Everything started with Marie Kondo. I know, I’m not the only one, and I won’t be the last one, to find the Konmari method an eye opener. And yes, I was skeptical too. But it truly was life-changing.
My ex was a “collector”, which is effectively a hoarder that doesn’t want to admit it. He liked accumulating stuff, and loved raiding charity shops and finding trinkets and things that might be useful… one day. So we had a collection of match boxes (in a plastic bag, in the basement), and lots of wooden figurines (the majority of which was on display on our bookshelves), and things rescued from other people’s skips (toys, games, ornaments, furniture…you name it). I was never a super-tidy person, but with him, I became even worse. The simple fact of having to move all these things around every time I wanted to clean or to dust, discouraged me from tidying or even cleaning properly at all. I couldn’t face moving everything, and putting it back, so I started to care less about my own stuff too: I used to undress at night and leave my clothes on the handrail of the staircase I had by my bed, rather than putting them away or in the laundry basket. I used to cook and leave the dirty dishes for when I felt like doing the washing up. We were battling a stressful battle to live among lots of mismatched furniture, DVD, toys (even before we had children), musical instruments, clothes….
It was horrible. I cringe every time I see photos taken at that time of my life: the background is always utter mess, like the pictures were taken in a junk yard or something.
Like many others have discovered going through a process of this kind, clutter and mess put a lot of stress on your life, and in my case, the mess outside reflected the mess inside my relationship with my husband and inside myself. Even my dislike of cleaning or tidying had to do with the paralysis towards life that I felt inside – I know it sounds like an excuse, but I didn’t feel like doing much in general, let alone clearing up that mess.
When I moved out from the house we shared, I took only the things that belonged to me and that I truly needed. At that point, I hadn’t figured out yet that I wanted to simplify my life as such, but I saw this as an opportunity to leave trinkets, toys, and other things I wasn’t interested in behind. I still took with me my heavy architecture books and manuals, even though I hadn’t practiced the profession for 10 years, nor I was planning to go back to it at all; all my Primark / charity shop clothes (I never spent lots on money on clothes, but I would certainly buy something cheap if I vaguely liked it: “it’s only £5 reduced from £15! I know it doesn’t fit me that well, but it’s so cheap I can’t miss a deal!”); all my crafting bits (especially sewing), including lots of offcuts from previous projects, that might have been useful in a hypotetical future. You get the picture. However, compared to the thousands of items I was tripping over every day, that made my life that little bit more miserable, this was paradise. I had bought some cheap Ikea furniture to store everything in and not having obvious clutter around made already a huge difference.
I even limited my children’s toys to a basket, so that it could be more manageable to tidy up.
I immediately realised how much quicker it was to clean, so I felt a little more compelled to do it, ’cause I didn’t have valid excuses not to do it anymore. I felt like inviting people over for dinner, and for a chat, without needing a week warning like before.
Before, inviting people over was something that pushed me to tidy and clean a bit: the place was never spotless, but at least it was an excuse to take some action. But I became anxious if someone stopped by without been announced, because the state of that place was frankly embarrassing, and I felt like a failure for living like that.
But the real breakthrough was when I heard of the Konmari method, Marie Kondo’s decluttering ways described in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. The title had in it a big promise, but I had read lots of reviews and people were literally raving about it, so I decided to invest in it.
I read it all in one go. Apart from some frankly disturbing suggestions – like, “Never, EVER, ball your socks. Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?” Er, do socks have some sort of feelings I didn’t know about?! – I thought the book has a very simple concept in it, which can be truly life-changing: decide which ones, among your things, “spark joy”; if something doesn’t, discard it (OK, here you are supposed to thank that thing for its hard work and then discard it, but you do what you like; if, unlike Marie Kondo, you don’t speak to your inanimate objects, just donate them or sell them, or bin them if they are in poor conditions).
So, in March 2016, I religiously started following the book’s system to declutter, starting by category, rather than by room, and got rid of hundreds of things: half of my books, half of my cheap and ill-shaped clothes, hardly used and mismatched kitchenware (we all have way too many cups and mugs, right?!), 35 pairs of shoes (seriously, I didn’t even know I owned 35 pairs of shoes) and much more: sentimental items, even crafting stuff (seven rubbish bags full of fabric offcuts). I never looked back. I never miss anything I got rid of. I sold lots of the stuff that could be sold, and got myself a few extra quid, which was a lovely bonus and it felt like it was almost a reward for the effort.
Ever since, the concept of “spark joy” evolved in my head, because it could also be seen as a wishy-washy concept rather than a practical method, and I’m all for practicality.
I recently got really interested in minimalism (which probably will be the object of a few future blog posts), thank to a documentary made by The Minimalists called (guess what?!) Minimalism and realised that not everything you use every day sparks joy, but rather, there will be things that add value to your life, right now, and those are the ones to keep. Anything else left in your home “just in case” that is not serving a purpose at the present moment, just takes space in your home and in your head; as such, it should be passed on, donated, sold, or chucked away because it is weighting you down.
The impact this first simplifying exercise had on me, my mental status, my stress levels, my habits, has been immense. I felt lighter, my mind was clearer, I remember things better. I was, and I am, more content with my life.
I challenge you to try it for yourself.
If you’d rather kick the process off with a bang, you could also try another little challenge I recently did, which was a ‘decluttering burst‘ consisting of getting rid of 100 items in an hour.
Let me know how you get on.