Finding Clothes that Fit, please let me know.
(4) Don’t feel obligated to keep something because it was a gift.
The purpose of a gift is to be received and then the gift’s job is done. This is advice that I’ve read in several different books but I still have a hard time accepting. I just feel so GUILTY when I donate something that was given to me by a friend or a family member. Until this summer, we still had 13-year-old wedding gifts — unused — stored in our garage. I finally cleared them out along with many other things that were given to us over the years. I have to believe that everyone who gave us gifts over the years wants us to be happy and healthy and will therefore understand when something needs to be passed on to another family. I think. I’ve decided not to consult any of those people first. It’s probably for the best.
Once I was able to part with those things, I was able to tackle other sentimental clutter with a surprising efficiency. Photographs of people I barely recognize from my childhood. Old hideous craft projects that I’ve been hanging on to because I did them with my beloved grandmother. Souvenirs from places that I can’t even remember the names of. It’s all gone and it made a HUGE difference.
It’s true that decluttering is addictive. Seeing how much cleaner and lighter my house feels makes me want to purge more and more. Yet when I walk through our rooms, I can’t even remember what I’ve gotten rid of anymore.
I still need to tackle my basement and my garage. We’ve done a lot already, but we could do so much more. I’m not up to reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up a third time, so I’m looking for new inspiration. What have been your favourite decluttering resources? Leave a comment here or on Facebook and let me know!
Originally published at www.unhurriedhome.com on August 16, 2016.