It was a cold day in January when my life took an unexpected turn. After binge watching a series on Netflix called “Tidying Up,” I found myself anxious to de-clutter my home — immediately.
The star of the show, Japanese sensation Marie Kondo, walks her clients through the process with a simple, category-by-category method that she says can “permanently” organize a person’s living space. While I’d recognized Kondo’s name from her New York Times bestselling book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” in 2014, the Netflix show has made her a household name. Today, you can’t blink without seeing testimonials of converts sharing pictures of newly organized drawers in social media, complete with perfectly folded jeans standing upright, a staple for the KonMari method as it’s now called.
After six episodes, I was crawling into closets, opening up drawers, and emptying bookshelves with rapid speed. I located things I forgot existed, and realized I’d bought several of the same item because I couldn’t find the original (including two copies of Kondo’s book.) Apparently, the KonMari experts say this is a common problem.
“I helped one person clear their bathroom and she had 13 bottles of Neosporin,” said Kristyn Ivey, the first person in the Chicago area to be certified in KonMari. “The average amount of items in an American home is 300,000 and it can take three to six months to fully get organized.”
Ivey said the unique thing about the KonMari method is that you can keep whatever you want, you just have to “respect, acknowledge and honor” each item. This means holding everything in your hands as you go through the home and ask yourself “Does this spark joy?” If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t you “thank” the item for the memories, and put it in the pile to be donated. This was easy when it came to clothing and sentimental photos, but I found this a little odd when holding my stapler.
“Some items fall under the category of ‘functional’ which serve a purpose,” Ivey said. “I love how the method gets us to take ownership of what’s surrounding us and really fundamentally, it’s about respect, gratitude, and joy. The show has really put a focus on this topic of clutter, something that everyone seems to be so ashamed of and everyone really suffers with in silence. People are coming out of the closet so to speak and really realizing this is a universal issue. Everyone has clutter somewhere in their life so the show is helping people take that first step.”
Before the de-cluttering can begin, Ivey said you have to visualize the home you want to have at the end of the process.
“I can’t work with a client unless I understand where they’re trying to go so I sit down and dive in to their vision,” Ivey said. “After that, I ask each person to take a moment to greet the home, which is acknowledging that you have a roof over your head, and thanking the happy times and experiences that they’ve had in the home to set the intention.”
I first watched Kondo do this in the pilot episode of Tidy Up, where we see her literally get on her knees and say a silent prayer with people she’s know for about five minutes – something she wholeheartedly believes is necessary to get the ball rolling. While Ivey doesn’t kneel on the floor to thank the home with each client, she does hope they are able to get into the “attitude of gratitude”.
“I do have clients who feel a little uncomfortable with some of the aspects, so all I ask is that they try it,” Ivey said. “KonMari is shifting your mindset to what you are keeping, and not dwelling on what you’re discarding, so it can be very empowering. Having gratitude for something before letting it go helps to break the emotional attachment.”
Here are the categories, in order, to the KonMari process:
Ivey said it’s important to take every item of clothing and place them in the center of the bedroom, no matter how big the pile may become.
“This helps people see everything they have,” she said. “I found $300 worth of clothes that still had the tags.”
And there’s no piling on a shelf Ivey said, but a system of proper folding that stands the clothing upright allowing everything to be seen, with nothing being smashed.
“Most people maintain the folding over all other things because they find it so useful to see at one glance, all their things filed in a way that they can grab and go,” she said. “There’s less wrinkling and it’s a more efficient use of the space itself. And kids love it. You can make it something you do with the whole family.”
Most people keep books for sentimental reasons, but have not cracked them open in years.
“When it comes to books, it’s important to re-establish your ideal lifestyle and ideal living environment,” Ivey said. “I have my clients think back to when I have them explain what their ideal home would look and feel like — were they sitting in a chair reading their kindle, or did they have a custom made book shelf with 300 books lined up waiting to be selected? If it’s something you reference often, then of course keep it. If you have a book signed by the author, and that sparks joy, don’t discard it. But if you aren’t using it, let the book go to someone who may read it.”
The basic rule for papers is to “throw it all away,” because they cause more stress than joy. Digital versions of just about everything can be found online such as manuals, instructions, warranties and even handouts from seminars.
“It’s common that a lot of my clients have a deep rooted fear of paper and it can get stuck in every room in our home,” Ivey said.
Papers should be divided into three categories: Currently in use, needed for a limited period of time, or must be kept indefinitely.
“When we confront it once and for all, we can see the immediate problems, and those can be taken care of, then we can strategize on paper management,” Ivey said. “Whether its unsubscribing from certain mailing lists, or calling the catalogs and saying ‘no thank you’. I get three pieces of mail a day, I don’t intentionally have an in-box because I don’t want to dedicate any space in my house to something that has a low joy factor.”
This is the miscellaneous category, which applies to the things we keep “just because” such as accessories, kitchen items, makeup, figurines, and the infamous junk drawer.
“Let’s avoid calling our possessions ‘stuff’, ‘junk’, or ‘things’ because it almost de-values them or doesn’t give them the attention they need,” Ivey said. “We like to shift to a more respectful language. We take everything out and select the things that spark joy and respect the utility act of the miscellaneous drawer. Some utility items spark joy because they are functional.”
Ivey said the sentimental items must be done at the very end of your tidying journey.
“We have this as your last step because when you get to sentimental, you’re way more empowered from having cleared so much out of your space,” Ivey said. “If you have an old photograph that sparks joy, display it and bring it out – don’t keep it in a box in the closet. You have to shift your mindset on how you’d like to leave your legacy of clutter, which is ultimately what the sentimental category is all about.”
And when the clutter is gone, Ivey said you’ll start to notice other shifts in your life.
“When my clients start to change the narrative that they’ve been telling themselves in their mind like, ‘I can’t stay organized,’ they start to attract new opportunities in their lives,” Ivey said. “When you open up space in your home, it opens up space for new jobs, new relationships, it’s really incredible.”