Clear the Clutter

January 7, 2016

It’s New Year and it’s time to clear the clutter.  This year, I am determined – like a determined thing with her very determined head on – to get to grips with the clutter that is eating up my space.  When we first moved into my old childhood home, the storage space was magnificent.  Fast forward twelve years, two children, a business, a crochet habit and a dog later and we have managed to fill every nook and cranny with ‘stuff’.

But no more.  2016 is the year I sort my sh..tuff out.

To assist in my mission, I was kindly gifted a book for Christmas by my eldest son.  The book, THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by Marie Kondo is the Japanese sensation that has sold over 3 million copies.  Yes, the title is in capitals; literally screaming out at you from the front cover saying ‘pick me up and get clearing’.  Ms Kondo is Japan’s expert de-clutterer and a big part of her cleaning and clearing ethos is influenced by her belief that items have a spirit.  That spirit is crushed if they are neglected, and it thrives if they are thanked for good service at the end of each day and even when you decide to throw the item away.  Kondo’s process of physically handling every single item in your house before deciding its fate appears somewhat exhausting and the talking to every item a little bit kooky; but the idea that if we care for and nurture those things that spark joy within us makes some sense.

The core tenet of the book is clear.  Tidy once and properly.

“I can think of no greater happiness in life than to be surrounded only by the things I love.” Marie Kondo

Discard first

Sort by category, not by location.  Bottom line, get everything of the same type together in one place.  If you don’t, it’s highly likely you will have duplicate items scattered across the house and you will never get to grips with everything you own.

Handle every single item and ask yourself the simple question ‘does it spark joy?’. Remove the guilt.  Remove the emotion.  Quite simply: does the item you are holding make you feel good, excited, joyous?  If not, throw it away.

I really struggled with the throwing it away thing – at least recycle or donate to charity if you can’t sell the items on. But the book doesn’t go into that and all discarding comes simply under the ‘throw away’ umbrella.

Sort in order

In terms of how to sort, Kondo has an order (of course).  This does make sense because you start with the items likely to trigger the least emotion: your clothes, and you end with the ones that are going to be incredibly difficult to filter: items of sentimental value like letters and photos.  The order she recommends you sort in is:

  1. Clothes;
  2. Books;
  3. Papers (documentation, not emotional papers like letters);
  4. Miscellaneous items – also referred to as komono;
  5. Finally things with sentimental value.

Kondo’s advice spills over into how to fold clothes, sort clothes, arrange clothes.  Even how to ‘treat your socks and tights with respect’.  She doesn’t believe in storing your out of season clothes.  If everything has a role and a place to live in your house, you don’t need to tidy things away at the end of each season.

When it comes to books, Kondo strongly believes ‘sometime’ means ‘never’.  On this I tend to agree.  I have a whole study rammed full of books that I intend to read one day.  The reality is I read what I have been given or have discovered recently and I never get round to the ones languishing on my bookshelves.

For papers, Kondo advocates getting rid of everything unless it fits into the following categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time or must be kept indefinitely.  This doesn’t mean sentimental documents. Simply life admin stuff.

The book is packed full of other insights and guidelines including: what to do with gifts; packaging; unidentified cords; spare buttons; broken TVs and radios; bedding for guests that never come; cosmetic samples; novelty goods and so on. Basically bin the lot!

Designate a place for everything

By all accounts, the really hard part to all this is in the discarding. Once you’ve had a mammoth clear out, deciding on where everything should live is relatively easy.  One of the main reasons people fail to tidy properly, and end up tidying every day for the rest of their lives, is the omission of declaring a designated spot for every item you own.  With no spot, you don’t know where to put things once you’ve used them, clutter builds up and you are back to square one.

Key highlights for this section of the book include:

  • The best way to store bags is inside bags (with handles hanging out so you know what is hiding inside).
  • Empty your bag every day.
  • Keep around your bath and kitchen sink clear.  If you keep areas clear, you are far more likely to clean and your environment will feel all the nicer as a result!
  • Unpack and de-tag new clothes immediately.

Clear the clutter and dramatically change your life

Kondo is a tidying evangelist.  And with good reason it would appear.  Her many clients who have had a complete clear out have, as a result, dramatically changed their lives.  ‘Our possessions very accurately relate to the history of decisions we have made in our life.  Tidying is a way of taking stock and shows us what we are really like.’  Doing this, we can stop for a valuable moment, ask ourselves what we want now and the life we want to lead moving forward.  Discarding anything that doesn’t spark joy frees us up from elements of our past we have no desire to hold on to.  The valuable items we choose to keep, we have made a conscious decision to retain because they play a role in making us feel good.  If we are only surrounded by these things, we cannot help but feel lighter, brighter and more free to make decisions for the future.

As Kondo says: ‘The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.  When we reduce what we own and essentially ‘detox’ our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well’.

So here goes.  By all accounts it takes about six months to do a full tidy of all my possessions and properly clear the clutter.  I’ll report back in June on my progress.

If you’ve been inspired by this post and would like to buy the book, simply click on this button.  


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1 Comment

  • Reply Angela January 7, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    lol……your blogs are always very enlightening Sam! The “cosmetic samples” and “buttons” especially hit a nerve. They will be binned tomorrow ! (maybe) lol

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