Don’t Buy the T-shirt

In our home, the “commemorative” t-shirt has become the symbol for the large amount of unnecessary clutter we have accumulated.  I knew we had a lot of t-shirts; that became apparent when I did the clothing purge at the very beginning.  They took up two full dresser drawers – and these were just MY t-shirts.  There was a fair number hanging in the closet as well.  I was just unprepared for exactly how many there were; and I’m just talking right now about the ones in current circulation:

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These are just the ones from the University of OKlahoma where my daughter attended college.  I have worn every single one of them, several multiple times.  But here’s a fact – she has graduated now, and while I’d still like to have a couple to wear while I’m rooting them on during football season, I was able to let go of more than half.  Also in current circulation are a couple of concert tees, a few from my college alma mater, my favorite professional sports teams, the university where my daughter now works, one from a local eatery that closed down after decades…you get the picture.  And keep in mind that I was a teacher – at multiple campuses.  So there’s the official t-shirt for the current school year, plus any other events we chose to celebrate with commemorative clothing – times two.

Purging the work tees was easy after I retired.  I kept a few to have made into a quilt and the rest were bagged up.  Piece of cake.  Used the KonMari folding on the remaining ones any my drawers actually have breathing room.  Sounds like a success, but wait!  There’s more…

Down from the attic come boxes and boxes of stuff we haven’t looked at for years.  Some still in old cardboard boxes that are crumbling in our hands, others in plastic tubs that have seen better days.  In addition to typical attic detritus, we find a couple of tubs of t-shirts, which wouldn’t seem to unusual I guess, until you realize the time period they are from…

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Some of these shirts are close to, if not 40 years old.  My dad built the rides at the Adventurer’s Inn Amusement Parks – when i was in elementary school.  I worked at the Dilly Dally Nursery School in the summer when I was 14.  I wore the Budweiser and Mission Impossible shirts in junior high school.  The yellow one was given to me by one of the kids as a thank you gift for being their camp counselor; I was 16.  (Remember when going to the mall and having a custom t-shirt made was all the rage?)  Yes, these shirts all date back to the 70s – and this is just a sampling of what was in that box.  But it didn’t stop there; open more tubs, find more t-shirts.

Why?  Well, my husband worked for Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper so there was no shortage of promotional tees from them – which we felt the need to save…and store.  Brilliant.  And my daughter was in band starting in middle school and we were on PTA, and if you are going to sell a t-shirt as a fund raiser, you of course have to buy one…EVERY YEAR.  And starting in 7th grade she became a member of an educational group that spent a week travelling each summer, and they were given a t-shirt for each day of the trip.  That’s five t-shirts every year…for six years.  You do the math.  And she was in band in high school, which meant so were we, so we all had new band shirts each year.  And of course she got tees for honor society and student council, etc.  Going on vacation to the beach in Florida?  Well, you must stop at a Wings souvenir store and get a t-shirt to remember the trip each time you go…for several years.  Visiting a potential college?  Of course you buy a t-shirt.  Going to a concert?  Your team made the championship? Won the championship? They’re going to Disney, you’re buying a t-shirt.  That’s all well and good, but here’s the real question…why are we KEEPING them???

Off to the storage unit at U-haul to start clearing out; tired of paying to store our excess stuff.  And what do we find?  You guessed it – more bleeping t-shirts.  I said a lot of ugly words, but I only have myself to blame, because evidently, this t-shirt addiction started when I was a pre-teen!  How on earth can I judge my family when I’m holding on to t-shirts that are 40 years old?

My husband and I had no trouble parting with the vast majority of the promotional tees and those affiliated with whatever organization, team, or school our daughter was a part of. I did a couple of video chats with our daughter so she could yea or nay her tees, and amazingly, she let go about 90% of hers.

This is just what came out of the storage unit.  After I chatted with my daughter, she informed me that there was another tub in her closet…and then we found two more in the garage.  In all, we had ten tubs, each holding roughly 30-40 shirts.  Close to 400 t-shirts in all…can that be right?  And we were paying to have some of these stored.

