Let’s Talk About Money

We’re going to get a little bit off track today, but I think this topic plays in with minimalism, decluttering and simplifying life quite well – it almost facilitates it, if you ask me.

Growing up, talking about money was taboo. It was unacceptable to talk about income, debt, what you spent on something, etc. I believe to some degree, it still is, but I’m finding that some people are ok with it – and I think we should be – to some degree in certain contexts.

While I think it’s unacceptable to walk up to a friend and ask about salary for the sake of being nosy, I see nothing wrong with it being discussed in the course of conversation. I’m not here to get too personal about finances with you, but as our home CFO (chief financial officer), I would like to share some things I have learned over my short time as a responsible adult. And that requires a bit of financial history.

Our Very Expensive Lesson

My husband and I made some financial mistakes as young adults. We weren’t well educated on how credit worked. We knew that if you borrowed a loan, you had to pay it back, but we didn’t understand the cost of a loan or how to calculate it. We also didn’t realize just how shady credit card companies are.

My first experience with a credit card occurred in college. A well known credit card company with a V in its name was on campus trying to get students to sign up for their services. They enticed us with $20 phone cards. Since everyone I called was long distance, I signed up for the phone card. That was the biggest mistake of my life! Hands down.

I got approved for a $500 credit limit. To me, that meant free money. I started buying! I bought everything I wanted when I wanted it. I know longer carefully thought about my purchases. If my checking account was empty, I’d just put it on the card. It very quickly reached the max. Then I missed a payment. Then I missed a second payment. Then I was over the limit. Then my interest rate shot through the roof. I was unable to recover. Somehow, my mom learned of the credit card account and made me call and close it immediately. I spent the next however millions of months paying it off. Did this teach me anything? No. Not really.

I was a buyer. I wanted to buy everything. Money burned holes in my pockets. I made many money mistakes in college – including but not limited to using student loan funds to buy stuff, taking out more credit cards (I remember being enticed by one card’s “Cash Back Bonus Reward”. I ended up using a credit counseling service to get out of that mess) and overdrawing my checking account because I wasn’t being a very good steward of my money.

When I moved away from college and met my husband, my buying habits were then coupled with his buying habits. We ended up with many credit cards. We struggled month after month to make the payments on time. I eventually determined we needed a payment schedule. It was kind of like a budget, but not really. All it did was ensure our payments were made mostly on time. It was set up on a 4 week rotation, which meant occasionally, I’d end up making payments very early. In the world of credit cards, early payments are not helpful! This is when I got a true education on credit cards. Did you know that if you make your payment on time, but your next payment goes in before the end of the cycle date, it does not apply to the next month’s payment due? I didn’t. I ended up making two payments in one cycle, which resulted in our next payment being late. Our payment was late three months in a row before I realized what was happening. By then our interest rate was at the top and they refused to reduce it. My $250 monthly payment was only covering interest! Obviously, this system did not work as well as I thought it would…

Debt Payoff Methods

I broached the forbidden topic and talked with a friend about our debts. She recommended a website called Bank Rate that teaches how to eliminate debt while spending the least amount of money. It focuses on paying off the debts with the highest interest first, then working your way down the line to those with the lowest interest rate. We attempted this, but I don’t believe it was best for us. Our highest interest rate debts were also our largest balanced debts, so the wins were slow in arriving. It was not very motivating, however it was obviously going to save us thousands in interest debt over the years.

It wasn’t until we were getting yet another personal loan from the credit union to consolidate our credit card debts that we learned about Dave Ramsey. Our loan officer was amazing. She saw what we were doing and suggested we do something different. Dave has a podcast and radio show where he teaches listeners how to get out of debt fast. His approach is different. Instead of tackling the largest balance debts or highest interest debts first, he suggests tackling the smallest debts first. He says that the faster you pay things off, the more motivated you will be to continue.

I read two of his books: The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace University. Our loan officer suggested that in addition to reading the books, we should take one of his classes. Our credit union sponsors them occasionally, but I’ve noticed there are many available through local churches. For various reasons, we never attended the class, but I would still like to. I think the classes would get both my husband and I not only on the same page, but also on the same sentence. We both want to get out of debt, but because he hasn’t read the books, he only has a slight understanding of how Dave’s program works.

It was through Dave’s program that I learned how to properly budget our money. I learned how to give each dollar a job and how to manage a $0 balance budget – meaning there was no “extra” money hanging out each month, just burning a hole in our pockets. (That does not mean we don’t have money to spend however we wish – we do. Dave will explain how that works if you choose to visit his site).

I created and maintained a spreadsheet that forecasted our payoff dates for every paycheck from now until total debt freedom. I’m what Dave would call a Nerd. I love numbers and I love forecasting. I do it each year. I frequently revisit our budget spreadsheet and payoff forecast and adjust as necessary. My husband is what Dave calls a Free Spirit. While it’s hard to pay off debt when both parties have different mindsets, it is possible (this is where Dave’s classes come in handy – he shows the Free Spirit how it works and helps them appreciate it).

Unfortunately, since one of us is a Nerd and one a Free Spirit and we haven’t taken the classes and only one of us has read the books, we ended up using our credit cards from time to time or would end up overdrawn because we didn’t mind our envelopes or our budget. A budget only works if you behave within its parameters – which you set. (Side note: a budget is not a punishment… it’s a tool that can do wonders for chiseling away at debt or building up a savings account). For this reason, Dave recommends using cash only: you can’t spend cash you don’t have.

But sometimes an all cash system just isn’t feasible. Sometimes we need to use our debit cards – they’re just so convenient! But I wanted to maintain the “envelope” system so we don’t overspend again, so I did some internet searching and talked to more friends about money. I learned of a program called You Need A Budget. YNAB, as it’s more affectionately called, has been quite the tool in our debt free quest. It’s like the virtual version of Dave’s envelope system. (YNAB also provides some incredible webinar classes and if you take the live version during your trial period, you may even score a free copy – but don’t worry – even the “not free” copy is affordable and very much worth every single cent).

