my big creative year : the magic of tidying up

cleaning and organizing

I recently read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  The book isn’t about cleaning, it’s about decluttering (the photo is from a house I visit upstate -I chose the photo because I love it, everything about it, and it expresses the beauty of essential things – just the essential things – the joy of simplicity and the elegance of the space around things).

It’s about having less stuff, having only things that bring you joy.

I approached this book with probably more than healthy skepticism. I always run into trouble with the word clutter. I get defensive and protective – that’s my important stuff, my important special stuff- and I need it, I need all of it, I need choices.

But do I? Do I need all of it? Do I even know? Have I truly looked closely enough or listened to myself and my things enough to know? Do I really understand what having it is costing? Because there is a cost – things have weight and shifting that weight around requires time and energy. And that’s what I do – I shift it around.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the problem has been solved.”

I have all sorts of organizing schemes, I love the container store and ikea. I love them. I put it all away, make it lovely and it feels so good. For a while. Until everything I squirreled away starts to creep back out and I need to do it all again. It doesn’t really work or last because there is just too much. Too much that isn’t meaningful, too much I don’t truly love, more than what is essential. Slowly, it reemerges and I feel the weight of it.

At the center of Marie Kondo’s system for decluttering, for relieving yourself of “the burden of owning more than one needs” is this question:

Does this spark joy?

Look at everything (and she means everything) and ask yourself if it sparks joy. Her system for evaluating and what to do with the things you decide to keep gets detailed, really detailed (she almost lost me at sock folding) and there is an undeniable wisdom in the system, even the order she directs you to tackle things in makes perfect sense and sets you up to succeed. The goal is to create a lasting change, not a chore or exercise to be repeated at intervals – a system for assessing and dealing with possessions, keeping what you love, disposing of the rest and ultimately being surrounded by only what you love, what you choose.

I have begun, as directed, with clothes.

Some sparked joy, that was the smallest pile, some did not. A lot sparked a desire to lose weight. The pile of “doesn’t fit but I love it” was depressing and motivating – lots of “goal pants”…….  And she talks about the pitfalls of “downgrading to loungewear” – it was like she was speaking directly to me – vast, VAST and cumbersome sections of my wardrobe were “paint clothes” and “things to wear around the house” – enough for a couple life times.

The book continues through each category of possessions – tackling them head on, anticipating where one might fail or waiver with remarkable insight.

There is art, science and spirit in her system – you need to be able to embrace or at least have some tolerance for the idea of having a spiritual relationship with your things and the idea that things have energy. I’m so glad I read it, there were revelations in this book for me and it has made me think differently about things and how to take care of them.

I’m going to continue to work my way through each category (they get progressively more difficult) and I’ll let you know how it goes.  What’s your relationship with your stuff like?

35 Comments

  1. I just bought this book for a friend of mine who is into minimalism and now is getting a new apartment. I think I will try to find it at the library, so I can read it too! I am like you, I have way to much STUFF, but I love it!

    • I think a minimalist will REALLY love this book. I’m determined but am haven a hard time with the discarding part!

  2. When I first read it, I found it to be a difficult go, more because I felt that, if she had been talking about food, that she would fall on the disordered side of things. I will have to read it again, and try to see beyond the triggery terminology.

    • Hi Mandy – I felt that way a bit too – it felt extreme – and I’m not at all sure i can achieve the ideal but there was some real common sense in it that spoke to me.

  3. I have way too much stuff. It gets in the way and I want less but I can’t seem to move on from there. I put things I no longer need in boxes to sort through but find it impossible to put anything in the bin…one day I’ll get on top of it but sadly, not quite yet.

    • Hi Julia – that’s kind of where I’ve been – i’m a box person – stow it away. The actual discarding feels like a big leap – but – the boxes are encroaching!

  4. in the last few years i did reduce, and i enjoy it. when i open my closet in the morning, it makes me happy, there are only things that i like. at the end of a season i check: did i wear everything that i have and like? if not, it’s a sign there’s no need to buy more things.
    and this summer (as much as you can call it a summer…) i don’t even feel like buying (new or second hand) i’m really happy with my collection, and still there’s enough to diversify.
    and it’s not that i’m not possessive or materialist…
    i think, that the minute i stopped searching my style and started to feel good with myself, it helped.

    • Hi Tami -That sounds lovely – and the idea of settling your style is interesting – I’ve been trying to get there – not quite yet though. Thanks for sharing that – it’s encouraging.

  5. GadgetSponge Brian

    I’ve definitely got to get this book. I justify my creative space with “but I know where everything is” so I’m lying to myself! Ha. Thanks for posting! Always enjoy your work!

    • Hi Brian! Always nice to hear from you. Yup – i “know where everything is” too……

  6. A move made me purge and really think about what I need. It is very freeing. A simple life leaves room to reinvent and create. And then there is the contemplation of what we need and what we desire. A lot of times desire wins. Sigh. But sometimes it does keep me going forward!

    • Hi Mary Ann – “A simple life leaves room to reinvent and create” – so well put – that is what I’m after. And moving is such a good motivator – I’m going to pretend I’m moving in one month.

