Tidy Forever: Was Marie Kondo Right?

I’ve said repeatedly that I felt the real issue with the Konmari Method was that it did not teach maintenance.

I have a detail cleaning schedule that I freely admit I snarfed and adapted from FlyLady. This week was supposed to be the floor and craft supplies in my closet. I was out of town visiting my family, so I did not do the “Little Chores” day by day as I usually do.

I was chewing on this on the train ride home, as I’ll skip cleaning closets whenever I can. I have hated cleaning out my closet since I was small.

I decided I’d just suck it up and do a week’s worth of detail cleaning in one day. I’d spent a lovely evening watching The Hunt for Red October and finishing a shawl I’d knitted on the spur of the moment for my mom. (I’m putting it in the mail for you on Monday!) With the enjoyment and relaxation of Cold War nostalgia and knitting under my belt, I felt ready for anything.

I emptied the floor of my closet, culled some craft supplies, got a stuck drawer in my craft bin unstuck, culled some bags and purses that don’t spark joy, vacuumed it, and then put everything away.

I Konmaried my house back in 2015. While I am dubious of the Tidy Forever promises, I think that Ms. Kondo has a point. I have, at least a couple of times a year, culled items from my closet that no longer sparked joy.

Even though I’d broken out the job into three planned fifteen-minute sessions spread out over a week, it really took less than half an hour.

Pre-Konmari?

That simply would not have been possible. I would have had too many possessions. Decision fatigue would have been quite real, and I would not have developed the habit of asking myself, “Does this spark joy?” and releasing any guilt I feel about releasing items I no longer want, need, or use. Nor would the “Fifteen minutes of decluttering a day” of my FlyLady days have addressed this, as I’d been doing FlyLady for a decade and a half (off and on) by then. I never addressed the closet enough to make its routine minor decluttering worth anything.

As I have stated repeatedly, I do not have a perfectly tidy home. I have a home tidy enough to make me happy and that’s all good. The public areas are far less than the fifteen minutes worth of messy at any time prescribed by FlyLady. Closets and drawers can be another matter, but I have a system to address them regularly that is much, much more useful and painless post-KonMari.

So, was Marie Kondo right? I’d love to hear your call on that!

Organizational Systems and Trying Something New

Since I was in my teens, I’ve liked playing with organizational systems. FlyLady, Konmari, a budget book when I was first married, Everyday Systems… I’ve worked with lots of them.

At first, I thought I was looking for The Perfect System. But you know, I don’t think I am. I think what it comes down to is that I like playing with ways to structure life. Which, regarding Real Productivity, would be considered a waste of time. The focus should be more on organization and productivity, not the system, right?

I started to feel guilty about that, but then I thought, “Well, of all the weird hobbies or obsessions one could have, enjoying exploring productivity and organizational systems is hardly a bad one. You do have a clean house. Your bills are paid. Obviously, this is not subtracting from your enjoyment of life, nor from living effectively.”

Which is the point. Playing with systems and routines over the years has ultimately gotten me some things I actually want. Whether or not I stuck with a particular one doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the play and exploration itself has taught me things and I have gained rather than lost from it (I do still shine my sink and question whether or not a possession sparks joy). Is it a weirdly obsessive hobby? Yeah, it sure is.

This brings me to the Bullet Journal. Do I really need this, since I’ve got OneNote and Remember the Milk and a Household Notebook and… Well, you get the point.

No, I don’t need it. I could get along perfectly well without it. My life is pretty organized and has been for some decades. I am productive. My business makes a modest profit and at least pays for our groceries, even in a bad month. Still, when you watch a video on it, and your husband brings you home a blank notebook in which to try it, we’re talking about a hobby/experiment that’s cheaper than my knitting or the books I buy. Why not?

What is a Bullet Journal?

Ultimately, a Bullet Journal is on paper. This is for the Luddite. Normally, I’m all about technology and beepy reminders, so this is going to be a very different experiment.

It is set up in some basic modules that you then use to organize anything you care to, but ultimately your life. It is meant to be quick-n-dirty. In its original form, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing the logging.

A warning: If you look up Bullet Journals in social media, you’ll see pretty calligraphy, drawings and all kinds of nifty stuff. This isn’t what you’ll see from me. My handwriting stinks. I can’t draw. This is going to be a lot more basic than how many people with considerably more calligraphic ability and artistic flair will use it. My stuff is only pretty when there’s the aid of a computer available!

How does the Bullet Journal Work?

The Modules

The Bullet Journal is broken down into several modules, but the basics are the Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log and Collections. They work together so that you can integrate and update your work on the fly. This is meant to be dynamic and intuitive. I’ve already found it works well to organize the results of brainstorming.

Index

The Index is exactly what it says on the label. A place to record information and where to find it. You list topics and then the page number of where you can find these topics in the Bullet Journal. The advantage here is that this can be a work in progress acknowledging you don’t know what the future will look like. If you need to add something, but there isn’t room, it’s easy enough to add and record where to find it in the Index.

