This is going to be difficult. This is going to be satisfying. This is going to change your life. You can’t half-ass it. You have to full-ass it. A few important principles you need to live while you do this: Ruthlessness. Humility. Gratitude.
Yeah, I know. That’s an odd combination of words. You’ll understand each word’s place once you’re through.
Gather everything of a category into one open space.
Yep. Everything. We’re going to talk about clothes first because they’re the easiest. You’re going to take every article of clothing in your house and place it in a pile. All of it. The coats from storage & the coat closet/mudroom, the clothes hanging in your closet, leave no hanger hanging or drawer unemptied. You need to handle everything in order to discard adequately.
But why not just go one drawer at a time? Why discard all at once?
If you try to go one drawer at a time, you’ll inevitably take something from one drawer and put it into the next. Instead of decluttering, you’re moving things around, putting them off, allowing yourself to worry about it later and later never comes. A little at a time is essentially shuffling, moving things from one storage space to the next. So don’t think of placement – forget storage, forget where things “belong,” forget what you’ve been told about inch-by-inch being a cinch. Work in categories. Work in batches. It takes time to get into a groove, so just keep the groove going instead of having to find it again and again and again.
Who has time for this? There isn’t even enough time in one day to do every category!
Now here’s the thing: the entire process doesn’t have to happen in a day. So maybe you take 1 category per weekend. Maybe you handle the process over the span of a week! Just do not let this process extend beyond 6 months, and by this process, I mean the whole process: envisioning, discarding, placement. Honestly, I think discarding should take 2 weeks max. That’s just me – I’m no expert, but I think beyond that, it turns into a daunting chore rather than a joyful release. Placement (which I would say includes decor) takes longest in my mind because it’s basically the physical representation of your life and habits are changing.
Use the following category order:
This is important, because by starting with clothes, you’ll build momentum and develop your sense of decisiveness – ruthlessness – that will condition you and prepare you for each consequent category, and especially for mementos.
Mementos are particularly hard because they’re rare and they’re meaningful. Marie Kondo has this to say:
People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.
So you must build up a resistance to the emotional and hone your sense of what sparks joy to you.
Discard by asking yourself: does this spark joy?
This is the fun part: the discarding. We’re now back in whichever space you’ve chosen, with your pile of [insert category here] possessions on the floor. You’re going to touch everything. Handle each item individually and ask yourself, “does this spark joy?”.
You’re not asking “when is the last time I used this?” because you can answer that with “well, it’s been a while, but I still could.” It’s really easy to talk ourselves into things that don’t fit into the life we want because of “coulds” and “maybes.”
This method is decisively focused on “choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” The focus is on holding onto joy and what brings happiness to our lives, while letting go of those things that distance us from joy.
So again, take every item in your hands. How does your body react? You’ll know what to do.
*Woo Alert!* As you let go of each item, be thankful for the moment it had in your life and what you may have learned from it. Maybe the lesson you learned from a particular shirt was that “if you can’t figure it out on the hanger, you won’t figure it out on your body.” Maybe the lesson you learned from that pile of unused gifts is that “the point of a gift is to be received.”
Remember: this is going to be a humbling lesson. You’ve acquired things for a reason, and now you’re letting go of them. It’s going to be hard not to want to make a value judgment of yourself based on how much you throw away – DON’T! We live in a consumer society, and it’s really easy to get excited about something in the moment. This is a lesson that requires you to drop your defenses and disconnect yourself from your sense of pride. Remember: moving forward with humility as a guiding trait will keep feelings of judgment in check.
Why discard at all? What if I need that stuff?
I’m going to change your life. Actually, Marie Kondo is going to change your life.
The thing is, stuff is just stuff. It can be bought, borrowed, found, sold. It’s a tangible thing that probably pales in comparison to the value of loving your home and living in a peaceful, uncluttered space.
Kondo has this to say:
“If you come across something that does not spark joy but that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, stop a moment and ask yourself, “Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or because of a fear for the future?” […] You’ll begin to see a pattern in your ownership of things, a pattern that falls into one of three categories: attachment to the past, desire for stability in the future, or a combination of both. It’s important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.
She’s saying that the way you choose what you own and your ownership choices are a reflection of what your values in life are. Maybe you have an attachment to the past and it’s too scary to let go of little things. Maybe you’re worried that if you discard something, you’ll need it later.
