How to Stop Organizing Yet Have an Organized House

IMG_8840 When it comes to organizing a home, most of us seem to be either chronic organizers--always tidying and never finished--or those who accept things as they are and move on. The sheer number of books and articles on organizing is overwhelming. However, there is one book that has totally changed my life in this area, and I am now finished with constant organizing. My house has never been cleaner, and I've never felt more in control of it. I discovered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up over Thanksgiving week. I couldn't put it down, and then I read it twice more over the next week as I began to work with the author, Marie Kondo's, system.

One of the most life-changing parts of this book is the relationship Marie Kondo describes with stuff. My relationship with stuff is a see-saw. Sometimes I get caught up in material things--in my stuff. I cling tightly and find myself wanting more. Other times I try to pretend like none of it matters. But this bleeds quickly into a total lack of care for my material possessions. I always wonder how much I should actually like my stuff--isn't that materialism? But I can't totally ignore my need for stuff and my love for some of it, too. Ultimately, I found a new balance after reading Kondo's book.

It turns out that the secret is gratitude--but in a way I've never thought of before.

In her book, Kondo balances a delicate respect for the stuff we own (which teeters on the edge of the spiritual) with a profound ability to get rid of things we no longer need. She encourages gentle care for and folding of our currentshirts while discarding those past their usefulness. This balance--rooted in gratitude and purpose--has freed me to discard and ultimately to have a cleaner house.

A drawer organized using Kondo's method

Gratitude seems basic, in principle, but I find that it extends further than just saying, "I'm thankful to own this stuff." Gratitude also extends to the stuff we have owned but no longer need and the lessons it taught us. 

For example, as strange as it sounded to me at first, Kondo recommends that we thank our things for serving their purpose. I've never thought about this before. She writes about the purpose of a shirt that was bought and not worn.

"If you bought it because you thought it looked cool in the shop, it has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it. Then why did you never wear it? Was it because you realized that it didn't suit you when you tried it on at home? If so, and if you no longer buy clothes of the same style or color, it has fulfilled another important function-it has taught you what doesn't suit you. In fact, that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life, and you are free to say, "Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you," or "Thank you for teaching me what doesn't suit me," and let it go..." (42).

She has the same opinion about unread books (which may also apply to those few library books that somehow do make it home but are never read or finished):

"You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven't read it by now, the book's purpose was to teach you that you didn't need it" (59).

I was finally able to get rid of things that used to bring me joy but no longer do by simply thanking them (sometimes even out loud!) for their service. While I know that my things don't have feelings, I do. And there's something about that out loud acknowledgement that helps me release my grasp and move on.

Kondo writes,

"The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. It is dangerous to ignore them or to discard them indiscriminately as if denying the choices we made..." (110)

Having gratitude and acknowledging the purpose of everything we own forces us to look deeply at our lives--at what motivates us and what evokes strong feelings. At one point Kondo explains the importance of knowing whether you keep things out of fear for the future, clinging to the past, or both. She shows how this self-knowledge is important in understanding one's career, potential spouse, and other big life choices.

photo 5 (11)

The main game-changer in Kondo's system is that she teaches to purge first. This lines up with much of the minimalist movement including the book, Clutterfree with Kids (which I highly recommend). Kondo doesn't allow one to start with organizing paraphernalia. Rather, we should purge methodically and only once we know what is to be kept do we decide where and how to store it. This is the first major reorganizing I've attempted without having to buy a single thing to help--no containers or fancy shelf liners or anything!

Sometimes a huge purge can seem almost wasteful. I hate looking at bags of things that must be discarded. But I see it as a preventive step because reducing helps us keep (and buy!) less stuff overall, and we generally do a better job of maintaining what we do have when we reduce. Kondo seems to agree:

"To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence? If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them... Let them go, with gratitude..." (43).

It's the first time I've found balance in ruthlessly discarding what I don't need or want and yet being thankful for the tangible things that make up my life.

The best part of Kondo's method is she doesn't see tidying as something that should happen all the time. She's all about a once and done approach, which may just be the most refreshing part of the book. Her attitude and method has given me new freedom in achieving the home I want and finding a healthy relationship with my stuff.

I am about halfway through Kondo's method of sorting through everything I own; she suggests it will take about six months to fully sort through and purge things we no longer need.

I'm finding that this method of decluttering--a deep, hard look at what brings me joy and what serves a purpose in my life--has acutally been a game-changer in decluttering. Our home is staying tidier with much less effort. Interestingly, I'm more motivated to acutally tidy, too, because I know the state it can be in.

There's something luxurious about having just what I need and taking the time to put it away carefully when I am done with it. I find myself appreciating my basic, staple pieces even more. I smile when I see our room, which is moments away from tidiness even at its worst. And I no longer want to buy things all the time. In the list of things that have changed my life for the better in 2014, this is certainly one of them! (I will share the others later this week!).

What books or ideas have changed your life this past year? 

P.S. Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy has a great post on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. She elaborates on some of the other aspects of Kondo's method.