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devil duck

Decluttering

A week or two ago, my employer hosted one of the stops on Marie Kondo's book tour promoting her book the life-changing magic of tidying up. Ms. Kondo was apparently the sort of girl who cleaned not only her own room but her siblings' and the rest of the house, much to the annoyance of the rest of her family, but she's turned it into a profession: she's a home-tidying-and-organization consultant in her native Japan.

Naturally, the difficulty of tidying and organizing your home is a supralinear function of how much stuff you have, so the majority of the book is a collection of psychological tricks to enable yourself to get rid of stuff. I haven't tried much of this yet, but they look very sensible and practical (even the sorta mystical ones like "thanking an object for its good service before sending it on its way"). Some of the more prominent ones:

Major decluttering is a special event, not an everyday habit

Yes, you need to keep things tidy day by day. But getting rid of large amounts of stuff needs to be done in a concentrated block of time; don't try to get rid of a thing per day.

Work by categories, not locations

Don't say "I'm going to declutter Room X," but rather "I'm going to collect all the objects of Category X in the whole house, put them in one place, and decide which ones to keep." This way if you turn out to have essentially the same object stored in several different places, you'll find out about it and can eliminate duplicates. Of course, if "all the books" or "all the clothes" is a dauntingly huge category, you can pick small enough subcategories to fit the block of time you have.

Take everything of the chosen category out of wherever it is, put it on the floor in a big pile, pick up each individual item, touch it, and look for a visceral response: "does it spark joy?"

Putting everything on the floor serves two purposes: it shows you graphically how much stuff you have in this category, and it forces you to actively choose to keep each individual object, rather than passively leaving them where they were. The question "does it spark joy?" aims towards the goal of a home in which everything around you makes you happy. If it doesn't make you happy, and isn't necessary to life, it's not pulling its weight and doesn't need a place in your home.

Start with emotionally-easy categories, to develop discriminatory skill, and work up to the harder categories.

She recommends the order "clothes, books, documents, miscellaneous items, mementoes," although I'm sure different people have different degrees of attachment to these categories. The point is to get practice making the "does it spark joy?" decision on the easy cases, and have an experience of success getting rid of things that don't, before moving on to the emotionally wrenching ones.

Talk to your things

Your things don't enjoy sitting on the shelf (or in the bottom of a box) unused. When a book has taught you all it's going to teach you (including, possibly, the fact that you don't like the subject or the author), thank it for its good service and send it off to teach someone else. When an article of clothing has become, at long last, unwearable, thank it for its years of service and send it into a well-deserved retirement. And so on.



I had a Sunday with few commitments, so I decided to dip a toe in the water today. I picked two small categories -- computer accessories and old electrical appliances -- and threw three keyboards, two mice, about twenty cables of various descriptions (generally keeping one representative of each equivalence class, e.g. USB-A-to-USB-mini-b, VGA-to-DVI), a toaster, a food processor, a DSL modem, and a wireless router into the recycling bin. There are still a lot of computer CDs that I'll realistically never use, but I haven't looked at them yet. There are at least two computers in the basement, but I think I can wait to take them somewhere that actually recycles computers. It's a tiny step, but I have a feeling of accomplishment.

Comments

Thanks for the book review and good ideas. I really like the "pile all like things together".
And good for you on getting started. Decluttering can be fraught with peril.
Talk to your things
Your things don't enjoy sitting on the shelf (or in the bottom of a box) unused. When a book has taught you all it's going to teach you (including, possibly, the fact that you don't like the subject or the author), thank it for its good service and send it off to teach someone else. When an article of clothing has become, at long last, unwearable, thank it for its years of service and send it into a well-deserved retirement. And so on.

"Personifiers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but Mr. Dignity!" (h/t nancylebov)

(I am so right there with her. :)

I do like the "all objects of a type" idea.
Of course, one doesn't have to believe literally in the consciousness of books in order for this to work, just as one doesn't have to believe in the literal truth of the Bible or the Grimms' fairy tales in order for them to teach life lessons. Personification, in this context, is a useful knob for controlling one's own mind, and in particular granting oneself permission to Get Rid Of Stuff.