On discarding with Marie Kondo

In "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up," the lifestyle book that is sweeping the nation, author Marie Kondo describes a simple (but not easy), intuitive method for clearing out the clutter from your home. The one metric to apply—to pencils to sweaters to well, everything—is whether said item brings you joy.

Given my line of work, I love tools like this—especially ones that marry spatial design with self-help. So I thought it would be interesting to personally try out the KonMari method, as she calls it, to see whether I would recommend it to you all (Spoiler alert: Yes).

However, also given my line of work (Note: my rule is that all items in your home be some combination of beautiful, functional, and adored by you), I don't have a lot of extra shit in my house (accoutrements owned by the small hoarding child I live with aside). So I wondered whether there would be much for me to get rid of using this joy metric.

The process: Clothes first

Like me, Kondo recommends sorting by category rather than by room, starting out with your clothes. All of them. From every last nook and cranny of your home--so that means if you put away non-seasonally-relevant clothes, bring 'em. Then go through them, by subcategory, starting with the off-season items first (because if you just wore something, you're more likely to insist on its joyfulness--i.e., familiarity bias). It goes: Tops, bottoms, things you hang up, socks, unders, bags, accessories, clothes for specific things (e.g., bathing suits), shoes. Handle each item (this is important, you have to literally touch it) and decide whether or not joy hath been sparked. Then express your gratitude to each item, either for bringing you joy, or, at the very least, for showing you what doesn't look good on you. Ha.

All My Shirts.

All My Shirts.

So I did.

Here are all my shirts, including the loungy ones. (A word of warning from Kondo on loungy clothes--because I'm totally busted on this one: Don't downgrade your "regular clothes" into "loungy clothes"--this "merely delays parting with clothes that don't spark any joy." Busted, amiright???).

Navigating the voices in my head

"Tidying is a dialogue with one's self," Kondo writes. WHICH IS SO. TRUE. Because as I—the self-proclaimed non-hoarding home organizer—was pulling out all my tops, I palpably noticed myself resisting the process of having to get rid of things, even before applying the joy/not-joy metric.

I needed to pause and acknowledge my feelings, then I could proceed again as the curious observer of my experience. So I would call that Tip #1 as you embark on discarding: Notice what you are feeling, but try not to get carried away by it, lest it derail you into overwhelm, resistance, etc. And, to reframe it: "We should be choosing what to keep, not what to get rid of."

Kondo notes: "When it comes to selecting what to discard, it is actually our rational judgment [emphasis mine] that causes trouble." I found this to be SO. TRUE. There were so many times when I wanted something to bring me joy—it's a useful item, it cost a lot, it's flattering, it makes me think of [x/y/z]—but if I was being honest with myself, it didn't. For example, a pair of shorts I own: I like them aesthetically, they are flattering, but I rarely wear them because wedgies. Ergo, not joy. To the discard pile they went.

On getting stuck

When the joy/not joy metric was not inherently obvious just from handling it, a couple of things emerged for me.

  1. I noticed this joy spectrum:
    NOT JOY------------------JUST FINE-------------------OH JOY
    Underpants, socks, and the like rarely brought me actual joy; most of them were Just Fine, others were definitely Not Joy. I kept the Just Fines and discarded the Not Joys (hmm, band name, anyone?).
  2. If I couldn't quite discern the joy, I tried the item on; then metric then became How Do I Feel When I Wear It?
  3. In deciding, I thought about the specific elements of joy for me--the why:
    a. Beautiful fabric--color, print, softness.
    b. Good association--it was something from a particular time of life that I loved (Note: Be careful here! The item unto itself should bring joy NOW.)
    c. How I feel when I wear it--pretty, safe, cozy, etc.
  4. When all else failed, I energy-checked! (Aside: My awesome friend Kathryn Lucatelli made you this video so you can learn it too. If you're into it.)
  5. Speaking of energy, I paid attention to when I started to feel tired and/or cranky. Tip #2: Drink a lot of water as you do this process, it really helps to keep you going. Snacks too.

On gratitude

How long do you want them?

How long do you want them?

Like I said, part of the process is also thanking your things for being in your life (whether or not joy was involved). Gratitude is another self-help-y thing I try to practice (read: when I remember), so I liked that this was a component. Although I do admit that as I got into the rhythm of sorting, I had to remind myself to go back and say thanks on a number of occasions. Let me remedy this by giving a shout out to my long underwear pants! I bought both these pair in like, 1994! At Mervyn's (RIP)! They are still going strong and for that reason bring me much joy. (I'm sure it helps that I no longer live in a climate with horrible freezing winters...)

On family

Kondo recommends that you basically hide your not-joy pile from your family, so they don't go through and pick out shit that they themselves don't need but haven't considered whether your castoffs actually bring them joy or whether they just think "Hey! Free stuff!" Case in point: My daughter saw my castoff pile and wanted some of it for her overstuffed dress-up box, which is full of crap she doesn't ever play with because she can't see it due to all the other crap surrounding it. So take it from me, smuggle your pile out of your house. It's better that way.

Also, Kondo admonishes that you don't foist your castoffs onto your family members just because you feel guilty about getting rid of perfectly good items. It's not their bag, man. Literally.

What I'm going to be investigating going forward is how to do this process with a family--again, line of work here!--I'm not clear on how to manage other people's stuff, particularly young children's. Is there an Alpha who sets the joy scale? Do little kids do their own version (I shudder to think...)? Some combo? Leave it until they are older? If you have any experience with this, please leave a comment below!

How many things: The stats

So, all in all, this was a great process and I do recommend it. I discarded 44 items--not insignificant for someone who was SURE she had nothing irrelevant in her closet.

My stats:

  • Tops: Had 71; discarded 19.
  • Bottoms: Had 29; discarded 7.
  • Items you hang up: Had 13 dresses and 2 suits; discarded 1 dress.
  • Unders, socks, tights: Forgot to count; discarded 2 pairs of socks, 4 pair of unders, 2 bras, 1 pair of tights, 1 pair of old-lady-pantyhose, 1 slip.
  • Accessories: Had 10 scarves, 4 belts; discarded 1 scarf, 1 belt.
  • Shoes: Had 25 pair; discarded 4 pair.
Amelia McGee6 Comments