If you treat these as clothing in the KonMari world, it is a no-brainer, and nearly all of them get discarded in some form or fashion.  But what’s left now fall into the very difficult category of sentimental items and mementos.  When I pulled out those shirts that I’ve had since childhood, I was able to tell my husband a story with each one. That is where the joy comes from.  I can’t keep hanging on to them; they are yellowed and threadbare – the attic was unkind.  I’ve been given lots of great suggestions for what to do with them and how to keep the memory, I just haven’t made a final decision yet.

So my words of advice for today are these – don’t buy the t-shirt.  But if you do, know when to let it go.

 

 

 

 

The Weight

One of my favorite of The Band’s songs, The Weight could also be used to describe the clutter in our lives.  While it might not be physically oppressive, it can be so mentally. Some folks aren’t bothered by clutter; obviously, I am not one of those people.  Had you come into my home before I began the purge according to KonMari, you wouldn’t have seen a lot of clutter.  Some areas might be prone to collection – the corner of the kitchen counter, the desk, the chair that holds my purse, keys, jacket, etc. – but that would have been about it. (We won’t mention my husband’s closet…)  But by and large, you would have thought I kept things fairly neat and orderly.  And I did; I do.  But it’s what was NOT seen that was weighing on me and what ultimately caused me to make the biggest KonMari mistake.

Kondo stresses the importance of doing one category at a time and doing it completely before moving forward.  I really thought I was doing that.  I was nearing the finish line about to start on sentimental items which are saved for last because they can seriously bog you down as you travel down memory lane.  And then we had the bright idea to empty the attic.  And what did we find?  Boxes filled with categories I had already completed. Clothes. Books. Papers. Photos. Sentimental items.  So, I start discarding again.  And again, I feel like I’ve made great progress.  That photo on the main page of the blog?  All of the photos and sentimental items put into nice storage boxes ready for their new home (not the attic).

And then another bright idea.  Since we are doing all of this discarding, why not get the stuff out of the storage unit at the U-haul so we can stop paying them each month.  And what did we find?  Again, tubs filled with categories that I had already completed – TWICE. I was so overwhelmed, I was ready for a match and some lighter fluid.  Just take a look…

I cannot say this enough – please, please, please – if you follow no other rule of KonMari, follow this one – do one category at a time, all at once.  Gather the items from every closet, drawer, storage unit, and attic.  I did not do this; that is why I’m in the state I am now.  T-shirts which should have been discarded with clothing have now become sentimental items instead. (MUCH more on t-shirts in a future post.)  If I had gathered all the papers from the attic and storage unit, I would have made different storage choices for them. (Where to store – the thing you should do last, AFTER all the discarding.) So much I would have done differently if I had followed this one rule, because she is right – items stored out of sight are dormant.  And when mine came to light and life, all I could envision was a bonfire.

Instead, I opted to start this blog because I needed a place to share (vent) about this process. The Facebook group has been very supportive, but I found I had a lot more to say than they might want to hear in a single sitting.  And I wanted to share what this process can be like so that others have an idea of what to expect.  Yes, it can be overwhelming and the weight of all that clutter can be crushing.  But I am certain it will all be worth it in the end.

 

 

Fits and Starts

That’s how I   would describe this process.  I started back in August and made some great headway.  But as the items get more difficult, the process becomes more challenging as well. A few things can help – supportive family members and friends (the Facebook group is a huge supporting factor),  uninterrupted blocks of time (good luck with that), and breaks.  I firmly believe in taking breaks from the KonMari process so that you don’t become overwhelmed or discouraged.  Last week was Spring Break; most of my teacher friends were off, so I took off too. (Thirty years in education…hard to break some habits!) This week I am doing yard work.  I like to think of it as KonMari for the outdoors.  Pulling weeds may be a losing battle, but I call it exercise.  And while we have had a few chilly days her in North Texas, when the hot weather sets in it will be here for good, so I’m spending as much time outside as I can while it is bearable.

