Did Tidying Up Change My Life? Well, Actually, Yeah

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napkins folded in marie kondo way

When a book is titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I think we can be forgiven for being skeptical. “Life-changing” is a bold claim, and most self-help books fall way short of the mark. But, having gone through the process, I’ll admit — the Marie Kondo method of tidying really did change my life. It didn’t change everything about my life. But it changed my home and the way I feel about my home, and those changes have lasted; I completed the konmari process in 2015, and I haven’t gone back to my former messy ways. So, yeah, I’m a konmari convert.

I think the Marie Kondo method of tidying is perfect for me; it might not be perfect for everyone, though. Some people are attracted to the minimalist lifestyle and some people aren’t, and I think the people who aren’t initially attracted to minimalism are more suited to the konmari method.

Does the thought of letting go of even one of your childhood stuffed animals make you feel like a monster? Have you ever been moved to tears because one of your friends broke a glass that reminded you of your childhood? Do you have extra plasticware in your kitchen that originally cost $1 and that you never use, but that you hold onto anyway because you bought it in college and it reminds you of eating cereal on the floor with your roommates? Because I do. (Or at least, I did.)

Konmari is great for us sentimentalists because it works with our emotional attachment to things, not against it. The whole method is based on paying attention to the joy you get from your belongings and listening to it. So those of us who get really sentimental and emotional over our stuff have our concerns listened to, not dismissed. “Have you used it in the past year” is not a convincing argument for me to get rid of something, and it isn’t part of konmari. If I haven’t used it, but holding it brings me joy, it stays anyway. And if I used it last week, but it makes me unhappy, it goes.

I’m still amazed at how willing I was to let things go by following Marie Kondo’s advice. Some of her methods are silly, but they’re effective — I’ll admit that I didn’t say “thank you” to every single belonging that I put away, but I did say it to the things that were hard for me to part with, and it actually really did help me to let things go without feeling upset.

I’m planning on writing a couple more blogs about this (including what I think about the new Netflix show), but here are a couple of my initial tips (or advice, really) if you’re thinking of starting konmari:

Trust the process

Yes, there will probably be a couple of ideas from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up that you just can’t incorporate into your life (I don’t decant my bath products, for example). There will be a few sections that make you roll your eyes (one word: socks). But I think you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t try hard to buy into most of the process. Some things that seemed silly to me at first — like the very specific order that she tells us to tidy, or tidying with no music or television playing, or not re-organizing things until you’re actually done sorting through everything — actually ended up being critically important in my success with the process. You’ll find things that just don’t work for you (I don’t hang my clothes according to height, for example), but I think you’ll find a surprising number of things that do.

Know that it takes a long time

Before it makes you feel all tidy and joyful, konmari creates a huge mess. This method demands that you go through ALL OF YOUR BELONGINGS. If you’re an American, this is probably a lot of stuff. We have more than we think we do, and letting it go is a lot more emotionally demanding than we probably expect. There isn’t that much of a payoff as far as things actually looking better in your home until halfway through the process or so. For me, konmari took a couple of months. Time-wise, it’s probably good to think of it like losing 50 pounds — it takes dedication, and it takes time. If you live alone (like I did when I went through this process), you can just accept living in squalor for a little bit longer. If you have a family or roommates, I think it helps to designate a space (like a guest room or an office or even a bedroom) that’s going to hold the majority of your sorting mess while you’re going through it. In the areas where that’s not practical (like the bathroom or the kitchen), carve out a big chunk of time (like a long weekend where you don’t make any other plans) and dedicate yourself to getting through it so you’re not forcing everyone to live in a mess for months.

The most important thing I have to share about the Marie Kondo method is encouragement — those bold claims about changing your life are not overstated. If you’re like me and spent a lot of your adult life being embarrassed to have people into your home because it was always cluttered, if you don’t want to let go of your memories but you do want to live in an inviting home, or if the idea of finding joy in everyday household items seems so distant that it’s almost a dream, I think konmari will work for you. It’ll be hard, but you and your home are worth the effort.

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.

5 Comments

  • You’ve given me much to ponder Carrie

    • Carrie Rollwagen says:

      Thank you! I feel a little silly writing so much about this, but the process did help me to not be so anxious about my daily life and be free to write/create, so I like that sharing it is resonating with other artists like you.

  • Elizabeth Boyd says:

    OK, you *may* have just convinced me to give this a try. I def need something that will work and I fit your description. Can’t wait to read what else you write about it.

    • Carrie Rollwagen says:

      Thank you so much! I don’t think it’s the perfect thing for everyone, but it really did work from me. Good luck with whatever you choose to do!

  • Heather, Pittsburgh says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’m doing the process right now and am SO LUCKY to have a consultant in training guiding me and holding me accountable. No shortcuts through the process, which if I was left to my own devices I would get very lax. This is going to be one of the best things for me… I can tell already. My home even feels lighter and it is still in the very messy stage. Just finishing category 1 (OMG!) That said, it is very fatiguing (especially for us sensitive types) as it can stir up a lot of emotions.

    Why do I accumulate so much? What void am I trying to fill? What are these attachments about? I can’t believe I take up this much space and basically need to manage all of this! Wow, I am definitely not helping the environment. I could have afforded that splurge if I didn’t end up getting all this smaller stuff.

    It’s very psychological.

    And I hope life-changing for me too!

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