12 August 2016

Of Tidying

This post has been a long time coming, but I've been neck-deep in sorting through my house, so the time to write or do anything else has been rather elusive. But, then, that's why I'm here, to tell you more about this house sorting I've been doing, because anyone who follows me on social media knows this has been a THING around this house for a few weeks now, and though they insist it's not true, are probably tired of seeing more before/after pictures (mostly "after," because I typically get too excited to remember a "before"). For those who have been curious why these photos have flooded their feeds or what exactly this method is I've been doing, this is the post you've been waiting for! (I'm sure someone has been waiting for this, maybe.)

A few weeks ago, I saw a friend post a photo on Facebook of her newly organized games. Being a game nerd, I was caught up in perusing her collection and missed her little note about moving on to "KonMari the kitchen." Others did not, however, as they began to profess their love for KonMari - confusing the gamer in me, "Is this a game that I've missed?! I didn't see THAT in the picture!" Long story short, I picked up on what was going on, did some googling and realized she was referring to a method of "tidying" developed by a Japanese woman whose life mission it has been to discover the secrets to creating and, most importantly, maintaining, a tidy space. I realized I'd heard parts of this method before but didn't understand that it all fell under one umbrella that actually had a name - KonMari - deriving from the name of its creator: Marie Kondo. I was a little off-put though, because there was a little bit of what I considered crazy in everything I read about the method. Is this really worth it?

So, I texted my friend, who insisted on a phone conversation, because this couldn't be covered in a text. She started off telling me what the friend who introduced her to KonMari told her: "I'll answer any questions you have, but you have to read the book." "The book" is The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, with a sequel - an illustrated encyclopedia of sorts, that goes into further detail - called Spark Joy. But they must be read in order and one must, as my friend insisted, read the first one before starting. In the end, she assured me, reading past the crazy was worth it. After our phone conversation, I was so excited to just get going and reclaim my home from my stuff, but I'm a rule-follower if nothing else, so I requested the book in every format from my library, not sure which would be available first.

Within three days, an eBook was available, and four hours after that exciting notification, I had read the whole thing. Yes, a whole book in four hours with four kids running around ("Anyone want to watch Netflix?!") - also known as the fastest I've read a book since the Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #1: Baby-Sitters on Board. And the next day, I was off and running, taking our closet by storm.

Now that you have the (extensive) back-story, here's a little more of what KonMari actually is, and how it's been looking around here.

The first thing to understand is that KonMari is not just "de-cluttering" - it is a method that its creator insists is a one-time event. She insists that once you have KonMari'd your entire house, you will be done tidying - with the exception of daily maintenance, which will be very minimal and simple, because everything in your house will have a place to go. Also, as she insists, once you have seen your entire house tidy, you will not want to go back - meaning you will also keep things out of your house that don't belong. This was exciting to me. Because I have a long history of organizing in spurts but with a very poor track record of maintaining any sort of system. and a cluttered home has been very instrumental in many of the mental setbacks I've suffered in recent months/years. I was so ready to do this and be done.

As such, she insists tidying is not a "little-bit-at-a-time" method or a "room-by-room" method - either of these, which are the most common approaches - will leave you tidying for the rest of your life. The former just means that you're doing a little bit every day forever, because effectively, you're just moving clutter from one place to another a little bit at a time. The latter is similar - you will move clutter from the one room being tidied to another, and then probably back again - not to mention you aren't actually seeing all the unnecessary excess - you're just re-organizing the excess you already own in the place it already is, without consideration as to if it's really the best place for those specific things in your home.

Thus, it's important to note that KonMari attacks all of your possessions, by category. By the time one is finished, they will have touched and considered every item in their home. In doing, they will ask one question of every object:

"Does it spark joy?"

This is the heart of KonMari - identifying those things in our lives that spark joy and eradicating the things that don't. As Kondo states: You're not choosing what to get rid of, you're choosing what to keep. Which is what makes this work, because by the time you're finished, you will be surrounded only by those things that spark joy - joy which can come from any reason, whether it be sentimental or practical - if it makes you smile to look at it, keep it. If it makes you "meh," ditch it. And when you only own things that spark joy, you will take care of them - you will want to see them looking pretty in their individual homes and your tidying will not be in vain.

Further, as you are going through your home, there is an order to the categories, designed to hone your ability to recognize joy, so that by the time you're at the final category, "Mementos," you have trained yourself to know the joy that objects bring and recognize when something just doesn't. You will have also learned to let go of the things that don't.

I feel the need to sidetrack for just a moment to say I am a Christ follower - and, as such, I will point out the only lasting source of true joy is found in Christ Himself. Things will always just be things - their presence or absence in my life will not actually affect my true joy. The "joy" described in this method is more of what I would consider to be "happiness" - the temporary feeling of being uplifted. If something makes me "happy" I keep it, if not, I don't. But I don't place my true joy in anything I hold in my hands.

