I’ve taken to telling myself that mess is a sign of life. That the toys and clothes and colouring pens and drawings that confetti our home courtesy of our two and four year old are actually a good thing. I tell myself, as I trip over train tracks and pick up wayward stuffed animals for the third time in a day, that the chaos the children create is an overflow of inquisitive minds, playful hearts, and childlike enthusiasm. And that without their mess and my husband’s mess and my mess there would be no fun, no process, no progression from A to B to Z and all the in-betweens.
Despite my daily self-reminders about the merits of untidy states, sometimes through gritted teeth, I remain utterly unenthusiastic, nay, uncomfortable when in the middle of anything messy. (Other than baking or painting, but that is another story). I will admit to being happiest when everything has a place and is in that said place. Not when everything is upside down. Or when tidying. Or cleaning. Or unpacking and repacking. But life with an almost handful of little children is fast teaching me that if I don’t loosen the reigns long enough for everyone to have a little fun, we are all going to spontaneously combust.
That said, I am getting a little wiser in my old age.
And while I am making my peace with stuff being out of place for all of the above reasons, I have most definitely waged a war on clutter. Because it has dawned on me that by editing our possessions and being very intentional about what we house in our home, I can minimise the time I spend tidying. Drastically. And that my friends, makes decluttering our home a project worth pursing in my books.
One of the most helpful reads I have come across in my pursuit to trim down the stuff we own to better fit our new home is Marie Kondo’s ” The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A simple, effective way to banish clutter forever”
Let me caveat all of this by saying that I do not agree with everything she encourages. I see no sense in thanking my possessions for their service when putting them away at the end of every day. And I do not think that a clutter free home is the ultimate source of true joy, as Kondo seems to. But I have found her methodology incredibly helpful, and would highly recommend the book to anyone hoping to get a handle on simplifying the stuff in their home.
These are the key lessons I learned from the book:
- Hang onto the things that “spark joy”. Part ways with the rest. According to Kondo, the secret to living clutter free is to ask not, “Could it be useful in future?” or, “Have I used it in the last 12 months?” but rather, “Does it spark joy?” This is a small but significant departure from the way I would normally tackle clutter. When taking on my clothes using this new plumb line a few months after our youngest was born, I was surprised to find very little in my random mix of pre-baby, pregnancy and post baby my stuff that actually made me feel anywhere remotely happy. Or fit properly. So out went three bags full of everything that made me feel frumpy, sad, fat or grumpy, no matter how useful it might someday be. This left me with a really small pile of clothes that made me smile, and that I am enjoying wearing.
- Sort by category, not room. This is simple but brilliant. It helps weed out duplicates, forces you to be ruthless, and means that you are less likely to find yourself clearing out more of the same in a few months time. Kondo has a very specific order which she recommends following – clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items and sentimental stuff. Check out the book for more on the hows and whys.
- Don’t buy more storage. Be smart with the storage you already have. This was a super timely lightbulb moment for me as I read it within months of moving into our new home. It has little to no storage, and my initial instinct was to splurge on built-in cabinetry and shelving galore. But a wise friend told me to hold that thought till we’d lived here for a year. And then I read Kondo’s book. The combination of both sets of advice meant I focused my time and effort on paring down our possessions and on making the best use of the few bits of furniture we do have instead of researching and spending money on new bookshelves, wardrobes and all sorts.
- Fold and store vertically not horizontally. This is an epic game-changer, I exaggerate not! Have a look at this video where she shows you how to fold clothes. It takes getting used to but I’ve found my stride and the payback makes it well worth the effort. Particularly when it comes to my two and four year olds. They can see all of their clothes in their drawers at a glance and pick out what they want without having to pull piles of clothes apart to get to the stuff at the bottom.
- Start decluttering your own stuff, before you take on the kids toys and paraphernalia. This was an uncomfortable place for me. Mainly because one of my major frustrations was the amount of stuff the kids had and how much time I spend tidying up after them or teaching them to pick up after themselves. But I can see the logic – if you can get your own house in order and enjoy the fruits of it, you might just inspire someone else to do the same. Prioritising my stuff has also meant I’ve been the first to reap my own decluttering rewards – I might have never gotten round to taking care of myself at all if Kondo hadn’t recommended I put myself at the top of the pecking order.
- Guilt is not a good reason to hang onto something. Keeping something you don’t really like or use because it was a gift, or because it was expensive but you have barely used it is unhelpful and unnecessary. Best to pass it onto someone who might actually enjoy it and use it.
- Create a home for the person you are now, instead of the person you once were. I’ve given away reams of wool and random bits of fabric that I was hanging onto because I was hoping to use them when time better permitted for knitting and sewing. I gave them away because looking at them made me feel sad and vaguely like I was failing by not keeping up with a hobby I once enjoyed. I figured I could easily replace it all if I did decide to take up my needles again. And truth be told, I haven’t missed any of it.
- Buying in bulk can be a false economy. What you save on money you pay for in clutter and storage. I used to stockpile nappies, wipes and various foodstuffs depending on the offers I came across, only to have to stuff them down the sides of furniture and forget about them because they weren’t stored in logical places. By simplifying the amount of anything we have at any given time, I am better able to keep track of stock levels and top up what is needed when it is needed.
- A place for everything, and for everything a place. Once you have less, you are better able to assign places for the things you keep, and to return them to their rightful home after you have used them. We are definitely works in progress here as life with kids requires regular evolution of spaces and the stuff that goes in them. But I feel better equipped for the challenge and am constantly on the lookout for how best to house what we do have, without buying anything new.
How has the book affected our everyday?
Life, a baby and young children have made it difficult to take on my decluttering project with the single minded focus that she suggests and that I would have preferred. So far I’ve worked my way through my wardrobe, toiletries, make-up, cleaning products and gifts drawer (wrapping paper, gifts, ribbon and the like). I’ve been less methodical with kids clothes and toys because that’s been harder to do around little ones. And because little people clothes are super cute, and I’m managing an ever changing wardrobe for three girls under four who were all born in different seasons. I have halved the toys and books in the house using her “spark joy” filter though, which I’m pretty chuffed about.
The results to date have genuinely been liberating. Getting dressed takes half the time because I can literally see everything I have at a glance. Our drawers and my folding technique may not be Pinterest perfect, but it works for us and we are leagues and miles ahead of where we were pre-Kondo.I am sure I am saving money on toiletries because I know exactly what we have and what needs replacing. Even though they have less things to play with, the kids don’t seem to have missed anything. If anything, they appear to be spending more focussed time on the things we have kept, mainly duplo blocks, trains, dolls and their collection of animal figurines. And a major bonus has been that I can tidy up the kids bedroom or downstairs play area in about ten minutes (without interruptions) because we have so much less to contend with.
So there you have it. I’m definitely a work in progress on the decluttering front, but do feel like I’ve picked up some super helpful tools from this book that will see us through the next few years.
Do let me know what you make of the book if you do read it. And if you have any de-cluttering tips of your own, do pop them in the comments box below. I’d love to hear from you!