Konmari Q&A: Your Questions

post it note reading konmari q & a

It’s been really fun writing about konmari this week, especially since it seems like the whole world is watching Tidying up with Marie Kondo and posting pictures of discarded piles of clothes on Instagram. That’s not a judgment — I really do like seeing it, and I think the fact that everyone’s so caught up in this movement is less because it’s a fad and more because a LOT of us have this problem — the problem of having too much stuff.

As I’ve blogged about how much I believe in the konmari results (I completed the process four years ago), I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the process through Instagram, on Facebook and in person. I shared responses to a lot of these on an Instagram story highlight, but I’ve gotten a couple more questions since then, so I thought I’d collect them here as well.

How do you know if an item sparks joy?

It was very hard for me to determine whether or not I was feeling joy when holding an item — to the point that it was sort of depressing. The solution that worked for me was to flip the equation around: I didn’t know when an item sparked joy, but I could tell right away which items sparked guilt. There were so many things I’d been keeping around that made me feel bad — a book I’d meant to read and ever gotten around to, a broken vase that reminded me how clumsy I was, a sweater that was missing a button that I knew I’d never getting around to sewing on, gifts that I didn’t like but felt bad giving away — the list could go on. I was shocked by how many things in my home actually created tiny waves of guilt or disappointment. When I can’t figure out if something brings me joy, I ask myself if it makes me feel guilty, and if it does, I either fix the problem or get rid of the thing. Once I removed the possessions that were making me feel guilt, it was a lot more obvious which ones brought me joy.

Marie Kondo also has a trick for this — when you feel stumped about what brings you joy, go back to those few items that you absolutely KNOW bring you joy. Pick one of those up and notice how you feel, and it’ll be a little bit easier to identify that feeling again.

Do you konmari your books? This would be really hard for me.

Yep, I went through the books, and I discarded a LOT. It was hard, but I realized that so many titles had been sitting my shelf for years, and I’d passed them over so many times that it actually made me feel guilty, not good, to look at them. Once my library was smaller and filled with my favorite books and books I was excited about, I found that I read from my library more often.

Did you throw out photos?

Yes … and no. I went through my prints and only kept the ones that made me happy. But I kept all the negatives, so theoretically I have all my photos, just not in print form. I saved them in negative sleeves in three ring binders. It’s not full konmari, but it’s as far as I was willing to go.

How many trash bags did you throw out?

About 25. I don’t remember exactly. I didn’t throw them all in the trash, though. I threw out mostly papers (after they were shredded), and I tried to donate the rest. I took batches to Zoe’s consignment, to Second and Charles, to Plato’s Closet, and then I called a thrift store truck to pick up the rest. (I didn’t have a car at the time.)

What was the hardest step for you?

Paper! I had 25 banker boxes full of unsorted paper (writing notes, unsorted mail, anything and everything), and going through it, shredding the discards and organizing what was left was hellish. (I still have to sort through the paper that’s piled up again about once every month or two. It’s not that difficult now, though, because everything has a place and I have a process for going through it.)

What about book manuscripts, notebooks, papers, etc. I could never part with mine.

I kept my journals and most all writing ideas and interview notes. Throwing that away isn’t best practice for a writer, I don’t care what Marie Kondo says! I did narrow it down a lot through (down to 5 banker boxes from 25), and I organized it so I can actually find stuff now. I also had a few journals that I’d only written a few pages in, so I cut out those pages and put them together in a box so they take up a lot less space. I have a dream of scanning in my own notes and keeping them digitally, but that’s proven a lot more difficult to work out than I’d hoped.

How did you tackle komono when you’ve got a lot of it?

I think for komono it’s good to make your own categories that apply to what you own. In some respects, it’s probably okay to do some komono room by room because it’s already sorted by theme, like bathroom, kitchen, etc. But I still tried to sort like items together — all makeup at once, for example, even though some might be in the bathroom and some in the bedroom.

How do you deal with the piles of stuff while doing this if you can’t go through it and put it away all at once?

When I lived by myself, I just left it all out for the most part (except kitchen and bath). But when you live with people, I think you can’t help but organize it somewhat. Maybe try to block off a weekend at a time to tidy a section and also put it back in order. Or try to put things back where they used to go until you’re done eliminating things, then pull it back out and approach organizing. It’s tough!

What about clothing you know will come back around and that you will want to wear in the future?

This is when knowing nothing about fashion comes in handy. 🙂 I do have a few things I can’t wear now but can’t part with (maxi dresses that were my grandmother’s, for example). I try to store them in a way that brings me joy.

Does it annoy you when people say they’re doing konmari when they’re really just cleaning out a drawer or something?

Haha, well, I’m a rule follower, so yes it does. On the one hand, if anyone is working to make their life better, that’s great. If someone wants to go through a drawer to see what sparks joy, or start in the kitchen, or whatever — I don’t think that’s wrong at all. But it’s not the konmari process, either. To do konmari, I think it’s important to follow her order of tidying. It seems silly, but it’s not arbitrary, and it’s designed to “teach” you how to tidy and feel joy along the way. Of course, like I said, I’m a rule follower, so of course I’m going to stick to the guide book!

I’m very thankful for this week; it’s been really fun to hear from everyone about their tidying process, successes and questions. I’m going to tackle another subject this week, but if anyone has more questions about konmari, feel free to send them my way! I’ll try to share, if not on the blog, through my Instagram or other social media (the links are below).

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist, a book about buying from locally owned stores and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she works as Communications Director at Infomedia, a web development company in Birmingham, Alabama. Find her as @crollwagen on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most other social media platforms.

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