It all started when my 29-year-old called in a panic asking if I had her college diploma. Having accepted a job in London, she had quit her current job, sublet her Brooklyn apartment, and applied for a visa to work abroad. Now she needed to provide proof that she had actually graduated.
I was pretty sure the document was stashed in one of the boxes of Abby’s stuff I had saved, along with multiple containers of memorabilia from my other three girls. While not exactly a hoarder, I seem to be incapable of discarding anything that might turn out to have some sentimental value during my children’s lifetimes, or possibly their descendants'. You just never know.
I hauled three dusty plastic bins upstairs and began excavating. Ambling down Memory Lane, I lost track of time fondly reliving my daughter’s youth. In addition to her first amusing attempts at writing and countless pieces of pre-school artwork, which all started looking surprisingly similar, I culled through photos, journals, school assignments, music programs, athletic awards, wallets, greeting cards, even a bartending course manual. Okay, maybe that could go. There was no diploma.
After much anguish on Abby’s part, the background checkers finally got confirmation of her B.A. from the college itself. They should have done this in the first place, rather than rely on the applicant to produce a piece of paper that could easily be falsified, but I didn’t mind. Having organized the bins more or less chronologically, I looked forward to doing the same for her sisters. How much of the contents, I wondered, would be of interest to anyone but me?
Soon afterwards I noticed a new book on the New York Times Bestseller list, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Even the subtitle, “the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” was intriguing. Could I really change my life simply by becoming less of a packrat? That’s precisely what the author promises. By following the “KonMari Method”—a combination of her first and last names—you can successfully put your house in order, literally and figuratively.
I’ve read a lot of self-help books, none of which I’d call life-changing. This one sounded different. Kondo, who began tidying at age three, admitted to a less than auspicious start to her career. After downsizing her own possessions she proceeded to discard, at her discretion, those of her siblings, then denied doing so. You probably shouldn’t try this at home. Today she runs a very successful business in Japan with a three-month waiting list teaching her clients to de-clutter. There is evidently no shortage of untidy folks in Asia willing to pay big yen to have someone encourage them to just say no. Ms. Kondo, it appears, is cleaning up nicely.
Sort by category, not location, she suggests. Start with clothing, then progress to books, papers, miscellany, and finally objects of sentimental value, the hardest to part with. Pick up and examine each item you own, decide whether to keep or discard it by asking yourself if it brings you joy, then choose where to put what you’ve saved. Assessing how you feel about your belongings, expressing gratitude for those that have fulfilled their purpose and bidding them farewell, is really about examining your inner self and achieving a more fulfilling life.
Make tidying a special event, Kondo says, not a daily chore. She also believes in greeting your house each time you enter and storing your socks to give them a much-deserved rest from their labors. There is a cultural component to her advice that many Westerners may not identify with, but I found the way she approaches her belongings quite charming.
I embraced the spirit of the KonMari Method if not strictly the strategy, and began with the bottom dresser drawer in my bedroom. The results were so satisfying that I immediately moved on to one of the kitchen junk drawers that practically cried “clean me!” I even managed to toss a couple of things in the trash.
If you too have difficulty with discarding, check out “Don’t Throw it Out” by Lori Baird and the editors of Yankee Magazine. It contains hundreds of clever, practical ways to make your possessions “live a long, hard-working life, saving you time, money, and frustration.” They left out guilt, but you get the gist.
Most other books on the subject don’t include tidying in the title. I paged through Susan West’s “Organize for a Fresh Start,” “Secrets of an Organized Mom” by Barbara Reich, “Organizing Hints & Tips” by Cassandra Kent, and “How to Organize Just About Everything” by the lone male, Peter Walsh. All offer a myriad of helpful hints but only Kondo claims that tidying transforms lives. Decluttering, she declares, will help you discover your true passions, gain confidence in making decisions, and experience greater happiness and good fortune. Besides a lot of detritus, what was there to lose by trying?
After my first legit bout of tidying I felt a profound sense of peace followed by a burst of energy. I even considered attacking the dreaded to-do list. It was crazy: I wanted to grab a brush and paint over the scuff marks on the stair risers, make that long-overdue appointment with the attorney, organize the photos gathering dust for decades, and call the friend I hadn’t seen in far too long. Did I actually do any of these things? Well no, but one of these days I might.
My oldest daughter will never pick up this book. Her apartment is already perpetually tidy. For her, cleaning is cathartic and living without clutter lets her relax, release stress, feel refreshed, and free herself to focus on other activities. Even I can relate, theoretically. Creating order out of chaos in your own little corner of the world can be wonderfully comforting and liberating.
So what do I really think of the KonMari method? Honestly? It’s pretty neat.