Kondo doesn’t recommend breaks.  In fact, she believes the process should be done in one fell swoop so that you don’t fall back into old clutter-filled habits.  In theory, that makes perfect sense, and I completely understand her reasoning.  But here’s the problem – life gets in the way.  Family, work, social activities – these are all going to impact the amount of time you can truly devote to this.  I have it better than many – I am retired, my husband is being supportive, my daughter doesn’t live at home, and we have a modest sized home of about 1900 square feet.  And yet…I started back in August.

If you try to KonMari exactly as  she says, you might be setting yourself up for failure. Don’t misunderstand – I absolutely love this process and am doing my best to adhere to her principles.  But rather than looking at them as “rules”, I am choosing to look at them as “guidelines”.  To be sure, I am a rule-follower (most of us Type As are), but I do have a little bit of a rebellious side.  I like to call it “common sense”.  If KMing your entire home in one month doesn’t make sense for you, then don’t do it that way.  The process is only going to work if you are committed to it.  The only way you are going to commit to it is if it makes sense to you, and the only way it is going to make sense to you is if you can do it in a way that feels manageable.

This process should free you, not frustrate you.  So do it, but if you have to make adjustments, don’t beat yourself up over it.  A perfect example would be what to fold vs what to hang.  Kondo wants nearly everything folded.  Now, I love the KonMari folding method; my drawers look amazing and it created so much extra space. (Try it the next time you pack a suitcase – you might only need one bag instead of two!)  But I am not folding my jeans.  They were awkward and bulky and it just looked ridiculous.  It made no sense to me and certainly did not bring me joy. I do have a pretty good sized walk-in closet though, so keeping the jeans on their hangers made for a much neater, organized look that I am very happy with.  Do what makes sense for your space.

Kondo wants us to strive for perfection; I’m on board with that.  But remember that my perfection and yours are probably going to differ – and that is perfectly okay.

Other People’s Stuff

I worked on my kitchen every day for a week.  It wasn’t a lot of fun – most kitchen items are utilitarian, so not a lot of joy-sparking there – but I did manage to get rid of a fair number of boxes and my cabinets are organized.

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One of the major issues with KonMari is that you can’t KM someone else.  Each person has to be responsible for their own belongings.  If I lived alone, this house would have been done months ago!  But I am slowly making progress with my husband.  He was fine with all the kitchen stuff I sent to Goodwill, but there still remained cabinets and shelves I could not touch because they belonged to him.  He bakes. A lot. So we have shelves and shelves of baking items and cake decorating tools.  They’ve invaded the garage too.  Pans, candy molds, tips, bags – you name it, we have it.  And while I can’t KM his baking supplies, I can at least organize the shelves where they reside.

But he was starting to come around.  I asked him to come into the garage with me so we could organize the dozens and dozens of pans and molds.  Again, if I can’t get rid of it, I at least want it to be neat.  And then a funny thing happened.  As he was going through the items he started to pare down.  Unpopular pans and molds he only used once were put to the side.  And then more and more, until we had a giant tub of cake pans and a smaller, but still large tub of molds all ready to be discarded.  I was shocked!  And I think he was too.  Just the act of sorting through all of those supplies made him realize that he was hanging onto them for no good reason, especially since he wasn’t using all of them anymore.  And that left the remaining items much more easily accessible.

I guess that motivated him, because a few days later he started working on his toolbox. Men don’t get rid of tools; doesn’t matter if they have multiple versions of the same item, in their minds there might one day be a need for this particular size of hex wrench – or hammer – or screwdriver.  But the top drawer of his beloved Craftsman toolbox was so overflowing he could not close the lid. It took him several evenings but, soon he had gone through the entire thing.  It was a sight to behold; and now the lid closes.