  7. I also recently read this book and found it to be transformative! Such simple concepts – ‘does this bring me joy?’ So much of the stuff I’ve accumulated does NOT bring me joy, and in fact just adds to the unending lists of ‘I really should be doing ….’ (fill in the blank). I am not even 20% through the process, but I already feel lighter and more inspired to ‘do’ and less inclined to ‘acquire’. Even the (perhaps odd) concept of my things having the desire to be useful rather than be stored away has made it SO much easier to let them go. The actual discarding is the most difficult for me too – not because I mind letting go of the stuff, but the sheer logistics of getting rid of it – 17 large bags of fabric to Goodwill last month and many boxes waiting to be hauled there … I’ve taken to leaving boxes of stuff at my driveway gate and letting the neighbors have at it 🙂

    • Hi Patty – I do love the idea of things wanting to be useful and I am very, very impressed with your 17 bags to Goodwill – the discarding is hard – logistically and otherwise! Good luck with it – I’d love to hear what it’s like when you get all the way through it.

  8. Oh my Ann – I have a feeling that you don’t have one thing that doesn’t give you joy – otherwise it wouldn’t be there with you. My home is full of my “stuff”, much of it sentimental, some of it because “I may need that someday” (it almost always happens) and the rest are the makings of my many projects which for lack of proper work surface prevents me from completing in a timely manner. At the age of 76 I’m coming to the end of my days. I’ve suffered the angst of “what am I going to do with all this?” but now I’m coming to the conclusion that I don’t need to worry about it anymore. I’m never bored, sometimes a bit lonely (but that’s what all the books are for!) I find great joy in cleaning, rearranging, and playing with all my pretty things. I’m not a hoarder in the filthy sense – mostly things are clean and tidy (my Mom taught me “a place for everything and everything in its place” – and who cares if The Three Little Kittens, stuffed flannel toys from a 1990 Better Homes and Gardens magazine, are now the current work in process on the dining room table! Yes, it’s taken me that many years to get to it, but who’s keeping tabs? Everything in its own good time! Every once in awhile I cull a few bags and boxes full of things I know I’m not going to use and donate them to some other maker. Ann – if you weren’t surrounded by all your wonderful things, would you be as creative? I hope you don’t suffer over it – enjoy it – every minute!!! For now you are the caretaker and all that stuff is providing the world with your beautiful art – otherwise you wouldn’t be you!! There are all kinds of people in this beautiful world, including minimalists and caretakers!!! I have a feeling you will always be a caretaker. xoxoxoxoxox
    Much love, Ruth

    • I just love what Ruth wrote (:
      Dog gone it, I have that book, organized my socks( and discovered I may be a sicksholic) and now the book is in a pile somewhere.
      Thanks for the reminder to find it!!

    • I just love what Ruth wrote (:
      Dog gone it, I have that book, organized my socks( and discovered I may be a sockoholic) and now the book is in a pile somewhere.
      Thanks for the reminder to find it!!

      • Thanks Peggy – funny – I discovered the opposite – I need some socks! And yes – Ruth is wonderful.

    • Thanks so much for sharing Ruth – beautiful thoughts. I think I might be a caretaker with an inner minimalist. You are so right – I’ll never give up the things that inspire me, the things I love and the things I love sharing with you all but I think i could find a great deal of space for things I truly love and love to be around if I dealt with the things I’ve squirreled away because I don’t want to make a decision about them. And thanks for making the very important point that if your happy with things don’t sweat it! My place will never be spare but maybe someday I’ll be able to open the closet without an avalanche!

  9. But something that doesn’t interest me today may tomorrow..I might think I will never paint in those colors and 6 months later I go buy it again and cannot get enough of it..

    • Hi Sandy – true – and I think that’s a great reason to hold on to something – especially creative tools and supplies.

  10. Oh yes. Clutter and space and our things
    And creative energy and inspiration!! I need my stuff , my threads and fabric and encaustic and scissors and needles and fabric
    And we just moved and I decided that I don’t need 4 of my grandmothers pocket books…one will do
    And that has become a metaphore for me
    As I do feel inspired by open space where the light can come in and shine and enhance the creative response
    And I believe that if I haven’t used something for a long while then it is time to listen to the truth and let it go
    I gave a pair of shoes I had in my car to a street person this morning … She was glad to get them
    Hope to see u in he future Ann
    Xo Lauren

    • Hi Lauren! I hop to see you soon too. Wonderful point – what is just lingering in your life might be deeply meaningful to someone else.

  11. Phyllis de Vries

    What fun it was to read this post, Ann, and the comments too. I read the book a few months back and began to organize and simplify and think about all of these ideas a lot. Yet, when it comes to my collection of textiles, buttons, and trims (all vintage or old), I am hard pressed to load this stuff in a huge black bag and take it to a donation center. I loved Ruth’s comment and felt she was a kindred spirit indeed. I am 66 and feel my things are what give me the most comfort and pleasure at this stage of my life. I am still worrying about how my children will deal with it when I am gone, but I hope, as Ruth, I will simply reach a stage or age where I no longer suffer this angst about my special things. Thank you for writing this post and for the wonderful discussion it prompted.

