Sunday, February 7, 2021

Cleaning House, Part One: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and Minimalism

     I didn't want to use a stock photo of someone else's super-clean, chic house for this post, so here's a pic of my cat, Bean, the sentient beanie baby, formerly known as Cleopatra, formerly formerly known as "something ridiculous, like Snowball"-Jon. 
     I've been excited to write this post from the minute my Marie Kondo/Minimalism obsession began back in mid-December, but I wanted to let everything more or less play out before giving you something partial or misleading. Now that my brain has moved on to other obsessions (Knitting and Don't Starve: Shipwrecked), I can finally be reasonably sure that the changes I implemented survived the (inevitable) death of the obsession. I can honestly tell you that I made permanent changes, that those changes are working, and that my life is improved and improving as a result. 
    This whole tidying up my house and life endeavor made me realize a bunch of things about how my mind works and what a positive force my obsessive personality can be, but I'll get into that some other time. Suffice it to say that what I'm about to share with you is a string of major, all-consuming obsessions that began in mid-December and became habits and intentions that folded nicely into my regular, more stable life, toward the end of January. 

    Everything started with the Netflix show: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I don't even know why I started it. I don't remember thinking: I'm going to watch this and then I'm going to majorly overhaul my life. I'd just heard Marie's name around and was curious. Our house wasn't particularly cluttered by any standard. It's a small place: kitchen and living area separated only by a countertop, bathroom just large enough for a tub, and two bedrooms, one of which we've turned into a "study" or perhaps a "library" depending on which of us you ask. Storage space is scarce, particularly when it comes to closets and cabinets, and I chalked up any feeling of crowdedness or clutteredness to the smallness of the space as opposed to considering that perhaps we had some stuff we didn't exactly need. 

    Immediately after finishing the show (one season), I picked up Marie's book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to be sure I understood her tidying philosophy and the KonMarie method that she's developed. I also started watching YouTube videos of people using her method. I tried her laundry-folding techniques immediately, before I even started decluttering, and I highly, highly recommend that. It creates way more space in your drawers and makes everything easier to find.

    The KonMarie method isn't about what you get rid of, it's what you keep and where and how and why you keep it. It's also the manner in which you determine what you want to keep. I subscribe to this method almost 100%. Marie is really strict about the method itself but really flexible when it comes to ultimate outcome. She recognizes that people are different, and that there's no set amount of books or clothes or things that work best for everyone. If an item "sparks joy" for you, then you keep it, even if that decision doesn't make sense to anyone else. 

    If you do things Marie's way you do not, under any circumstances, tidy room by room or zone by zone. You do not spread the process out over a month. You set aside a week and tackle all of your things type by type. Clothes first, then books, then papers, then komono (all your other stuff, by category: kitchen implements, electronics, cleaning supplies, etc.), and save anything sentimental for last. 

    You take everything out of where it is and evaluate it with like things in a neutral area. This puts the inertia of getting rid of things on your side. It forces you to be intentional about what you keep. This method also ensures that you evaluate everything in the context of like things, not in the context of wherever it's been living, because that may or may not be the place where it should live.

     Everything you get rid of (trash or donate or give away or sell), you thank. I thought that was silly at first, but it just releases you from any emotions you have tied to the item and any guilt you feel in getting rid of it. It helps you let go. Getting rid of things creates space for things you've crowded out: things you love, but you aren't using because you can't find them or they're just out of sight, out of mind. And sometimes it's not just physical things you've crowded out, but more than that.

    Let me give you an example: I wasn't using my cookbooks because I was keeping them in the library instead of in the kitchen. I didn't have a bookshelf in the kitchen/living area, which was the problem. But I wanted to use my cookbooks. They used to give me a lot of joy in discovering new things to create. The same was true for my knitting supplies and patterns. It was all out of sight out of mind in a bin high up in my closet. I didn't have anywhere more accessible to keep it, so I just didn't knit. Going through my books with a fine-toothed comb and donating everything I didn't see myself rereading or sharing with someone, created space. Suddenly I had freed up a small shelf that could go live in the kitchen/living area to hold cookbooks and reference books, knitting patterns and my vase of knitting needles, putting everything right in my daily line of sight. The shelf has also become the home of the bread maker, my tea cups, and that really beautiful turquoise punch bowl we got as a wedding present. It looks really good, and now I use my cookbooks and I knit.