But for me, the most validating thing has been his willingness to work on his closet. You have to understand, when I met my husband, I thought I was with someone who also liked orderliness.  His apartment was always immaculate, no piles or signs of clutter.  On my first visit during a party, he actually brought me to see his huge walk-in closet.  Clothes hung neatly, other items stacked on shelves – hardly a thing out of place.  I often joke with him that he sold me a bill of goods, because this is what I live with now:

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And you can’t even see the top of the dresser in this picture.  If there is a horizontal surface, it is covered.  The only saving grace has been that we each have our own closet so I can just close the door and TRY to ignore his. I asked him one day if we could please just go in there and straighten up a bit.  The next thing I know, he had two full tubs of shorts and jeans and an armload of shirts all ready to be discarded. He’s recently lost fifty pounds, so none of these items even fit! Discarding them all means a couple of things.  First, he is committed to not putting that weight back on.  But it also shows that he gets where I am coming from; he understands my need to dig out from under all of this and he is starting to feel it too.  Now, he won’t caress an item and ask himself, “Does this spark joy?” but when I ask him if he is sure about getting rid of something, he will say it doesn’t make him feel joyful.  He’s poking fun a little bit, but he understands the process.  And now his closet looks like this:

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Sometimes, you can get the horse to drink.

Books & Paper

Starting with clothing, which ends up being relatively easy in my opinion, you think that the next categories will go just as smoothly – ha!  Books and paper come next.  I think it is safe to say that we are all drowning under the weight of the amount of paper we have in our homes. Computers were supposed to take care of paper; everything is stored electronically so there should be no need for the paper copy.  That might be true if you are a millennial, a digital native.  But for the rest of us, that little voice that says you should have a hard copy “just in case” (along with an inherent distrust of computers), means there probably hasn’t been a serious amount of paper reduction in the home.

I consider myself a digital immigrant.  I bank and shop online and am confident enough in my financial institutions that I no longer have statements mailed to my home.  But each day when I go to my mailbox, I am reminded of that Seinfeld episode – you know the one – when Kramer tried to stop the mail, specifically junk and catalogs, from being delivered. I may be doing everything else online, but the places we shop and bank still get us with offers and catalogs that just keep coming.  (They must be in cahoots with the postal service.)  And straight to the recycle bin they go.

But beyond the daily paper items that come in and go out pretty quickly, Kondo addresses those items that we all hang onto because we think we must.  Her philosophy is discard everything; anything of importance can be found again electronically.  And while that may be true, I think we all realize (and she does too) there are some things that you just can’t throw away (marriage licenses, passports, etc.) So I went through the file cabinet, ditched what I knew for sure was not needed and kept only those things that I knew I had to.  And while I still have the file cabinet with my categorized hanging file folders (gold/green, concrete-sequential, remember?), I was able to reduce down from two drawers to one.  That was good enough for me.

There may not be a lot (or any) joy in the necessary paper of our lives, but books…well, that is a different story.  My husband, my daughter, and I are all voracious readers; we have a lot of books in our home. To do this the KonMari way, you would unload all of your books onto the floor much like the clothes, and go through them one by one.  Well, I am here to tell you that was not going to happen.  First of all, not all of the books are mine, and I have been the only one KonMari-ing my house at this point. Secondly, I could see them all much better on the shelves.  It’s not like we had books spilling out all over our house, so I was content to keep them as they were.  But later on, KonMari once again made sense in hind-sight.

To put out certain Christmas decorations, we always clear off about six bookshelves in our living room.  The books get boxed away for a month and put back out when Christmas is over.  As I was taking them off the shelf this year, however, I came across some that really didn’t speak to me.  So those went into a separate box to be sold/donated.  Had it not been necessary to remove them from the shelves in the first place, they would have remained indefinitely. So if you get to the section on books and think to yourself, “I can just sort by sight,” you are wrong.  While you might not want to empty every shelf at once, I think emptying one or two at a time and going through the books by hand will make a huge impact on what you choose to keep.  Those books that have real meaning for you will be the ones that remain.

