Wednesday, April 13, 2016

K is for KonMari

"Dude, you fold your clothes before you put them in the laundry basket??" I said, with a strange mix of fear and mockery in my voice.

"Yeah." He said matter-of-factly.

Oh boy. You may know a guy for almost a decade, but only after you marry him and live under the same roof that you find out certain weird things about him. I knew he was a very Monica-ish virgo, but this was a little too much even for that.

So yesterday, after 18 years of knowing him and 9 years of being married to him, when I folded my clothes before putting them in the laundry basket, I remembered this incident from 2007 and smiled. Nope, it had not taken him years and years to convince me. In fact, it was not him at all.

It was her.

Marie 'KonMari' Kondo.

For those who know of her, yes, I'm a convert now (at least on paper). And for those who don't, well, she's a Japanese organising guru who was featured in Time's '100 most influential people' in 2015. The KonMari method of tidying she has come up with consists of gathering every single possession, one category at a time, keeping only the things that spark joy, discarding the rest, and then choosing a place for everything you decide to keep.

When we renovated our home last year, we wanted to change many things. We wanted a cosy, bright, tidy home with clean lines and a happy aura. We gave our contractor very specific instructions on what to do (all shelves should be up on the wall and not take up floor space, storage spaces to be maximised as much as possible, so countertops are bare and tidy, convert all wardrobe doors to sliding doors, etc.) and we knew what we had to do (throw, throw and throw stuff, have a designated place for everything and keep things as tidy as possible, make sure nothing in the house is 'jugaad'). We also changed some of our practices. We started folding socks and underwear (even Xena's!) properly and storing them upright in baskets in drawers. Instead of keeping the laundry basket with the dirty/sweaty clothes in our room, we built a separate laundry area for the washing machine, laundry detergent and the three laundry baskets. Things were so much better than before.

Almost a year has passed. However, I can't say I'm entirely happy with the upkeep of the tidiness. Xena's table, for instance, quickly gets covered under toys, piles of books and boxes of crayons within a week. Our very tidy office-like workspace begins to get cluttered sooner than the weekends arrive.

In search of better ways to keep our home tidy, I stumbled upon Marie Kondo. I tried to find her books (The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing and Spark Joy) in the library, but they were reserved with a long waiting list. I placed a reservation for them anyway, and finally after a month, received the email asking me to pick up the books. Despite my crazy schedules, I devoured both books within a few weeks. And I can safely list them as the most influential things I have ever read in my life. The publishers were not kidding when they decided to use the phrase 'life-changing' in the title. It's not a marketing gimmick. It's the truth. I don't think I have nodded this hard after reading something on every single page of any book ever.

I used to think of tidying as the process of putting things in place and making everything look neat. For example, if Xena and I are tidying her desk, we will make neat piles of the books, put stray crayons in the crayon box, keep the toys back in the toy box, and make sure the desk looks neat. KonMari's definition of tidying has discarding at the core. Her definition talks about what we should be doing before we apply our definition of tidying. So when we're tidying the desk, we should not just be making sure things are in neat piles or stacks or boxes, we need to be assessing each item to see if we really need it. Simply putting things away creates the illusion that there is no more clutter. But it's still there. In drawers and boxes and cupboards. It's there weighing your home down, weighing you down. I'm generally not a hoarder, and I'm pretty merciless when it comes to discarding, but reading KonMari made me realise that I've not even scratched the surface of true tidying.

Of course, she doesn't recommend a discard-fest every time your room looks messy. What she says -- and this is brilliant -- is to tidy at one shot, whether it takes days, weeks or months. "Tidying is a special event. Don't do it every day." Because once you have tidied up, with discarding at the core, you have gotten rid of stuff you don't need and you have a place for everything. Which would make the regular cleaning up -- just that -- cleaning. For the place would already be tidy with no clutter around, and everything in its place. In her words, "If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you'll see important results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after."