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Future Log

After you’ve created your index, you turn to the next two-page blank spread and create your Future Log. While you can break it down however you want, I’ve taken the advice of the Bullet Journal originator and chosen a six-month period for my spread. As I think of things I need to get done in the future, this is where I can record it for future reference. When the month approaches, I can then copy what’s necessary to my Monthly Log. Remember to write down the location of your Future Log in your Index!

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Monthly Log

To create a monthly log, turn to the next two blank pages and begin. You’ll notice I did not do two blank pages for September. It’s almost over. When I get to October, I’ll do it properly.

On the left-hand side, you number the dates and then list the days of the week beside each date. For those of you who have packed days, THIS IS NOT A MEETING CALENDAR. You can adapt the Bullet Journal for that by adding a calendar module, and if you scan the Internet, you’ll see that many have. The point here is to record important, high-level highlights for your month.

On the right-hand side, you list the things you need to accomplish in the month. As you start to use the journal over time, if there are things from the previous month that you did not get done, you can migrate them to the new month. This sounds like a lot of tedious copying, but in fact is a feature rather than a bug. If you’ve postponed it month to month for a long time, is it really that important? Maybe you ought to cross it off your list. It’s a great way to evaluate what’s genuinely worth your time.

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Daily Log

The Daily Log is where you focus on a day-to-day basis. Notice how you’re already encouraged to take a longer view, and then an increasingly more granular view of your time as you progress? This allows for both big picture planning as well as breaking this down into actionable items you can do on a daily basis. I really like how this works.

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Collections

Sometimes you’re working on something that’s more properly a project and should be organized in a single place. This is where you can record your ideas, tasks you need to accomplish, any brainstorming or notes about the project. When you create tasks, you can migrate these to your daily tasks, thus keeping a daily to-do list pretty organized. More about migrating tasks under Bullets.

I decided to make a Collection to organize for the holidays this year. It’s a decent enough project and should be a good experiment.

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The Bullets

The bullets are symbols or signifiers indicating what the entry actually is. You’ll start by listing tasks with dots. Then it is easy to change these symbols as you need to reschedule a task, or need to indicate it’s important, or just about anything else.

  • Task (Just a dot)
  • * = High priority task
  • X = Completed task
  • < = Migrated to Future Log
  • > = Migrated to Monthly/Daily Log
  • 0 = Event
  • – = Note
  • ! = Inspiration
  • = Explore/Needs research

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Conclusion

In playing with the system for a day, I do find it kind of fun. It’s not yet ten in the morning, and you can see I’ve already completed a few items on today’s list as well as written this article. Over time as it becomes more mundane, I’ll do another article to report on how much I liked it, what works, what doesn’t and if I want to keep up with this.

The KonMari Report –Six Months

Okay, I think I am going to have to refute Marie Kondo’s claim that once you go through the house according to her method, you’ll never be untidy again.

No, my house is not particularly a mess. My bed is made, my clothes put away, the only laundry that isn’t put away is either in the laundry basket waiting to be washed, in the washing machine being washed or is currently drying in the dryer (yes, I’m doing laundry this morning).

My drawers and closets are still neat, sure enough. But I do have a craft project on the dining room table. There are dishes in the sink because I need to empty the dishwasher (I think my husband ran it this morning before he went to work. Thanks, sweetie!)

There is a napkin on the arm of my chair.

Is my house messy? Maybe by Ms. Kondo’s standards, but I can’t think of anyone else who might think so.

So, no. The house is not perfect. I do not empty my bags and purses the second I get home every day. I have a gym bag (emptied of sweaty or wet stuff, true) sitting on a rocking chair in the jungle room. I’ll be filling that to go do my swim in a few minutes, so I am fine with that.

Does this mean I think that Marie Kondo’s method didn’t really work?

Goodness no!

I am very glad we did it. We really did keep only what we use and makes us happy. I have plenty of storage space for my stuff now, and it is easier to put things away. That means I am generally quicker to do so.

I think part of the problem was a simple one. It doesn’t look that dramatic because in general, the house didn’t look too messy to begin with. We recycle properly now, and have a place to put recycling because we cleaned out the mudroom properly. We have a nice place to store cleaning supplies because we cleaned out a junk storage place properly. The changes are less dramatically visual and more centered around the fact that we don’t waste house room on things we don’t use and love.

Do I ever look in a closet or drawer and ask myself, “Does this spark joy?”

Totally. So I weed a little bit every now and then just on a routine basis. I’m quicker to toss the pen that doesn’t write well, or the makeup that doesn’t really please. It does keep storage under control.

But that little bit at a time stuff? That’s FlyLady habits.

It was a thought I was having as I was comparing the two methods, and I think we’re getting into a “right tool for the right job” situation.

For a massive declutter, you need the big shovel. That’s absolutely the Konmari method. Hands-down, I think it is better for the Big Declutter.

For daily maintenance? FlyLady. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up doesn’t address maintenance at all, and I think that’s a big hole in the process. She claims you’ll just naturally stay all tidy. I’m not so sure about that. Don’t get me wrong. The reboot was wonderful. Having good storage space and a big, dramatic change in how much I had was great. It is hard to put something away when you have nowhere to put it. I agree wholeheartedly that expensive storage systems are silly. I did buy a charging station for my bedside table for my devices, and I really love it, though.

