Some weeks ago, I wrote a post about how a messy workplace affects a person’s creativity and productivity. While I’d like to think that the messy state of my life and my possessions is simply the manifestation of my, gulp, creative mind, 31 years of transforming living spaces into pig sties has taught me what productivity experts have been saying and rhyming for the last decade—MESS really does create STRESS.
I can’t begin to count and recount the multitude of anxiety attacks I’ve suffered over “losing” key items like my keys, my wallet, other people’s paychecks, and even a land title/car registration or two-wenty. I once ‘lost’ my mobile phone only to find it ringing in the fridge.
Now, I know, these things happen to the best of us. The unprecedented success of Mari Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is testament to how millions of people see the disorganized state of their affairs as a setback when it comes to their pursuit of productivity and happiness. Many of us perceive tidying as the hallelujah solution to most, if not all of our problems.
So, with spring, (and consequently, the period for Spring Cleaning), just around the corner, I thought it best to impart some of finest lessons I’ve learned from Mari Kondo’s ‘life-changing’ book—particularly the KonMari Tidying Order. I’m hoping that this will help you get a head start on your annual spring cleaning project too.
Now, before we delve into the KonMari Tidying Order, here are a couple of reminders.
Be Sure to Start Tidying by Discarding Clutter
If you’re like most people, chances are, the bulk of your clutter consists of items that either (a) you don’t actually need, or (b) you need but have no space for.
The first type is easy enough to identify and should be just as easy to discard. (It never really is that easy, but it is possible.) These include freebies you’ve amassed over the years but have no use for, clothes that you don’t particularly like but are hanging on to ‘just in case,’ repair manuals, obsolete warranties, random receipts, and so on and so forth.
As for the second type, well, it’s highly likely that you’re having trouble finding a home for these well-loved or well-used items simply because the first type of clutter is eating up all your storage space. This brings us right back to discarding.
Unless you’re living a completely ‘minimalist’ lifestyle, there’s bound to be at least a few items you can and should let go of, which brings us to point #2—the art of Sorting.
Sort by category and not by location.
In her book, Kondo points out that the problem with tidying up by location is that we often store the same types of items in different rooms. This makes it difficult to spot duplicates. In my case, I’ve amassed quite the collection of the same type of lotion, simply because I keep thinking I’ve run out when apparently the house is littered with half-empty bottles of the same brand of goo.
Now, this type of practice—of not knowing what you own and how much of these items you have—is not only a surefire way of building clutter. It’s also an expensive habit to keep up. Sorting by category instead of by location is a great way for you to take inventory of your belongings.
Now that those reminders are out of the way, I bring you:
The KonMari Tidying Order
According to Kondo, one of the biggest tidying mistakes you can make is to begin with sifting through sentimental pieces. These include photographs, letters, and other memorabilia you’ve been hanging on to for the memories these items evoke. These items are actually the hardest to sort and let go of, which is why they fall last in Kondo’s list. Instead, she recommends following this tidying order:
Clothes, Shoes, and Accessories
The first step here is to take every article of clothing you own and place it on the floor. Group them into their specific subcategories—off-season clothes, tops, bottoms, dresses, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, and shoes. Then, take each item in your hands and decide on which items you want to keep.
The goal here is to only keep the items that actually bring you joy, make you feel good about yourself, and you intend to use and keep using in the near future.
This is the part of tidying that I’ve always had problems with. I have less qualms letting go of old pictures and letters than I do over letting go of books. Over the last few years, I’ve amassed over 500 books, but have only read roughly half of that amount.
According to Kondo, books that have been left untouched on your shelves for far too long have become ‘dormant.’ You may have had grand plans of reading these books when you bought them, but the fact that you didn’t says something about your relationship with those books.
Books are there to impart their message to their readers, but they aren’t able to do that if they’re left in the corner gathering dust. And one painful point that she makes about these books is that we may promise to read these books ‘someday,’ but all too often, someday is just another term for ‘never.’
Instead, reserve your shelf space for your hall of greats—for your favorite pieces of literature. Keep only the books that you truly love and give the ‘someday/never’ books a chance to make it to someone else’s ‘books hall of fame.’ You can opt to sell these books or, better still, donate them. Some of the books that have made it to my personal ‘literary shelf of greats’ are those that I’ve gotten secondhand.
Kondo takes a rather extreme position when it comes to paperwork. According to the organizing expert, the rule of thumb is to let go of everything except for the documents you are still using (bills, receipts, active warranties, checkbooks, current account statements), paperwork that must be kept indefinitely (deeds, land titles, legally binding documents), and any other item you’ll need to hold on to for the next year. She recommends letting go of the following: lecture materials, outdated warranties, years-old bills, and used checkbooks.
