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Life Changing, Indeed!

the life changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organzing

Most of my readers understand that my path is a journey, not a destination. Sometimes I forget that myself and become frustrated and disenchanted.

Becoming “simple” in my life has been a long-term — and often a three-steps-forward-and-two-steps-back — process, which makes me crazy. Reading yet another “how to simplify” book didn’t seem very exciting — but there was something about Marie Kondo’s book that called to me.

So, I got the audio book. That way, I could listen to it while I was doing other things and it wouldn’t be a waste of time if it was a rehash of all the same old stuff that I’ve done, and continue to do, to achieve perfect simplicity. My approach wasn’t hopeful, but more of the “I’m willing to give it a shot, so long as I don’t have to invest too much into it.”

I’m glad I took that chance.

I’ll admit that the first 20% of the book seemed like taking way too much time to tell me what she was going to tell me, and there was another big portion of it that was a little too “touchy-feely” for my tastes, but I did find some really wonderful information inside — nothing that’s “earth-shattering” but a few “ah-ha” moments and a couple “told ya so” moments that have helped me to get over the hump, if you will, of simplifying my life.

So today, I’ll share with you some of the insights as well as some information on how I’ve managed to implement them and start moving forward during a time when I felt way too overwhelmed to do ANYTHING more than the daily grind.

Keep What Brings You Joy

This sounds simple, right? It sounds like something that no one needs to tell you. Yeah, I would have thought so too. After all, I’ve spent YEARS trying to figure out what’s really, truly important and tossing the rest.

It has to be useful, or beautiful or both, I’ve always said. Now, it has to bring me joy — and that’s all. I don’t care if it’s useful. If I don’t LOVE it, if touching it and seeing it and wearing it doesn’t bring me joy, it’s outta here!

Afraid that you will be left with nothing? So what?!?! If you have very, very few belongings after following this method, you will be surrounded ONLY with what brings you joy and it will be enough. Trust me.

Now the key is to TOUCH the items. This part had never occurred to me. Sure, I’d touch this thing or that thing as I moved it from place to place, but I didn’t really FEEL it. I didn’t thoughtfully assess it with my hands and my mind at the same time. I didn’t make determinations while holding the item. I didn’t fully appreciate the item. It sounds hokey, but this is essential. If the item in your hands, from a book to a statue to a coffee mug to a blouse doesn’t bring you joy while you are holding it, you need to let it go.

Before you try it, you will be skeptical. I was. After all, I’d touched all this stuff all the time and I still had trouble parting with it. But there are a few things that make this approach by Marie different…

Express Gratitude

If you look at all your stuff as “good stuff” and “junk” and try to separate it out that way, you will resist getting rid of things. For instance, things that you have had for years, things that people have given you, things that are “worth” something, etc. If you try to label it “junk” or “trash” you will find an internal resistance. You will find the process self-defeating. After all, if it was important to you once, what does it say about YOU if — suddenly — you don’t care about this thing anymore? That’s the rub. That’s what I discovered was holding me back. She doesn’t explain it exactly like that, she talks about gratitude. I’m more about identifying the internal, self-defeating struggle to purge. Her gratitude approach helped me to overcome my struggle. Here’s how:

If you take Marie’s method to heart and consider, with gratitude, the role it has played in your life… it’s amazingly simple to release it and let it go. This part is what really surprised me. THIS WORKS. So, if you have a beautiful cashmere sweater that is awesome, but you never wear it, let it go. But first, think about why you no longer find joy in it and realize why you did like it — either you liked it but it no longer suits you (in which case you can express your gratitude for the role it has played in your life — keeping you warm, making you feel good about the way you look, being a luxury, etc.) or it never suited you (in which case you are grateful that it helped you to determine what styles do not suit you.)

In past attempts to simplify, the hardest thing for me was to re-categorize my things from “precious” to “trash.” This made it hard to let go. Marie’s method helps you to liberate or “release” something by donating it so someone else can find joy in it. The things you get rid of, the things that you have loved (or have felt that you SHOULD love) don’t get designated as trash, they get released, liberated, permitted to move on to their next use in the care of another individual.

Sure, some stuff you will release is just junk, it’s trash — but even that (something that is threadbare and was once sentimental but no longer gives you joy) needs a moment of gratitude for the part it played in your life. Take that moment. Recognize the value it had and then let it go.

Organizing is Hoarding

I’ve told my uber-organized mother this for years. She’s always been able to find anything in seconds, and has spent much of her life devising and perfecting systems of organization to be able to do that. My mother never loses anything. Ever. But as I matured, it occurred to me that she sure did spend much of her life in the process of organizing all those “things.”