Each pay day, I pop open the program (which is a standalone platform that gets installed on your computer and comes with free apps for mobile access) and “balance our budget”. I divide the money amongst the categories (or envelopes, if you will) and bring it all down to a zero balance – as Dave recommends. Because the money isn’t being physically removed from our checking account, if we end up overspending in one category (say we overspend on groceries by $50 or drive a bit more than usual and need more gas money) we don’t overdraw our checking account – we simply analyze our YNAB categories and move the money as we need to. This is where YNAB and Dave Ramsey clash – Dave believes that in order to truly make budgeting work, you can’t borrow money from one envelope to fund another – he calls it robbing Peter to pay Paul. It took me a long time to accept that it is ok to rob Peter to pay Paul, but it should only be done when absolutely necessary – don’t make a habit of it because you’ll just spend your life playing category catch-up – my least favorite game.

In the year and a half that I’ve been using YNAB, I’ve yet to get an overdraft fee. It’s been nothing short of amazing for us. We’re still working our way through YNAB’s 4 Rules to financial freedom, and we’re still on Dave’s Baby Step Number 1 (but also Baby Step 2), we’re making headway. We are now credit card debt free! All of our credit cards have been paid off and cancelled! (Read why Dave says maintaining a credit score is not necessary here).

We’ve been without a credit card for nearly a year now. And at first it was very overwhelming to not have that available source of money. The truth of the matter is that we didn’t have the money to begin with, so calling it a source is kind of an oxymoron. It took some time to get used to not having that means to buy things, sometimes things we truly needed. It took a serious adjustment to our thought process to overcome that need for a credit card. But I am so very glad they’re gone! At first we felt imprisoned by our lack of money, but now we feel a sense of hope! It is possible to live without credit cards! We’re no longer a slave to our past mistakes! We are no longer paying for things we bought nearly 10 years ago! We can breathe again!

This is not to say we’re debt free. We still have auto loans and other such debts. We’re working on them. And I can’t say we’ll ever be without a loan in the future. That certainly is my goal, but I’m not sure it’s going to happen. But we will forever be without credit card debt. Credit card debt is a devilish thing.

So there. We talked about money. Are you the family CFO? Do you have a system that works amazingly well for your family that wasn’t mentioned here? I’d love to hear from you! Share your favorite system with us in the comments section below.

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Making the Tough Decisions

I fell in love with the idea of minimalism when I discovered the Konmari method of decluttering a few months ago. I’ve been minimalizing everything – personal belongings, obligations, the apps on my phone, the people I interact with, my to-do list, my daily planner, etc, etc, etc.

I have my own idea of what minimalism is, but I felt like I needed to do more research on the topic before I could truly call myself a minimalist. So I did what every true red-blooded American does when they want more information: I turned to Google for my answers. I did a generic search for minimalism and came across a lot of blogs and Pinterest pins.

The search result that resonated with me the most was The Minimalists. What a perfect name. So simple and precise. I checked it out and was instantly in love. I’ve done much perusing on their site since finding them. Their blog was what inspired me to start this blog (it helps that they have a blog about starting a blog). I’ve always had a knack for writing really long Facebook posts. I read somewhere that if a post is longer than one paragraph, it should probably be a blog post. So, why not…

Anyway, I was over there today reading up on their transition to their minimalist lifestyle and one particular post really struck a chord with me, so I wanted to share it with you all. It’s about making decisions. It fit so many areas of my current life. I struggle with decisions a lot. Especially decisions that are potentially life changing, but not majorly important in the here and now – like what to have for lunch when temptation strikes.

As I read this post, I thought of all the “shoulds” that I  need to turn into “musts” and will be compiling my own list of musts. Some of the things I thought of were eating better, intentionally moving my body, dropping excuses for not making changes, etc. As hard as it will be, I will be creating my own list of “musts” in my journal. I may or may not post that list publicly later on. I think right now it’s important for me to make the list and really sit with the emotions that come with acknowledging the need for change. I encourage you to do the same. Change is hard; deciding to change is even harder, but we’re all adults here. If we don’t take charge of our lives, who will?

Without any further ado, The Minimalists, their 21-Day Journey into Minimalism and How to Make a Damn Decision.

Today is the best day of your life, because today is the day everything changes: Today is the day your shoulds turn into musts. Today is the day you decide to take action. Today is the first day of the rest of your new, simplified life.

What kind of changes do you dream of making? Will you be creating a “musts” list? Will you take the first step in changing your life to one you’ve only dreamt of before?

Finding “The Click Point”

2015 started out as the year to finally get a handle on my domestic duties. The emphasis was placed on simplifying life by finally becoming a domestic diva to reduce anxiety and discontent. I learned quickly that maybe my domestic shortcomings were the reason for my anxiety when I discovered I didn’t feel anxious outside of my home, save for a few specific triggers. It was shortly after making this discovery that I discovered the “Magic” book. The year quickly become the year of finding what truly sparks joy.  It has been a wildly successful year.

In August, I completely the Konmari Process on my home. With the help of my children, and the support of my husband, I have successfully pared down my personal belongings and the belongings of my children to contain only joy sparkers.

As I neared the end of sorting and organizing the komono categories of our house, I started getting frustrated that I hadn’t experienced “the click” yet that so many in the Konmari circles speak of. I understood this “click point” to be the point where everything changes. Your brain just clicks with this method. The click point is the point of no return. But I didn’t feel like I’d reached the point of no return yet… so I was getting frustrated.

My house still felt messy despite the removal of an overwhelming amount of stuff. Something still didn’t feel quite right and I was quickly losing steam. I started to get anxious about it because the longer this went on, the more I worried that I’d end up backsliding into the cluttered lifestyle once again. I knew something wasn’t quite right yet. My house was trying to tell me something but I wasn’t quite sure what it was.

