Getting organized the Japanese way

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I recently heard about a book that promised to change your life.  It’s called “the life-changing magic of tidying up:  the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing” by Marie Kondo.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.   I put my name on a list of over 100 waiting to read it at the library and a few days ago I received an email that  a copy was available.

I think I’ve mentioned that we recently moved to Pennsylvania.  I probably also said that our new house is larger than our old house.  We have a larger yard, a larger garage, and  more closet space.  Hooray!!!  I can almost hear the shouts of joy.  No more worries about where to put all the clothes and books and kitchen items.  Everything will have a place and there is even space to spare for future purchases.  So here’s the catch.  I never really liked living in a home where I felt crowded and where nothing fit well.  The rooms were small and the closets were tiny.  Now that I have more space I have an even stronger desire to get rid of all that stuff.  I filled three large boxes with clothes and linens and miscellaneous items in the first month to donate.  We bought an additional bookshelf so all our books would fit.  Here’s the problem.  I still can’t find things and we still have too much stuff.

This is where Marie comes in.  She suggests that all this stuff is actually making our lives more difficult.  Because we have too many clothes, we can’t look after or find the clothes we like.  She tells us to get rid of the things that don’t give us joy.  Separate out all the things that spark joy, and the rest can go.  She helpfully provides a pecking order in this quest for zen-like peace.  First, clothing.  Clothing has no emotion attached to it, it can be replaced and it often goes out of style or doesn’t fit.  Next, books, and then paper.    Last on the list are mementos.  These are the hardest.  I personally have four or five boxes of photos, letters, and other memorabilia.  The problem with this category is that once you get rid of something, you cannot replace it.  Get rid of old credit card statements and check stubs.  You need them again, you can get them or pay for a copy.  Aunt Ruth’s wedding photo?  No way.

I started last night by getting rid of a stack of about ten knitting books that I no longer want.  Is it possible that one day I  might miss the books?  Perhaps, but probably not.  Gone.  Marie says to put away the things that are on the floor.  Clutter!!!  Plus, you can bumping them or trip.  I doubt I will make my house look like a Japanese house.  We have lived in too many places to get rid of all our memories.

Next, Marie tells us we can keep our homes uncluttered by ensuring that everything in a category is together.  That is, if you have sweatshirts, they should all be in the same place.  Can’t find something, it’s probably because you have forsaken this rule and allowed things to be multiple places.  Get all your shirts together and then look at them.  Do you need them all?  If they’re in difference places it’s easy to accumulate more than you need, or even worse, hold on to things that you never use because you forgot about them.  Get serious, get real and get going.  Spend your time doing what you love, not trying to keep your house full of stuff in order.

How to transform your life 

The magic of this decluttering and organizing is that you can transform your life, according to Marie.  First of all by having less stuff you will be able to find what you want when you want it.   How many of you have spent time searching for some item?  It drives you insane and causes stress.  Imagine never having to search again for a missing item because everything has a place and you know where it is.

Tidying restores balance in your house and can bring greater contentment.  I know that this sounds like a self help book.  Do what I tell you and you will find health, wealth and happiness.  But if you’re like me you are so used to having a house full of stuff you never really stopped to consider how it happened.  The second question is, how is more better?   We had two trucks full of “stuff” when we moved.  I always knew we had too  much, but it all seemed important in some way.  My mother would never get rid of anything because “you never knew when you might need it.”  This led her to save everything from my brother’s tent from his boy scout days to my ice skates from the third grade.  Did these things give her joy or did she just forget about them in the back of the closet because of all the other stuff in there with them?  Instead of sitting in the closet, the things could have been used by someone else.  I love Marie’s idea of making your home a place of joy and enjoying the things you love.  How can you love your things when you have so much?

I’m going to try her method out.  I doubt I will ever be able to have the simplicity of a Japanese house.  I continue to take on more of my parent’s things as we clean out their home.  What can I do?   I can donate things I don’t need.  I can pack up another box of books and give them to the library for their book sale.   I have a stack of cookbooks and knitting books I don’t want anymore.  I can’t quite bring myself to let them go.  Why?  Some sentimental attachment?   What would life be like with just the things that bring me joy.  In an age when mini-houses of 500 square feet are coming in fashion and minimalism is a way to show respect for the environment I’m going to try and find out.  Anyone care to join me?

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5 thoughts on “Getting organized the Japanese way

  1. I pretty much did that when I moved here 13 years ago!! Yes, it was that long ago. Impossible. I kept it up for a lot of those years, but I need to do another culling now. I have a slightly different outlook now that I’ve found I really miss some of the things I got rid of. I would keep things I really find hard to release, and cull out things that really don’t matter. It is really enough if you take that approach, I think. Good luck in this, but go a little easier on yourself than you think you should. 😀

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  2. BJ, I know exactly what you mean. I had a copy of Gone with the Wind that belonged to my grandmother and got rid of it years ago. Now I want it back! I think that at different times in our lives some things are more meaningful than others. I don’t know how to get around this and ensure that we don’t regret getting rid of “clutter.” For now I’m going to concentrate on the first three categories, clothing, books and paper, which are pretty safe. I just returned with more boxes of stuff form my parent’s house as we attempt to clear out their clutter, so it sometimes seems like an uphill battle.

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  3. I read this book and what I took away from it is to keep things that make you happy and bring you joy. If looking at old photos and momentos bring you joy, you shouldn’t get rid of them. As an organizer, I often work with people reluctant to part with sentimental items. I never make them give them up. We just find a creative way to store or display them so they can take as many trips down memory lane as they’d like!

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    • I like that approach. I struggle with what to do with things that I may not want at the moment, but years later regret I let them go. I’m not talking about clothing or books, but other items. WE go through phases of life and change how we view things. How do you know that what brings you joy today will continue to bring you joy?

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      • If it brings you joy today, keep it. When you go through this process again in a few years, you can revisit it then. I always tell my clients that organizing is not a one time event, it’s something you’re always going to be doing. I reorganize my home twice a year to keep things under control. Feel free to email me if you have any questions or need guidance during this process. 🙂

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