A Good Decluttering

When I discovered Marie Kondo and her delightful book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I had just had my second baby in seventeen months. We lived (and still do!) in an 75 m² (800 ft²) apartment which had been absolutely perfect for two people and all of our stuff. By the time our second scalawag was born, the little apartment was feeling quite cramped and we needed to make some room.

I read the book and immediately fell in love with her process. In many ways, I felt like I had found an adorable Japanese version of myself, only she was a freak like me who had parlayed her weird passion for other people’s stuff into a media empire.

I have always loved a good decluttering. This is something I remember from my childhood: while I hated the process of cleaning my room (dusting, vacuuming, washing windows), I loved filling garbage bags full of things I didn’t want or didn’t need anymore and getting them out of my room. I loved the feeling of space and airiness that hovered over the room for a few days.

I love the almost clinical feel of a space after removing excess stuff. I discovered this in earnest when I moved to France as a student. When I was feeling homesick I would take out all my photos and put them up all over my little room, and then take them down when I was feeling less homesick. The contrast always felt like a breath of fresh air.

Even now I love to peek into a decluttered space, just to look at it and breathe in the freshness of it. A junk drawer, a bathroom cabinet, an underwear drawer, a shoe bin. It never lasts, and maybe it isn’t meant to last forever. But every time I do it, I get that little thrill. 

The Benefits of the KonMari Method

Joy sparkers, both explicable and inexplicable

The KonMari Method rests on the principle of only keeping in our home what sparks joy. When I started my decluttering festival, the joy in my home was being drowned out with the noise of regrets, duty and ugly memories.

Her approach to discarding items that do not spark joy also spoke to me: I was to thank those items I was discarding for the joy that they had brought me at some point. I brought them into the home for some reason, didn’t I? I bought it because it made me feel good to buy it, even if with time it may have become tainted with other memories.

Thanking the item as I discarded it, as esoteric a process as this might be, brought me back to some good thought about the item. This served as a powerful tool of self-forgiveness.

What is fascinating and exciting about this process is that it doesn’t begin with garbage bags and recycling bags and donate piles. It begins by imagining.

The Singular Shortcoming of The KonMari Method

Have you tried the KonMari Method? I bet that if you have, you gained some not-insignificant benefit from it. Before she has her readers start purging their belongings in gigantic black trash bags, however, Marie Kondo tells us to imagine our Ideal Life.

If you have tried her method, I would venture to bet that in your impatience to see an impact in the amount of stuff and clutter that you had in your house, that you skipped over, or at least gave very cursory thought to that important, literally life-altering step.

The first time I tried her method, I certainly was more concerned about making room for a stroller on the balcony than imagining my Ideal Life. I needed space and I needed it NOW!

What Marie Kondo suggests in her book is that this kind of decluttering project is a once-in-a-lifetime Tidying Festival. Although she doesn’t say this, I got the impression that once the only things in my life were things that sparked joy, then everything in my life would fall into place and I would never get overwhelmed again. This is untrue.

One thing she does say is that once we pare down our belongings to what sparks joy, we will have clearer vision on what we truly want our lives to be filled with. This is true.

The only shortcoming with her method is that it doesn’t encourage us to return to our Ideal Life exercise after we think we are done decluttering as often as we should.

Return to the scene of the crime

Finally one day, my life started feeling less out-of-control. Partially as a result of a mega-decluttering, partially because we did eventually get out of the newborn and nursing phase.

I returned to my half-hearted attempt at the Ideal Life Exercise and read through it. I was moved with pity by how hopeful I sounded as I wrote about my family sitting at a fully set table with real glasses (not sippy cups and plastic water bottles) and metal silverware, using napkins. I wrote about being the kind of person who doesn’t stress out at 5:00PM every day about what we are going to have for dinner. In my Ideal Life, I knew what was for dinner because I planned ahead.

In my Ideal Life there is always never a cat on the table.

Decluttering my heart

Now that my space was livable and decluttered, I hungered to experience what Marie Kondo promised: that once our life was only filled with objects that brought us joy, we would be more free to do activities that would bring us joy.

At almost that exact time, my indulgent husband and I were talking about a book I had written years before, but had never even attempted to get published. He said to me, “You know, I always thought that Pieter character was a wimp.” I became so offended that I immediately took out the book and started reworking it.

Within a few months, while caring for an infant and a toddler, from that one novel sprang an entire series based on that world and those characters from the first one. Pieter became a hero and not a wimp and I found that I could, even with two small children, write upwards of three thousands words every single day and never run out of things to say, as long as I was passionate about the subject at hand.

I would never have found the space for passion in my heart if my home were still cluttered with items that dislodged negative feelings or didn’t bring me joy. Nor could I have found the time: having too much stuff is chronophage (This is a French word for which English has no equivalent…it comes from Greek and literally means “time eater.”)

All this week I will be sharing with you my unscientific but nonetheless analytical and reproducible method to pursuing your Ideal Life, and it goes way beyond decluttering your stuff. It’s MacGyvering the KonMari Method to declutter our interior lives: hopes, dreams, fears and the things that make us stumble.

If you are serious about wanting to feel more contentment, less stagnation and just generally be more at peace with where you are in your journey, this week is for you.

This article is part of a series called “MacGyvering KonMari”
Part One: A Good Decluttering (You are here)
Part Two: I am a Person Who… (fill in the blank)
Part Three: One Theme to Rule Them All
Part Four: Ideal Life: Week One Themes
Part Five: Ideal Life Week Two
Part Six: Ideal Life Week Three

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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