the unquantifiable self

Spring clean your stuff and your life (for good!)

It’s rare that a book lives up to a claim like ‘life-changing’, but Marie Kondo’s runaway success The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up really does what it says on the box.

The premise of the KonMari method is breathtakingly simple: hold each of your possessions in your hands and feel into whether it brings you joy. Thumbs up, it stays; thumbs down, into the donation pile.

When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising. When you hold something that doesn’t bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier.

The beauty is that there’s no interaction with the mind. You don’t have to figure out why you don’t like something, or whether there’s a chance it might be useful to you someday. Your body gives a simple yes or no answer, and then, in the immortal words of Jay Z, “on to the next one…”

Kondo believes that clutter has psychological roots:

The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue…When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state.

As such, the KonMari method begins by envisioning the lifestyle you desire, which also helps prevent falling off the clutter-free wagon afterwards. Then, the purge. Instead of going room by room, Kondo recommends sorting by category. It’s only by taking out all of our clothes or all of our books that we can assess how much we have, and bringing items out into the light of day ‘jolts them alive’. Unusual for a professional cleaning consultant, Kondo is suspicious of clever storage solutions (sorry Container Store!), suggesting that they are often a cover-up of hoarding.

She suggests following a specific sequence of decluttering: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and lastly, mementos. Sentimental items come last because you need practice getting rid of things with less emotional attachment first. Rather than getting bogged down by physical remnants of the past—whether clothes or keepsakes—Kondo urges her readers to

Cherish who you are now.

She reminds us not to forget to thank each item we give away. When resisting parting with an item (usually books rather than clothes in my case), it has helped me to keep in mind the yogic yama (moral guideline) of asteya, non-stealing. By holding on to something we don’t really need that someone else could make use of, we are in a way ‘stealing’ by not letting the energy flow. Or, as we learned in Fight Club:

The things you own end up owning you.

It can also help to know where your stuff is going. Worthy recipients abound, and the internet has made it easier to find good homes for preloved items.

So where does the life-changing come in? “From the moment you start tidying you will be compelled to reset your life,” explains Kondo. By practicing with objects, we learn to feel into joy in other areas of our lives, essentially training intuition on a visceral level. Kondo quips that some of her clients have gotten so enthusiastic about their spring clean that they’ve discarded their husbands.

Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.

For advanced ninja decluttering tips, follow up with Kondo’s recently-released book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying.

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