    • Hi Phyllis – Thanks so much for sharing – it is interesting to me to hear about how people feel about their things and I sense kindred spirits too. Buttons – there is a point in the book where she specifically addresses buttons – she is referring to “regular” buttons but still my immediate reaction was hands off my buttons lady! I will not part with one single button!

  12. Oh my, this post reminds me of me! I constantly clean and reorganize my studio…or that’s what I call it. In reality, I’m just shifting things around and moving massive accumulations to new locations. I forget what I have, and where I put it although it can be fun to find things I forgot I have…kind of like opening presents on Christmas! Ooooh, ahhhh! Look at this! I forgot I had it! I like my stuff and can be defensive about it, but deep down I know I need to purge, and I will…someday.

    • Hi Randi – I forget what I have too – the surprises are so funny – whole boxes of things I was unaware of. No question the purge is tough but I have a strong feeling I’m really going to like the other side.

  13. My own untidyness has driven me mad all my life, I am an obsessive collector of anything and everything and I don’t even know what I have! Last year I ended up with 7 sewing machines (I have given most of them away again) because when someone offers me something I can’t say no. I may just have to get a copy of this book, I am starting the 3rd year of my textiles degree in September and can’t actually get into my sewing room at the moment for bags and bags of fabrics and trimmings etc in the doorway – I’m also saving up for new flooring throughout the house that is needed desperately and at the moment I can’t even see the floor – time to stop blaming my husband/daughter/the cats et al and take responsibility!!! Thanks Ann, I feel like you are helping me sort my life out! 😉

    • Thanks so much Kath – I relate – my own messiness has always bugged me too – and I am ready for something new! I hope you get the book- it is helping me keep moving on this.

  14. Ann, i loved the book but I cannot start with clothes! I , like you, have “goal pants”! what a riot that is! and lounge wear , but putting all my clothes in the middle of the floor??? The pile would take DAYS to go thru and I work a 50 hr week and if i came home to that it would be so depressing! so what to do? smaller things….i cannot get over the clothes hump but my sister did sections of clothes at one time, such as shirts and then pants etc. so much weight!!!!!! (and on my body now too.!)
    XXOO Cat

    • Hi Cat – I love the sections idea- pants one day etc…. I had the same experience pulling stuff out – it immediately became huge and I was not thorough or decisive enough – having another go with your method.

  15. On a lark, I went to my local Kinokuniya to see the presentation they were advertising: Meet a Japanese Tidying Expert. I had no idea what I was in for. I was completely mesmerized by Marie Kondo (who spoke in Japanese accompanied by a translator). Before I knew it, I’d purchased the book and stood in line to get it signed by her. 🙂 I read the book in full that night.

    I’ve tidied my clothes and my books. I’m having trouble getting myself to do my papers. I don’t even have a lot of papers, maybe just 2 banker’s boxes full, but the thought of getting sucked into that quicksand is still a little overwhelming. I will do it. I need to schedule a time and jump in.

    Two things I learned from her that surprised me:

    (1) Folding your clothes and standing them on end …

    I thought she was nuts, but I tried it with my handknit sweaters and it’s magic. I used to stack the three of them folded, and the bottom one would get slight creases. Now that I stand them on end, they look fresh every time I pull one out.

    (2) Expressing gratitude to my space and belongings …

    I try to remember to do this every day when I get home from work, “thank you, apartment, for giving me a private space to live my life, ” and every time I get rid of something, “Thank you, goal pants, for reminding me to live in this moment, not a fictitious perfect future” (yes, I had goal pants, too).

    Now, I also find myself doing it randomly, “thank you, pizza, for being so very very delicious.” “Thank you, universe, creating such beautiful and diverse pigeons.”

    I am a dyed-in-the-wool misanthrope and realist (aka pessimist aka worst-case-scenario-ist). This tiny gratitude practice has not changed that, but it has added a sparkly dimension to my life that has helped me see (and acknowledge) the things that really spark joy in my world.

    • Sparkly dimension – I love it! And the folding and standing on end – my goodness – it is pure genius. Thanks so much for this comment – I’m so glad you loved the book and I think you will help folks on the fence overcome some resistance to it.

  16. I just read through all the other comments. I’d just like to note for everyone that the way I interpret her method is this: if every button/book/sock/knick knack/skein of yarn/whatever brings you join, she wants you to keep them. I think Marie Kondo is a minimalist, but that’s just her personally. I think her method would work for people who aren’t minimalists, like sweet Ruth.

    At it’s heart, I think the Marie Kondo method is not about material things at all, I think it’s about your relationship with the world, making thoughtful and purposeful decisions, listening to yourself, trusting yourself, and being present now (now, now).

    • Dear Futuregirl – Thanks so much for that – beautifully said and I think you captured the spirit of the book exactly. I would hate for people to miss out on all Marie offers for fear that it just couldn’t be for them.

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