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!

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