Now, while Kondo’s advice does make sense, it’s not something I follow to a T. My father is a businessman and a certified public accountant. According to him, the best practice for companies is to hold on to bills, receipts, account statements, and other ‘important’ documents for at least five years. This is something he follows in his personal life.
Me? I prefer to stay in the middle ground. I keep bills and account statements for two years, send out reimbursable receipts ASAP, maintain folders of warranties and throw them once they’re no longer active, and ditch manuals and lecture materials after reading them and writing down pertinent details. The way I see it, any instructions I’ll need to be reacquainted with can be found online.
Komono (Miscellaneous items – CDs, DVDs, Skin Care Products, Makeup, Accessories, Valuables, Electrical Equipment, Appliances, Household Items, Household Supplies, Kitchen Goods, Food, Spare Change, etc.)
For almost ten years, my bedroom was home to a broken television set. It was one of those bulky, unsightly, black boxes that in its ‘good days’ was still better at picking up static than actual broadcast signals. I never got around to having it fixed because I don’t really watch a lot of TV. Why it took me eight years to tell my mother that I wanted to get rid of that old television set is beyond me. In the end, the TV went to another family who actually wanted it and was willing to cover its repair expenses.
I had the same problem with “spare” change. There was a period in my life where I thought it would be nice to put all my spare change in a glass jar. I was thinking, one day I’ll just take it to the bank and it would go into my savings account after a month or two. Except over a year passed and I forgot about that makeshift piggy bank until my niece found it under a small mountain of used clothes. The coins had lost their luster. Some of them had even started corroding and developed this strange powdery texture. I ended up cleaning each coin with a washcloth—and thus started my month-long endeavor to only use coins for most of my purchases.
This memory came back to haunt me while I was reading Mari Kondo’s book. At one point, she quipped:
“Despite the fact that coins are perfectly good cash, they are treated with far less respect than paper money.”
She advised her readers to make “into my wallet” their motto for coins. I realized then, that there’s no such thing as “spare” change. Or at least, I’m not in that point in my life where I can think of change as ‘spare’ or ‘extra.’ Money is money, whether you’re talking hundred dollar bills, a thousand peso note, a penny, or a centavo.
I guess, what I’m trying to say in a very roundabout way is that it’s important to take inventory of all your komono or miscellaneous items. Check for their condition. Expired goods go straight to the trash and near-expiry goods must be used first (FIFO—first in, first out). As for broken appliances, gauge first whether or not having them fixed is worth the expense.
Lastly, treat your coins with a little more respect. Remember, always “into my wallet” or “straight to the bank.”
When dealing with sentimental items, whether we’re talking gifts from people we love/once loved, old photographs, letters, and old school projects, it’s important to remember that letting go of some of these items won’t mean letting go of your memories. As you take each piece into your hands, ask yourself if (a) you have space for that item, and (b) if you really need a physical reminder of your memories of that particular event or person.
Now, Kondo isn’t telling us to get rid of all our sentimental parcels. She’s just asking us to keep those mementos that really mean something to us and to make sure that these items are stored properly. What do I mean by this?
Well, if you are planning on keeping a plethora of old photos, the least you can do is to put them in properly labeled boxes (by year, by event, etc.) or to keep them in albums. That way, the photos are protected from moisture, humidity, and direct sunlight. Same goes for old letters or documents.
As for the gifts that you’ve never used or have no plans of using, perhaps it’s time to let them go. As Kondo points out,
“The purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not things but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. When you discard or donate, you do so for the sake of the giver too.”
Think about it. The reason why it’s so hard to say goodbye to that lime green sweater two sizes too small or too big for you (too small for me) is because it was given by someone you love. But like your ‘someday/never books,’ the gifts that you can’t use may yet find a home where they’ll be more appreciated.
Besides, the gratefulness that you feel towards the gift giver won’t be diminished when you decide to donate the item. Now, I don’t practice ‘re-gifting,’ but that’s something you can do—especially if you want to make sure that the gift will end up with someone who can appreciate the item, (whatever it may be), even more than you already do.
Now, I’m still on phase 2 (books) of this tidying order, but so far it has worked out well for me. Not only am I one step closer to simplifying my life, I’m also learning a lot about myself–why I’m so disorganized, and surprisingly enough, who I am and what I want to do with the rest of my life. I’m hoping that these tips will prove just as useful to you.