DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
Aug 7 2015

It Changed My Life! (sort of)

by Dea Anne M

As much as I enjoy housework in general and organizing in particular, you might believe that I possess a clothes closet that is perfectly organized, terrifically efficient and, in general, a joy to behold. Well, all I can say to that is that people used to believe that the Earth was flat.

Up until very recently, my closet was a tangled, snarled mess–full of clothes that I could never see because everything was layered on top of everything else–in short, a disaster. I would go in and weed through and carefully fold, sort, and stack or hang all that was left. Seemingly a day (and sometimes mere hours) later the closet would be back in the same ridiculous and unusable condition. At one point, I decided that the problem was not having the right sort of storage containers. This may have been an unconscious excuse to spend money because I am, at best, an unenthusiastic shopper–but I love, love, love Ikea and The Container Store.

Well, putting things into other things didn’t really work for my closet because I could never use anything because I couldn’t see it. My “solution” at another stage was to put on hangers absolutely everything that could be put on a hanger, but for some reason that never worked for me either. Then I picked up an odd little volume called The Life-Changing Magic of magicTidying Up by Marie Kondo. You might have heard of it. The author, who is Japan’s premier organizational consultant, lays out in the book her “KonMari Method” of decluttering and organizing one’s space. The book has been a runaway best seller in Japan, Germany, the UK, and now here. In fact, The London Times dubbed Kondo “Japan’s preeminent guru of tidiness, a warrior princess in the war on clutter.” I haven’t actually read the entire book yet but I look forward to doing so. From what I have read however, I see that Kondo provides specific organizational guidelines for only three broad areas–clothing, books and papers–and this makes sense really because these are usually the areas where many of us have the most trouble. Her organizational tenets are few, and on the surface of it, very simple. They are:

Let go of things to make room for the things that matter.

Keep only things that spark joy.

“Someday” never comes.

Treat your possessions as if they were alive.

Your possessions reflect your state of mind.

Now a lot of this made sense to me, at least on an intuitive level, although I knew that some of it would require more of a leap of faith on my part. Anyway, this past weekend, I decided to take that leap of faith in a small way. I thought “I’ll do one drawer in my clothes closet and then we’ll see.” One of Kondo’s directives is that you cull your clothes to the point where you are left only with those that “spark joy.” Not stated, but I think implied, is that usefulness is a part of joy. I don’t think that Kondo is suggesting that anyone get rid of absolutely everything they own and spend money replacing it. After culling the one drawer, I was left with a much smaller and much more reasonable collection of apparel. I then proceeded to the next step in Kondo’s program…storage.

Kondo insists that you find a place for each object to “live,” put it there, and always put it back in the same spot. Next, any clothing that can be folded should be folded (into neat rectangles no less) and stored in drawers, or on shelves, vertically with the edges facing you. What you don’t do is stack anything. “This isn’t going to work,” I thought. “Oh well,” I told myself as I dived in. “It’s only one drawer.” Well, a few hours later, I had what I can only call my dream closet. Not only that, I didn’t have to buy a single extra hanger or storage item.

Another of Kondo’s premises is that you already have all the space and tools you require–and while I don’t think that this is necessarily true for everyone, it certainly was true for me in this instance. In fact, my closet now has room to spare. I plan to move on to the books this weekend, and there I will really test myself since books–looking at books and having them–are very much an emotional issue for me.

As far as the clothes closet goes, several days later I think I can safely report that the system is working beautifully for me. I can get dressed faster, and the vertically “filed” clothes don’t flop over as you might think. In other words, I am a convert. I don’t think I’m ever going to be one of those true believers (and there are many right now) who call themselves “Konverts” and post before-and-after shots on social media, but I’m here to tell you that this method is definitely starting to make a difference in my housekeeping…and maybe in my life.

To be sure, some of the zeal with which MariKon disciples describe how the method has made a difference in their lives can seem a bit over the top.

  • “I love green vegetables now!”
  • “I lost 30 pounds!”
  • “I folded my husband and my children into neat rectangles and organized them into drawers!”

Of course, I’m joking here, but I hope you get the point. I think some of this fervor obscures the real value of this program, which is that mindfulness can indeed work a sort of “magic” in our lives and that we can change a great deal of we might be dissatisfied with simply through paying attention…even to, or maybe especially to, the smallest things.

Are you interested in organizing your space in a way that works better for you? Are you simply feeling overwhelmed at all the “stuff” in your life? You may not buy into all, or any, of Kondo’s suggestions. As an example, Kondo asks you to empty your purse each evening, thank it for its service to you that day, and put it in its own special spot to “rest.” Sound wacky? I know, and yet I must confess that I have started doing this and it really does make a difference in some subtle way. Anyway, whatever your organizational inclinations may be, DCPL has resources to help. Here are a few that I recommend.stuff

One of my favorite organizing experts is Julie Morgenstern. Her Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck is a thoughtful guide to making change happen through surrounding yourself with only those elements essential for you to live the life that you desire. Her older book Organizing From the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office, and Your Life is still relevant today and is a classic of its kind.

peaceI think the best books on organization take a psychological approach to the subject (as opposed to focusing exclusively on systems and tools), and Cindy Glovinsky’s book Making Peace With the Things In Your Life: Why Your Papers, Books, Clothes, and other Possessions Keep Overwhelming You and What to Do About It  is one of these. Glovinsky, who is a therapist along with being a professional organizer, helps the reader learn to distinguish between the “things” in her or his life and the “Things.” Very useful indeed and, in any case, the subtitle says it all.

The success of companies such as Zipcar and Spotify indicate that there may bestuffocation growing numbers of people who value access over ownership. Stuffocation: Why We’ve had Enough of Stuff and Need Experience More than Ever by James Wallman is not so much a guide to organizing what you own as a treatise on living in a more satisfying and conscious way by letting go of the imperative to accumulate possessions instead of experiences. I found some of the real-life stories of people who have actually done this both fascinating and somewhat irritating. Irritating because so many of these people were able to break the grip of possession overload primarily because they possessed a certain level of financial wherewithal. Someone who has to work multiple jobs in order to keep themselves and their families clothed, housed and fed probably doesn’t have the leisure to think about optimizing the experience factor of his or her next vacation. In fact, she or he may never be able to take vacations at all. Actually, I think Wallman’s real aim in the book is not in promoting a certain lifestyle so much as it is to encourage a mind shift in the prevailing culture. Interesting, provocative, and well worth reading.

Do you think that you need help getting organized and what is your biggest area of challenge? Maybe your organizational skills are already finely honed. If so, do you have any tips for the rest of us?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

ChuckC. August 10, 2015 at 1:47 PM

Great post, Dea Anne! My closet and my life could definitely use some MariKon!!

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