Your home speaks to you

I felt like my house was telling me to rearrange the living room so we did. My husband and I rearranged the furniture following the rules of feng shui as best we could given the layout of our home, and while the room felt incredible and I couldn’t help but smile every time I entered the room, there was still something off about the house as whole.

I did a quick run-down of what I still had left to do. My komono list was getting shorter and shorter, but one category was looming and I was not looking forward to it – kid stuff. In addition to kid stuff, I still had the sentimental category to trudge through.

At one point in August, there were two days where I was unable to secure daycare for my children, so I had to take the days off work. These days coincidentally coincided with a weekend, allowing for 4 complete days at home. I knew I could use these days to my advantage and with any luck, I’d feel the click.

Not entire sure what needed to be done to reach the click point, I decided to listen intently to my house. If you listen intently, you’ll find that your house speaks to you as well. Our house had a lot of demands.

The kids and I ran an errand that Saturday morning. When we returned, the house spoke loudly to me that I should really finish the flower bed makeover I’d started a couple of week prior. I had already tilled half the flower bed and filled it with day lilies and remulched, filling in the gaps between plants with some strawberry plants a friend had gifted to me. I still needed to till up the other half and replant it. I spent most of Saturday on that project. It’s quite amazing what finishing this project did for my soul. You’d laugh at me if you knew how many times I walked outside just to look at this.

Flower Bed

The green plants in this pic are day lilies. Day lilies are my favorite landscape piece. The whole bed is filled with them. They add such a great pop of color, with a simplicity that can’t be outdone. Also planted here, but not seen, are strawberries. Between each lily, to the front and rear of the bed, are strawberries. They’ve grown quite large since this picture was taken. Some have even started sending out runners. I suspect next summer will be delicious.

I worked very hard cleaning the house on Sunday, at the instruction of my house, starting in the kitchen, followed by the living room, then dining room, then master bedroom. I still had a pile of donation items in the living room, so I moved those to the garage. It looked and felt very good, but the house still didn’t seem happy. I knew in my heart that the house really wanted me to tackle the kids stuff category. I was filled with dread but excited to tackle it all at once.

I was moving along at full steam, so Monday we cleaned my daughter’s room. Since this was our second pass through her room, she didn’t remove very many things. All we really did was put away what she had and vacuum the floor. Her room was beautiful when we finished. She loved it but worked so hard during that hour that she slept for nearly 3 hours on the couch afterward.

Not wanting to lose my motivation, I recruited my son and we moved onto his room. He only got rid of one box of toys, but most of what he kept had a million little pieces (you’ve heard of Legos and Hot Wheels cars, right?). Much to my surprise, we completely straightened and organized his room in 4 short hours. We vacuumed his floor and arranged his joy sparkers in a pleasing to him way. It looked better than it had in a long time. I couldn’t help but be fearful that he’d have it trashed again in short order.

Right in the feels

I put the vacuum away and looked around. The feeling I experienced having my entire house clean at one time was overwhelming. All of a sudden, the world stop spinning so fast. The whirlwind that engulfed my brain stopped. All the swirling debris in my mind fell to the floor and three little men in bib overalls came running out of the darkness with push brooms, swept it all up and disappeared. This was a new sensation.

What was this unfamiliar thing I was feeling? OMG, was it calm?  Peace? Relaxation? Appreciation?

All of a sudden, I appreciated my surroundings. I appreciated vacuum lines in the carpet. I appreciated the satin sheen on my kitchen and dining room floors. I appreciated the angles and surfaces in my home. I found the layout in my kitchen wasn’t all that bad, which was an issue I had been struggling with lately.

Imagine the scene in The Sound of Music when Maria Rainer dances among the hills belting out “The Hills are Alive”. That’s how I felt at that very moment. I wanted to run and dance and sing at the top of my lungs for all to hear!

Konmari-Joy-All-AroundIt was at that very moment that I had found my click point. That point where all the planets align in your own little subset of the world. It’s like everything in my world finally came into focus. And it was profoundly amazing.

It was a feeling I wanted to keep feeling. I wanted to feel that way about my home forever.

My home has been so easy to maintain since then. I’ve done a “real” cleaning twice – where I sweep and mop the floors and make it an “event”. I’ve only done it twice because it hasn’t needed it more than that! The house actually maintains itself now! It’s like it’s self-cleaning! Since everything has a home, very few things are left laying about – if they are it’s simply because we’ve been momentarily too lazy to put them away. But that’s short lived because someone will usually pick it up and put it away – and that someone is not always me. Sometimes it’s a child that sees something astray and fixes it. A child! I have actually witnessed this and you could have knocked me over with a feather! 

My children have kept their rooms clean. For 5 whole weeks my kids’ rooms have been spotless! I can go in at a moment’s notice and vacuum the floor and not spend any amount of time putting toys away first. My son even vacuumed his own floor after making a small mess one day! For reals, yo! My 8 year old son took it upon himself to get out the vacuum cleaner and clean up a mess he made in his space. There’s only one word to describe this: mind-blowing! (or is that two words?)

Finding your own click point

Each person’s click point will be triggered by something specific to them. Maybe your click point will be a certain number of items in your home. Maybe it’ll be a certain level of cleanliness like mine was. Only your heart and your home know where the click point lies for you.

If you’ve started your own Konmari journey, I encourage you to keep going. Thing will get tough, you’ll feel like there’s no end in sight, but I promise you, if you keep pushing through, you’ll reach the point of no return soon enough. Keep the vision of what you want your home to be like in the forefront of your mine. Eye on the prize, as they say. Keep pushing forward and it’ll happen. Your happiness awaits!

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Identifying Your Joy Sparkers

Last time, we discussed the different categories of the Konmari process. [Read it here] This time I want to delve deeper into the sorting process.