But the Konmari method presumes you’ll magically maintain this. I’m don’t. Not really. I have to think about it. I do scans of the house to see that things are put away. I don’t get up and put things away the second I am done using them. I put it away the same DAY, which is certainly fine, but I do have to clear off flat surfaces that are collecting stuff like mail, packages and general detritus from the dailiness of life rather than putting it away immediately. I really think that the habits of dailiness and daily routine that I’d been working on for fifteen odd years were what made the whole big declutter a more useful thing. It’s been years since my house has gotten more than fifteen minutes worth of messy, barring a party or something.

I may get to things a little quicker than before. I’m less tolerant of my surroundings being messy for a long period of time, so I do take five to put stuff away more regularly. But do I keep it perfect and pristine all the time?

Nope. And I’m cool with that.

Does Clutter Create Decision Fatigue?

I was reading another article on the Konmari method, and I am struck with something. It’s yet another article about going through your clothes closet.

Friends, this method is about more than your clothes. Yes, that’s a great way to start, don’t get me wrong, but that’s not the point of what you do when you’re decluttering using this method.

The idea, and this can be overwhelming, is to physically handle every single thing you own and make a decision about which of those items you want to keep.

Maybe that seems a bit overwhelming for a Huffpost Puff Piece. For that matter, maybe plenty of people do this just with their clothes and decide they’ve done as much as makes them happy.

And ya know what? That’s cool. Your house, your decision how you want to do things, and you’ll never hear me argue with that. I don’t live in your house, so I’m not allowed to make that call *grin*.

But the whole method is about a lot more than that and it does take time, which may be why we’re not seeing as many blog posts about the whole process, and a bunch of pictures about closets. Yeah, that’s cool, but the process is about the whole house. And you’re going to get your real results if you decide to do the whole house.

Is it tiring? There were times when it was more tiring than I expected, yes! I’m also pretty happy with the results.

I’ve been trying to puzzle out why. I know that when I come home from work and walk into the kitchen, I sigh in relief at the counters empty of everything but a few appliances. I know when I get up in the morning and look around a room with the Solitaire poster that makes me smile, and put my feet on the bare carpet (instead of kicking aside dirty clothes) it feels nice. I know that opening my underwear drawer and knowing exactly how much I have at a glance (thus telling me when Laundry Day should be) is really nice instead of having it hard to estimate makes me happy.

But I think it is more than that.

Are you familiar with the term “decision fatigue?” Basically every decision comes with a cognitive cost. We’re inundated with choices in our lives, and we’re surrounded with the opportunity to makes choices. A cluttered home requires more choices than the neat home. No, seriously. Even when you’re accepting Piles o’ Stuff is the way you live and prefer to live (which is fine, no kidding) you have to make more decisions. You hunt through a pile to find a particular thing. You have to make multi-leveled evaluations when you are doing a chore because you need to find the equipment for that chore. Putting things away needs to be a conscious decision because you need to play a little game of Tetris every time you put something away, never mind the fact you do decide whether or not to put that thing away each time.

Again, it’s not that it’s a wrong way to live, but I’ve discovered something about myself. I am not smart enough, nor do I have the willpower to make those decisions on a daily basis and still be effective in other parts of my life. I’ll start to zone out after a while. I’d rather zone out when I am putting away the dishes than when I am doing my taxes, just sayin’.

In her book, Marie Kondo repeatedly comments that she is inherently lazy and that she is easily confused and distracted. That sounds really disingenuous coming from a professional neat freak, but you know what? I totally get it. Yes, I too, am lazy. If there is an easy way to do something, that’s the way I am going to do it. Fortunately, I read The Man too Lazy to Fail as a youngster, so I got the point that you can totally make laziness work for you. I am also easily distracted. Wanna ensure I don’t get what I need to done? Put me in chaotic surroundings. If you think the noisy binging and quick disorientation of theme parks don’t make you buy more… Well, you get my point.

I’d like to see more articles that focus on life post-Konmari. What changed, if anything? Did new habits stick? Are there any insights? The cute little testimonials Kondo writes about in her books about people starting businesses or chucking relationships they didn’t need are cool, but I’d rather see what happened when people finish the process on their own and self-report what they did.

And I’d also like to see what Marie Kondo’s graduation rate was for her course. Because from all the closet pics I’m seeing on blogs, I’m guessing she had a high drop-out rate.

Habit and Possessions Tetris

I’m looking around my still-neat house.

Clutter? None. Bed made, drawers from which I pulled my clothing, neat. I see that I have three more pair of underwear left and I’m going to be working tomorrow, so I grab my laundry basket from the bathroom and take it downstairs to put on a load of laundry. I have this enormous washing machine, so what would be two in another situation is one for me.

