My Year Of Magical Tidying

How getting rid of two-thirds of my belongings created more space for joy.


Published:

Do your socks spark joy? How about your college textbooks? How many spare rolls of toilet paper truly make you happy?

These are the kinds of questions that have been chirping at me for months, ever since I first heard about the bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Japanese organization expert Marie Kondo (or KonMari, as her clients call her). Kondo is a sort of spiritual medium who hates clutter but loves communing with your pilled leggings and rusted frying pans. To people who have followed her program on tidying—in which they evaluate, sort, and discard or store every object they own—she’s enlightened; to people who have just eaten lunch next to a wide-eyed colleague who is recalling a weekend of obsessive sock folding, she’s disturbed. But either impression hints at genius, and the results, I found, are empirical. It begins with the question, “Does this spark joy?”

It’s a simple question that evokes a series of reflections on your mindfulness, sanity, and health. You start by herding one category at a time onto the floor: first your clothes, next your books, then paperwork, “kimono” (miscellaneous), and, finally, mementos. You lift one object from the pile and hold it in your hands—Does it spark joy, you ask? Incredibly, the answer will most likely be no. (It was for two-thirds of my queries.) Having become somewhat of a tidying anthropologist in the last several months, I’ve learned this response is the dominant one. Co-workers, friends, and relatives have admitted, often with lowered voices and arched expressions, as if the contents of their wardrobes were eavesdropping in the doorway, that their clothes failed to spark anything other than disappointment. In fact, their clothes often made them feel frumpy, old, boring, uncomfortable, or just plain uninspired. 

Finishing the clothes category left me dizzy with emotion. I felt confused, wrecked, inspired, doubtful, and energized. As I contemplated the categories that remained, something dawned on me: I had been caught in an idealistic stupor, thinking this process would evoke only feelings of catharsis, that it wouldn’t require diligence and some unpleasant self-discoveries. 

But the KonMari method has inspired a massive, global movement not because it encourages perfection, but because it encourages the embracing of our imperfections. Let go of that old yearbook, you can hear Kondo shout, those times have passed. That scarf your great-aunt knitted you but is too ugly and itchy to wear? Get rid of it! Guilt is not happiness! Our rational minds can persuade us to hold on to everything, to grip it close, but our hearts are more courageous. Mine told me that I could donate that pair of joyless yet costly new boots, and I’d be fine; that many of my childhood books were, in fact, pretty damned creepy and weird and not endearing enough to pass on to my children; that the violent underground art lining my bedroom walls is no longer edgy but just intolerable, and that’s OK. Turns out I prefer less anxiety in the a.m.

And less everything in general. With each item I pulled off the floor, over the course of several months, I asked myself a profound question: Should I let this go? It was a question bigger than a sweatshirt or toothbrush, and it elicited more primal fear than I had anticipated. My heart raced like a small, helpless animal as I wondered, am I enough without this thing? And if so, will I be safe without it? As I dropped more into the give-away bag, though, my chest swelled with gratitude, and the answer became clear: Yes, of course.  

Surrendering two-thirds of my stuff to various charities—Kondo says that gifting friends and family with our unwanted crap is unfair and actually prevents us from moving on—did more than help tidy my home. My goal was to carve out some personal sanctuary and free up our space from clutter. I’m still working on achieving those goals, but in some ways I’m already there. By reflecting on all the objects I had spent years stowing away, both in my psyche and physical space, I rediscovered something I had long forgotten: the trust that I am already whole. If one day all my clothes, books, and mementos disappeared, I would still be standing, waiting for the next moment to reveal itself.

Erin Sagen wrote this article for How to Create a Culture of Good Health, the Winter 2016 issue of YES! Magazine. She lives in Seattle and writes about food, health, and suburban sustainability. Follow her on Twitter @erin_sagen.

See also:
A Mom's Guide To Decluttering: Why My Kids Gave Up Almost All Their Toys
Goodbye McMansion, Hello Simple Life: What I Learned From Thoreau

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

June 18, 2018

Today’s stars support those “scouts’ among us who prepare for every possible contingency. A waxing Virgo Moon is favorably aspected to Uranus and Saturn, creating a super productive Grand Trine in the heavens. The pragmatic configuration enables and…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2018

Join us for a monthly gathering of like-hearted people to give and receive angelic energy healing. This session is a combination of group meditation and discussion, along with working in pairs...

Cost: Scale $5-$20 ($10 suggested)

Where:
Pathway Of Joy
884 Broadway, Suite 12
Upstairs in the Spiritual Renaissance Center building
South Portland, ME  04106
View map »


Sponsor: Pathway Of Joy
Telephone: 207-329-7192
Contact Name: Linda Huitt
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

8 Week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course with Erin Woo Tuesdays, May 1 - June 19, 6–8:30 pm *Includes an all day retreat on Saturday, June 9 from 9 am - 4 pm Come explore the...

Cost: $290

Where:
Balance Bethlehem
2087 Main Street
Bethlehem, NH  03574
View map »


Sponsor: Balance Bethlehem
Telephone: 603-869-2125
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

If you are worried about getting Parkinson’s or have beginning symptoms, check out a free intro on how to rewire your brain from the inside. First and third Wednesdays of the month,...

Where:
, MA


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

June 21 - 24, 2018 Healing trauma and installing boundaries. 9am-6pm each day. With Judith Swack, PhD. Learn how to heal PTSD. HBLU™ integrates the best of biomedical science, psychology,...

Where:
Needham, MA


Telephone: 781-444-6940
Website »

More information

Learn from local industry leaders, scientists and experts about innovations in wellness, behavioral change, nutrition, fitness, environmental, societal wellbeing and more. Learn how to start or...

Cost: Free

Where:
CIC Cambridge
One Broadway
Venture Cafe 5th Floor
Cambridge, MA  02142-3104
View map »


Sponsor: CIC Cambridge
Telephone: 617-953-0674
Contact Name: Shakti Rowan
Website »

More information

Energy Healing is an expression of our infinite connection to divine life force and divine imagination. When these divine forces move through us, they bring healing, wisdom, and the ability to...

Cost: $30

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
90 Main Street
Andover, MA  01810
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Website »

More information

June 21 - July 1, 2018 Women’s Yoga Retreats in beautiful Rockport, ME. Relax, rejuvenate, rediscover. 3 amazing options: Kundalini Summer Solstice - Jun 21-24 Gentle Yoga - Jun 24-28...

Where:
Rockport, ME


Telephone: 508-990-6795

More information

Third Tuesday of every month! A wonderful way to dilute stress and heal yourself with peace. www.WisdomoftheAges.biz www.Facebook.com/WisdomoftheAgesStore

Cost: $10

Where:
Wisdom of the Ages
Simsbury, CT


Telephone: 860-651-1172
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

With Joseph Carringer Relax, clear out energetic and emotional stagnation and connect with your major energy centers. Joseph provides a meditative journey that reconnects the mind with the...

Cost: $45

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
Lower Level
6 Chestnut Street
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags