A Crazy Method of Eliminating Clutter (That Works)


The author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” is all sorts of crazy. Marie Kondo has named the organizational system she uses (KonMari) by combining her first and last names. She advocates talking to clothing and asking oneself whether each item of clothing in a closet “sparks joy.” She describes reading decorating magazines and developing an urge to tidy belongings at the age of five. Yes, she’s several categories of crazy, but . . . her system really works.

I need to back up for a minute. I’ve had something rattling around in my mind for several years now, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it. It was an observation I made when I was pregnant, followed by a conversation I had with someone in my life whose house had burned down.

In the first trimester of my triplet pregnancy, my clothing quickly became too small by the first month or two. While most of my focus was figuring out how to keep my pregnancy private long enough to make it past the first trimester, I began to realize my clothing wouldn’t fit much longer. By the second trimester, even maternity clothing didn’t fit me correctly, and whatever portion I had of a third trimester, was mostly spent on bedrest.

During an entire pregnancy, I had only two pairs of pants that stayed up without falling down and four different shirts that covered my belly. When I went to work, I alternated between the two pairs of pants: black on Monday, brown on Tuesday, black on Wednesday, brown on Thursday, and back in black on Friday.

When I opened my closet door, it was the happiest I’d been in years. There was no thinking, no pairing “which shirt with which pants,” no contemplating a skirt with tights. There were only those two pairs of pants and those four shirts.

Eventually, when I was able to wear regular clothing again, I began the same process I’d had for much of my adult life: shopping, finding new clothes, laboring over what to wear each day, letting clothing languish in the back of my closet because it didn’t fit right or it didn’t look good on me.

That was when I had a conversation with somebody whose house had burned down. Much of her clothing was ruined with smoke damage, but there were a few items that had been tucked away and remained useable. After I commented how hard it must have been to lose all that clothing, she answered, “It was extremely liberating. I realized I had way more than I needed, and I enjoyed the feeling of not having to put thought into how I dressed each day.” It was the same feeling I had felt.

Marie Kondo, in her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” discovered something that took me being pregnant with three babies to discover and took a house fire for my friend to discover. Life is simpler and more fulfilling when homes are not full with the clutter of excessive possessions.

Her basic premise is that most of us own way more than we need to, more than we realize we have and more than we actually want. She has developed a process of sorts, that’s been refined through years as an organizational consultant. Her process starts with taking everything out of closets and drawers, eliminating duplicates and excess, figuring out what our favorite items really are and putting them front and center. On some level, even those of us who don’t think about the orderliness of our closets or homes, recognize that we have 20 t-shirts, but tend to wear the same three or four. The others don’t fit as well, don’t make us look good, or are only hanging around for sentimental reasons (we bought them on vacation, they were a gift, etc.)

Besides having accumulated too much stuff, I have a habit, (which, according to the book, is shared by lots of people) of keeping all sorts of items around because I feel like I might need them someday.

When I bought new bathroom mats and towels, I kept all the old towels and mats in a closet. What if I want to rotate the mats and alter the color scheme of my bathroom? What if I have to take the cat to the vet and I need an old towel to put inside the cat carrier?

I have hundreds of buttons that came with clothing that I bought 20 years ago. What if that exact button fits onto a shirt that I own now? I have over 15 skeins of yarn from knitting projects that I’ve never finished (three baby blankets, two scarves, and a hat).  I have pillows that have been flattened from years of use and are yellow with age that I can’t bear to throw away. What if company comes and I need an extra pillow?

I have a junk drawer with stray pieces of string, shoelaces, half-used bars of soap, random keys, 35 safety pins, pencil stubs, little pieces of plastic that notch into an automatic light timer, a map from a state I drove through two decades ago, and advertisements for landscapers and housepainters (in case I need house painting or landscaping some day).

I have a cabinet with brass cleaner (that seeped out of the bottom of the bottle and stained everything within three inches of it), makeup that I’ve never used that came as a free bonus with a purchase, and hair product that I can’t bear to throw away because it was expensive (even though it makes my hair feel as if it’s been rubbed with bubble gum).

At least, I used to have all these things.

When I started reading the book, it was almost as a joke, but after navigating through the book’s nonsense (such as thanking inanimate objects for the purpose they’ve served in life), the author’s straightforward admonitions about keeping only what is necessary and provides enjoyment struck a chord. Some of my favorite sentences are short and direct. “You will never use spare buttons.” “Mysterious chords will always remain just that—a mystery.” “My basic policy is to discard all papers. . .” “Used checkbooks are just that—used.”

I’ve filled 15 grocery bags of items to donate, two bags of trash, and I am not done yet. I still have more than the two pairs of pants and the four shirts that I had when I was pregnant, but I’m getting closer to eliminating all the useless items, broken appliances, abandoned craft projects, old date books and bright coral lipsticks that have been dragging me down.


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