I go downstairs. The kitchen has no clutter on the counters. Dirty dishes are in the dish washer. The few dishes we hand-wash that had been drying in the rack (air drying dishes is cleaner) were put away. I am assuming my husband did that before he made coffee this morning.

My laptop is on my little writing desk where I charge it. I grab it and my laptop desk to lounge in my writing chair to write this little essay. On the way, I notice a receipt that had flutter to the floor. I grab it, record it in my household account application on my phone and toss it. Then I prop my feet up to write.

When I do so, I look at my little to-do checklist that I’ve kept for ten years or so to try to keep me on track keeping the household neat. Some of the stuff is truly a to-do list rather than reminders to make my bed and stuff. Other stuff? I don’t do it that way any more.

  • Clear hot spotsHot Spots are a FlyLady thing — places where clutter tends to accumulate like counters and bare tables. *head scratch* I don’t have any. I have a place for everything. No kidding, I mean everything. I put it away when I’m done using it, whether it’s a pen, pair of scissors, or a laptop.
  • Declutter downstairs
    I used to spend ten minutes or so putting away stuff before going to bed. Don’t do that any more either. That place for everything? I put stuff away after I finish using it. Before I go to bed, I might put my laptop back in its place to charge and put my current knitting project back in its basket before going up to bed, if I were knitting or screwing around on the Internet before bed. We’re talking two minutes, tops. My phone lives in my pocket unless it’s on the charging station overnight, so that goes up with me.
  • Make Bed
    I used to think I needed a beepy reminder for this. The last couple of months, I’d turned off the reminder even though I left it on the checklist. *shrugs* Bed still gets made every morning. No, not to military bounce-a-quarter perfection, but I kinda don’t care, so I don’t bother.

 

If you don’t care about a neat house, you probably shouldn’t bother, either. I do this because I like it better and the ease of it has been a happy thing for me. What really is amazing me is that once you get the house reset, once you pare down your possessions to the point where you don’t have overflowing storage, maintaining it takes no noticeable time. I’m sure if we actually timed how long it takes to put each item away after its use, we’d be looking at a good ten total minutes scattered throughout the day, mind. But I don’t notice it.

What’s also interesting to me is that the easy storage also makes it easy for other people in the house to put things away. A good example of this would be our linens and cloth napkins.* We stored them in a drawer in the dining room hutch, but it was frankly overstuffed. Once we decluttered the storage areas and started storing the the items folded and stored vertically, even my husband, who tends not to be particular about storage, found it a simple thing to fold the same way and file them.

That’s a lot of why this is working. There’s no fancy or complex method here. Storage is not visually cluttered, and it is simple and obvious where everything should go. I guess that’s the whole “ask your house where things should go” part of the Konmari method, but I freely admit that I did not ask. When I started putting things away, because I didn’t have to play Possessions Tetris, it really was that simple.

I think I need to re-assess habits and routines and what they should look like, because I lot of the work I used to do has just been eliminated.

My mother’s method of keeping things tidy is, indeed, to just put it away when you’re done using it.  She doesn’t really use serious schedules, either.  When she sees it needs attention, she attends to it. I used to boggle at that.  But at a certainly level of tidy, I think I get the point.

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* Some friends in Portland just use them casually as a daily thing to reduce waste. I was so impressed with the simple obviousness of it that I started imitating it.

Housekeeping Systems and Crab Bucket Behavior

I read up on housekeeping systems a lot. I was an extremely messy child, and over the years have learned to be neat. I suppose it could be considered to be a foolish and trivial thing to learn to do well, but in my defense, I’ve developed other skills, too. My focus on learning neatness ain’t as shallow as all that. It’s meant to serve other things in my life.

In reading up on various systems or routines, I notice a theme in the criticisms that bugs me a lot. Some facet of the system doesn’t work for the writer, so they then say the entire system is junk.

That strikes me as uncreative when I’m feeling charitable. When I’m not feeling charitable, the image of a bucket of crabs all pulling each other back leaps irresistibly to mind.

So, I wanna look at some criticisms of some of the methods and rules around housekeeping systems, talk about what I do and what I don’t and why.

Flylady first. She wants you to dress to the shoes in the morning. I actually did this for a while. The idea behind it is that if you get dressed and put on your shoes first thing in the morning, you’re putting your mind in “work mode.” Many freelancers will tell you that you’re only going to go so long working in your jammies before you get sick of the lack of boundaries between your work and your personal life and start getting dressed to work.

In my own experience as a homemaker and a freelancer, I think she’s right. I am certainly less likely to procrastinate Getting Stuff Done when I get dressed.

The shoes part?

I don’t do this. I don’t need it. I hate shoes.

Does this mean that FlyLady’s system is full of it? Of course not. For that matter, I am sure there are plenty of freelancers who get lots and lots of work done who do it in their jammies, too. I’m just not one of them.

The point is to try the system in good faith to see what works well for you or not.

The Konmari method has elements like this. She encourages people to empty their bags every night, and store the empty bags/purses only to fill them in the morning when they’re going out for the day.

