J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

The KonMari Method is Changing My Life

I awoke this morning, earlier than usual, trembling with excitement. It had been awhile since the thought of the day’s activities filled me with such gleeful anticipation. The task ahead: sorting and discarding my papers and documents. You see, I have succumbed to the KonMari method, and I am under the spell of this technique’s transformative powers.

A couple weeks ago I picked up an unassuming little book at my mom’s house: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. As I flipped through the table of contents I made little grunts and chuckles of appreciation. The chapter titles hinted at a mind that deeply understood the emotional baggage of stuff. Some were calls to action, like Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely. Another pointed to the method for deciding to keep or discard: Selection criterion: Does it spark joy? Others were straight-up rules: Downgrading to “loungewear” is taboo. This Kondo woman knew stuff. I was intrigued. My mom said she would pass the book along as soon as she’d finished it.

Marie Kondo is an interesting character. Late in the book she briefly analyzes her own obsession with tidying up. A middle child, she received a dearth of attention from her parents, and tidied up to receive approval, and also to control her own environment. She read housekeeping magazines from the age of five, and eagerly volunteered in her elementary school class for the job of organizing classroom cupboards and closets.

Her writing voice at first struck me as stern; she is uncompromising in her rules and methods. But later I came to recognize the tone of confidence born of experience. Obsessed with tidying and organizing, she has literally tried every method. Her confidence is hard earned (not only from field experience with many clients, but from a lifetime of reflection on the art of tidying).

The basic method is this: go through all your possessions by category (starting with clothes, then books, through the other categories, and ending with mementos — basically easy to hard so you learn the method with your least precious items). Hold each item and determine if it gives you joy. If it doesn’t, discard it. Most of her clients end up discarding (or donating or recycling) between half to three-quarters of their possessions. Through this process, their life is transformed, as they process and release their emotional baggage along with their physical junk.

Kondo comes from a Shinto background, and she communes with objects in an animistic sense, aware of their life and energy and their relationship with their owners. Whether there is any truth to this or not, her selection criterion (holding an object to see if it sparks joy) is deeply powerful. If it doesn’t spark joy, she suggests that you thank the object for the role it played in your life (maybe teaching you that you don’t look good in that color) and letting it go.

Kia and I read the book over the course of a few days using the “racing bookmarks” method. After only a few chapters we started the process. Together we discarded two giant garbage bags of clothing. Our six-year-old daughter wanted to do the process as well and contributed a third somewhat smaller bag. The old and worn stuff I threw away, the rest I dropped off at Goodwill.

Suddenly there is space in our drawers and closet! The piano has nothing stacked on it! Our bedroom is transformed. I am eager to continue the process. I keep thinking of things I want to throw away.

Kondo’s “KonMari” method is one I fully endorse without hesitation. Every so often I come across a “life system” that is so nearly perfect that I can’t think of a single improvement. Of course not every part of every system applies to every person (I only skimmed the section on how to organize your stockings) but the guidelines and rules she suggests make perfect sense to me. I will be following the KonMari method to the letter. I’ll do a follow up post when I reach the “click” point Ms. Kondo refers to: the moment when you have discarded enough, and now the objects in your living and working spaces are only the ones that bring you joy.

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48 Comments

  1. Kuze

    I have used a similar method most my life. Mine is called “being German” though πŸ˜‰

    The word is “ordentlich.”

  2. Anne Hawley

    I went through (my own version of) this process a few years ago. I called it Project Empty, with the motto “Imagine An Empty Room”. The results were spectacular and included a 65 lb weight loss and some major lifestyle changes. (One of the things I unloaded was my car.) There was a grieving process with the jettisoning, and all kinds of unexpected emotions. After a few years, the spots in the house that I hadn’t perfectly cleared became attractors for re-accumulation, and a mini Project Empty ensued. It was much easier the second time, I think because decluttering is a skill that gets polished with use. With each round, I’ve become less and less acquisitive, but I found that it wasn’t a one-shot cure for consumerism. Three shots, maybe.

  3. Jay Zimmermann

    Perfect timing. I’m just starting my end-of-the year housecleaning and this is just the kick I needed. Kindle version ordered and reading it today!

  4. Thanks for sharing this. I am always looking for–simple!–ways to help me deal with the things in my life. Interestingly, just last night I finished reading a New Yorker article about hoarding: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/12/15/let-go. Two sides of the same coin, perhaps.

