There’s cleaning — and then there’s Marie Kondo cleaning.
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Kondo, if you haven’t heard of her, is the #1 bestselling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a how-to guide to achieve (and maintain) the clean, organized home you’ve always dreamed of.
The key, she posits, is not to craftily organize your many items or innovate storage solutions — but to have fewer things in the first place, and to have a designated location in your home for each and every one of those things.
Kondo claims that having a clean home improves all aspects of your life: Your happiness levels, your career success, your relationships, your sex life, your general ability to enjoy yourself — it all stems from your space and the way you treat your things.
In other words: If your home is messy, you’re probably doing life wrong.
I’m not a naturally tidy person. I’ve been surrounded by mess for about as long as I’ve lived. General lack of awareness of where I put things (I tend to throw clothes on the floor as soon as I’m done wearing them, or set scissors/pens/whatever down wherever I’m standing so they immediately become lost forever to the abyss) has followed me since childhood.
When I was a kid, that meant my room was a complete disaster. Now, as an adult trying to keep up with the Joneses, it means I periodically go on multi-hour, stress-induced cleaning rampages in a desperate attempt to feel like my life is together.
But within a few days, my home and life are usually complete messes again.
That’s why, when I heard one of Marie Kondo’s main goals is to keep your space clean from the outset and prevent repetitive tidying, I knew I had to at least investigate.
So I bought the book, took a very (very) deep breath, and began to read. Here’s what I learned along the way.
I have too much stuff, and you probably do too
Kondo says the secret to happiness is to only be surrounded by objects you love. She advises we pick up every item in our home — if it sparks joy, keep it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it.
As I began to do this, it became immediately clear how much random, completely unnecessary junk I keep around in my home for no other reason than it seemed wasteful to throw it out.
For example: Last year, my friend mailed me a college graduation gift in a nice, heavy duty gift box. The box seemed too nice to throw away, so it’s been sitting on my dresser this entire time, as a nice little container for other clutter I don’t need to keep around. The same goes for clothes I haven’t worn in years, shoes I keep convincing myself I’ll work into a new outfit soon, and beauty products cluttering my bathroom even though I use the same four products in religious rotation.
Taking the time to truly ask yourself “do I use this? Do I need this? Does this make me happy?” and actually getting rid of those things when the answer is no, makes you supremely aware of how much you truly have, and how little of it actually means something to you.
Minimalism is a privilege
Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that I took on this challenge. Walking around my house now — which is still not completely Kondo’d yet — I feel better than I ever have before. I feel less stressed and more focused as I go about my day.
But while letting go of my attachment to unnecessary material objects in my life has been great for me, I need to acknowledge the ability to (almost) nonchalantly throw out half my belongings comes packaged with a whole lot of privilege. Minimalism is a movement happening in middle class and upper-class circles, in which we have enough money and access to basic comforts to treat scarcity like a wellness trend. In this sense, I would challenge Kondo’s implication that a minimal, tidy home makes us morally superior to the messy among us.
This will also affect the way I shop. Because I’ve made an effort to keep only the things I love, I am going to shift my focus to only buy things I love — well-made, high-quality items that will last. Those kind of items are expensive and (sure, while I’ll be buying fewer things) I have to acknowledge that not everyone is in a place to spend their money that way.
Sort by category, not location
This was the tip that probably stressed me out the most. Kondo says, since we normally store similar items in vastly different places around our home, we can’t organize our home room to room. Instead, we need to pick a category of items (clothes, books, what have you) and sort all of it at once.
Suddenly, I couldn’t compartmentalize. Focusing on cleaning out a singular closet felt so much easier, so much more doable. But, having come out of this on the other side, I have to admit I get it now. When you sort by category and keep only the items you use and love, you build a really effective mental inventory. You know where every single item in your home is, and you remember to put it back there when you’re done using it.
Aim for perfection
Have you ever been told just to pick a room and clean that room for a few minutes each day? That’s been my cleaning strategy for years and years, and it’s gotten me effectively nowhere. Kondo says this is a trap we fall into, where we repetitively rearrange the same clutter over and over again rather than actually cleaning up our space.
Kondo is here to shut that nonsense down.
In Marie’s world, things stay clean because we only own what we need, and everything we own has a place. We should strive to achieve complete interior perfection across every room of our home, rather than organizing for a few minutes a day and calling it good.
When I first read this, my eyes nearly bulged from my skull. It seemed like a hell of an ask (and it still does). I found myself asking if mess really bothered me all that much, because changing my outlook on life sounded a whole lot easier than overhauling my entire home — and changing my bad habits.
Before, I really didn’t think I had all that much stuff. I moved into my house a year ago and got rid of a lot before the move. Yet in the course of a day I had either thrown away or donated eleven garbage bags worth of stuff I barely cared about.
It feels so liberating. I get it. I am full steam ahead on the Marie Kondo train.
If you feel ready to give minimalism a try, here are three tips to help you get started.
Make a game plan
The best advice I can give you is to read the whole book before you even start, then sit down and make an effective game plan. Remember, you’re sorting by category, not by room. That means, when it comes time to pare down the clothes you own, you’ll need to pull every. single. item. of clothing you own out of every. single. closet in order to reduce and refresh.
Take a hard look at your home and plan your tasks in a way that makes the most sense for you, tackling the most critical categories first.
Give yourself time
This is not a job for the faint of heart. When I began, I naively thought I could tackle most of the organizational process in an afternoon. When that proved to be a painfully insufficient amount of time, my home was left in utter chaos for days until I could carve out more time to keep going. Give yourself an entire weekend for this project. Block out your calendar. Cancel brunch. Stay focused. Tackling it in one big go will feel so much better than inching your way toward tidiness.
Make it fun
Whether you’re tackling this project alone or with a partner or roommate, there’s no reason you shouldn’t take some extra steps to make it as fun an experience as possible. Open a bottle of wine and make it a party. Download your favorite podcast episodes, audiobook, or soundtrack you can’t help but dance to. The process might seem overwhelming, but you’ll feel so much better once it’s over with.
Have you read Marie Kondo’s book or tried minimizing your home? How did it go? What tips can you share? Start a discussion in the comments!