I do this with my purse and it works quite well. My purse doesn’t accumulate crap like it used to, which is awesome and since I store my daily work things in a specific, easily-accesible place, it’s a matter of a minute to pack my purse for work.

My gym bag for my morning swims?

Not so much. I learned this the hard way. If I pack the gym bag in the morning instead of the night before, it is guaranteed I will forget something. Yesterday, I forgot my turbitowel for my hair. Not so big a deal, as I can use my bath towel to dry my hair as I am getting dressed. My hair just isn’t as dry when I go to put it up. This morning was a different story. I forgot my underwear. I wear a bathing suit under my clothes to the gym, since I am getting in the pool right away. This gives me the option of going braless and commando, or putting on clothes over a wet suit. I chose commando and a towel over my shoulders to hide my braless state.

But that’s two for two here. So, I found something in the system that doesn’t work for me. I pack my gym bag the night before.

Does this mean I won’t empty the bag every day when I get back from the pool? Nope. Leaving your stuff in a wet bag all day is a great way to get moldy goggles, towels, bathing suit and cap. I’m all good with emptying the wet crap out of the bag and letting the bag dry out during the day. But I clearly need to pack it the night before.

I could, of course, latch on to that one thing as a reason that the Konmari method isn’t a good one. The reality is that 90% of it does work well for me. (I don’t greet my house or thank my stuff for a good job, either). I picked what worked well for me, which I think is the core of the method — getting rid of a lot of your stuff, especially the stuff you don’t love and then designating an easy home for it, is a good one that works well.

I think that if one is going to criticize a method, it needs to be more thorough than targeting one little item in it and look at whether or not the structure of it works or not. Which most criticisms of housekeeping methods do not do and I have an uncharitable opinion why.

$150 Paper Plates

Would you pay $150 to store paper plates?

I have some sad news for you.  There’s a good chance you do.

My husband and I have been on a declutter kick lately and we’re using the Konmari method of decluttering.  We’ve been enjoying the process, as it has been nice for us to be able to have neat surroundings without much work.  Neither of us are much into putting things away and the bar has to be really low for us to want to do so. Part of the Konmari method is getting rid of enough stuff that storage is easy.

Today, we tackled this weird storage area we have between our laundry room and our cellar.  (It’s a cellar, not a basement — dirt floors and walls.  Creepy as all get out and I don’t much like going down there). This is a space that is pretty much good for storage, but not much else.

When we moved into the house, it really became a catch-all for stuff we couldn’t store in the garage, but couldn’t figure out where to store in the house.

Friends, there was stuff we hadn’t touched since we moved in there nearly ten years ago – paper plates, boxes that turned out to be empty but for wadded up newpaper packing, vases we don’t like and never use.  It was a serious mess that we never addressed.

It’s decluttered now and is being used as a cleaning supplies storage for brooms, the carpet shampooer, the vacuum and stuff like that. It’s mostly empty but for those few things, and it’s easy to access what we need.  We like it.

In talking about it with my husband, I did the calculation on how much floor space we have in the house and how much we pay a month per square foot.   One of the things we threw away was a set of paper dinner plate that did take up about a square foot of space.  I did the math and commented to my husband that we had spent $150 to store paper plates WE WILL NEVER USE.  We have glass plates for parties and stuff.  When we eat out on the patio, we just use the regular dishes and we don’t do picnics all that much that wouldn’t be conducive to a bento.   We don’t do stuff that really makes paper plates the more desirable option.

It was a little freaky to realize that those plates had used up $150 worth of storage space over the time we’ve lived here.  We’re going to give them a home somewhere else where people will use them.  But it was really weird to confront that.  Marie Kondo comments that buying in bulk isn’t necessarily saving money, and while I think she goes further with the idea than I would, I do think that calculating what it costs to store those bulk bargains is a useful part of the equation.

More reporting on the KonMari Method

I was wondering if I was going to keep up with the KonMari method and even if I was going to finish the whole process. I started, figuring that in reality there was no real downside even if all I did was declutter a few things and then lose interest.

Yeah, I’m sticking with it, and am almost done. I only have a couple of places to declutter, then the sentimental category to sort through and I’ll be done.

So, what’s changed and what hasn’t since I started doing this?

Changed:

  1. I put everything away right away. This has never really been a habit with me. I knew it should be, but I never really got the hang of it. Now I figured out why. I had so much stuff in drawers and cabinets, and that were stores a bit illogically that I couldn’t really just open a drawer and drop it into its proper place. Now that I’ve gotten rid of so much stuff (about 35 lawn bags between trash, recycling, and donation) drawers open easily, there is space to put things away properly and the storage has been reorganized so that things I use frequently are easy to get to and put away. I’m no less lazy than I ever was, but now, it’s easy to do.
  2. Empty spaces highlight what needs doing. I have a box on my mostly empty kitchen counter that needs to go to the post office. I’ll take a walk there this morning and drop it off.I tend to procrastinate stuff like this. I can’t find the packing tape, there’s so much stuff on the counter that I am distracted from things I need to take care of, the mess is screaming for me to take care of it first before I go on to other things. I get so overwhelmed I just figure it’s easier to mess around on the Internet than take care of what I need to do.
  3. My husband is on board with this method. Decluttering has been known to make him uneasy. He’s afraid he’s going to be pressured to get rid of things he values. Since the Konmari method requires that I not touch his stuff and that he keeps what sparks joy, it’s easy for him to go through things. He knows that the only thing I am going to ask is, “Does this really spark joy?” If the answer is yes, he knows I am not saying another word.
  4. I am spending more time on things I enjoy. I don’t feel guilty about sitting down and writing this puff piece on home organization. The house is clean, and I don’t have anything I haven’t taken care of nagging at me. I am knitting more as I’ve cleaned up my knitting and sewing stuff so that it is easy to get to, and easy to put away. And I do put it away when I am not working on it. But I don’t have this constant, low-level background guilt that there are other things I should be doing instead of writing or knitting or playing a video game.

