How to declutter your home

Do what's necessary to keep yourself and your home happy.

Do what’s necessary to keep yourself and your home happy.

You talk to your spouse or significant other about things like finances and family size. You talk with your parents about wills and powers of attorney. When they reach a certain age, you have the birds and the bees talk with your children.

But do you talk to your belongings? Your clothes? Your house?
In her wildly popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering, Marie Kondo encourages developing a relationship with your belongings by talking to them regularly. Her premise is simple: When you put your house in order, you put your life in order. And when you speak to your home and your belongings, expressing your gratitude and fondness, you extend their lifespan and usefulness.

Before you begin to declutter your home, Kondo suggests you first have a conversation with yourself, preferably on paper because that demonstrates a deeper level of commitment. Think about your home. Imagine entering through the front door, and as you make your way through the house, stop in each room and ask yourself, “How do I want to feel here? How do I want others to feel here?” Write it down, and as you find yourself back at the front door, ask yourself the big question: “Why do I want to clear the clutter?“

Don’t be satisfied with the first answer that comes. Continue asking “Why?” until you’ve peeled away all the easy, superficial answers and made your way to the essence. Ask yourself “What does the clutter say about me and my innermost self? What does it represent? Could it be a minefield that keeps goodness and happiness and love from entering? Does it make me feel safe to keep joy at bay?” You may be miserable, but are you comfortable in that cluttered misery because it’s familiar? These are hard questions that must be asked and answered truthfully. Only then can you really begin.

Dress nicely, Kondo suggests, to show respect for your house and belongings, and talk to them constantly throughout the clearing process. Greet your house and ask for its assistance in creating a space that is joyful and healthy. Treat tidying up as a celebration, a veritable festival of love and appreciation.

There is an order to Kondo’s tried-and-true method that provides the structure necessary to complete such a large and potentially overwhelming task as ridding your entire house of clutter. Her system is based on a few rules: (1) Discard first, then place. (2) Work within a framework of categories, and work with only one category at a time. (3) Stay in constant conversation with yourself, your house and your belongings as you clear.
The plan calls for you to start with the easiest things to discard (clothing) and make your way through to the hardest things to discard (sentimental objects). You hold each item in your hand and ask, “Does this spark joy?” If no, thank it for the role it played in your life, wish it well on its new adventure, then place it in the discard bag. The idea is that by the time you get to the items hardest to discard, you will be practiced in how to decide what goes and what stays, so even the most emotionally difficult discarding will be faster and easier . . . but that doesn’t always hold true. Sometimes resistance strikes early.

Joyce Beverly, for example, has no trouble discarding clothes, but she hits the proverbial wall when she gets to pajamas. Maggie Laton finds it hard to turn loose of anything she spent money on – even if she no longer likes it – saying it feels wasteful to get rid of it. Whatever the stumbling block, Kondo has a plan for dealing with it that will keep you moving forward. When you come across something that’s hard to discard, she suggests having another conversation with yourself, carefully considering why you have the item in the first place. Reassess the role it plays in your life, and consider that it may have already fulfilled its purpose. For instance, maybe an item of clothing helped teach you what style or color doesn’t suit you. Thank it for that important lesson, and move on.  Kondo turns guilt into kindness by pointing out that when items feel neglected or unloved, they beseech us to either bury them once and for all or give them a chance to bring joy to someone else.

Bisa Batten Lewis wants to hang onto awards received, Peggy Odom Thomas struggles to let go of papers, and Kristi Rapson is very sentimental about anything her children created. For these situations, Kondo cautions that we cannot live in the past and reminds us that “to put your things in order means to put your past in order.”
Alison Chambers feels guilty when getting rid of gifts from others. “Presents,” Kondo writes, “are not things, but a means for conveying someone’s feelings.” When you have that situated in your heart, you can release the guilt, thank the object for the joy it gave you when you first received it, offer thanks to the giver who selected it, then release it.

As you hang up your clothes (not all clothes get hung up, mind you, only those who are happier being hung), thank them for keeping you warm or dry or comfortable that day. Empty your purse, and as you place it in its reserved spot, tell it what a good job it did for you. And consider that folding clothes is also a form of dialogue with your wardrobe, conveying your concern for their comfort and well-being. Regularly open drawers and let the clothes know you care and that you look forward to wearing them again soon.

When you put your house in order, you begin to think more clearly, become acquainted with your values, get to know yourself better. You may notice that your energy level increases when you surround yourself only with things that bring you joy. Daily life becomes more exciting.

Letting go of things not only opens way to more happiness, possibility, and clarity, but the very act represents a profound trust of yourself and others. Clearing clutter catapults you from a scarcity mindset to an abundance way of being. Scarcity keeps you small and fearful as it is born of and breeds fear. When living in scarcity, your confidence erodes as you doubt your own abilities and the goodness of others. But in a mindset of abundance, you develop a deep and abiding trust of yourself and others. You trust that you will never be without the things you really need, and you become more confident in your resourcefulness and your ability to provide.

Perhaps Delia Monk says it best on Facebook when she offers that the physical results are not really the central point of decluttering. Marie Kondo’s process encourages you to honor and cherish your things, and in so doing, to honor and cherish yourself. In its newly organized and beautified condition, your home becomes a supportive and encouraging, loving and joyful environment, properties you’ll find reflected in your life both at home and when you’re away.

I know from experience that anything’s possible in a house that loves you.

Rose Burgett undertook “Kondoing” with gusto in her newly empty nest in Peachtree City. The process has been “liberating,” she says.

“I was able to accept the joys of the past and to thank those people and things involved, and to feel peace at sending the objects back out into the world to bring joy to others,” Rose says. “I am so grateful to Marie Kondo for this philosophy, as that really is a paraphrase of her words, but I really did feel and appreciate it deeply. It has helped me regain my sense of faith that I will always have everything I need, and not to fear the uncertainty of life.”

She took this photo during the “book” phase. After sorting, she discarded three-fourths of a dumpster full of magazines and more than 20 boxes and bags of books. In the end, she kept about four and a half shelves’ worth of books.

“ I feel a wonderful anticipation that I am creating space for abundance in my life,” Rose says. The 40% increase in business she experienced after clearing through clothing and books testifies to this effect.

Paper, the next step, was not nearly as joyful a process, she says, because it was not about keeping things for joy, but keeping out of obligation. (“Yuck.”)

“Now that I am done with paper (hurray!),” she says, “I am back to the joyful decisions of what miscellaneous items I want to keep.”

January 5, 2016