If One is Good, More is Better?

20160425_103858Last week in our KonMari Facebook group we were challenged to identify a task we wanted to complete by the end of the week.  As you may have already discovered about me, I’m a big fan of deadlines (most of the time), so I was on board.  My goal was to declutter my desk area.  It’s where I write this blog and pay bills and, even in this digital age, I still have a tremendous amount of paper clutter. (Though I did take five boxes to the shred truck a couple of weeks ago.)  The desk was starting to get overrun and was not the most conducive space for writing, so I started the discard process.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had too many pairs of scissors, so the extra ones went, along with some blank CDs and envelopes, a box of Crayola markers, and half-a-dozen flash drives. I was left with a much more orderly space that invites me to sit and work (or pay).

What didn’t I discard?  Pens. Sharpies. Mechanical pencils.  Apparently, I live by the motto, “If one is good, a bajillion is better.”  Ten tubs of t-shirts. Sixty photo albums. Sixty-seven writing implements.  SIXTY-SEVEN. How many do I use regularly?  Two.  A black ball point that writes beautifully (it was a favor from a wedding I attended last year), and a Bic mechanical pencil. I use them each for different tasks in my planner (yes a paper planner – digital immigrant, not native), and the others I just like to look at.  This total doesn’t even include the box of colored pencils I haven’t opened to go with the adult coloring book I still haven’t opened, or the pencil cup that sits by the phone in the kitchen.  Sixty-seven pens, pencils, and Sharpies at my desk and I use two.  And you know what?  I’m okay with that.

I’m not artistic, but the colored pens make me feel like I could be.  I love to write, and a keyboard makes that so much quicker, but sometimes a pen is more efficient. Mechanical pencils mean there is no need for a sharpener. And Sharpies…well, do they really need any explanation?  The question central to the KonMari method is, “Does this spark joy?” My answer is yes; these pieces spark joy for me.  And I don’t care that I have sixty-seven of them within arm’s reach.  And I don’t think Kondo would care either. Don’t pass judgment on yourself.  The whole point of this tidying-up process is to make your living and/or work space joyful for you.  If that means multiples, so be it.  Four-hundred t-shirts isn’t really working for me anymore, so they are going. But sixty-seven writing implements in varying styles and colors make me happy – so they stay.  In the future, I might decide to part with them (or at least USE them), but for now this is how it stands. The longer you KonMari, the more attuned you become to what’s important to you.  Follow that instinct and you won’t go wrong – even if it means keeping unused Sharpies.

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Sometimes Life Gets in the Way

So, you’ve read the book (or both!), you’re motivated, your tidying festival is underway – and then you have to halt or pause or just take a break.  In a perfect world, everyone and everything in your life would understand that you must KonMari NOW.  You have a goal, and Kondo says that you must do this all at once.  But this is reality and sometimes those outside forces just will not cooperate.  I firmly believe that trying to fight those forces will only lead to frustration and may cause you to give up altogether – or to rebound.  So here are a few tips to help keep you on track, even if life is trying to force you off the rails.

Celebrate Small Accomplishments Along the Way

If you know there is no way you are going to complete your tidying marathon in six months, break it into smaller, easily attainable goals to help you stay motivated. Set a deadline for completing one category (or subcategory) in its entirety.  When that task is complete, take an after picture, post/tweet/Instagram it, share with friends, or just check it off your to-do list. Mark the occasion in some small way so that you will feel that sense of accomplishment and know that you are one step closer to reaching clutter-free nirvana.

Find Like-Minded Individuals to Share With

I was going to say “find a support group”, but this isn’t an illness!  (Although some friends and family might disagree…)  But seriously, having folks with whom to share your victories and your frustrations can have a huge impact on your success.  First of all, they understand the process and know how challenging it can be.  In addition, your fellow KonMari devotees can offer helpful suggestions when you need them.  The Facebook group I belong to has been there to offer encouragement, answer a question, and let me vent. The best part?  You never have to explain, “Well, I read this book about tidying by a Japanese woman…”  We all get it!