    • I didn’t feel like a hoarder until I started this process (our house looked reasonably tidy even before). But the irrational holding on to things is definitely a spectrum …

      • Sharon

        I love that phrase “the irrational holding on to things is definitely a spectrum…” I can totally relate. I think I am getting better at letting go, but still think there is room for improvement in the selection process. Certainly going to give this a go.
        Cheers

  5. Sounds like a good method. I enjoy collecting things and decorating but I have a rule to take something out when I drag something home. My collections have changed over the years but I find that I have had relatively the same amount of possessions for the past 20 or so years. I guess it’s my comfort zone, not too much, not too little. I could NEVER live with piles of paper and stuff around like some do.

  6. Lisa

    Or perhaps – Obsessive Compulsive Spartanism ?.

  7. Sharon

    I love it when I read something that is so relevant – right-now!
    As I am working through a very similar process. It’s always interesting when you realise that you’ve been doing something a particular way without know it. Now I have a greater impetus to get on with it. The clothes are being sorted today. I really like the idea of being less encumbered with all these unnecessary belongings. Sometimes it is hard to let go of items, because they have value; unfortunately, I often end up buying more of the same, because I can’t immediately remember ‘where’ something is. I really like the idea of being minimalist, and only having what brings me joy. I’m going to give this a go.
    Thanks JD for the heads up.
    Hope your Christmas has been great and time spent with loved ones.
    All the best for the New Year.
    πŸ™‚

    • Getting into the book sorting now … found multiple copies of some books (because the first one was buried or “lost” and I bought another copy). No more layers of books buried behind other layers of books, and we now have 200+ lbs of books to donate.

  8. Reblogged this on peakmemory and commented:
    This is intriguing, but I’ll read the book before I pass judgment.

  9. Billy

    I’m assuming that this method excludes considering items of practicality, for example, a can opener or underwear? If so, it could get a little weird around here.

    • Nope … it excludes nothing. If you only have one can opener and you like to open cans I promise you it will bring you at least a little joy when you hold it. Most households accumulate multiple can openers so then the question is which one to keep (or maybe more if they all bring you joy).

      Just went through *old rags* asking myself this question (and laughing about it) but surprisingly found that some gave me joy and others didn’t. Threw about half of them away.

      • jeri

        I d on’t understand why you would just throw old rags away. They will eventually wear out and you use them all up. So you won’t have to use paper towels or other disposable products.

  10. Bay Area readers who want to donate books should consider the Prison Literature Project in Berkeley. Most requested types of books are dictionaries and science books. Donation guidelines are here:
    http://www.prisonersliteratureproject.com/donate

  11. Now that I’m downsizing from a 500 sq ft apartment to a 200 sq ft tiny home I have a lot of paring down to do. This article really came at a good time. 2015 is the year of figuring out what of my possessions gives me joy.

  12. I’m not sure I’ll be able to leave books in the number two slot on the progression list…..I mean, my books? Really?!? I’d give away everything else before books. Here I go……naked into the future! (With a book to read……)

    • Any object you love, you keep. But although my whole family loves books as a category, it was still easy to let half of them out the door.

  13. RB Huffman

    How coincidental! December 27, with my Kondo book highlighted and by my side I started my own discarding. (I purchased up the book at a local bookstore after I read the paragraph about stopping to declutter your desk instead of going to work on a looming project deadline! That is so me!) I am only through part of my clothes and trying to keep up the energy to get to books and perhaps papers by the end of my week off!!! Wish me luck Here’s to joy!

  14. Mary

    I read this book over the holidays and now I can hardly wait for my first KonMari session. As soon as my husband leaves for the airport this afternoon I’m getting started. It’s so great to hear how others are doing with this method. I’m sure I’ll have questions. Please keep us posted on your progress.

  15. yboris

    Reblogged this on YBoris.

  16. rockin! were into it. thanks!

  17. My wife and I are on it… day 3 and it feels great. I considered waiting until I finished reading the book before starting, but couldn’t resist starting on my clothes.

  18. Karen

    I read a reference to the book 10 days or so ago on the YNAB budgeting site (another simple, life changing system!) and bought it that evening on Kindle. I finished it about 1am, entranced by the naive (in a good way) purity of the author’s voice and confidence. Since then I am further into decluttering than in my whole life. This last year, coping with a family illness and very busy at work, coupled with a collapsed floor that involved moving everything from the kitchen into other rooms, had led to me feeling very overwhelmed even to make a start. As I work from home on confidential matters, paper was engulfing me and I have walls lined with books. It was perfect timing – I lost 30lbs on the 5:2 plan last year (another life-changing system!) so hardly anything I owned before still fitted me. So that gave me a big head start on the clothes, because the joy I felt with old favourites was lost when I realised how badly they fit. I can’t believe it but 8 bin bags have gone to the charity shop. I have 6 big bags of confidential paper to go to a shredding service and I’m not quite done with papers yet. I’ planning to do kitchen stuf next as the books are a tough one and the kitchen is a mess whereas the books are at least on shelves. I can’t imagine how I will cope with books, but I have confidence that when I pull them out and hold them, it will happen. Amazing!