 

The Art of Folding

I can’t talk about clothing and not address the KonMari folding method.  It is unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen, yet it makes perfect sense (for most items, anyway…) Kondo says, “The key is to store things standing up rather than laid flat”.  If you are like most people, you are thinking, “Um…what???”  But I promise you, it is the best decision you will make.  Your clothes fit better in the drawers and you can get more in them – which is one of the reasons I no longer need to store seasonal clothing elsewhere.  You can actually see all of your items at one time – no more digging to the bottom of the drawer to pull out that one shirt while you mess up all the rest.  And your clothes won’t wrinkle as badly because they are not stacked on top of each other.  Think of your drawers being file cabinets and your clothes as files – you’ll get the idea.  Here are some of my drawers:

As you can see, folding and stacking make a huge difference!  Both my socks and tank tops were able to be condensed down to one drawer each.  But the best part, for me, is that I can see everything at one time.  Now all of my drawers look like this – underwear, t-shirts, athletic wear, bathing suits.

So excited was I by this that I dragged my friends into my room and started opening drawers to show them!  I even gave them a folding lesson.  I’m not sure they shared my enthusiasm, but that’s okay because I found some folks who do.  I was having a hard time visualizing how to actually make the folds, so I Googled it.  During my search for how to fold KonMari style, I found something else – a Facebook group full of other like-minded folks.  I joined immediately and found myself among other women looking to simplify and declutter and keep the joy in their lives.  I posted my drawer photos and got immediate feedback and encouragement.  There are times when this feels like an impossible task, trying to discard and sort an entire house.  But it helps to be able to turn to the group to ask for ideas or support and to give that in return as well.

If you’re more of a visual learner, you might want Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy, also. There are illustrations on how to fold – I sure could have used that the first time around! And I will admit – I don’t fold everything this way.  My jeans hang in the closet, many sweaters have proven too bulky, and my scarves actually fit better rolled (my Navy dad would be proud). But the end result is the same; the clothes are stored in the best way for them and me.  It makes me feel good just to open a drawer and see them all lined up nice and neat.

 

Does this Spark Joy?

Time to get busy.  It is a full 65 pages into the book before you actually start doing anything, but there is a reason for that.  You have to understand the philosophy behind the KonMari Method. It would do you no good to start on page 66, because you would still be sorting your things the old way – and probably end up keeping way more than you need. So how do you decide what goes and what stays?  If you follow the KonMari Method, you will ask yourself one question while holding the item in your hand – “Does this spark joy?” Kondo’s rule is simple – if the answer is yes, keep it, but if the answer is no, to the discard pile it goes.  I will admit this sounded a little odd to me, as did thanking each item before I sent it on its way.  But I do believe her advice is sound and helps you to focus more on what you want to keep rather than what you want to get rid of.  I will admit, however, that just having that question in my head make it much easier when I began to go through my things.

20150902_104427Clothing is the first category Kondo tackles and here is her direction: Place every item of clothing in the house on the floor.  And she means everything.  Empty every closet, every drawer, tub, or bin that contains articles of clothing.  Hmmm… I liked this idea in theory, and if I lived alone or if Marie Kondo herself was sitting there with me, I might have done that.  Instead, I opted for a modified version.  I started with emptying my closet and after working through all of the items there, moved on to dressers and out of season tubs.  Did I hold each item in my hands?  You kind of have no choice.  Did I ask myself the joy question for each item?  I didn’t really have to; I had in my head if it didn’t spark joy it was going.  Did I thank the items for their service? No – but I did clear out a lot of stuff and did not feel the least bit guilty doing it.  And while it may sound odd to ask yourself if a pair of jeans or a scarf brings you joy, think about it for a minute.  Odds are you wear the same pieces over and over again.  Why?  Because you like the way they look and the way they make you feel.  You’ve likely been wearing only the clothing that brings you joy all along…

The closet was a piece of cake for me. Dressers, drawers, and tubs a little more daunting but it all got done and in relatively short order, too.  And I no longer need a place to store out of season items; discarding gave me more space. My donation pile was sizable; Goodwill was going to be getting a pretty good selection of items!  But beyond that, I truly did start to feel lighter.  Cleaning out, freeing up space in your environment really can have an impact on your physical and emotional self. Kondo describes this in her book as well.  I think it’s important to realize that this isn’t just about having organized closets and a neater home.  It is about finding the things that bring you joy in all aspects of life – this is just the first step of the journey.