Know When to Fold ‘Em

I’m not talking clothes here.  You know you best.  And you know your family and household best as well.  So if you know that starting the next category or subcategory would not be prudent at this time, then don’t. And don’t feel pressured by the book; I know that sounds crazy, but Kondo is so inspirational, that you can almost feel like you are letting her down if you stray from her guidelines.  But here’s the thing – she wants everyone to be successful, so if you know that the only way you’ll be ready to continue is if you take a short break now, then so be it.

This Isn’t Basketball – NO Rebounding

Just because you are taking a break, it doesn’t mean you forget all you have learned and accomplished so far.  Kondo warns that rebounding (going back to all that clutter) is inevitable if you try to do this a little at a time. I understand her point and I even agree; it is very easy to revert if you are not seeing results. But I have to say that my closet, drawers, and kitchen cabinets are still in the same great shape now as they were when I completed those areas months ago. The impact of getting rid of so much stuff still resonates with me. To avoid a rebound it’s vital to maintain the areas that you’ve already completed.  Pick a date to resume the process, and take your break with a clear conscience.

I wish I had been able to KonMari my whole house in six months; I probably would have made it if we hadn’t made the decision to empty the attic and storage unit in the middle of the process.  But at least I’ll know that no stone has been left unturned; everything we own is clearly visible.  And soon there will be much less of it to see.

Komono – Just Because

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buttons2Does anyone else out there have a grandmother who had an old coffee can full of spare buttons?  I’m betting a lot of you are nodding your head.  Now, how many of you have your own stash of spare buttons?  Still nodding I bet, and that’s okay because I am too.  But when was the last time you ever actually used one of those buttons?  Can’t remember?  Me either…and I’m guessing that’s because the answer is NEVER.  How about the spare piece of yarn (thread, fiber?) that comes with some woven items?  I’ve got those too, but honey, if I’m not sewing on a button, I’m darn sure not going to repair a pull in a sweater!  So why do we keep these things?   Typically, the answer is “just because”.  Because why?

The buttons, the items in the junk drawer, the innumerable pens you picked up at the last convention you attended – all of these are a part of what Kondo refers to as komono – miscellaneous items that don’t fit neatly into any of the other categories.  And komono is everywhere.  Just sitting here at my desk I see that I have three pairs of scissors (all the same size), half a dozen flash drives (no idea what, if anything, is on them), and Sharpies in an array of colors.  I can easily get rid of the flash drives – they probably contain old work info and I’ve been retired almost a year now – and two pairs of scissors can go too (besides, there are two more pairs in the kitchen!)  None of these items spark joy, and I no longer need the flash drives, but scissors do come in handy. Those Sharpies bring me joy, however, so they are staying!

That’s the thing about the miscellaneous stuff – some items you just have to keep because they serve a distinct purpose; you can’t be running out to buy a new pair of scissors every time you ditch an old pair for not bringing you joy.  But do I need six pairs? Probably not. To me komono is one of the more challenging categories because it encompasses so much, and it is in every room of the house. How many times have you cleaned out your junk drawer only to have it fill up again?  Folks, there’s a reason it is called a JUNK drawer – and you probably do not need ninety percent of what it contains.  I can sort of envision the whole KonMari process as cleaning out the junk drawer.  If you tackle that drawer once and for all and never put anything back into it that doesn’t belong there, you will never have to clean it out again.  The same goes for tidying the KonMari way; if you do this massive tidying one time, you should never have to do it again. That’s the goal, though it will be a while before I can test that theory.

So, I’m moving on to komono and junk drawers and who knows what I’ll find. The key is going to be to keep only those items that serve a purpose or spark joy. I’m sure there are probably a lot of items that were kept “just because” – but that’s how you end up with a can full of buttons…or ten tubs of t-shirts.

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.