Here’s the thing: if you’re surrounded by things that you’re keeping out of fear rather than things you’ve kept for the joy they bring, that’s the lifestyle and value you’re choosing. Fear for the future, fear of letting go of the past. But what about joy in each moment?
How to let go of fear for the future.
This is one of the most important statements of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:
Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.
Consider this: how many times have you gone on a wild goose chase for that ONE thing you KNEW you had somewhere around here, but you JUST COULDN’T FIND IT, but you also couldn’t bring yourself to buy a new one because you KNOW you already have one somewhere? Your project is at a standstill, you’ve become indecisive, and your enthusiasm for your project fizzles. It’s a started project you’ll probably not finish at this point.
But what if that wasn’t a problem? What if you knew “ah, I discarded this thing, so I need to act to acquire or borrow one.” By not having that thing, you’ve skipped the searching step and shifted immediately into action-mode. Action mode is the place to be in life – “once we have come up with a solution, we have no choice but to act. And when we do, we notice that the problem is often solved surprisingly easily.”
How to cope with fear of letting go of the past.
When is the last time you sat down with a photo album? Read that box of letters from your high school sweetheart? Are you still with that high school sweetheart? WHY DO YOU STILL HAVE LETTERS FROM AN EX WHEN YOU’RE PERFECTLY HAPPY WITH YOUR PARTNER, OMG?
I’m only kind of kidding. Sentimentality is a high hurdle to jump, possibly the most difficult of all. That is why memorabilia has to come last in the order of discarding.
So when you have a hard time discarding something sentimental, ask why. And ask why again to that answer. Usually, after you peel the onion a few layers, you’ll hit the core of the matter: you feel guilty letting go of something from a special time in life, a special person, a special moment, a special gift.
In life, things change. We move forward, and the best way to move forward is with gratitude. Thank the object for the lesson it provided, for the moment in life it unlocks, for whatever you find most fitting. But also be gentle with yourself for releasing yourself from the past. Your job in life is to keep moving forward.
Now I’m not saying you have to toss all memorabilia – not by any means! But don’t hold onto the things that don’t bring you joy. Maybe instead of keeping that whole stack of photos from that trip to the river, you hold onto the 5 great pictures of your friends dancing on the boat & jumping into the water. I promise that you don’t need the one you accidentally took of [is that blur a foot? a leg? a butt?].
Gifts are one of the hardest things to let go of, so consider that a person who would give you a gift would want you to be happy. Right? They want the best for you. Finding yourself on the next season of Hoarders is not what is best for you. The likelihood is that they’ve forgotten the gift because they received joy from giving it to you in that moment. That moment is past. Move on with your future. And if they find their gifts and ego more important than your happiness in your home and life, well…
There were a few things I wish I’d done, known, and considered before I started discarding.
- Don’t throw away boxes!
I had a TON of boxes from Birchbox & Julep* subscriptions, and I started this whole process by throwing them ALL away. Little did I know that they are your best friends when it comes to organizing & storage solutions – they fit inside of drawers, they’re great dividers and separators, etc.
- Don’t let the family see!
There is no more surefire way to reintroduce clutter than to let your family see what you’re doing. My mom walked through the kitchen while I was discarding and INSISTED on keeping a set of frosting tips that hadn’t seen the light of day in over 10 years. “I made your and your sister and your brother’s birthday cakes with these!” And that was 20 years ago.
- Don’t discard anyone else’s things!
With the exception of the kids’ rooms, this is a personal process. While you can go through the house as a whole, focus on your own belongings. Do not toss your partner’s belongings – have them go through this process with you, but do not do it for them.
- Finish discarding before you worry about placement.
When you’re sitting in your pile of stuff to sort through, don’t get up to put things away as soon as you’ve decided to keep them. Finish each category before you create a place for it. And make sure you understand placement and storage before you start putting things away, too.
This is part 3 of my decluttering series, based on the KonMari method outlined in Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Read the whole series from the beginning:
Part 1 – How I Decluttered My Home in 1 Week (and you can too!)
Part 2 – Decluttering 101: What Kind of a Life Do You Want?
Part 4 – Decluttering 101: A Place for Everything, Everything in its Place