MOORHEAD — Admission time: I'm a pack rat. Always have been, and I used to think always will be — until I read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing" by Marie Kondo.
The book is a New York Times best-seller and has, to date, sold more than 8 million copies. Kondo, a soft-spoken organizing expert, is also the host of a popular Netflix show where she teaches different types of families how to get out from under the clutter. Kondo is a much needed savior for stuff-saturated Americans, like me.
But I probably didn't need to tell you all of that.
You've probably read the book or seen her show or seen her trending on Twitter. Heck, news stories have even been written about thrift stores inundated with stuff as people all over America try her KonMari method of decluttering. But is her method really effective, and will it work for me?
I took on the monumental task last weekend. It was bitterly cold outside and I figured what better day to do it than a day when I was stuck indoors anyway?
Kondo recommends not organizing by room, but by category. She says to start by going through clothes, followed by books, papers, miscellaneous items and, finally, sentimental items. She says clothes are the easiest to start with because most of the time they can be easily replaced versus more personal items.
Okay, Marie, I'll do it. I will tackle my walk-in closet — a closet that is plenty big and should allow me plenty of storage space, but in which I've stuffed sweats and sweaters in corners and stacked stuff on the floor that "I might need someday." And "As seen on TV" items that I had to try are now "As seen on Tracy's closet floor."
The door doesn't always open and I feel a little disgusted that I've let it get to this. Here are 5 things I learned in the process of trying to declutter the clutter.
A jarring reality
Kondo recommends taking all of your clothing out of the closet and drawers and pile it up on the floor or bed. And she means everything: shirts, pants, socks and underwear.
I started with tops — T-shirts, blouses and blazers. I was astounded at what I had. Somehow it didn't look as overwhelming hanging up in my closet. But when it was all out in the open, I realized the ridiculous amount of stuff I had. I felt a little guilty. Why do I feel the need to buy that cute shirt at Target when I already have all of this? I don't wear a lot of it, so why don't I give it away to those who might use it? It was eye-opening and just the jolt I needed to motivate me to keep going.
The entire theme of Kondo's method is the items we own should "spark joy." Your home should be a place where you are surrounded by items that make you feel happy or at peace. When it comes to organizing clothing, she insists that you pick up each item, touch it, look at it and figure out if it sparks joy. That's hard, right? How do we know that?
I took Kondo's advice and started with a shirt I knew I loved — a salmon/tangerine V-neck sweater I probably wear too much. It's comfortable and cute. Kondo says to take note of how that makes you feel. Point taken. It sounded a little weird to me. But I realized that, without naming it, I've done this before 1 getting rid of something because of how it made me feel. For example, I once threw away a perfectly good green blouse because it reminded me of a really awful day I had when I had worn it. I looked at the shirt and it made me sad. Every time I put it on, I thought about that bad day. I gave it away.
Stuck in the middle
It's easy to keep those items of clothing that you think are comfortable and cute and even to pitch the ones that make you feel frumpy or remind you of something bad — but what about those practical items of clothing? Those middle fiddle clothes proved a sticking point for me.
Case in point: a white cotton shirt I wear in the summer. I held it up. It felt soft and comfortable. It was practical. But did it spark joy? Well, can a white T-shirt really do that? It was practical and something I would wear a lot in the summer. If I were strictly following Kondo's "spark joy" rule, it would have gone in the garbage. But my Midwestern sensibility convinced me to keep it. Spark joy? Maybe not, but sometimes you just need practical pieces.
Socks shouldn't look like potatoes
Blasphemy, right? One of my earliest memories is watching my mom fold laundry during "The Price is Right." She made sock balls as the contestants came on down to see Bob Barker. But Kondo says Mom shouldn't have done that. She says socks work hard all day and don't need to be stressed out by having their elastic stretched into balls. That sounded a little woo-woo to me. I don't think socks have energy.
But I decided to giver her alternative method of sock storage a try. She recommends laying each sock together and folding it into threes, then placing the socks in a row in your drawer. After throwing out a bunch of socks that didn't spark joy (think: itchy and pilly), I folded the remainder and found I loved the system. Right away, I could see what socks were where. No more fiddling around trying to find the navy blue sock ball from the black sock balls in my overstuffed drawer. Good work, Marie.
It's about gratitude
Another principal of Kondo's is that we should say "thank you" to clothing we choose to discard. Again, I thought that was a little woo-woo when I first heard it. In fact, I felt a little silly when I thanked a black-and-white blouse that I've owned for more than a decade. But in forcing myself to say thank you and goodbye to it, I recalled the days I did wear it and how it brought happiness when I wore it to a New Year's Eve party years ago.
But I haven't worn it for years, mostly because it didn't fit as well as it once did (#MiddleAgeSpread). So why should I have it hanging in my closet reminding me that I've gained weight? Instead, I said, "Thanks for the good times. Now I'll let you go to clothe someone else at another party." Sounded a little wacky, but it honestly felt good. I didn't feel like the shirt was going to waste. It was getting a new life for someone else.
All in all on that cold Sunday, I spent about eight hours cleaning out my closet. Kondo recommends doing it in complete silence so you can get in touch with your clothing. That means no television and no music. I caved after a couple of hours and turned on "The Great British Baking Show." I don't think my clothes minded.
But this is just the beginning. As mentioned earlier, I now need to tackle books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental items. I'm motivated to do so.
While decluttering the clothing was a lot of work, it was so worth it. It might sound a little crazy, but when I walked into the closet on Monday morning, the air inside felt lighter and I felt happier. If Marie Kondo can help my whole house feel like this, I'm on board.