A Psychologist’s 6 Tips to Master the KonMari Method—‘Tidying Up’ Review

According to Dr. Melissa Miller, thoughts of “this should spark joy” are normal during your tidying up process. Here’s how to differentiate between a spark of joy and straight up guilt.

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New Year’s Day 2019 saw more than the start of resolutions, it marked an explosion of an organizing revolution. Thanks to the Netflix debut of Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, Americans have become obsessed with cleaning out their closets and garages—and so have I.

This concept is not a new one. In fact, Marie Kondo’s first book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has been around in the United States since 2014. I know a lot of people who bought this book way back when and talked about the concept, but not many that followed through with the method to actually get organized. Instead they most likely added the book to their clutter collection.

Seeing this method in practice on Netflix is not only fascinating, it starts a craving. Watching each family whittle down their clutter and end with beautiful, pristine, Tiffany’s and Co. showroom-quality drawers makes watchers hungry for the tidy result.

*What is even more incredible is that all ages want in on the benefits of tidying up. I can’t tell you how many stories I hear from moms about their kids asking for boxes and spending their free time folding their shirts.

The tidy goal is so appealing not just because it looks so nice, but it looks like it would feel so nice.

When you live surrounded by clutter, you are never able to fully relax. There is always a to-do list, a thought of “I need to get to that,” or a general energy that is more stressful than calm.  

Since the boom in popularity, there are a lot of articles on the psychology behind the method and why it works. One can confidently say that living in an organized environment is psychologically better for us than living in a disorganized environment.

But how soon can we achieve this goal? Is it possible to get started right away without reading the whole book and understanding the method behind the madness? Can this Netflix series serve as an effective Spark Notes version of the book?  

One can confidently say that living in an organized environment is psychologically better for us than living in a disorganized environment.

I wanted to find out.

I am a person who is used to living in clutter. Raised by hoarders, throwing anything away was frowned upon. I was taught to keep everything. Example: My parents saved my umbilical cord in a glass baby food jar until I begged them to throw it away a few years ago. For 40 years, my parents kept and carted this treasure through 10 moves before agreeing to let it go.  

So, I truly understand the dilemma of feeling extreme guilt for getting rid of things, but also desperately desiring a simple, clutter free clean home.

Thanks to my husband, I have gotten much better at tossing things out but emotionally it has never gotten much easier. Watching the families that Marie Kondo works with offered so much hope. You see some pretty extreme clutter and some strong emotional situations and yet all the families come away transformed by the shedding of material baggage. Watching this show is so motivating, and had me running for my closet to get started.

It is amazing how little time it takes for clutter to take over. We moved back into our home a year and a half ago after moving everything out for a major renovation and addition. I was overjoyed to have such a large closet. I thoughtfully organized everything and it looked so beautiful…for about 3 days.

Watching this show is so motivating, and had me running for my closet to get started.

Even with the greatest intentions, it is very difficult to keep anything organized for long without the right method. I was more than excited to grab everything and dump it in a big pile on my bed to get started. I didn’t plan ahead for my KonMari, so I learned a few helpful lessons along that way that I hope will make your experience smoother than mine:

How to Master the KonMari Method

1.    Talking with your house.

The one part of the show that always feels a little, er…awkward, is when Marie introduces herself to the house. After my experience, I did a little research and discovered that there is a lot to know about this spiritual practice and what it means, but since we are using the Sparks Notes/Netflix version, I decided to give it a go with just the instructions I saw from the show.

I strongly encourage you not to skip this step.

It is pretty incredible taking a moment to think about the space your home has provided, thanking it, setting an intention for the future of your home, and committing to showing it respect.

2.    Get yourself ready.  

If you are attacking the categories in recommended order, clothes will be your starting point. Certain clothes will be easy to feel the spark of joy or lack thereof. Some clothes however are tricky and give a quieter ‘meh’ feeling.  

Maybe joy? Maybe not?

I found it immensely helpful to try on these items. It is much easier to feel the spark of joy or the clear nope when it was on. So, set the stage to give your clothes a fair shot. Shower before starting.  

Get yourself ready so you feel good and your clothes may feel good enough on to spark joy!

3.    Be honest and aware.

The only rule in deciding if you are keeping an item is if it sparks joy when it is being considered. There may be a lot of other feelings and thoughts that try to disguise themselves as joy that are NOT joy. Thoughts of “this should spark joy” are not the same as actual sparks of joy.