Things that have not changed

  1. I am not doing everything recommended in the Konmari Method. I tried storing my shampoo and soap and stuff outside of the tub in my bathroom. I did it for about three days and decided I didn’t like it. Now, I did get rid of excess, but shampoo, conditioner, and soap live in the tub. I did some decluttering by location instead of classification of item as well, most notably the kitchen. It worked for me and while it was kinda overwhelming to confront, I am very happy with the results.
  2. I already had some habits I liked. I already made my bed, swish-n-swiped my bathroom and shined my kitchen sink every day. Still, do it and I’m fine with that.
  3. I will never be a true minimalist. I thought I wanted to be a minimalist and have a house as severely uncluttered as the pictures of the old samurai homes. It turns out I really don’t want that. I felt the click that said, “Just right” about how the house looked and my belongings long before I got to that level of being decluttered. I have my dragons in their lighted alcove on a bookshelf in the living room. I have a far larger collection of books than Marie Kondo would recommend. I am also in one of the professions that she lists as someone who probably needs a lot of books, but that’s neither here nor there. I kept the ones that brought me joy and that’s all that is necessary. There are pictures on walls, and my display of china and my Mrs. Potts toy tea set makes me quite happy, even if it isn’t as uncluttered as all that.

Konmari: The Kitchen Was Exhausting

konmarikitchen1I did not expect the kitchen to be the big deal it was. I love my kitchen, so I figured this was going to be a breeze.

It wasn’t and at least in part it wasn’t because, well, the reason I love my kitchen is that it is large and has a great deal of storage and counter space. That means that I had to confront more stuff at one time than I did with any other category in the process so far – yeah, even more than my books. Try emptying out every single cabinet in your kitchen some time and you’ll see what I mean!

We have so much space that one entire cabinet had become a “miscellaneous cabinet” and had stuff spilling over onto the counter beside the phone charger we’d built.

It’s our own fault. We had a bunch of baskets where we’d empty our pockets and stuff in the evening and toss things in we couldn’t be bothered to put away. The cabinet had a bunch of OTC painkillers and allergy meds – some of them as much as five years out of date because the cabinet was so cluttered we’d forgotten what we had and where.

I fixed that up; got rid of the clutter on the charging station, and put most of what was in the charging station in the cabinet properly. That took a lot longer than I expected.

I also figured since I was emptying every cabinet I owned (taking the opportunity to clean the shelves) that I should give more thought to where things were stored.

We have some glass plates we really like. I like glass. It’s cheap, sturdy and looks nice when you use it (you would not believe how many “fancy” serving pieces I’ve picked up from the dollar store). I’d picked them up at Wal-Mart and was happy to have them so that we could use them for parties rather than wasting money and resources buying paper plates. Being glass, they were equally appropriate for a birthday party or Christmas. Well, it turns out that they are the perfect size for a lunch salad, and my husband is fond of using them on a more regular basis. It wasn’t what I intended, but who cares? I’m all for enjoying what we have!

Because I had intended them for party use, when I originally got them, I stored them on a high shelf. It was easy for my husband to reach up and get them. He’s a foot taller than I am. If I was the one to empty the dishwasher, it was a royal pain in the butt for me to put them away. But we didn’t have another space for them!

Well, after decluttering and giving it some thought, I decided to move things around a great deal. We used to keep food in the cabinet in the picture. I decided that this was silly. As you can see, this is where we keep our kettle, Chemex coffee maker, coffee grinder, and water filter. Since this is the hot drinks station, maybe it made more sense to convert the cabinet to that purpose as well. I changed where I stored the tea, mugs, Splenda, drink pitchers, and coffee filters to a centralized space. No more wandering around the kitchen to make a cup of coffee.

We’d also developed the habit of storing pasta boxes, oatmeal canisters, and cereal on top of the fridge because the food cabinet was too small. The cabinet where I moved the food is about six inches wider, so there is plenty of space to store the food in cabinets. I like that better!

I got overwhelmed about halfway through the process. There’s just so much in my kitchen. I was starting to take baking dishes in hand and thinking they didn’t spark joy. Even so, I didn’t get rid of any of my glass baking dishes. I figured if I don’t use them this winter I can let them go.