Eventually I became less enchanted by her super-human ability to locate things and more critical of the amount of life-force (if you will) that was required to achieve this perfection. I tried to devise my own, less complex and less comprehensive systems that would work with my fewer items.

Still disgusted with my lack of progress in this arena, I told my mother that she was a hoarder, just an extremely well-organized and OCD one. Saying that somehow made me feel better about my disorganized, but less voluminous lifestyle. (And, it was always a good lead in to one of my many “you need to get rid of stuff” campaigns with her.)

Let’s just say that I’m glad I’m not my mother… because I may be just like her in many ways… at least I don’t have to put up with ME as a daughter. (My mother is much more gracious than I am and appreciates me and is sweet even when I’m pushy and overbearing.) On the “Karmic” side of things… I’m raising one just like me (possibly worse) so I’m sure I’ll get mine in due time.

Now back to the hoarding issue — if you follow the methods in Marie’s book, you probably won’t need to spend hours and days and weeks and months of your life organizing. Why? Simply because you won’t have so many things. You won’t have duplicates — you will only have what you adore, what brings you joy, what you can’t imagine NOT having — and those items are so few that they will be easy to find. Heck, they will probably be in plain sight!

Do It All At Once

The power of not making this a long-term chore or a “process” as I have is amazing. Even if it takes you a few months to finish up, realizing that using this method means you won’t spend hours every week or every month trying to “cut a little deeper” is awesome. You aren’t creating another chore — you are ELIMINATING one!

I love this.

Marie discourages the traditional wisdom of doing “a little each day” or going “room to room” and sorting. Her reasoning is sound… you have the same “type” of things located in many different locations in your home, your car, at work, etc. Gathering them in one place and sorting by category helps you to see the full picture and make lasting decisions.

Categorizing Your Stuff

How can you easily get from duplicates and overflowing drawers, shelves, boxes, etc.? You sort by CATEGORY. She recommends starting with clothing — because it’s easy. And ending with sentimental things because those are harder — and quite frankly, the momentum you gain with the other, easier, categories will be needed when you get to the emotional categories.

That means that you collect all your clothes and go through them at once. Not just the ones in your closet now. You need to have all your laundry done up and do them ALL at once. Drag out any that you have packed away. Pull out all the coats and sweaters you have in other closets. Grab that “maybe I’ll get back into these someday” clothes you have stashed under your bed or in the attic, be sure you have the jacket you leave in the car and the shoes you kicked off when you watched TV in the living room yesterday. Get ALL articles of clothing (as a category) from all locations and pile them up before you begin.

She also says that it’s sometimes easier to start sorting with out of season clothes and her logic is good — if you haven’t worn it in a while you won’t say, “yeah, it doesn’t bring me joy, but I just wore it yesterday so I better keep it.” The tidying up process (which sounds so much less violent than the “purging” process, doesn’t it?) builds momentum. So, by the time you are through the coats and the sweaters and the out of season stuff that you haven’t worn in six months, you will be on a roll — and going through the stuff that’s in your closet and the articles you wore last week or yesterday — will be easier.

It works. The more you release, the easier it becomes to release more — and the more you like what’s left. The items that are left are those things that make you feel really good. And life gets “lighter” and you get happier. It’s amazing.

My Results

I took off a week and spent it at the cabin (which had become a “storage unit” for things my hoarding significant other couldn’t release or didn’t want to make decisions about — but didn’t have room to store elsewhere.) I love the man, but I’m not thrilled with the hoarding, as you might imagine.

The cabin had depressed me every time I was there. It overflowed with his stuff, and as if by magnetic attraction, my own stuff had started collecting in piles and boxes and messes too. I now had to step over things. Seriously. Me. Stepping over junk. In my cabin. To get from room to room. SIGH.

I dedicated my vacation to reclaiming my space. I needed to not work 7 days a week anymore. I needed to have time of quiet solitude at the farm. I needed to spend some time at “home.” And, I decided that the cabin is my own personal “playhouse” and the only way I would keep my sanity in the world I’m in now, which involves being in town tending the storefront Monday through Thursday, was to reclaim this space.

I need to be able to work at the farm in my home office when I’m not in town. I have two business locations. One a home office. One a brick and mortar in town. I needed to clear a path to use and enjoy both. So, I “gave up” my first vacation in two years to reclaim my space. It was the best decision I’ve made in ages. I worked every day, all day, and I started to enjoy my cabin again. I didn’t get everything done, but I made amazing progress in the first four days.

Then, on the fifth day, I remembered I had the “Tidying Up” book and started listening, hoping for inspiration because my batteries were draining. I listened to the audio book while I worked. I listened to it when I rested. I listened to it before bed. I listened until I’d heard it all — then I went back and listened to it again. I liked it. I really REALLY liked it.