Let’s start with clothing. Grab all of your personal clothing items. All your tops, bottoms, underwear, shoes, coats, jackets, sweaters, those winter or summer clothes you have packed away in the closet, those bins of clothes you don’t wear anymore because you gained/lost a lot of weight. Everything. Toss it on your bed. Marie says to toss it on the floor, but I don’t agree that this is the best idea. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather not rewash everything that I pulled from my closet. Plus, if you toss it on the bed, you can place your discard items on the floor to be bagged or boxed up later, and you’ll feel the urge to complete this category so you can have your bed back before bedtime. Whether you choose the floor or the bed as your sorting location, be sure to grab everything you own. Tossing all the clothing, coats and shoes in one pile will open your eyes to the sheer volume of clothing you possess.

Your pile may resemble something like this. I was quite surprised by how small my pile was, but I still managed to have 5 black garbage bags of discards to take care of, so apparently there was more there than I thought.

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imageNow, start sorting by like item. Tops in one pile, jeans and other pants in another pile, dresses or suits in another pile. This is done so you can see the volume of each category of clothing you have.

Once they’re sorted, pick a category to start with – I started with t-shirts. Pick up each article of clothing the assess how you feel by looking at and feeling the item. Do you feel a charge of happiness in your soul when you touch the item? This charge of happiness is a joy spark. I feel mine deep in my chest. If you feel this, then this item is a joy sparker. Do this for every single piece of clothing you own.

Now, one suggestion I found to be kind of kookie in the book was Marie’s suggestion to thank the items you’re discard. She suggests you find some reason to thank every item you no longer love for once being a part of your life. So, thank that dress that hugged your hips just a little bit too much for your comfort for showing you what not to wear. Thank that ratty old t-shirt for so many years of enjoyment. Thank that scratchy sweater for showing you what type of material you do not like.

Marie mentions that all items have a spiritual aspect to them, but I know most people don’t believe in this type of thing. So for those, consider it a lesson in gratitude. Thanking the clothes you do not wish to keep, either vocally or internally, teaches you how to be grateful for all the extras in your life. We live in a world of abundance. We have more clothing than we could ever need to wear, therefore we are blessed beyond measure and thanking those items we chose to discard teaches us to appreciate this abundance and show our gratitude. It will make you a more appreciative person, trust me. You’ll start to appreciate even the most mundane and insignificant items in your life – the rug you wipe your feet on, that pen you write your check with, even that ponytail holder you put in your hair each day. So, thank your discards individually for whatever lesson or joy they brought into your life at one time. It might seem silly, and you may even feel ridiculous thanking a holey pair of old runners, but it truly does provide benefit to your life. Trust me on this.

Next, assess whether or not the joy sparkers fit right. If you love it, but it doesn’t fit right, Marie says you’re supposed to discard it – she says keeping clothes around that don’t fit is one way we live in the past and living in the past is not advised. Embrace now. It’s good to remember the past, but not live there through regret and loss. She suggests that if you love this item that much, you should consider replacing it in a size that does fit. My advice is to sell that item if it’s in a sellable shape, and replace it with the money you make by selling the item. Consignment is a great way to sell items, but so is a garage sale. I would caution you to not keep a huge collection of items to sell on garage sale because you’ll quickly find yourself overcome with a huge pile of things to sell. But if you think you can handle it or if you have a place to store these items that is not inside the four walls of your home, then feel free. Just be sure to donate whatever you don’t sell, rather than keeping it around for the next sale.

Difficult Decision

What happens when you find an item that doesn’t necessarily spark joy, but has significant emotional value to it? The best example of this would be a wedding dress. Marie suggests moving this item to the “Sentimental Category” which is the final category in the Konmari process. Her belief is that sentimental items are very hard to make a concrete decision about because our hearts cloud our judgement. She suggests saving these items for last will allow us to see them through new, unclouded eyes, which will help us properly deal with them. Maybe the sentimental value is negative in nature – sadness or guilt. It’s hard to make decisions about things that hurt our heart in the beginning, so saving them for the sentimental category gives us time to hone our Konmari skills before dealing with these emotionally charged items. For items that don’t have sentimental value and are not joy sparkers, but still cause trepidation when considering discarding them, say because you spent a lot of money on it and never wore it, Marie’s advice is to discard it.

Sometimes we have trouble making the keep or discard decision but it’s not because someone gave it to us or because we spent a lot of money on it. In the book, Marie says we may hesitate on an for one of two reason.

  1. Fear of the future – ” But, I might need this someday.”
  2. To preserve the past – “But so-and-so gave this to me when…” (I won’t discuss this in length here because I don’t believe too many articles of clothing fall into this subcategory, but my suggestion here is to spend a bit of time with this item. Reminisce about the event when you received this item. If the item is immediately useful or sparks profound joy in your heart, keep it. If the item is not immediately useful or does not spark joy, discard it. If the item produces significant feelings of nostalgia, take a photograph of the item, thank it for the joy it brought you way back when and for reminding you of the gift giver, and place it in the discard pile).

For anything you come across that you can’t make a decision on, you’re supposed to ask your self what is it about this item that is holding you back from making a decision? The goal here is to dig deep to the root of the indecision. When you answer what is holding you back, she advises you ask another question based on that answer. Keep asking yourself why until you reach the REAL reason you can’t choose between keep and discard. If the real reason ends up being sentimental attachment, move it to the sentimental category and revisit it when you get to that category. If it is not because of sentimental attachment, asking these questions should help you make the decision to keep or discard.

If the bottom line ends up being because the item may be useful “someday”, the suggestion is to discard the item. “Someday” hardly ever comes, and if it does, chances are you’ll be able to replace the item when it’s needed. This applies to things like that cocktail dress you bought when your husband was invited to that swanky dinner party 6 years ago that you’ve never worn since. If you should need a cocktail dress for an event somewhere down the road, chances are you’ll want to buy a new dress anyway, so there’s no reason to hold onto the one you currently have. Gift it to a thrift shop or sell it to a consignment shop and allow it to spark joy in someone else’s life.

