Once in a while, a book comes along that creates cataclysmic change.
Such is the case with “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (Ten Speed Press, 224 pages), a slim volume by decluttering expert Marie Kondo that has taken Japan and the United States by storm.
I think I’m the last person on earth to jump on the KonMari Method, as it’s called, but just in case I’m the second-to-last, I’m going to tell you about it.
Kondo approaches decluttering with a Shinto spiritualism, infusing inanimate objects such as our belongings and very homes with a presence. With that premise, she encourages people to surround themselves with only those things that "spark joy."
It’s an intriguing premise, and in her quirky and engaging style, Kondo describes a detailed way in which to declutter, starting with every clothing item in the house. She says it’s not enough to just flip through the clothes hanging in your closet. You need to dump them in a pile on the floor, pick them up one by one and feel for that spark of joy.
If the clothing item doesn’t spark joy, it goes in the discard pile.
The process alone is enough to raise eyebrows, but if you follow through, and warning, here comes some evangelizing, you, too, will become a believer.
I’m not kidding.
I started with my closet and managed to get rid of two bags of clothing. I then strong-armed my husband into doing his clothes. He winnowed his vast sweater and dress-shirt collection down to two sweaters and five shirts.
Decluttering is only the first step. Then comes the organizing. Kondo's method for organizing clothing debunks the lay-flat method and even discourages closet hangers. Instead, clothes are folded into rectangles and lined up front to back vertically in drawers.
I planned to skip this step; it seemed excessive to me. But I tried it anyway with my husband’s T-shirts and jeans, and it worked so well that I ended up doing it with many of my clothes as well.
And here’s the deal. My closet is now my favorite place in my house. I’ve managed to discard so much that there are actually empty spaces. When I open my drawers, little rectangle of happy scarves wave up at me.
Now, I’ve done closet purges before, but here’s the deal: Kondo assures that her method produces zero rebound. The “spark joy” mentality becomes a code to live by. You’re not going to keep it, or even buy it, if it doesn’t spark joy.
After clothes, Kondo recommends decluttering papers, books, miscellanea and mementos, in that order. It’s a process that she says should take about six months. (Or, if you can’t leave well enough alone like me, more like six weeks.)
Can it work with kids? Yes, it can. I sat my kids down in front of their individual mountains of clothes and went through the KonMari method. It turns out kids are quite perceptive about what sparks joy.
I laid a few ground rules: They couldn't get rid of their school uniforms or church clothes, and they had to keep a bare minimum of three collared shirts. I have one son who would wear basketball shorts and T-shirts year-round if I let him. But other than that, fair game. Because let’s be honest, kids wear the same four or five shirts all the time anyway.
We managed to weed out another six garbage bags worth of clothing. I had no idea we owned so many T-shirts.
Kondo’s eccentricities are part of what make the KonMari method so endearing. She has recommendations such as: roll your socks together in spirals instead of balling them up, so they can rest. She says a woman’s handbag also needs to rest and should be emptied each night, thanked for its hard work and set on a shelf.
Her promise is that by clearing out clutter with her method, we will strip down to who we fundamentally are. We will have time to spend on the things that matter most.
I’m still knee-deep in the process, but I’ve already gained insight into each family member and what they value, whether it’s coding manuals or Pokémon cards. I’ve learned what I value as well. I’m not a clotheshorse or a knickknack collector, but I sure love information: books, my running magazines and notebooks filled with my kids’ ideas. Those things bring me joy and will always live in abundance in my house.
Stripping down to our family’s essentials has done something remarkable. Our home feel lighter, like it is finally able to breathe.
I walk around in the evening, and my 10-year-old is learning a new chord on the guitar. My youngest is building with Legos in the front room. The 12-year-old is shooting basketballs off his door-mounted hoop.
At night, in their room that now contains only three beds and one bookshelf (no underbed bins or desk cluttered with trinkets), my boys read books by a single lamp while listening to Itzhak Perlman on the CD player. (Really!) They wake up happy, as if their sparse surroundings have allowed them to clear the cobwebs of the mind and helped them sleep better.
Some may call that simply New Year’s dejunking. As for me, I call it real-life magic.
Tiffany Gee Lewis runs the website Raise the Boys at raisetheboys.com, dedicated to rearing creative, kind, courageous and competent boys. Follow it on Instagram and Twitter at raisetheboys. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org