Similarly, the author seems to have an animistic view of her things - everything has feelings and even, as she would have it, an afterlife which includes the reincarnation of the objects you discard, wherein the "energy" of the item will come back to you in the form of something else that brings you joy at a later time. I do not believe this to be true. Things are things. I don't have a problem talking to them or pretending they can hear me, because I can be a little eccentric at times, but I do not believe in the energy of things or in that they actually feel fulfilled (which is how things feel when they've been used for their purpose, as KonMari insists).

Marie Kondo is Japanese and, as such, there is an essence of Japanese mysticism infused in some of what she says. Those portions I disagree with, I simply overlook and move on to the details of how to organize my things. This method was developed by one woman, it is not an ancient art grounded in ancient "gods" - it was one woman's method developed on her own after much trial and error organizing her home repeatedly as she grew up. Thus, her own beliefs will be injected into how she carries out that method, but they do not have to permeate how KonMari works in my own home.

I just needed to put that out there.

So, I started with my clothes. Which is different than starting with my closet, because I have clothes in my closet, in a lingerie chest (I use the word lingerie loosely - it mostly holds varying forms of undergarments - almost half of which were socks and most of which are not as exciting as the word makes it sound), hanging in a coat closet downstairs (because outerwear counts!), in the laundry room, etc. I was instructed to gather every item of clothing in one place for sorting. Kondo is so hard-core, she insists that if something doesn't make it into the initial sorting pile, whenever that item is discovered, it gets discarded, because it clearly did not spark enough joy to be remembered in the first place. But she's not the boss of me and she doesn't know my life.

My bedroom looked like this (well, this was just shoes and outwear, the rest was piled on the bed):

Another important side note: the process of dragging all your belongings in a certain category into one place in your home takes time. When I did children's books, it required at least a half hour of hauling books down to the living room (which is where I chose to do this). Accepting that the gathering of items into one location for sorting is a part of the process, not just the stuff to do before the process begins, is important. I was eager to just jump into sorting my things, but gathering all of them first is essential. Follow the rules (otherwise, if it doesn't work, you only have your lazy self to blame - at least, that's what I told myself)!

I moved through even my clothing in categories: tops, bottoms, maternity (because I still have a stash, "just in case"), accessories, outerwear, etc.

Then, because I share a closet with my husband and I couldn't organize my things properly without also organizing his, I made him bring his clothes out. ("Even the underwear? Because I know I'm keeping those" - Yes, even the underwear - and he didn't end up keeping it all, so there.) We went through them together, because it's against the rules to KonMari someone else's possessions. It's also essential that each item be held firmly in one's hands as the question is asked, "Does it spark joy?" - because sometimes you really don't recognize the feeling unless you're touching the item. So, I handed him each of his things one-by-one, as he rolled his eyes and made decisions. While I may have uttered a "Really?!" or two, I mostly kept my opinions to myself. This was about his joy and his clothes.

After every item was in either a keep pile or a garbage bag (I had invested in a box of 30-gallon trash bags and used them for everything - both trash and items destined for the garage sale we already have scheduled), I shooed him out of the room. I now had an empty closet to work with and I could begin the task of deciding what the best home was for everything.

It's important to note: we moved into this house over two years ago and, at the time, I was determined to not be one of those people who had boxes that remained unpacked years later, so I was going to unpack every box and I would do so in a timely manner. But I really wasn't sure what the best place was, yet, for everything. This 70's home has an abundance of built-in storage, but I wasn't sure the ideal way to utilize it all, so I just stuck things places that made sense at the time and told myself that after everything was out of a box, I'd come back and actually organize it the way I wanted it.

That never happened.

This KonMari method is my redemption for that fact. Thus, with an empty closet and piles of only the clothes I know I enjoy (because, honestly, if you don't like an article of clothing, you won't actually wear it - or, if you do wear it anyway, you won't feel good about it, which has a very negative impact emotionally and mentally), I took inventory of my space and inventory of my, well, inventory, and was better able to see what the most effective way to organize them might be. One further thing KonMari insists on: items of like kind must always be stored together. In one place (a key reminder for me when I was sorting craft things and tempted to spread the storage).

Thus, I wiggled my lingerie chest into my walk-in closet and found a happy home for it there. My shoes got their own drawer, since I had never successfully found a way to store them that a) didn't take up my whole closet floor or b) made them easy to access when I wanted a certain pair. That shoe drawer is currently one of the most happy places in my closet for me.

