M, who in no way subscribes to self-help and indulges me sporadically more for a quiet life rather than anything else, refreshingly seemed to be taking the concept of “sparking joy” incredibly seriously. I was thrilled. He was on board. A moment later I felt his hand on my shoulder. “Hmm,” he said. “Does this spark joy? No! Does this mean I can put you in the bin? Haahaahaaahaa” and with that he rolled around laughing and went off to another room to leave me to it. Rule 1: Focus on what is yours first. I would deal with him later.
The core of Marie Kondo’s bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is that we should be deciding what we want to keep, not what we want to discard. A subtle yet seismic shift from a negative to a positive reaction and in doing so we surround ourselves with items that make us happy; which spark joy. Our homes will be streamlined and clutter free. Always.
A quick whizz through the book’s main messages is as follows (I think I’ve read the book about six times so I hope this is a succinct but comprehensive distillation):
1. You do the process once only.
Do it properly the first time and you will never have to do it again. Tidying is neither a daily nor a weekly ritual. It is a special event and one best started in the morning. You’re also not allowed music (so much for my favourite tidying song – Galantis’ Peanut Butter Jelly).
2. You MUST follow the sequence:
Papers (credit card statements, bills)
Miscellany (toiletries, make-up, kitchen implements, stationery)
Personal items (photographs, letters, momentous).
The idea being that you start with items which have least sentimental value and work towards those that are far more likely to invoke emotions. No matter how tempting it may be don’t get lured into the trap of old photographs before it is time.
3. Collect all the relevant items in one place.
So, for example, the first group in the sequence is clothes. So, firstly, you collect all your clothes from all over your house including coats, shoes, scarves, lingerie etc. You can sort into sub-sections too, skirts, blouses, jumpers if you find yourself faced with mounds and mounds.
4. Pick up an item, hold it and see if it sparks joy.
If it does put it into a keep pile. If it does not put it into a Discard pile. Repeat. What does “sparking joy” mean? I’m sorry I can’t give you defined parameters but only a rather woolly statement – you know it when you feel it. If you’re looking for a tick list of joy sparking criteria I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.
5. Do all the sorting first.
There is no putting away until all the sorting is done. When it comes to putting away, hang all items that should be hung and then store all other items vertically using Marie’s folding method. This includes socks. The balling of socks is expressly prohibited.
6. When it comes to discarding the items you don’t want, thank the item for serving its purpose and send it happily on its way (I love this idea and it makes it a lot easier to discard things you’ve bought on impulse in error).
7. Repeat until you have worked your way through each stage.
8. You are done.
You can’t do the process is a day. It takes time. That does not mean the process is open-ended. You need an end date. Kondo recommends a maximum of six months. Even that, I think, is too long – I prefer to get these things out of the way in as close to one fell swoop as possible.
The idea of touching an item to see if it sparks joy sounds a little nuts but more fool you for scoffing, I say. I’ll say the same about people who scoff when you thank things before discarding them. Why talk to a book or a scarf? Try it. She hasn’t become a global phenomenon for nothing.
Do I still have a few dresses I don’t have a hope in hell of fitting into? Yes, but I love them so much. A Liberty print blue bandeau dress covered in red poppies from Kate Moss’s Topshop is a case in point. But I have discarded a raft of dresses which are just, well, meh. Also gone is a pair of pink floral jeans (yes you read that right), dozens of make-up samples that have sat in my bathroom cabinet for years (Kondo is quite adamant that these should just go), piles of books, candleholders, bizarrely no DVDs, an awful, gaudy keychain that I bought, disliked immediately, paid too much for and couldn’t sell on eBay. Clothes that I’ve kept because it will come in handy for cleaning or decorating have all gone bar one pair of jeans, a jumper and two T-Shirts. Kondo draws a line of demotion of clothes to “loungewear.” Holey jeans, disintegrating ballet pumps, ill fitting jumpers, underwear that’s seen better days have all disappeared too.
I feel lighter and a converse outcome; by having less I also have more.I also look at everything and I like it.
There is something rather calming about everything you own being in its place and only being surrounded by what you need. I found it freed up a lot of time – I know exactly where everything is; there’s no clutter or disarray. As someone who struggles to relax, I find it terribly calming.
I also found the advice keep everything of one type in the same place very helpful. I now have a sellotape tub. M may laugh (and does) but it’s full of tape and we both know where it is. Whose laughing now?!
Our local charity shop practically knows me by name. Various dresses went into eBay. Mounds went into the recycling boxes (why I hold onto paper make-up and perfume packaging I don’t know) and the bin and a couple of items went to my family including, ironically, a bin.
There’s still some work to be done. Occasionally, I see something that may have not sparked as much joy but may come in handy – old mismatched wine glasses, a wooden mask I bought for a pound in Mexico a decade ago (who am I kidding? that will never come in handy), a zillion rubbishy biros, and a wave of ruthlessness washes over me and out it goes!
I can see the gaps in my wardrobe – I don’t have a black handbag, spring coat or a nice pair of ballet bumps. I could really do with a decent nude bra. My old bobbled one has gone in the bin because it in no way sparks joy and if I can’t be bothered to replace it then that’s my own silly fault for being too lazy.
It has inspired me to only buy things I need, I love and that will last.
I suppose now that I’ve finished the process I should discard the book, after all it’s fulfilled its purpose. But I like it. It sparks joy. So Marie Kondo can stay on my newly streamlined minimal bookcase. And, actually, there’s just one more personal item. Now, just bear with me while I go and touch him on the shoulder.