Spring Clean For The Last Time
Ah, spring cleaning time. Do you know that feeling of a bright spring day, sun is shining, you're coming home from work on a Friday thinking, “This Sunday I’m going to do a big spring clean and make my home feel really fresh”?
I had this impulse many times. I would visualize a clutter free apartment, full of light. I would picture my favorite travel souvenirs having pride of place, pictures and decorations having space to shine, and being able to actually move the hangers in my closet. I was tired of being the manager of a bunch of stuff I didn't really care about that much. I have better things to do, right?
As I spent my whole career in fashion, the task would inevitably start with the closet. I would stare at the overflowing rack with an unruly pile underneath and think, “Surely I can get rid of so much of this stuff!”
I would flip through the hangers and think things like:
- This doesn’t fit, but it probably will one day
- I don’t know if I like this anymore, but it was so expensive and I only wore it twice
- This is a great brand, it might be vintage one day!
- I got this as a present from my mom, I can’t give it away
I would end up with maybe 3 items to discard and then the rest of the day would be spent dutifully organizing into plastic containers and suitcases. I would fit them like tetras pieces into the hallway closet, under the bed, and in unreachable cabinets.
Of course, with every passing month the items crept out…onto the floor, the bottom of the closet, scrunched up in the back of a drawer. Or, even worse the items would go unseen and unworn for YEARS, doing nothing but collecting dust and taking up space.
A few things that should have stopped this endless cycle, but didn’t:
- I had to move across the Atlantic Ocean, so every box cost me a significant amount to ship
- I lived out of a 50-liter backpack for 10 months
- I enjoyed Project 33, a challenge to dress with only 33 items for 3 months
These exercises showed me that I can live with less very meaningfully. After each of these events, a big bag (or several) would go to the charity shop but I still couldn’t get rid of enough things to make a significant difference.
So I decided to try this ‘Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ thing that everyone is talking about.
My start point, even after several purges:
The outcome has been wonderful. I am here to testify that this shit works. If you want to NEVER spring clean again, run (don’t walk) to your nearest library and pick up a copy of this book and learn about the KonMari Method. Her method of marathon tidying is proven to stick and prevent relapse into clutter.
So what is so revolutionary?
Sort by category
First of all, you sort by category. This sounds obvious, but it’s so impactful.
Normally the instinct is organizing the clothes in the closet…then under the bed…then in the hallway closet….then stored away in the basement…then (you get the idea)
Instead of that, you take ALL clothes and put them together. This makes a huge impact. You get an idea of the magnitude of what you own, you can spot duplicates, and then you can fold/put away in a more methodical way.
The first category to tackle is clothes, then books, then papers, then little bits (cables, knick knacks, etc), then sentimental items. Sticking to this order matters. If the category is too big, you can split it into sub categories.
Okay, so here are alllll of my clothes:
My first thought was: what normal human could wear all of these clothes?!
Seriously though- why am I storing all of these? Square footage is expensive these days!
Now that I had all my clothes in one place, onto the next step...
The new yardstick is joy
The next thing that makes this method so effective is that the measure of keeping something is: Does it spark joy?
Marie Kondo goes into a lot of detail about why this works in her book, so I won’t get into that much here. But I shared about my past tidying attempts to communicate how much I think this really works more than anything else I have tried. I knew I wanted to declutter but I didn't know how. This is the ultimate how.
The method goes: you pick up every individual item, one by one, and ask, “does this bring me joy?” If the answer is no, you get rid of it. You will be left with exactly the amount of things that you need.
After having done this, when I sit in my living room and look around I see only things I like. Nothing is there because I am storing it, or because someone gave it to me, or because maybe I’ll need it one day. When I flip through my closet, I don't have to weed through many items that are too small for me before I land on one that's the right size. And since I can actually see everything in my closet, I have so much more fun being creative and putting outfits together instead of going for the same thing everyday.
Plus my activewear is in the dresser:
Some things that bring me joy:
This leads me to the big secret about all this: it’s not really about your closet.
“It is a step in raising one’s own awareness. And of course, this awareness changes in regard to other areas, too – for example, in interpersonal relationships. When you find out that a friendship or a love does not do you any good or that it does not bring you joy, then you can let it go more easily after having applied my method.” –Marie Kondo
In a world where we are told that more is better, being surrounded by only things that bring you joy is a revolutionary act. When your physical space is shifted in this way, things in your mind and body change.
Imagine what would happen if you (politely) said no that meeting that should be an email? Or gratefully declined an invitation to a party that you don’t actually want to go to?
The point of saying no, or getting rid of things, is not really about the act of declining or discarding for the sake of it. It’s about space. Space and freedom to say yes- when it really counts.