Part of it is also there has been a significant change in the way I cook now that I’ve gone from cooking for six over the years to cooking for two. I have a really nice, big toaster oven. I can cook a meal for two in it just fine, and often do. I just don’t make a great big lasagna that often, and I can bake a loaf of bread just fine in my toaster oven if I want, so why do I really need four loaf pans?

I kept more of my bento stuff than I thought I would. It sparked joy when I picked them up, even in the throes of the overwhelm. I did toss a lot of cheap plastic storage ware. What I really like for storage for things like leftovers are Pyrex dishes with lids that fit. They clean better and you can use them in the microwave better, too. I may wind up picking some up over time. Even with as much as I threw away, we still have plenty.

I did not touch a lot of the drawers. My husband had decluttered them a few months ago, and we actually use everything in them on a regular basis. Maybe I’ll get a wild hare later, and I know you’re supposed to touch everything you own, but I’m giving that a miss. I got rid of three lawn bags full of stuff for the kitchen, and I think that is enough.

So, the next thing I need to do is go through the pantry off the stairs and the laundry room, and then I am done but for sentimental items.

This has been quite a ride. While as an adult I’ve had homes that were visually neat, I’ve never, ever decluttered so much that even my storage space was neatly organized.

I love it.

Konmari v. Flylady

In decluttering using the Konmari method, I am quite struck with the differences between it and the FlyLady methods of tidying. They’re both good; even if I find FlyLady a bit twee and Marie Kondo a little silly in her animistic attitude towards possessions.

The Basics of the FlyLady Method

Shine your sink every day before you retire for the night.

The idea behind this is to have some island of cleanliness and order to inspire you. Many people (*ahem* ME!) do have a bad habit of leaving random dishes in the sink rather than putting them in the dishwasher or washing them right away. The clean sink is supposed to help inspire you. Honestly? YES, walking in to a clean sink in the morning is helpful. (A clean kitchen is even better, but this is about starting small and presuming a great deal of clutter and disorder)

Get dressed to the shoes every day, even if you are not going to be leaving the house.

Sounds goofy. The idea behind it is that when your shoes are on, it puts your brain in work mode rather than lounge mode. If you’re dressed, did your hair and face (if you wear makeup) and are wearing shoes, you’re in Get Things Done mode.

There is some truth to this. I have on my personal to-do list today to declutter my sewing and knitting supplies. I did not get dressed this morning, it’s about ten and I am still in a purple caftan I really love to lounge in. So, my mind is kind of in screw around mode (writing this blog post is definitely screwing around rather than getting what I planned to do done). When I was working harder than I do now on my consulting business, no, I did not work in my pajamas! Putting on clothes and all does give you something of a psychological edge.

The shoes part? I don’t wear shoes in the house. I could put on slippers or something, but I don’t when it’s warmer than about 65 degrees. I don’t intend to change that. Never did. I just never felt the need to whine about it on mailing lists.

Have a morning routine and an evening routine

I do this. I love this. It helps. There some be a few (not too many) chores that bookend the day. For me, it’s making my bed in the morning, and prepping for the next day before I go to bed. I’m not organized by nature, but this helped me learn how to do so.

Break your house into zones and spend a week in each zone either detail cleaning or decluttering fifteen minutes a day.

This wound up not working for me. The idea is that detail cleaning can wait until you’ve decluttered, which has its point if you’ve got so much stuff you don’t need that you can’t get to the table to dust it.

I found that by spending fifteen minutes a day in each zone, I was re-doing a lot of things that didn’t need it and really avoiding the hard parts because I knew I’d be getting to that zone later on. This means that my clothes are actually organized, but I spent years before I decluttered papers and never tried to touch my books.

And I’m better at heroic effort rather than daily plodding. Do I need to learn a certain amount of daily plodding in my desperate attempt to pretend to be an adult? God, yes! I work on that, and I am better at it, but my personal preference is to dive intensely into projects. My house did look nicer using FlyLady. But oh, my closets and desk drawers!

Make sure you take baby steps.

Baby steps have their place, as does starting small. But at a certain point, you need to assess whether or not you’ve developed enough skill that those baby steps are really lazysteps.

I’m a swimmer. When I started, my workout was 450 yards. That was a baby step. My workout now is more like a mile. Baby steps were great for starting, but after a while, you need to get your full adult stride.

The Basics of the Konmari Method

Understand clearly why you are decluttering

I love this. It’s something that really gets missed. The assumption is that everyone wants a neat house so of course you’re going to spend all this time to have a showcase home.

That’s silly, when you think about it. What do you hope to get out of this project? Why do you want to do it? Ms. Kondo recommends that you ask yourself “Why?” each time you give yourself an answer until you get several layers down into why you want to have a tidy space.

It not only helps your focus for the job, which in the Konmari method is pretty big and dramatic. But it also will help you have an idea of when you are done rather than make it an endless project.