But what if you spent a great deal of money on an item and you never used it? How can you discard something you paid so much for but never used? You’ll lose that money! I ran into a couple of items that fall into this category as I went through the process. Truth be told, you’ve already lost the money. You don’t keep that money by keeping the item. The money is already gone. Discard the item without guilt and consider it a learning experience to only buy joy sparkers in the future. Either place the item in your garage sale pile or the donate pile. Someone will be overjoyed to find your item in such great condition at such a bargain price.

Deal with discards immediately

Any items you choose not to keep need to be dealt with – they need to be removed from the house immediately. Bag or box them up immediately and remove them from the house. Take them straight to your car and put them in the trunk. Plan to stop at the thrift shop in the next 24 hours. Do NOT reopen the bag or box and go through the items a second time. Generally, doing this produces a feeling of guilt and causes you to second guess your initial gut decision. Also, do not allow others to look through the bag or box. Doing so will result in responses such as “why are you getting rid of this? It looks so good on you”, which will make you second guess your initial decision. Don’t invite this type of roadblock into your Konmari journey. Trust your initial decision!

Congratulations. You have just completed the Konmari sort on your personal clothing. You will likely notice your pile of clothing has been significantly reduced. This is a tremendous win. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it.

Konmari Folding

So, now that we have sorted out our joy sparkers, it’s time to learn how to properly store these items. Marie has a specific method for folding our joy sparkers so they can be readily accessed. When you fold like she does, you can “file” your clothing in your drawers, which gives you an immediate view of all the times you have stored in the drawer. With Marie’s folding method, there’s no more digging through your drawers to see what shirts are hidden from view. Everything is visible.

I will admit that Marie’s method is a little more time consuming, but when you’ve paired down your shirts to only about 1/5 or 1/4 of what you previously had, the time spent doing laundry in general is reduced significantly, so folding her way doesn’t take any more time than laundry did prior to the sorting process.

The description in the book is a little confusing, I think, so I searched the internet for the proper Konmari fold after reading this section of the book. A good video I found is here. There are videos that address everything from t-shirts to pants to underwear to socks. I’ll let you search for other videos as you need them.

When you are finished folding and putting away your clothing, your drawers and closet may look something like the photo below. See how easy it is to see exactly what I have for shirts? I can see each shirt I own without digging. I can pluck out the shirt I wish to wear without disturbing the others. None of my clothes are getting smashed and wrinkly at the bottom of the pile. Every shirt is able to “breathe” because its friends aren’t sitting on top of it. It’s quite calming, to be honest with you.

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Hanging clothes

Some people prefer to hang their clothes, and that’s ok too. Marie’s suggestion for hanging is to place the longest items or those with the heaviest weight fabrics to the left, with the length getting shorter as you move to the right. She also advised placing darker items to the left and lighter to the right. While I can see how this would be visually appealing, that seemed a bit on the excessive side to me, so I didn’t sort my items, but I did sort items by ownership – mine on the left, my husband’s on the right. Hanging them this way has also shown me which items I tend to wear the most and which I don’t wear very often, with items I rarely wear remaining in the middle – this I believe will pave the way for another pass through this category in the future.

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Whether you choose to fold or hang your clothes is irrelevant, really. What matters is that you reduce the quantity of clothing you have down to true joy sparkers.

Now is a good time to bring up others who live in your home. At the time that these photos were taken, my husband had not gone through his clothing. Truth be told, he still hasn’t and that’s ok. Not everyone feels the need for decluttering. It’s an issue you may also encounter. It’s important not to nag or push the others to subscribe to this method. With any luck, they’ll come around when they see how successful you have been with your sort.

My Outcome

I tackled this task while I was off work for a 3 day weekend before winter had ended. I expected it to take much longer than it did. Once I got started, I moved quickly from one clothing subcategory to the other. I managed to get all clothes sorted, joy sparkers separated and folded, and discards placed in bags and in my trunk within one day, freeing me to use the rest of the weekend on other categories. I moved on to books that same day, and then CDs. Then I completed the weekend by working through paper. We didn’t have much paper because I have always tried to stay on top of it. That opened the door to taking my time on komono, which took way more time than I anticipated. It’s amazing how many komono categories we have in our homes! To help you think of all your komono categories, here is a good checklist created by some random internet person. I hope it helps you like it did me.

I can assure you my closet still looks the same and it’s been quite a few months since I worked through that category. I’ve even kept up with the folding method Marie recommends and surprisingly enough, I actually enjoy folding laundry now. It’s calming, believe it or not. I went from keeping 6 laundry baskets of clothes piled up in my dining room to keeping them empty and in my laundry room.

Getting dressed in the morning is so quick now! Picking out my clothes no longer has to be done the night before because it literally takes seconds to grab a shirt and a pair of pants and put them on. I no longer stand in my closet milling over what I want to wear, pulling out things that don’t really fit and wasting time trying them on only to remove them again and dig around for something else. I know everything in my closet fits. I know everything I have hung up looks good on me and makes me feel comfortable.

I’ve since helped my children (8 and 5) go through their clothing to weed out the joy sparkers for proper folding and storage. My 5 year old easily and quickly makes a clothing decision each morning – I ask her if she wants to wear a dress or a shirt. She answers and then goes straight to her dresser to pick out what she wants (yes, her dresses are folded and in her drawer with her shirts and pants). My 8 year old no longer asks where he can find his clothes. He knows they’re folded up nicely in his dresser.

If your family is anything like our family was prior to Konmari, choosing what to wear each day is an exercise is frustration and a huge time sucking task that involves sorting through laundry baskets to find the necessary clothing pieces. Completing this category has completely transformed our mornings and made them a little less hectic, a little less frustrating, and a little more relaxing. It is my belief that once you complete this category, your mornings will improve as well. Check in with me after you sort your clothes and tell me how it went. I’d love to hear.