   Only after you're done going through all the rest of your stuff, does Marie recommend tackling your sentimental items. Of all her advice, I think this is what had the most impact on me. She says that sentimental items should absolutely have a place in your life, but that we often keep items we've categorized as "sentimental" not because they bring us joy, but because we are tied to them in some way and feel an obligation to them. These bindings clog up both our regular lives and our emotional lives. 

    I was hanging on to gifts from old friends, gifts from people who meant the world to me and would never have stopped meaning the world to me if I hadn't stopped meaning anything to them. Those items were "sentimental" but they also kept me tied to memories that made me sad. I got rid of them. I got rid of anything I was keeping just out of a sense of obligation. I got rid of a whole bunch of sentimental items that didn't really mean as much to me as I told myself they did, and it just kind of made me feel free to move on with my life. 

   So that's the KonMarie method. I went through the house twice this way. Jon did his own items, and Marie is really strict about that. You do not decide for someone else whether their stuff is important to them or not. My first pass through the house, I just got rid of the obvious. The second time, I could see my way forward to what I wanted my life to look like, and it was suddenly much more clear what didn't belong in it. I got rid of far, far more than I imagined, and suddenly there was all this space in my life to breath and think clearly and see what I wanted to do next. 

   So I dove headfirst into a rabbit hole of minimalists on YouTube. Here are a few who had a significant impact on my final rounds of decluttering and the evolution my idea of how I wanted life to proceed in the decluttered space I'd created:

    And here's where it gets a little more individual. I think everyone should go through the KonMarie method with their homes. I don't think everyone should be a minimalist. Also minimalism means different things to different people. I'm not talking about minimalism as an aesthetic but minimalism as a lifestyle. The big principle is that everything you own has a purpose, and it's actively fulfilling its purpose. If it's not, it doesn't get to take up space in your life. 

    Jon and I are simple people with simple needs and simple tastes, so minimalism really works for us. We were practically there already, in theory if not in practice, before I even started the declutter. Listening to these voices on YouTube really firmed up what I was already thinking: Why would I follow someone else's standard of living when I know what I like and what works for me and it's just really simple? So I gave myself permission to set different rules based on what Jon and I wanted and what we knew would work because we know ourselves. 

    The minimalism rabbit hole led to a minimal wardrobe/Project 333/capsule wardrobe/personal style obsession that I'm still actively pursuing, albeit less obsessively. That led to a whole bunch of research on casual money management. Not so much the big stuff like investing and paying off debts (even though that's important), but the little stuff like not frittering away cash on clutter, not buying produce that's going to rot in your fridge, not buying clothes you won't end up loving: the little wastes that you don't really pay attention to week to week. 

    I made spreadsheets. I made two for groceries, (food and non-food), and one for clothing. I made a list of spending rules for myself with the twin goals of saving money and keeping the home in the state I'd brought it to. I started logging every single purchase in Every Dollar, as a way of keeping myself accountable to my own rules and intentions. It's been really good. Really, really good. 

    And there's a lot I'm still working on, tweaking, and researching. The initial tidying up opened a lot of doors in my mind. I remembered a lot of intentions I'd set for my my life back in highschool that I hadn't entirely followed through on. I remembered that I'm allowed to make changes to my norms and improve what's not working. I remembered that learned helplessness is stooopid. It was a relief.
And I'm going to finish with that. Thanks for reading!

You probably noticed this post has a "Part One" in the title. That's because I'm planning:

Cleaning House, Part Two: My Minimal Wardrobe, The Curated Closet, and What I've                    Always Gotten Wrong about Clothes

Cleaning House, Part Three: My Fridge/Pantry Overhaul and THE GROCERY SPREADSHEETS
And also:
Explaining my Obsessive Personality to You and Also Me

Let me know what you think. Have you seen Tidying Up? Did you try it out? I know the next few posts won't be about books. Is that okay? Excited to see your comments as usual! Bye!

No comments:

Post a Comment