Decluttering update: The joy version

by Sunita

Somewhat against my will, I have been swept up in the enthusiasm for Marie Kondo’s bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I picked up both the ebook and audio versions and listened to/read a bit, but then I got sidetracked. When Marilyn reviewed it at her blog a couple of months ago, though, I was sucked back in. I listened to the whole thing on audio (the narrator is quite good), and while parts of the approach seemed a bit much, the overall idea was intriguing and made sense to me.

I wrote a quick post about my experience over at Booklikes, and I’ll probably write a proper review of the book at some point. Here I’m going to talk about my experience following one part of the plan: tidying up my clothes. A couple of years ago I did a big purge of clothes and shoes with the help of a friend. I did another, smaller one in my main closet this past winter and I found it very useful.

Kondo’s method is drastic and potentially overwhelming: you take everything in a category (clothes, books, papers, etc.), pile all of the items on the floor, and then pick each piece up individually and ask yourself, does this give me joy? If it does, you keep it to one side. If it doesn’t, into the bin it goes.

The joy requirement sounds odd at first, at least it did to me. But it turns out to make a lot of sense. We all buy things on impulse, or because someone told us we look good in that particular color, or because we needed a particular item for an event. And then there are the things that we used to love and don’t anymore, or that is well past its prime but we can’t give up.

I should note that right now I’m in the place where we spend the summer and make shorter trips throughout the year. I keep a much smaller set of clothes out here so that I don’t have to cart a checked bag every time I visit. But they still add up, not least because there’s enough room that I don’t have to make decisions about storage. So while there’s still a lot of stuff once I get absolutely everything out in the open, it’s not as overwhelming as my main stash:

Clothes in pile on bed, before tidying

The coats are off-camera to the left, on a chair.

Kondo advises sorting clothes into sub-categories, but I just piled everything on the bed, including all my underwear and socks, and started picking things up, one by one, asking myself whether I felt joy. Joy is a complex emotion, so I mentally translated that as “warm fuzzy feeling.” Is this pair of jeans a pair I reach for when I want to look good? Feel comfortable? When I pick up that blouse, am I glad I have it in my closet? That shirt I loved for years, do I still love it or does it no longer look the way it used to (or do I not look the way I used to)?

It turns out that I do have socks that give me joy (I was skeptical). I got rid of some kurtis (Indian tunics) that I wore for a while but never really felt all that great in (and some I had never worn although buying them seem like a great idea at the time). I dumped a couple of pairs of jeans that I looked frumpy in when they were new. Out went the workout tops that bunched up and tugged in the wrong places (there’s a reason they were on sale, it turns out). There were items that were harder to part with, usually gifts: a lovely dark green padded vest that never fit right, even when it wasn’t too small (TheH has a touching faith in my ability to wear dresses in a size smaller than is actually the case). But it will look fabulous on the right person.

I also chose to keep things that I initially thought I’d get rid of. There were any number of things I forgot I had, some of which I like quite a bit. So that was refreshing to discover.

Kondo says that if you’re unsure, bin it. I did that for some things, but for others I held on. It’s a learning process; I’ll come back in 6 months and reconsider. But for the most part the decisions weren’t difficult. I’m pretty sure part of the reason for that is that clothes are easier for me than shoes or bags. I’ve given away shoes that have come back into fashion, and right now I have a few pair here that feel like they’re in that category. And I don’t have dozens of pairs of shoes here, so the unworn/disliked number is pretty low (in my Great Purge a couple of years ago I got rid of a LOT of shoes). Here’s the result:

Clothes in box and bags after tidying

The big box is what I got rid of today; the bags are from earlier in the summer, when I took a non-joy-determined crack at decluttering. Clearly the joy method had added utility for the process.

After I finished sorting, I put all my clothes away using her techniques of folding, rolling and standing vertically. There is definitely more room in my dresser drawers. Some of that is because there is less to put away, but I also think the fold & roll system provides more room. And everything is much easier to see. It turns out I have a lot of leggings, which I did not really realize, and I wear almost all of them. I have fewer t-shirts than I was afraid I had.

Kondo’s method of arranging clothes in the closet didn’t work for me. You organize from heavy to light clothes, left to right on the rod. But I don’t store my outdoor coats in my bedroom closet, and unlike Kondo I wear jeans a lot. So I’ve modified that system a bit. I’ve always organized my hanging items by category, so that’s less of a change than the drawers, but it’s an improvement nonetheless.

The whole process took about 2 hours, and I was tired when I finished. But I don’t feel as owned by my stuff! I’m guessing my main clothing purge will take at least twice that long, maybe more, but the results should be even better.

There is definitely something relaxing about opening a drawer and seeing only things you’ve consciously decided you like to wear. The joy method requires us to confront a lot of things about ourselves, some of which are not that easy. But the result was worth it for me.