What is the Konmari Method?

The “Magic” Book

If you’ve been following along (which won’t be hard since this is only my third blog post), you know that my life changed forever after reading the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo, what I call my “Magic” book for two reasons: 1. it was truly magic what an impact it has had on my life and 2. “Magic” is way shorter than the actual title – and I’m kinda lazy.

The “Magic” book is different from other decluttering books because it approaches clutter differently and this different view is one reason why I think it’s far superior to other decluttering methods. There are three ways I find it to be different.

  1. The book suggests decluttering by category, rather than by room or drawer, which is one reason I feel it is so much more effective than other methods. Attacking clutter by category allows you to see just how much stuff you own. It brings all the clothing together in one area. It brings all the books together, all the DVDs and CDs, all the paper, all the medical supplies, etc. Everything comes together in one pile by category to show you just how much stuff you simply didn’t know you had. Seeing it all in one spot is very effective at opening one’s eyes to the sheer volume of what you’ve accumulated. I’m really surprised no one else has thought of this before now as it seems very common sense, but kudos to Mrs. Kondo for suggesting it to us all.
  2. It is different because it only has you focus on your own personal belongings. Anything that belongs to or is used by another household member must be done by them only. So it’s quite possible you could complete the process and have all of your items pared down to joy sparkers only, but your spouse still has clutter everywhere. Marie believes as you go through your things, other household members will feel the pull to join you in sorting through their items. They may not, and that can be frustrating, but it’s really not your place to keep someone else’s items tidy and organized – that’s on them – which significantly reduce your stress when it comes to decluttering your home. So, focus only on your items and cross your fingers that the other messies in your house join in the fun.
  3. The “Magic” book teaches you how to release the guilt you may have felt in the past about discarding things you didn’t want but felt you needed to keep for whatever reason. Maybe your deceased grandmother gave you an item you don’t really like, but you held onto it because discarding it seemed so wrong in the past. Marie helps you get past the guilt you feel about discarding those types of items so you don’t have a stash of “must keep because” items. She also shows you how to get past the “someday I might need this” items. Other books I’ve read have not effectively eliminated these clutter triggers, in my opinion.
  4. Finally, and probably most importantly, the likelihood that you’ll backslide into your clutter filled ways is highly unlikely. Marie shows that paring down to only those things you love helps you feel more gratitude and appreciation for what you own. At this point, they’re just “things” but once you go through the process, they become “things you love” and what do you usually do with those you love? You take care of them – which equates to putting them away when you’re done with them, taking more pride in what you own, treating your belongings with more care and respect, and appreciating everything around you. This is why Marie says no one relapses to a cluttered lifestyle once they’ve completed the process. The glimmer of hope that this might be a permanent change for our household was what really sold me on the process.

Where to start

Step One: Clothing – She advises you start with clothing, stating that sorting through clothing is generally pretty easy for most people – most clothing doesn’t hold emotional or sentimental ties, save for a few specific pieces. To work through clothing, every piece of clothing you own needs to be brought to one location to be sorted. In the book, she tells you to sort on the floor, but I sorted on my bed. This did two things – it kept everything clean and forced me to get it done quickly because I would need my bed cleared so I could sleep. Sort through the items, removing anything that may be deemed sentimental to be addressed at a later time, and then put them away. Marie also has specific instructions on how to properly fold clothing for minimal space usage and ease of access. You would not believe how much this step has transformed laundry day in my household.

Step Two: Books – Once you complete clothing, you move on to books. Books were easy for me to complete, but I know some people have difficulty with this category. It’s important to remember as you go through books that you can generally check anything out from a local library, and if your local library doesn’t have it, you can usually get it through an inter-library lending program. I love to read and definitely have my favorite books, but keeping that in mind helped me to let go of books I had a strong desire to keep. If you’re particularly fond of a book, donate it to your local library instead of donating to a second hand store. Consigning is a popular method for discarding old books too, and often will bring a little extra cash into your life.

Step Three: Electronic Media – DVDs, CDs, cassette tapes, records, etc. It is so easy for these items to pile up and take up a ton of space, and most are obsolete to the point that we cannot use them anymore – but yet we hold onto them. Since you’re on the third category, things should be getting easier at this point, so this category should be a breeze – unless you’re a music nut… then it might be a bit more difficult. One solution is to transfer all your music to MP3 format. Then you still have your music, without any of the clutter.

Step Four: Paper – Quite possibly the most time consuming category there is. The amount of paper we accumulate in our lives is incredible. But Marie provides insight on how to make it quick and easy. For starters, ditch all user manuals. We live in the technology age so any users manual you might need will most likely be available online. Google it when you need it, or find it now and download it and store in a file on your computer. There’s really no need to let the paper copy fill up space in your home. Keep only those documents that are really important and difficult to replace – birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports, pertinent medical records (i.e. those you still need routinely – for instance, if you have a family member with a chronic illness that requires you to see multiple doctors – in which case you keep only medical records that pertain to that particular illness. However, most medical records are electronic now and can be retrieved with ease by contacting the physician. Another alternative is to scan those important documents and store them on a USB drive that you can grab when you need a document. In essence, anything of a paper nature can be stored electronically and the original discarded. There are few exceptions to this rule – military documents, documents with an embossed seal, car titles, things of that nature.

Most of my paper clutter was the collection of school worksheets and artwork my children had brought home from school. I sorted through the artwork, keeping the really good drawings and paintings and have them stored in my bedroom. I intend to display these items using frames once the funds are available for custom frames, but another option is to take a photograph of the artwork and make a photo collage. It might also be a good idea to have family members look through the artwork and pick some of their favorites, and then gift the item to them for their use. There are many options, but I choose to keep the originals and display them.

One final note on the Paper category. It will be necessary to frequently revisited this category to ensure it doesn’t get out of control in the future. Shredding mail as it comes in and recycling that which can be tossed will be necessary to keep this category from growing again.

