I was having Dim Sum with a dozen friends when someone mentioned this new book on organizing and a wave of “did you say The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” swept from one end of the table down to the other. We’d all heard of it and many of us had read it, including me and my girlfriend. And we all admitted that yes, some part of the book’s wisdom had indeed changed our lives for the better.
One friend had followed author Marie Kondo’s advice on folding clothes. It was such a revelation that my friend kept making excuses to open her drawers and take in the sight of perfectly folded and organized shirts and socks.
Another friend who was new to town took a look at the boxes lining her new apartment and decided to KonMari all her possessions as she unpacked. She said her apartment had NEVER been cluttered as a result.
To “KonMari” means to sort all your possessions into categories (put all your books in a pile, put all your clothes in a pile, etc) hold every single object in your hand and see if it “sparks joy”. If it does, it stays and you will find a place for it to live. If it does not, thank it for its service and send it packing.
Marie Kondo writes about how it will feel to walk into your home and see only possessions that bring you joy. Your eyes will never again fall on the present from your mother-in-law that you never liked, but felt you must keep. Or the purse you bought because it was a great deal, but never actually use.
She also advocates for doing this to all your possessions at once, starting with clothes and books and working up to items that have more sentimental value and might be harder to sort through.
The everything-at-once approach worked great for the friend who had just moved, because she had to unpack all her boxes anyway. The rest of us found it to be exhausting work that was very hard to do all in one go, especially when we have to do other things like go to work, sleep and watch all 50 hours of this week’s episode of The Bachelor.
I’ve had to KonMarie in big bites, starting with my clothes and books. And even though those are supposed to be the non-sentimental items, it was still an emotional experience. Sorting books was especially tough because my girlfriend and I are both bookworms and certain books feel as close to us as old friends. Marie Kondo writes a lot about getting rid of books. Are you ever going to crack the cover of that intense biography you bought on a whim? Those “favorite” novels… are you really going to read them again? We followed Marie’s guiding light, but I don’t think she’d be altogether pleased with how many books we kept.
Although, we did manage to get rid of enough that now all the books we own actually fit onto the one large and one small bookshelves that we have. No more stacks on the floor, which feels like a success.
I graduated from college in 2003, and yet I had kept my French textbook all this time, dutifully packing it and probably 50 other pounds of textbooks up and moving them to seven different apartments. Why? Why, why, oh why? Had I ever used one for reference? ONE TIME! My brother did a genetic DNA test a few years ago, and we were very surprised to hear our genetic markers indicate we’re descended from Vikings who ended up in Ireland. What was it like for Vikings in Ireland, I wondered? So I grabbed a book from my Irish Studies class and opened it to the chapter on Vikings. Did you know that Ireland was experiencing a spiritual, intellectual and artistic heydey before the Vikings showed up and then raped and pillaged their way into a bit of societal regression?
That was the only time I’d turned to my trusty textbooks for reference. They had to go, but it made me sad to pack them up. Not only did it feel like saying goodbye to old friends, it felt like a formal goodbye to my college years.
I dropped off my old friends at a thrift store, and it was time to tackle my clothes. I gathered all my clothes in the bedroom and went to town.
Into the donation bag went everything that didn’t fit, that I didn’t like or that needed a repair beyond just sewing on a button. Marie tells you to pay special attention to hand-me downs. Just because someone gave something to you, doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Into the bag went a pair of high heels my mother gave me after only wearing once. Are they in good shape? Absolutely. Have I ever worn them? Nope. Do I have anything they’d even go with? Not really. Off to the thrift store for you.
I had a bag with a green canvas body and a light leather enclosure that could be worn as a backpack or a purse–a stylish name brand that I’d proudly found a coupon code to make within my price range. When I first got it in the mail, I congratulated myself on having such a design-y item in my possession. I caressed the light leather, so soft and smooth… and oh great somehow just touching it left a dark mark. I used it a few times to carry my stuff to work and realized I’m just not a backpack for work kind of person. It was cumbersome to use and I was afraid I’d get even more marks on the leather. And yet I kept it, because it seemed like the kind of thing I should have in order to be the kind of person I want to be. I felt Marie’s eyes boring into me all the way from Japan. Into the donation pile it went and I don’t regret giving it away. In fact, I realized that seeing it on my coat rack actually made me feel bad and a little silly that I’d sunk so much money and importance into a object that didn’t serve me.
That experience gets me to what I have found life-changing about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. One day I ran into a former co-worker while I was wearing a purple cotton dress that I’d bought because it was cheap and seemed appropriate enough for the office. “That color is doing amazing things for you!” My former co-worker said. I was flattered and thereafter thought of that dress as “the color that does amazing things for me.” But I didn’t like the dress anymore than I had before. I tried it with sandals and a denim jacket. I tried it with tights, boots and a leather jacket. I tried it with necklaces and bracelets and statement earrings. No combination of things made me feel any better about how I looked in that dress. Sometimes when I was getting ready for work, I’d see it my closet and decide to wear it, but find myself thinking “I hope I don’t run into [X] today,” because wearing that dress made me feel schlubby, despite all the wonderful things the color was supposedly doing for me. Into the donation bag it went and I didn’t even bother folding it first. If you’re eager for an excuse to let something go, just let it go already.
After that first wardrobe massacre, I keep doing the occasional edit. Most of my clothes are now things I like, so the B team clothes stick out even more. I’ve donated more shoes, coats, a skirt I bought in 1999 and have maybe worn 10 times and t-shirts collected along the years that I never feel like wearing.
But couldn’t I just make them sleep shirts? No! Because Marie Kondo says not to. She says even your lounge wear should be articles of clothing that bring you joy. I got rid of a lot of hanging around clothes that I’d kept because who cares.
Did I have anything left? You will have enough, says Marie. And she was right, as usual. I have yet to run out of clothing and send myself to work naked. In fact, I’ve made a lot of new outfits with clothes I already had, but never considered pairing because they’d been at far ends of the closet. And I did buy a few new things, but I made sure they fit really well and spark joy within me.
Now I feel like an Old Hollywood starlet when I throw open my closet doors. “Oh world,” I sigh, “what shall we wear today.” And every single garment I take out of that closet is something I like to look at and feel good about wearing. I can’t overstate the impact this has had on my life.
Every once in a while, my brother’s college BFF would show up in the dining hall wearing a three piece suit. When Pavel was dressed to the nines, you knew he had a big test that day. “Look good, feel good,” he’d tell my brother.
Looking good doesn’t have to mean dressing a specific way, or wearing only luxury brands. But thinking you look good will make you feel good. And it’s a whole lot easier to move through your day when you feel good.
Today I’m wearing light grey skinny jeans, strappy gray suede boots and a dark grey knit tunic. I like how these clothes look together and I like how they look on me. That gave me confidence going into my weekly meeting with my boss this morning, even though he has no idea what I’m wearing today, because he works in a different city and we meet over the phone.
Look good, feel good, do well. Thanks Marie Kondo.