  19. Tree

    I am doing my books tomorrow! Thank you for the link for the prison literacy program. I know some of the books will meet their criteria.
    I am happy to read I have much company in my konmari discarding. The clothes were easier than I thought! Though the sweaters I knitted with my Granny’s yarn were difficult to part with, especially as there is no one in my family that can fit them, I was thankful and gave them to the Goodwill gladly. I find being thankful eases the detachment process.

  20. patty boshardy

    What is the “racing bookmarks” reading method??

    • Just that we were both reading it at the same time! Kia reads faster than I do so her bookmark tends to pass mine even if I start first.

  21. Jean

    Hello,
    Please clarify further the meaning intended in phrase:
    “But the irrational holding on to things is definitely a spectrum …”
    – Thanks

    • Just that there is no hard line between “hoarder” and “not a hoarder.” Clearly looking at my house you wouldn’t think I was a hoarder (no boxes of newspapers, no teetering piles of junk) but that doesn’t mean I’m not holding on to possessions that I don’t need or that don’t bring me joy. Maybe we all have a little bit of a “junk collector” in us.

  22. Jean

    Oh, got it. I am accustomed to the phrase “on spectrum” and couldn’t figure out what you were expressing.

    Thanks for clarifying; I sincerely appreciate it.

  23. palbooks

    I am in middle of reading this book. Totally fascinating and desperate to get started. I am concerned though about going through categories. Can I really not go room by room? If I do categories I’d be turning my whole apartment upside at once instead of just turning my room upside down and then when that’s done the next one

    • Barb

      Try the Facebook group “Konmari Adventures.” They will help you, and yes, you must do it by categories so that you can see you have 6 bottles of the same soap, all squirreled away in different places.

  24. Kristi Holder

    Have you hit that “click” moment yet? I just read the book, and I think she said something about 6 months, so you still have 3 more months to go . . . I was trying to find that passage in the book, so maybe I made it up. Anyway, I now have almost half of my clothes piled on my bed and have decided to start first thing tomorrow morning. πŸ™‚

    • I haven’t hit it yet. At the moment we’re going through the basement and getting rid of ancient paperwork and the like. Well past the initial thrill of the process but it’s still satisfying work. The house and my studio are more or less done. “Tidier” is probably a good way to describe the change in the house … certainly it doesn’t look minimal. I will probably do a follow-up post with pictures once I reach that “click” point.

  25. I have a friend that says this transformed her life. Thanks for the summary; I’m going to get the book!

  26. sif

    Hi, I am new to the Konmari method, I’m reading the book and am excited to get started. I have one kind of funny question though…what about laundry and clothes that are ‘once worn’ but not dirty enough to go into the wash. I don’t think she would advise folding them up with the freshly clean stuff and she seems not to advocate hanging too much in the closet. What does she, or any veterans among you, say about it?

  27. takeitoutside

    I don’t know what Konmari would say about your clothes, but in my house, we call them “half-dirty”, and we have a row of hooks inside, or just outside of, the closet for those. I try to wear them up in the next day or two and get them into the hamper, but my kids seem to like to have all of their clothes “half-dirty” and on their hooks.

  28. CRR

    When I did my books, I realized, as I handled each and every one (over 600 books total), that I was holding on to books for a multitude of reasons: saving the classics for my kids (they’ll probably read them on e-readers), I might read it “someday”. But the one that really struck me was I was holding on to some books because I thought having them on my bookshelf made me more credible as a person. Once I chose only the books that sparked joy, I felt a 1,000 lb weight lift off my shoulders. As I entered the house after donating the books that have fulfilled their purpose, the room felt brighter, more airy and welcoming.

  29. Irene

    Almost finished with the book and I can’t wait to get started. Wish me luck! I actually kind of started already by discarding all kinds of stuff on my computer. Now my desktop is all cleared off and it surprises and delights me every time I open it. Marie didn’t mention digital discarding, but it’s something to consider!

    • Absolutely. Come to think of it I may have started with “digital discarding” myself.

  30. Kaye

    What is the racing book marks method? πŸ™‚

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