Step Five: Komono – Komono translates to “miscellaneous”. This category includes everything that does not fit into and of the previous categories, save for sentimental items, which we’ll talk about later. Right now, we’re talking that junk drawer, pens and pencils, office supplies, craft supplies, the kitchen pantry, the spice rack, kitchen utensils, laundry and cleaning supplies, food storage dishes, etc, etc, etc. This category could easily become worse than paper depending on what you have in your home. Many report being in “komono hell”. I don’t mean to scare you off. I really don’t. I just want you to be prepared. Komono is a very broad category and could take some time to complete. As with the paper category, the komono category is one that must be frequently revisited to ensure it remains under control as time goes on. This is a good time to help your children work through the process as well by sorting their bedrooms and toy rooms. I placed toys in the komono category, but you could make it a category all on its own if that works best for you.

Step Six: Sentimental Items – Lastly, we have the sentimental category. This category includes photos, letters, and mementos that hold deep meaning. This category is supposed to be the hardest category by far because we tend to tie emotional significance to our items, but Marie feels that the learning process we experienced in the first five categories will provide us with the tools to tackle this category with strength and determination. More positively, this is also the category where most people report feeling “the click”. I’ll discuss “The Click” in a moment.

Sorting through sentimental items can be very emotional for people. They may find items that were previously owned by loved ones they thought were forever lost. They may find items they didn’t even know existed. They may also experience an emotional or spiritual cleansing as they release items that trigger emotional pain – the release of toxic relationships being the most frequently reported. They may find it difficult to discard photographs of their children, no matter what their age or to discard those love letters from past boyfriends. The key thing to remember here is JOY! Does the item you hold in your  hand spark joy in your heart TODAY. Does it make your heart rejoice to hold it in your hands now. Do not consider whether or not it sparked joy in your heart 15 years ago. Once you pull out the items that spark joy in your heart, showcase them in some way. Put photos in frames, photo albums or scrapbooks. Put mementos you want to see in shadow boxes and hang them on the wall. Display sentimental achievement documents (college diplomas, etc) if it brings you joy to look at them.

Category order matters

Marie talks about letting your home and your items guide you as you work through the process. She says they’ll tell you what needs to be done and when it needs to be done. This might seem a bit on the kookie side for you since inanimate objects don’t really talk, but I have to say in my experience, she’s right. I remember feeling the pull to work on categories out of order and will admit that when I started, I allowed myself to tackle those areas that spoke to me when they spoke to me. I learned the err of my ways and want to caution you not to work out of order.

I started my process in the hygiene closet in my master bath, a komono category, rather than with clothing, because that area spoke to me first. It was easy to perform this category and I made a huge difference in the way my closet looked – but it didn’t stick. I quickly found the cabinet needed to be revisited because rather than doing the whole hygiene category, I only did one area. That resulted in items from other areas of the house finding their way to this closet, in a disorganized fashion, requiring me to duplicate work.

I can’t stress enough going in order of the categories. Clothing, then books, then electronic media, then paper, then konomo, then sentimental items. When you reach the komono category, feel free to listen to your home and hit the subcategories in any order, but the main categories really need to be followed in order.

A good checklist to keep you on track created by some random internet person can be found here. I’ve always been a list person and find I focus my best when I have a list to use. It was motivating to tick off all of these categories as they were completed. I hope it helps you like it did me.

One Final Note

In the book, Marie says that any items you find after completing a category are to be discarded (with the exception of clothing that was being laundered when you worked through the clothing category). She says that if you find a shirt stashed with komono, you are to discard the shirt because finding it later means it wasn’t important enough to you to include it when you went through the clothing category. I’ll recommend you make your own determination on this one. I found stragglers from previous categories as I worked my way through the process, and most were easily discarded, but some were items I would have kept while I was in that category (one example of this is photos I found in nooks and crannies).

Whatever you do, as you work through the categories, think JOY. Does the item spark joy? If it does, it’s a keeper.

Have you completed your konmari process? If you have, I would love to hear from you. If you have not, and you’re interested, stick around to learn more!

My “Magic” Book

Once upon a time, my house was a disaster.

Things were stacked everywhere.
Kids’ toys were heaped about.
Laundry sat in baskets for weeks on end.
We couldn’t find anything we were looking for quickly.
Mornings were hectic and chaotic.
Counters were unusable.
Pictures could not be shared publicly.

I tried everything. Marathon cleaning. Room-by-room cleaning. Buying storage containers. 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. One-in, one-out. Burning down the house and starting from scratch… ok, so I didn’t do that last one, but I thought about it on more than on occasion. I even thought about tackling it “TLC Clean Sweep” style where everything gets removed from the house and placed under a large tent in the front yard and sorted as either Keep, Sell or Donate. But that seemed a bit overwhelming so I scratched that idea pretty quickly.

One thing was for certain: I was absolutely desperate for change in our home. I didn’t enjoy my life. I seriously felt like I was constantly cleaning and never getting anywhere – like a hamster on a wheel. I shared all the housekeeping memes on Facebook that blamed my kids for the mess.

Like this one:

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Or this one:

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The truth is, the kids weren’t solely to blame.

I grew up in a house that was perpetually neat. We had a couple “lived in” messes here and there, but they were short-lived messes. My husband grew up in a house very similar. But my bedroom was always a mess growing up. My parents used to joke that they could pull the carpet up and sell it as brand new b/c it had never been walked on thanks to all the clothes that blanketed my floor. My mom would send me to clean my room and it would take an entire weekend – to clean one room! Why?

My husband’s room, conversely, was always clean. I remember staying at his parents’ house with him before we moved in together and he’d clean his room every morning. He’d put things away and pick up laundry. Everyday.

Both of our houses growing up were always ready for company. However, our house together was anything but. At first it was, but over time it got messier and messier. I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t get our house decent like our parents’ houses. Were were just lazy? Yeah, probably a little bit, but this was more than just laziness.