I actually stopped up short when I started asking myself why I wanted to do this. I was a very messy child and I always envied the girls in school with their neat desks, their perfect homework turned in with perfect report covers and pretty drawings on them. I envied the fact that their perfect handwriting got great grades even though for the most part they’d copied the answers to questions from the relevant paragraphs in their textbooks. My sloppy handwriting, but original content, wasn’t graded as highly and I resented it. I recognize now that neat presentation is important because it helps people get to that content and understand it more easily, but I didn’t understand the point at twelve.

In my mid-thirties, the priority and motivation shifted. I started associating clutter with some extremely bad times in my life. Neatness to me now means a kindly household where people and possessions are valued, and the neatness is a staging area to help the members achieve whatever goal makes them happy without baggage or unpleasant distraction. It means calm. It means order. It means abundance and creativity and living consciously and a safe place to return to after a serious challenge.

These days, my house is neat enough I wouldn’t freak if the tidiest person I know dropped in. I find creative work is easier to do without the distraction of a lot of visual clutter, which is why I keep it that way. I would not bother if I did not get anything out of it personally, since I spend a vast majority of my time alone, anyway. It’s been that way for several years, so why this intense decluttering of the stuff behind the closet walls?

I want it to be easy to maintain the neatness. When it is easy to put things away, you are more likely to do it. So, sheer laziness.* And I can even feel good about that.

Declutter all at once

Ms. Kondo is not a fifteen minutes a day baby steps kinda gal. In her opinion, when you declutter, you should do it all at once. This might be a period as long as six months, mind. I’m nearly done, I live in a four-bedroom house, and it’s only been a month.

The idea is that when you declutter, you’re pressing a reset button on your life and that the dramatic change will help reset habits. I was dubious about this one, but I have already done all of my clothes and my closet and drawers are as neat as ever.

Keep what sparks joy

Now, this isn’t really too different from what FlyLady recommends. She has a few questions to ask yourself when it comes to decluttering, but both of these women do strongly recommend asking yourself it the item makes you happy in some way.

Declutter by item category, not location

The idea behind this is several-fold. First, it is easier to tell when something sparks joy. The principle is that when you get everything in a category out and put it on the floor (no, really, you do!) – all of those things are by default going away. You’re sorting through it to decide what you want to keep. Holding something in your hand and asking yourself, “Does this spark joy?” is incredibly powerful when trying to decide what you want to keep. The psychological shift of taking everything out and putting it on the floor packs a subtle punch I didn’t realize until I got to the books. See, your mind doesn’t see stuff on a floor as being as valuable as stuff on a shelf. When you pick it up, that little sense of “Yes I love this!” is going to be a lot more accurate than if you leave everything stored on their valuable shelves.

The order Kondo gives is:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (Miscellaneous. This has several sub-categories)
  5. Sentimental Items

You’re supposed to practice your sense of what sparks joy on things that are easier like clothing before moving on to harder categories like books, and then leaving sentimental items for last when you’ve built your intuitive muscle to its strongest.

Don’t Worry About Putting Things Away Until After You Declutter

I don’t know if she means I’m supposed to leave my house entirely in chaos until everything is decluttered in every category or if you put things away after you take care of a category. I did the latter, because I’m not going to leave my clothes and books on the floor for a month. Just ainta doin’ it!

But after you declutter a category, if you’re only keeping what sparks joy, I promise you’ll have a place for your stuff. It’s okay. I was wondering if I was going to need to buy one or two storage items in the process of my decluttering. It has turned out so far that I have not needed to buy a single thing.

A Final Analysis

I think in reviewing this (and giving it considerable thought while actually getting dressed, taking a break from writing this and actually decluttering my knitting and sewing supplies), that FlyLady is a lot more about household management, and especially helping the forgetful run their lives well. The Konmari method really is focused almost entirely on the tidying process and storage, while not really having a lot to do with household routine. I do have routines I’ve kept up with from the days when I was faithfully trying the entire FlyLady method, and I’m glad I did.

In my session with getting my sewing and knitting materials properly sorted by the Konmari method so that I can keep what I love, I am going to have to say that there is no way in the world I could have properly accomplished it in focusing on it in fifteen minutes a day. It needed a couple of hours and a decluttering all in one go. Doing one little drawer at a time doesn’t do what I really need: Give me that reset, and give me the space that I can put away what I keep with ease.

I think what method you choose might have a lot to do with whether you’re feeling overwhelmed or not. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, my word yes, nibbling away a bit at a time at an issue has huge positive results over a period of time. It lets you progress and can keep you from procrastination paralysis. If you’re feeling motivated and rarin’ to go, I think that going full bore until you’re done can work very well, indeed.

I don’t agree that you burn out from going full bore, necessarily, unless you take an all or nothing approach. If you only clean the bathroom to perfect spotlessness and never just take a simple swipe at it, yes, your bathroom can get pretty nasty between cleanings. If you give yourself permission to take the swipe, or clean to perfect spotlessness, you actually have a cleaner bathroom overall.

Aiming for perfection is fine. Saying “Perfection or nothing” isn’t really going to help.

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* Well, in “The Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail” sort of way, anyway. (You can find the story in Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love. It’s a cute story.)