Recently I checked out a popular decluttering book that all the decluttering bloggers couldn’t seem to shut up about: Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Admittedly, I was a little annoyed and hostile about the book going in. Everyone seemed to talk about it like it was the only valid decluttering method around, and that Marie Kondo was completely infallible. Also, her method sounded a little suspect to me; yes, ideally we should only be surrounded by things that make us happy (or in her words, “spark joy”), but what about the less-inspiring but necessary things that everyone needs to survive: bathroom items, cooking equipment, household tools? Okay, admittedly I do have an interchangeable-head screwdriver made to look like a sonic screwdriver which does indeed make me happy, but one cannot live on Doctor Who novelty items alone.
But I read the book anyway, out of a combination of curiosity and the hope that I could maybe get some good ideas from it – or, if not, that I would get some ideas for what not to do.
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it
To my surprise, I actually liked the book – so much so that I also read Kondo’s follow-up book Spark Joy, which goes more in-depth into sorting and organizing. I think one reason was that I liked the respect Kondo showed for people’s possessions, an aspect which seems to be lacking in the “THROW EVERYTHING OUT YOU DON’T NEED IT” school of thought that I’ve seen in a lot of other decluttering writing. Yes, Kondo does recommend getting rid of a lot of stuff, but her goal isn’t to live with as little as possible; it’s to live with the things that bring us happiness. She also treats these things as if they have a spirit or life of their own, and I’ve always loved that idea even if I don’t fully believe it.
Perhaps the most important effect the book had on me (aside from giving me some great storage ideas) was that it made me reconsider my motivations in this whole Decluttering Quest. Up until I read these books, I’d been thinking of this process largely in terms of death rather than life. If that was the case, was I really decluttering for myself or just for my family? Shouldn’t I be focused on doing this in a way that makes me happy, rather than getting rid of stuff just for its own sake?
With those thoughts in mind, I decided to sort through and organize the clothing in my dresser using Kondo’s criteria and see how the results made me feel. And in the end, I felt good. I liked the new layout of my clothes drawers and felt confident that their contents really were important to me. And, surprisingly, I found that the items I loved most were my socks, especially all my Halloween socks.
Do fifty-some pairs of socks really make me happy? Yes. Yes they do.
The thing that was most different about my new approach to decluttering is how much consideration I’m giving now to proper storage and display – treating my things with the respect they deserve. I know the general rule (and certainly Kondo’s rule) is to save organization for after you’ve sorted through absolutely everything, but instead I’ve been approaching it group by group, organizing an area once I’m done sorting through and cleaning it.
Up until now I’ve been strictly focused on sorting, and frankly it was making me kind of miserable. Everything just ended up in stacks and piles elsewhere and it began to feel like I hadn’t accomplished anything at all – if anything, it made me feel like I’d just made things worse. Waiting to store and arrange things once you’re completely done is a good idea, but I think for people like me it’s better to see more immediate results. It makes me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something, like I really am putting things in order. That’s a good feeling.
As part of this new focus on organization, I’ve been starting to look carefully at how I treat the things I claim to love most. This started in a corner of the basement where I had a small bookshelf dedicated to my entire video game collection – consoles, games, and collectables. This collection had gotten so large and chaotic that it was all jumbled – figures all crammed together, consoles stacked on top of consoles, wires everywhere.
It wasn’t until I got another old console that I realized how out-of-control it had gotten. I was trying to cram an Intellivision on top of an Xbox 360, thinking that I wouldn’t have a place for my Gamecube now, when it occurred to me that I could clear all the games and figures off the top shelf and put them somewhere else where I could actually spread them all out.
So I bought a cheap but attractive shelf and carefully planned out how to display it all – with the help of a clear acrylic display riser my mom gave me. Now everything looks nice and is easily accessible; I also found a couple boxes to give some added protection to my cartridge games. The new setup looked so nice that I decided to put up some of my video game posters on the wall behind it, and now instead of a single cluttered shelf I have a nice little video game corner.
A small but colorful section of my video game corner
The posters were an especially nice addition, as I have a whole cache of them that I’ve been meaning to display ever since I moved home but haven’t found a place for. There’s a Majora’s Mask poster, for instance, which hung in my room from when I was ten until I was sixteen. Then it was replaced by an album and photo signed by Benny Andersson from ABBA, which I recently took down and stored elsewhere as I noticed the signatures were beginning to fade. Taking them down was sad, but it gave me the chance to start rethinking everything that had accumulated on my walls over the years.
The walls are made of nostalgia
I keep failing to take before-pictures of everything I’ve been doing, but my room’s decorations had basically stayed the same since I was seventeen. Posters and drawings covered the walls, with framed awards hanging over the desk as well. The only additions in the years since were a framed poster signed by John Waters and a photo of me from my time in the Revolutionary War reenactment group in college. (An odd combination which show that I’m not just trash, I’m nerdy trash.)
In the past few days, a lot has changed. Much of what was on the walls has been replaced by artwork that I’d had for months or years but couldn’t find a place for. The change has been dramatic; I’d expected the removal of so much stuff to make the room look bare, but instead it looks much more lively and colorful. It’s given me a much better idea of what I actually want in a home.
And that should have been my decluttering goal all along: to make a living space focused on the present, not on the past. There’s nothing wrong with remembering and respecting the past, but my bedroom was more like a time capsule than a place to live in. It feels like I’ve given it the first chance it’s had in ten years to breathe and change. Maybe that will help give me the space I need to do the same.
More in the Decluttering Quest series:
Part 1: The Quest Begins
Part 2: Staying Motivated
Part 3: School Paper Trail
Part 4: Tackling Collections
Part 5: The First Roadblock
Part 6: Letting Go of Old Writing
Part 7: Sacred Spaces
Part 8: Breaking the Rules
Part 10: Cataloging a Personal Library