And it only got worse once we had kids, and even worse yet when the kids became mobile.

I felt like I was drowning every day. I could not keep the house clean. I finally gave up. Our house wasn’t filthy. It was just messy. And it really bothered me. I came home everyday dreading the pending workload. I felt anxious just thinking about coming home from work. I preferred being at work b/c it was less work – and the work I did have to do had an end point – unlike the work at home.

The years went on and I honestly kept trying. I’d go in spurts where cleaning was my passion and I’d feel like I’d made headway, but then life would get busy and it would go right back to the way it was.

As with the start of every year, I vowed to make this year different. 2015 was no exception. Except, it was. 2015 was the year I discovered my “Magic” book.

I was a posting member of the forums over at Mark’s Daily Apple, a health, wellness and nutrition website, and accidentally stumbled upon a post by a friend about her Magic book. At first, I wasn’t all that interested until she kept talking about it and much better her home felt. I inquired. She shared the title and mentioned another poster having introduced her to it. So I checked out the blog of this other gal. She kept talking about her Magic book and how it transformed her life and how easy her house was to keep clean now. I was in. Hook, line and sinker!

What is this “Magic” book, you ask? Well, if you know me on Facebook, you already know. If we aren’t friends on Facebook, here it is.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

As cliché as it might sound, this book changed. my. life. Serious as a heart attack, here, folks. This book was my game changer. This little $10 200 page book was all it took.

This book told me what the problem was. I wasn’t lazy. I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed because I had too much stuff! I already knew this but for some reason having this book tell me this was eye-opening, as silly as that sounds. This book taught me how to declutter the proper way. Not room by room, but category by category. It taught me not to just throw things away like every other book on the planet did; rather this book told me to keep only those things that make me happy. What a great idea: keeping things we love, that make us happy. Get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into that “I really like this; it brings me joy” category. It taught me how to set aside the “I spent so much money on this I can’t just get rid of it” and the “But so-and-so got me that as a gift. I can’t get rid of it” excuses. It seriously changed how I looked at the things in our house – I was seeing things with new eyes, if you will.

Since reading the book and implementing Marie’s suggestions, my house is literally only 5 minutes away from being “company ready”. Clear the coffee table of our drinks, empty the recycling and maybe run a load of dishes through the dishwasher and we’re completely ready for company. On any given day. No more marathon cleaning sessions for birthday parties! No more telling people “let’s meet at your house”. No more telling my kids their friends can’t come over for fear the kids will go home and tell their parents what a mess our place was. No more. We’re free of that embarrassment! Finally! And the effects of the book are spilling over into every aspect of our lives. There are far too many positive impacts to discuss in this post – we’ll touch on them later.

Suffice it to say this book has changed my life and the lives of those around me. And I’m so grateful!

Have you read the “Magic” book yet? If you haven’t, I highly recommend you get it on order. You can check your local library, but from what I’ve seen on social media, the wait list for this book at libraries is so long people are waiting upwards of 9 months for it to come available. Just spend the $10. I promise you won’t regret it. I’ll check in again in a few days, give you some time to read my “Magic” book and then we’ll discuss it further.

Happy reading!

Welcome!

Hi. I’m Jenn. And I used to be chronically busy. Like, always super busy. And it made me perform poorly at just about everything I attempted. I was a poor housekeeper. I was a poor employee. I was a poor wife. I was a poor mother. I didn’t have time to scrapbook. I didn’t have time (or energy) to read leisurely. And it always bothered me beyond measure. Naturally. Every woman strives to be her best, right?

I’m a married working mom of two kids (three if you count the 33 year old). My kids play sports. My husband has a racing hobby. I work full-time an hour away from home doing a job I love. I’m really no busier than most moms, but it certainly felt like I was busier. Everywhere I looked, there were images and articles of moms doing it all: painting, hiking, swimming, riding bikes, or otherwise playing with their kids, trying all these great new recipes they’d had the time to find online, spotless houses and perfectly smooth clothing. All the while, I was incessantly busy trying to keep up. I never felt like I had time to play with my kids. If I did, something else had to take a back seat. Who needs folded laundry or a cupboard full of clean dishes as long as there were enough for dinner? All the “You’re doing so well, Mom” posts on the interwebz said that happy kids live in houses with dirty floors and wear wrinkled clothes. I felt like I was doing enough to be socially acceptable (I mean, no one has a clean house, right? That’s what all these mom blogs said) but not doing enough at the same time. My house was a disaster, but my kids were fed, bathed and clothed. Except… *I* wasn’t happy. And I’m pretty sure no one else was either.

I dreamed of the day that my house would be tidy and clean. I dreamed of the day that my kids and I would be able to visit grandparents and not have to rush home to make sure the house wasn’t going to result in a DHS inspection. I dreamed of the day I could take pictures of my kids doing crazy kid things without having to edit out a mess or keep the picture all to myself because I was embarrassed by what our house looked like. I dreamed of the day that I wouldn’t have to spend an entire DAY prepping to sweep, mop and vacuum the floor. I firmly believed that day would be the day my kids moved out of the house. I pined for the day that someone could knock on the door and be welcomed into our presentable house and I wouldn’t have to apologize for the mess.

I was an anxious, depressed, distracted, angry disaster. But that’s all changed. My house is presentable in minutes, not hours. My house feels light and airy, not weighed down and stuffy. It feels amazing to come home after a long day at work knowing I don’t have a night full of additional work to do. Life at home feels good now. Like, really, really good.

This blog will explain how it all changed – how I stumbled upon my solution and what a profound change it has made in our lives. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in on a comfy couch while I tell the story of how I went from frazzled and unhappy to joyful, at peace, and relaxed, with time to do the things I love to do – like visit the farm, go for bike rides, and simply enjoy my life. It’s been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to share it with you all.