When I was younger my parents would often find me on the floor of my room, every book, knick-knack and paper off of my floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and strewn on the ground around me. I would spend the entire day sorting through and throwing out trash bags full of things and reveling in how neat and tidy everything looked at the end of the day. As I got older, my parents would have my brother and I go through every piece of clothing we owned, try it on and determine if we should keep it for the upcoming season. It was a great way to weed out old clothes and figure out what had to be bought for the summer and winter months. I always found it satisfying to see everything I owned in front of me and to sort through it that way.
When I discovered the KonMari method (thanks to a friend with an audiobook version of Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”) I was thrilled. Everything she wrote about resonated with me, and it was exciting to see other people take the same joy in decluttering and organization that I did.
The KonMari method is not difficult to follow. Take everything by category, put it all in one place, touch each piece and, if it sparks joy, keep it. The idea is to go through what you own, in one enormous project, so that afterwards maintaining tidiness is an easy day-to-day practice.
Below are some introductory steps to help you tackle your own closet, but of course the practices you learn can be applied to any area of the house.
Marie Kondo first asks her clients to get all of their clothes from everywhere in the house and put them in one pile, either on the bed or the floor. Once you decide to start, any clothing you find must be included in the pile (her one exception is anything currently in the wash). So make sure you have everything–from various closets, drawers, suitcases, hampers, etc.
The basic idea is to touch every single article of clothing, decide if it sparks enough joy to keep, and discard or donate the rest. I personally try to be ruthless. It doesn’t fit exactly right? Donate. It has a small stain or tear that you meant to fix months ago, but haven’t? Discard it. I find that the joy of having only things I truly love wearing, plus the added benefit of more space, outweighs the few things that I wish I hadn’t thrown out in the long run. (And I have weeded through and donated a lot of clothes in the last few months!)
Some of the items you end up parting with may be meaningful or have had a long, good life. Marie suggests, and I love the idea of, holding that item and thanking it for the joy it brought. I had a hard time parting with my first two pairs of Converse. Totally beat up and worn out, but covered in writing and dates and drawings, the shoes had lived a long full life. I appreciated my time with them, and thanked them before finally parting with them. It was good to have the space and I will always have the memories, but keeping stinky dirty shoes around wasn’t necessary.
I also find that donating your discarded items can lessen the feeling of loss. I find it easier to part with an item that I love or feel attachment to if I know it is going to live on somewhere other than a landfill. It can often be overwhelming to figure out how to donate, but a lot of towns have Goodwill drop boxes in grocery store or strip mall parking lots. Before I drop off my clothes and shoes, I like to weed out the business-appropriate clothing to donate to places that help people dress for job interviews. Dress For Success is one that I currently support, but there may be others in your area.
Once you have clothes sorted through, you should address any extra, non-clothing items stored in your closet. I first try to see if these can live somewhere else. It is not always possible, but it can be a nice feeling to have your clothing have its own home, and not have to share with piled up boxes, electronics, etc.
Once you are done figuring out what you want to keep, the next step is putting it all back into your closet. A simple way to get everything looking neat is to have uniform hangers. I have a certain color of hanger for my dresses, and another color for my tops. They are all the same kind of hanger, very cheap at Walmart or IKEA. I also like to have a few nicer, heavier hangers for hockey jerseys or winter coats.
I like having as much of my clothing on hangers as possible, and, happily, the apartment I recently moved into has plenty of space in the closet for me to hang almost everything. I like to keep my hangers finger-spaced, like in a department store. The ultimate goal is to have everything be visible. Since everything kept should spark some kind of joy in you, having it hidden away so you forget to wear it would defeat the purpose of saving it from the discard pile! My last apartment had a much smaller closet so I folded most of my t-shirts. There’s a lot of great folding tutorials out there (the KonMari method even has it’s own type of folding).
Once you are done putting everything back, the final, on-going step is to put things back as you use them. Once everything has its own home it should be just as easy to put things back every day than to let it build up. And it will have an enormously positive effect on your mental and emotional health. Being tidy can be more than just practically useful, it can be a joyful experience as well.
Katie Klotzbach is a Midwestern transplant on the East Coast. She likes to take pictures of the urban decay graffiti, rollerblade and explore late at night, and play poker with interesting people. She is passionate about underrepresented groups of people and plans to go back to school to be able to do more about it. Contact her through her blog: ivy-and-twine.tumblr.com