The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I received Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up this month (not as a hint, but because Ben knew I was waiting for the library copy, which I’d put on hold after reading this New York Times article). Once I started reading, I couldn’t wait to begin tidying, but I made myself wait until I’d finished the book. Then, I jumped in, mostly following the “KonMari Method” but tempering it a bit with my own usual tidying habits. Fortunately, I had the time to do most of the apartment in a short amount of time, thanks to holidays and weekends.

Day One, I focused on clothes, more or less following the suggested order: tops, bottoms, things on hangers, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for specific events, shoes. Upon finishing each category – meaning I’d handled each item and decided whether to keep or discard it – I folded up the items and returned them to their drawers. (And yes, I did say “thank you for your service” to the clothes I was getting rid of. It feels nice.) I brought five or six bags of clothes to Goodwill, threw out a few odds and ends (worn-out socks, stained shirts), and have one bag still to bring to the consignment shop.

Obsolete technology, begone!

Obsolete technology, begone!

On Day Two, I diverted slightly from the KonMari Method, tidying by location instead of category; I started on books, but also tidied our bathroom cabinet and our technology stuff, which took up a large plastic box and an entire cord-filled drawer. Some of the tech stuff was Ben’s, and after we were done, we were down to half a drawer; everything else went to the electronics recycling center at Best Buy. (It felt delightful to go there only to get rid of things, not to acquire them.) I was also able to repurpose some of the original packaging from tech things to use in the bathroom cabinets for small items like nail polish.

Goodbye to all that.

Goodbye to all that.

Next, I turned my attention to the books. If you have too many, Kondo writes, you should divide them into four categories: general, practical, visual, and magazines. I got rid of only a few “practical” books (cookbooks), though they were replaced almost immediately when we received a late wedding gift of cookbooks; these slotted neatly into the space I’d cleared, and we hope to use them more than the ones I got rid of. But mostly, I got rid of novels, even a few signed copies that I didn’t think I’d read again. Enough space was available on the living room bookshelf then to move the Calvin & Hobbes books from their previous, rather inaccessible location under an end table to the bookshelf. The books I discarded went to a local used book shop, or to the Friends of the Library for the book sale.

Even though I sometimes concentrated on a location instead of a category, I did try to reorganize so that all items of one type were in the same location. Books and shoes are the exceptions, I suppose, because there are still bookshelves in most rooms of the house, and while most shoes are by the front door, some off-season shoes are in the bedroom closet.

Jumping out of order, I sorted three kitchen drawers. We got rid of a few things, and I used a shoebox lid and a clean piece of fabric left over from college to make a divider in the drawer. Now when we open that drawer, we’re treated to tie-dye and butterflies as well as a microplane zester and ice cream scoop. (What kind of fabric pattern did you expect? I went to Hampshire.) We came back to the kitchen later, getting rid of a few extra tins and pans, and reorganizing the cabinet where the more unwieldy baking equipment is kept.

Magazines are somewhere between books and papers, so I did those next. The only magazine I subscribe to is The New Yorker, and though I’d love to be the kind of person who reads it cover-to-cover each week, I’m not; books are always more tempting. I sorted through over a year of back issues, ripping out articles I’d read and liked or still wanted to read, and covers I particularly liked; the rest went into recycling. Rather than containing two stuffed baskets and a precarious pile of magazines, our bathroom now hosts a single basket with a few New Yorkers and a couple of books: The Onion’s Our Front Pages and Jon Stewart’s America the Book: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction.

Jewelry was next up under the tidying microscope. (This probably should have come earlier in the process, as Kondo includes accessories as clothing, but the point is that it’s done now.) I tend to wear the same necklace and earrings every single day, but I do have some other things (though not as many now as I did a few days ago!). Instead of keeping earrings and necklaces in boxes, I stuck pushpins in the wall and hung two or three necklaces from each; the earrings I poked through a ribbon and pinned the ends of the ribbon to the wall above the necklaces.

Before moving on to the last big task before “mementos” and photos – that is, papers – I got rid of a bunch of plastic CD cases and a few DVDs. With a little wrangling, this allowed us to remove a small shelf from the living room, and we moved the printer from the living room into the guest room. We don’t use the printer much, so it didn’t need to be in such a prime location; plus, we’ve regained the use of that end table.

Stalling just a bit more before moving on to papers, I took advantage of the unseasonably nice weather to clean out my car. There were an absurd number of printed-out directions and maps, all of which went straight into the recycling. I did keep a AAA map of New England, in case the GPS fails, but that’s about it for paper in the car. I sorted through my CDs there too and only kept mixes; it’ll be interesting to hear my high school and college tastes again. I punched holes through the soft plastic sleeves and put them all on a metal ring, so they won’t get scattered.

Stuffed animal menagerie

Stuffed animal menagerie

At last, papers. I took Kondo’s advice and shredded old credit card statements and pay stubs, and my box of files has a lot more breathing room now. I kept most theater programs, concert tickets, and museum brochures, and I tied bunches of letters with ribbon, because that’s what people do in novels. (If you’ve ever sent me a letter, chances are I still have it.) While I was surrounded in a sea of papers, Ben did some of his own tidying and rearranging in our bedroom, including an adorable surprise on a high shelf of our closet. Between the two of us, we recycled about six or seven bags of paper, not counting the two bags of magazines.

Even though the house doesn’t look hugely different to visitors, it feels different to us. For one thing, each type of thing has its own single location now, so we know where to look for it. For another, things aren’t lurking in closets or under the bed anymore. Maybe the monsters that prey on grown-ups aren’t made up of fangs and claws, but of old bank statements and ethernet cables, books we intended to read but didn’t and clothes we’re never going to wear again. Less stuff, it turns out, sparks more joy.



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