I noticed clothes that had been gifts, things that I wanted to like more than I actually did, and nostalgic pieces that reminded me of joyful experiences were the sneakiest in pretending to be feelings of joy. Yet when I made myself be truly honest with my desire to keep it, I was able to acknowledge that guilt was the actual feeling, not joy.

I felt a lot of guilt getting rid of these clothes, or clothes that I hadn’t worn enough to get good use out of, and articulating why I felt bad letting go of these clothes made my decision much more clear.

Yet when I made myself be truly honest with my desire to keep it, I was able to acknowledge that guilt was the actual feeling, not joy.

The practice of thanking the clothes and realizing they may spark joy for someone else eased my guilt. Admitting that I don’t need to hold on to everything someone has given me in order to show my gratitude was freeing. I also realized that nostalgic items I have been keeping for decades (and not wearing) are not bringing me joy and I don’t want to carry them into my future. I could finally let go of my middle school softball jersey (I wasn’t a star athlete mind you, I just have always loved this shirt), a high school cheerleading shirt, and my ratty college sweatshirts.

*I have memories and pictures of these experiences; these clothes were not the containing current joy. Full confession, I have kept my senior prom dress in my closet for the last 24 years.  It has only been worn it once, Prom 1995. I wasn’t really sure why I felt I should keep it, until I held it and realized the feeling it brought me wasn’t joy, it was guilt.

I was raised in a frugal house, and I was overjoyed when my mom splurged on a very expensive prom dress. I loved this dress and the gesture of indulgence was not lost on me, which is why I have felt the need to show my appreciation by letting it take up valuable real estate in my closet for close to three decades.

The helpful push was that my daughter saw me struggling with the decision to keep or toss it, and mentioned that she didn’t think it was very fashionable anymore, or maybe even ever. I laughed, took a deep breath, thanked it, and you know what?

I feel fine. Better than fine. I’m still a good daughter, not a bad person—and my closet is so satisfyingly clean and full of things I actually want to wear.  

4. Find motivation.

This is a big process. It takes a lot of time and energy. It can be easy to feel overwhelmed and want to only do parts.

Instead of giving in, try to find the motivation to fully commit to the process.

For me, I cheated and did my husband’s sock drawer and ties first. They were super simple and quick to organize, and once done were so beautifully intoxicating I was so motivated and excited to have this end result for all of my stuff.

When I needed a little more motivation, I opened these drawers, felt the excitement and satisfaction, and was able to keep going. You may need to watch another Netflix episode of Marie in action to get your energy back, or you may need to do a #mariekondo, #konmari, or #konmarimethod Instagram search to spark your motivation. But do it the right way.  It’s a one-time thing, so put all your effort into the process.

5. Plan for the long game.

The real question is, can this last? Is this a sustainable way to live? Planning to shift your mindset in daily living is the only way this method is going to work.

The real test begins after your house is tidy.

Can you commit to spending a little more energy and effort each day to keep your space tidy?

I have lived for a long time by letting my surroundings build and build in clutter, and then needing to spend a good chunk of time cleaning to get back to baseline.

And then the process starts over.

When it comes to my closet, the mail, or my freezer, I usually feel like I am in too much of a hurry to properly deal with things, so I push the goal post by thinking I’ll just put it away later. Yet the more I say I’ll deal with it later, the more the clutter builds, and then the less relaxed I am in my space thinking about how a big cleaning session is necessary.

The first time I did laundry after implementing the #KonMari method, I forgot I needed to fold everything this way as well. I was super annoyed when I realized my mistake and wanted to just deal with it later.

Instead, I remembered my commitment to change on a daily basis and I did what was necessary.  

Later in the week I was changing after work and I threw my clothes on top of my dresser as per my old habit thinking, “I’ll deal with this later.” I had to call myself out on this thought and forced myself to fold and put things away.

You know what?  It took me less than a minute.  That realization was everything.

Yes, I can save it for later, but is the slow build-up of clutter and agony worth the 45 seconds it takes to do it right now? Now I have the data I need to remind myself that I have no excuses for saving it later.

6.    Use the spark joy thermometer when bringing anything into your home going forward.  

The only question that you need to ask yourself when buying clothes, books, kitchen gadgets, etc. is: “does this spark joy?”

Why would you now bring anything into your closet that you don’t absolutely love and feel the joy? Do you really like getting dressed in the morning into items that leave you feeling perfectly average? While going forward you will most likely buy less stuff and you will be surrounded only by good energy—doesn’t that sound lovely?

I am typically a believer that the book is always better than the movie. Maybe the book is better, but the truth is the Sparks Notes series on Netflix is good enough to help you change your life. Good luck to you all.

I wish you tidy, joyful surroundings!

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