Almost four years ago, I dissed Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as an entirely unreasonable approach to creating an uncluttered home.
A House Bursting with Stuff
At the time, I lamented the Myth of the Empty Nest: My kids had fledged, but my attic, basement and closets were bursting with Stuff, not all of it mine. Some is my husband’s, some belongs to my kids, some stored for Tim’s brothers, and some for mine. And whether we like it or not, we’re also mothballing stuff we’ve inherited from our parents, now all deceased.
In the four intervening years and despite resolutions to clear out my house, the situation has only become worse. I was desperate to make changes but overwhelmed by the enormity of the task when an unlooked for savior arrived with an offer of help: my daughter Ruth.
Ruth also read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up four years ago – and applied it to her life. As her mother, I can say with authority Ruth wasn’t a tidy child. On the same authority – and with amazement and pride – I’m pleased to announce the she’s now among the tidiest people I know.
She followed the KonMari Method, starting with her clothes and ending with her sentimental objects, most of which had been in my attic. She sorted them, expressed gratitude to those she let go, and kept those that still held joy.
Tidying her her belongings inspired her partner to tidy his. Then she helped a friend organize the home he shares with his son. Then another friend, and another. While Ruth is working on becoming a credentialed professional organizer, she’s already in high demand – currently by me.
Starting With Clothes
There’s a room in my house that’s completely out of hand. It’s nominally an office; in reality it’s where we put things we don’t know where else to stow. I only go into the room when I have to pay bills, record my business finances, and in theory maintain an archive of my publications. The room’s disorder makes it hard to find the papers I need, and these necessary tasks have become dreaded chores. This is the room I wanted to tackle with Ruth.
“Nope,” she said. “That’s not how it works. We’ll start with your clothes.”
“You wear clothes close to your body. They’re intimate. You want to feel good about them.”
This conversation took place during our initial tidying session, which began with a tour of my closet, where Ruth asked, “How do you feel when you’re in here?” She asked me the same question in the office.
Then we sat down to drink tea and talk about my vision for these spaces. Ruth asked questions about my values. She helped me understand how organizing my clothing was not simply a matter of arranging garments by season or color or sleeve length; it’s a way to support my best self.
Once I understood that this was going to be a journey into greater clarity and better self-knowledge, I was all in. I gathered every garment I owned and heaped them on my queen-sized bed. Yikes!
Then we sorted. Ruth had me hold each item up to my chest and asked, “How does it make you feel?”
I placed items that made me feel good into a pile of clothes to keep. I thanked those that didn’t “spark joy” and placed them in a heap to discard. We made a middle mound of things about which I was unclear.
My progress was slow at first. Even if I had reasons like, “But I just bought this!” or “But this jacket is still good!” Ruth came back with, “Does it make you feel good? Does it give you joy?” If the answer was no, it went into the growing pile of clothing to consign and give away.
Caring for Clothes
Ruth is also a fabric artist who knows how to care for clothes. She showed me how hanging knits stretched them out of shape. “You should fold them,” she said. And she showed me how.
“But I don’t have enough drawer space,” I protested.
“You’ll be surprised,” she said.
I was. I am.
By the end of a five-hour session, we’d sorted through every article of clothing I own. She left me to fold and put everything away.
After culling the deadwood, the worn, the misfit, the outdated, and the unnecessary garments from my wardrobe, I really like what I have left – including a moth-eaten, overlarge cashmere cardigan of my dad’s that I thought Ruth would tell me to toss. But no. “Keep anything that sparks joy.” So I did.
Next up: The dreaded office.
Ruth Asks: Ready to Tidy Up?
Do you feel distracted or overwhelmed by the clutter in your home? Are you trying to downsize? Are you excited about the KonMari Method, but afraid to start?
From a deep knowledge of the process, I can guide you through every category of this life-changing journey. Once sorting is done, I’ll teach you smart, joyful storage solutions that fit your space and lifestyle. The result of tidying is not merely a clutter-free home, but a clarity of purpose and self.
Tidying is all about you. Let’s set up a free 30 minute phone consultation and talk about changing your life!
Too bad Ruth is not in San Francisco
Deborah Lee Luskin says
She could be!
Marjorie Ray says
This is fabulous!!
Deborah Lee Luskin says
It really is. I’m looking forward to our next session tomorrow!
Debby Detering says
You described our house–except that clothes are perhaps the one thing in order! We have a system for storing out-of-season clothes, and because our church has a free-clothes closet we have a good excuse for getting rid of good items we don’t wear. But, like you, we are storing things for grown children who live in small homes, plus family “treasures” we are holding for grandchildren who are, or soon will be, establishing their own homes.
But my study!. Once in a while the top of my desk is visible, and file drawers are so stuffed with out-dated papers that there’s no place for what should go there. And the books! We are two book-o-holics who keep what we enjoy reading, want to read, bought as travel souvenirs, received as gifts from people we love, or inherited from long-passed dear ones. But in spite of the clutter, we both spend a good part of each day in that study, some of it supposedly sorting things out. No wonder I am confused about priorities!
By the way, the daughter who did her best to ignore housekeeping, while a child and then a young adult, has become a nun, in a small convent in Canada, where every item has its home–to which it is returned promptly after use–and a crumb from the table hardly hits the floor before someone gets to it with dustpan and brush.
And the granddaughter whose tomboy attitude about clothes used to be, “But I wore that yesterday–why can’t I wear it today?” is now in the fashion design business.
I’ll look for your posts about the rest of the process and see if I can apply those principles.
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Sara Couppas says
Love this!! I to read the book and started with my clothes and then my kids etc. I haven’t moved beyond that yet- but my drawers look amazing. Getting there- thanks for the motivation to keep going- thrilled your daughter is working this! Awesome!!
I love this! I look forward to see what you have done.
I loved reading the Marie Kondo book a couple of years ago and did start applying the principles – note the word “start”!
Like you and many of the people who have commented above, we hold stuff for adult children who live in small flats and in fact one child has moved back in with us until September. So our plans to turn one of our spare bedrooms into a second are on hold.
I am a book hoarder, as is my husband. Books do bring a lot of joy so we have loads in pretty much every room in the house. But I have become better at giving away to charity shops the ones that I know we won’t ever re-read, such as thrillers (well, at least the ones my husband won’t notice are missing!).
Marie Kondo’s book did give me courage / permission to get rid of items that were given as presents but which I’ve never really liked. I’d always felt honour-bound to keep them but as she says, (if I remember correctly), the purpose of the gift was to show love – the key act was in the giving.
So thank you, Deborah, you’ve inspired me to tackle my stuff again and I look forward to reading more about your nest sessions!
Deborah Lee Luskin says
Yes, the books. Sigh.
They are in urgent need of culling and organizing, as we ran out of shelf space a decade ago, but haven’t stopped buying and receiving books.
A year ago, when we purchased a gorgeous Turkish carpet for the nook off the living room, we did donate several boxes of books to the Hospital Fair. Then last week, a friend highly recommended a title that I know used to be there and that I’m afraid may have been in the donated lot. There’s a chance it’s in the stacks waiting to be shelved upstairs, but if it’s not, it will only reinforce my tendency to hold fast to every book in the house “just in case.” Ugh!
jane Olmstead says
What a great post!