Inspired by Marie

Having invoked Marie Kondo in my last post, I thought I should at least watch her show to see what all the fuss is about. So I started streaming Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and was quickly hooked. Although I watched the first few episodes alone, I invited my husband to jump at about episode four. He liked it too. Could we try this at home?

We are neither neatness freaks nor hoarders. I like a tidy home, but closets and drawers are usually a mess. I sporadically try to impose order therein but have trouble keeping things properly folded, sorted, stashed. Vic has more tolerance for visible mess than I do and has often been resistant to my requests to sort through his clothing or get rid of old books and papers except when we move, which has been infrequent. I take some satisfaction in wholesale purging, filling bags for Goodwill or lighting big bonfires of old papers as we did before our last move two years ago. Vic insists on looking at every item individually and taking his time to decide. That drives me nuts so I try not to watch.

Marie would say both of us are right. Getting rid of things—restoring order—can be fun. “I like mess!” she says. But each object should be decided on individually and treated with respect.

Her method is, basically,

  1. Put everything you’re dealing with (clothes or books, for example) on a pile.
  2. Pick up each item and see whether it “sparks joy” in you. It is important to sense this response in your body. If you don’t know what this is about, try it first with some items you know you love. With practice you get better at detecting this subtle, visceral “yes.”
  3. Linguistic side notes: “spark joy” is an inexact translation for a Japanese word that is untranslatable. Tokimeku means to flutter, throb, palpitate. “Does it stir you?” might be another way to put it. The term was new to me, though I once spoke Japanese rather well. I have always loved the Japanese word for tidying and cleaning: katazukeru. Sometimes I channel my Japanese auntie and mutter “katazukete kudasai” when I’m putting things away, much like little kids are taught to chant, “clean up, clean up, everybody clean up!”
  4. If the item doesn’t spark your joy and stir you even a tiny bit, thank it before you put it in a discard or recycle pile.
  5. Find a place for everything you keep.
  6. Store things in ways that will make them accessible.

After seeing the neat, efficient way Marie folds and stores clothes so that you can easily see everything that is in a drawer, I was ready to tackle my own clothes. I went through my closet and drawers in a day. When I piled everything on the bed at once I was amazed at the size of the pile. I never feel like I have many clothes, but I store them in different places so they add up. It turned out to be true, however, that the ones that “spark joy” are rather few. It’s not that I didn’t have many clothes; I just didn’t have many I liked. The rest were taking up space and hiding my favorites. Remembering to thank each item, I filled two bags for Goodwill, another for consignment, and one for trash.

All my happy clothes

To my surprise, Vic was ready to work on his clothes the next day. To my greater surprise, the “spark joy” method worked for him, too, allowing him to let go of many items that were perfectly wearable (always an objection he raised in the past) but seldom worn. He was even ready to get rid of a T-shirt that I was rather attached to because I’d brought it back from a trip to South Africa. But the elephant head didn’t spark joy for him, so to Goodwill it goes. Lesson: there is no need to hang onto something just because it was a gift.


On second thought, I may save that one for the next White (in this case, brown) Elephant Christmas gift exchange.

The method needs to be applied judiciously. I have a category of clothes that I wear seldom if ever, but they are souvenirs of my times in other places: Russian shawls, Japanese kimonos and jackets, and, of course, lots of colorful outfits made from African fabric. I decided I wouldn’t get rid of any of these but, rather, find a separate place to store the souvenir clothes that I will probably never wear again. They went into a drawer in a guest bedroom. Also, before the last move I purged my books to volumes that fit into two bookcases, but I’m glad that I have most acquisitions of recent years on Kindle and don’t have to get rid of any of them.

As a bonus, Vic was inspired to repair two drawers in an antique dresser that were sagging and sticking. They have been in that annoying condition since we found the dresser in Iowa in about 1978. So after 40 years I can use the dresser for my clothes, not just as storage for things that we never use–which are now gone, anyhow.

“Inspiration” is my word for the year. Thanks, Marie-san, for inspiring us.

Next, the kitchen?

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