I liked it enough that I had to take the time in the middle of my process here and write a blog about it to tell my readers to go get their own copy because it’s worth the investment of money and time. When you finish reading it — show gratitude and pass it on to someone else. 🙂

My Progress

I’ve made tremendous progress. I’ve made progress at the cabin, I’ve made progress at the office. I’ve been pruning things left and right. The whole “does this bring me joy?” thing works. Most of the things that I thought I needed to keep gave me no feeling at all — or they gave me a slightly negative feeling — so that made it easier.

I’m hitting a big birthday next year, and I’ve decided that it’s a little bit crazy to retain things that, every time I see them, bring back bad memories. Just because I’ve had them forever, or because I want to “be sure to remember mistakes” so I don’t repeat them is insane. I’m NOT going to repeat those mistakes and I don’t need to keep depressing little reminders as some sort of emotionally twisted “insurance” policy.

I prefer to look around my space and let everything I see warm my heart. If it doesn’t actively elicit warm fuzzies in me, I don’t need it.

After spending so much time trying to “narrow down” my wardrobe to a certain number of “basic” pieces, I find this liberating. And, even more surprising, after going through my closet and keeping only those pieces that draw out positive feelings — I have fewer clothes than any other method I’ve ever tried. They are all the colors that I love, they all fit and I literally can’t wait to wear them again. They also all mix and match. Granted I wear mostly black, so this might be circumstantial, but I prefer to consider it karmic. 🙂

I’ve never had a closet that brought out those feelings. I LOVE every article of clothing in my diminutive wardrobe. LOVE them.

I’ve quit buying new articles that were “ok” or that “would do” ages ago. I only buy new things that I love — but for some reason I hadn’t used that measuring stick in my closet. I kept things that were the proper TYPE of basic. Things that I SHOULD love, given my goals. And they were mixed in with the items that I really did love. Those things that I didn’t love seldom got wear — and I never felt that great when I wore them.

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long.

Donate to a Good Cause

The local senior citizens center is having their annual fundraising yard sale in Danville, Kentucky this weekend. Having a worthy cause to donate my things to made all the difference. I didn’t really want to donate to Goodwill. I prefer to keep my donations of time, money and “stuff” local these days.  Their upcoming Yard Sale gave me a short period of time to work hard and get some stuff done.

I suggest you find a cause that you can support with your donations — don’t just give them to family and friends. As Marie pointed out, saddling the ones you love with your castoffs isn’t kind. So, don’t go around lassoing your loved ones with albatrosses!

I love the idea of giving to the senior citizens center. I support their mission. I love that they are a 501c3 — so I can get a tax credit for my gifts, which are sizable with this new approach to minimization — everything from antiques and furniture to china and crystal and other “stuff” that I don’t really need or want — the stuff that doesn’t bring me joy.

I like that they are so happy to get my stuff — it seems less like “throwing away” and more like re-purposing.  Their quickly approaching deadline has kept me working instead of giving up. I can rest after Friday, once I’ve made my last load. (And if you are local I highly recommend donating to them.)

Next Steps

It will take me a few more weeks to get the rest of the stuff sorted, but I’ve made fantastic progress so far. The senior citizens center has most of the big stuff I am eliminating, and much of the smaller stuff — but the more I do with this new “does it bring me joy” approach, the more I want to do. It’s not a chore. It’s kind of exciting. After I finish working each day, I begin the work of eliminating more. I actually look forward to it! 🙂

I don’t think it will be long before I have my stuff whittled down to where I am happiest. As soon as that’s done, I want to start pursuing some of the things that I’ve never had “time” for — like reading more, painting, yoga (yeah, seriously) and getting back to the JOY of cooking — instead of the CHORE of cooking.

And I’m no longer concerned about the hoarding habits of my man. The book illustrated (beautifully) the problems with trying to organize someone else — the futility and frustration (for them AND for you). I’m leading by example, and I must say that I’m already seeing him start to do a little of it on his own. It will be interesting to see how that changes, if it changes, once I finish my own work on my own stuff.

There is a certain way I want my life to be. There’s a certain calmness and joy that I’m missing that I want to find again. I think this vacation and some of the tips and approaches the book offers has helped me to refine my approach and will ultimately help me get there. Here’s a link if you want to get a copy yourself: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

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1 Comment

  1. How To Reduce Negativity in Your Simple Life - Living Small - Voluntary Simplicity Ideas says:

    […] couple weeks ago, I had this revelation while tidying up my space. As a result of this revelation, I tossed a few extra things that “helped me to […]

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