Now, when I get dressed, I love that I do every part of the process in my closet. I'm not wandering out for underwear, then back in for clothing, then back out for socks, then downstairs to grab shoes from my shoe bucket - it's all living together in happy harmony. Even my purses! They live in my closet and, per the KonMari recommendation, I actually empty my purse every time I come home. Each of the items in my purse sit happily on top of said lingerie chest, so when I'm ready to go somewhere, I grab the things I need, throw them in a bag, grab my shoes from my drawer and head downstairs. I have actually not had a frantic search for my keys since this change was made, my purse is lighter, because it's not filled with the clutter I collect throughout the day (I actually assess each receipt and piece of paper and decide if it's worth keeping or not the minute I get home!), and I can find things in there easier. And, even though it means running upstairs to my closet when it's time to leave, instead of keeping things by the door, I'm actually still ready to go faster than I was when my things were scattered throughout the house.

Thus, my clothes were entirely, happily, organized, from top to bottom. Not just stuffed somewhere that worked, but organized and well-placed (she has many great tips for organizing with the space and items you have, as well as for how to fold and store clothing and almost every other item in your home!) and all of this was completed in one Saturday. One very LONG Saturday - 13 hours of organizing - but tidying, as she says, is a marathon. A one-time event, that's a marathon. And by the end of that one, long, exhausting day, I felt accomplished. I could look in my closet and just be happy.

My closet sparks joy.
(I've never seen that much floor in my closet. Ever.) Also, that bottom white drawer? It's the happy shoe drawer. Something else you can't quite see, but I've seen in magazines and blogs - my boots are hanging from the clips of skirt hangers so that they stay upright.)

Three weeks later, it still sparks joy to step in there and get ready in the morning, or prepare for bed at night.

And that was just the first category. Since that first Saturday, I spend that entire following week (not Sunday, because that's for resting), over 8 hours a day, KonMari-ing. My kids have never had so much Netflix and video game time in their lives. They loved it. I have tackled our books (the next category) - which was a two day process of doing grown-up and homeschool books one day and children's books the next. Children's books were hard. I only got one box, which I was assured by my KonMari-ing friend was perfectly acceptable and normal. Children's books, by themselves, spark joy. And I have children. And those children read. So, yes, we kept a lot. But that's ok, because I found a place to store them that works great for our house and our family.

(In a hall closet! Somewhere they can be shut out of sight, if needed, but with easy, neutral access by all - as opposed to the bedroom bookshelves that spawned many an argument of siblings invading others' rooms.)

After books were papers (another two-day VERY tedious process - it required a lot of chocolate), and then on to "komono" - which means every other category of things in your home, broken down further into categories of your own choosing. For us, so far, this has been homeschool supplies, office supplies, CD's, bathroom/hygiene items, and craft supplies.

(Remember how I said pulling it all to one place takes time? I'd say it was about an hour getting all the homeschool/kids' craft/office supplies out of their drawers and cabinets. Also, scope creep - choosing a category but then deciding another category is similar and should be done at the same time - is totally real)

(My craft closet - I was tempted to store some of the fabric in a separate, empty dresser I have in my room, but I followed the rules and kept it all in one place - which also means if I'm looking for something specific, I know there's only one place to search)

I still have much more to tackle (I'm hoping to get to toys this weekend - I've been putting it off because I don't always make the right choices about what sparks joy in my children, but I don't trust them to make their own choices, because that would mean keeping everything for at least one of my children), but I'm seeing the results and even my husband has been converted. After seeing our closet, he was sold and has been very supportive throughout the process (though he still rolls his eyes when I ask him to sort something and insist he touch each item).

My home is still chaotic, because some things have to be sorted still to make room for the things that have already been sorted, but I know I'm in the middle of a process and I'm allowing grace for the moment. A corner of my living room has some garage sale boxes waiting and a plethora of empty boxes, baskets and other storage miscellany that have been emptied and then not needed when things were re-stored, because I don't have enough stuff to need them anymore - they are there in the event of my needing a certain size or shape of container in my organization process for a different space. When I'm done, all excess containers (okay, most of them) will be discarded/sold as well.

One final note on discarding the things that you once enjoyed but that no longer actually spark joy. The things you don't really need/want to keep, but have trouble letting go. Kondo recommends thanking each item for its service before discarding it properly. Again, while I don't believe in the animate nature of objects, I do get attached to some things and, thus, saying a small "Thank you" to something I once loved but no longer feel joy toward has actually been helpful. It's a way of telling myself it's okay to let it go. Though this thing was once useful to my life, it has served its purpose and it's okay to move on. Again, someone else in my house rolls his eyes at this concept, so I thank his things for him, because he refuses. I don't do this with every object, just the ones that give me a twinge of sadness to release. (Note, though, if something actually sparks joy, even if it's beyond its usefulness or has no logical reason to keep, the joy alone is reason enough to keep it and she gives full permission to not discard it - if it still sparks joy - though she does recommend finding a way to use or display such items so they can actually spark joy as you see/use them).

So, that's my GIANT nutshell of KonMari. If you have any questions about what this has looked like for me, I'd be happy to answer them, but I must also insist that you, indeed, read the book.