So what is this 'right method'? This is revolutionary. She refers to 'tidying by room' (which is what I do) as a fatal mistake. The more I think about it, the louder it rings true. For example, when I tidy by room, I pick up stray magazines from the coffee table and put them on my work desk in my room. Once the living room is done and I'm tidying my room, I pick up the same magazines from my desk and put them inside my cupboard to clear my working space. I do not for a moment think whether I need the magazines, whether they serve a purpose, whether they should really be there in the first place. I have tidied up by room, and every room is now 'fixed', but what I have done is essentially moved stuff from one room to another and hidden it away where it can't bother me anymore with its presence.

KonMari recommends tidying by category. So, instead of putting away the books that you find in each room, you take out every single book in your home and put it all together on a surface like the floor. Yes, every single book in your home. Even those neatly stacked away in the bookshelves. It might be tempting to just look at the titles while the books are still in the bookshelf, and then decide whether to keep them or not, but true assessment and discarding will only happen when you take everything out and put back what you really want to keep.

A simple example is Xena's crayons. In every single room, whether it's my desk, or her desk, or the dining table or the coffee table, or the guest room, at the end of the day, her crayons can be found everywhere. If I take up Konmari's suggestion, I could put together every single crayon in the house in a big pile (I'm not even kidding when I say I'm sure the number will cross 200), make just one complete set for Xena and donate the rest. How cool would that be?

So how do you assess what to discard? The Internet is full of tips on how to discard stuff -- by age of the item, how frequently you use it, whether it's in style, whether it still fits, whether it's taking up too much space, etc. etc. Her method is really simple -- keep the things that 'spark joy' and discard the rest. It is not about frugal living or reducing your belongings for the sake of it. It's about surrounding yourself only with things you love.

Usually, when going through my wardrobe during my spring-cleaning sessions, I look for stuff to discard. It's a confusing and annoying process. What I should be doing instead is taking every single item of clothing out, picking up each item in both hands and asking myself if it sparks joy. If it doesn't, it goes to the 'donate' pile immediately. I cannot think of a better way to sort through stuff. Sure, it sounds tedious and painful, but imagine living in a home where every single item is a loved possession, where every item's existence is a choice you made because it sparks joy in your heart. I'm getting goosebumps just at the thought of it.

The KonMari sequence for going through stuff is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and lastly, mementos. Go through each item in each category and discard all the stuff that has outlived its purpose. She also has really practical tips, such as not letting anyone see what you're discarding. "It's extremely stressful for parents to see what their children discard." I was laughing and nodding my head at the same time when I read it. Also, she says 'some time' = 'never' when it comes to books that we keep under the 'I'll read it some time' category, so they should be promptly discarded. She's also quite heartless when it comes to gifts that the recipient doesn't like or use. She considers gifts not as objects we need to keep or use, but as a means of conveying someone's warm feelings. If we look at it like that, we will be able to discard such items without guilt.

One of the things in her philosophy that touched me deeply was her respect for inanimate objects, whether it's in the way she recommends thanking an object for its service before discarding it, or just treating your possessions with love and respect. For example, she is strictly against keeping socks in a state of tension in the drawers. It is their only time to rest before they gear up for a hard day at work, so they should be in a relaxed state. Other than the philosophical aspect, it's also good practical advice because balling up, or tying your socks together is not good for the elastic. And it also made me appreciate Viv's habit of roughly folding his clothes before putting them in the laundry basket, in stark contrast to my using it as basketball practice.

Marie also talks about the 'click point', which happens when after reducing your stuff, you come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you. Once you reach that point, you will be physically and emotionally incapable of hoarding. Your place and heart will become lighter and you will become happier. I'd always thought happiness was all in the mind and had nothing to do with the stuff around you. But I can't deny the joy I feel when I come back home after picking up Xena, and it's clutter-free and greets me warmly.

After carrying out the KonMari method of tidying, I can only imagine the spike in one's decision-making skills. On a deeper level, if we can learn to let go of the material things that do not bring us joy, I'm sure we can learn to let go of other things that do not bring us joy -- regrets, negative relationships and negative thoughts.

Viv is off to the US tomorrow for three weeks. Xena and I will begin a KonMarathon of our possessions first. I've asked Viv to get a copy of the book and read it while he's there if possible, for I believe that this is a massive undertaking and he needs to really understanding the philosophy of the KonMari method if/before we get into it. Once, he's back and has finished reading, we can tackle the rest of the house. Or maybe I can start donating some of his things already; let's see if he notices when he gets back. Heh heh heh!

This has been a looooong post, but I badly wanted to write it to condense my takeaways from the books. I'm not sure how many readers have made it to this point, but if you have, congrats and as a bonus for you, here's the essence in KonMarie's words: The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.


Shraddha said...

That was an awesome read and set me thinking about all the near and dear things I hoard at home... the next long weekend I have off work, I will tackle clothes... mine and sonny boy's...

The issue with us humans is we fall in love with every item we own... that love causes hoarding... we just dont know when to stop loving something and let it go...

Thanks for awakening a sense of tidiness in me...


preetiprasad said...

I have been a regular reader cum silent admirer of your blog. I love your perspective and it's truly inspiring the way you make things so simple. I keep reading some of your posts again and again whenever I am stressed ( I am a mom too.. Of a 4 yr old boy..) I have similar taste in Hindi music and can not stand remixes and I too have some song playing in my mind :)
Coming back to the current post,I loved all points you have put across, but my problem is that I am emotional about many things.. I find it very difficult to give away books.. Almost impossible. And now I have a house full of books.. But will try to de clutter coz it gets on my nerves to see clothes, books, toys spread everywhere.. Thank you for sharing such wonderful information..

Ranjani said...

I think it will take a lot of iterations to come to a complete detachment towards our stuff, especially clothes for me. And I hoard a lot of clothes in the hope that one day I will fit in them :) But the vision and the idea of things that spark a joy is really tempting and I'm going to definitely give it a try.

Thanks for the wonderful post Sayesha :)

Bubblegum.... said...

My Instrospective Mood today, "Kon Mari Khet ki Muli hai?" ..... :D

By the way, I have an OCD sort of a thing when it comes to cleanliness but folding clothes and not throwing them in the basket and missing each of them by an inch?????Baaaapre! No doubt my mom is VIRGO and I am an Arian :P

What about my husband? He should be left at your place for ten days.Kon Mari ki ma bhi bhaaag jaegi :P

Anonymous said...

I've actually tried KonMari-ing once before, with only my clothes. It works really well but takes REAL conviction. Throwing away things is HARD.

Arun said...

I've been meaning to read Kondo's books for months now - now you've pushed me over the edge :) Thank you!

Art said...


What timing.. We have just started decluttering at our place.. So much stuff, which we haven't seen in ages, and are just eating up space in our attic...

Everytime I clear my wardrobe, I take out all the clothes, and sort them into will wear, might wear, hate it.. Atlesat the hate it part goes away :)

Sree said...

I just love reading about you and Xena through the posts and it always brings a smile and a happy wish for you both.. I really appreciate this post, it came just on time that I needed it the most

mad hatter said...

i don't feel capable of using this at the moment, but a fantastic post, thank you!

Dew said...

I enjoyed reading your post. I am a big fan of KonMari and have been following it. It is a divine feeling to come back to a tidy home and getting rid of clutter creates a positive mind and positive vibe at home.

Stone said...

Received my copy last week, and I'm loving it.
Thanks for the great recommendation.

Sayesha said...

Thanks! Are you Konmar-ing this weekend? Tell me how it goes! :D

Thank you. Do read the book if you can. Konmari will definitely convince you to discard even the emotional items. :O

You're most welcome. :)


Couldn't agree more! Let's see how we do!

Yay! Did you read them??

All the best with the decluttering! :D

Thank you. :D

mad hatter,
Thank you! :) Read the books; they'll convince you for sure!

That's awesome! That's what I'm targeting. :)

You're welcome! :)