I own 200 things. I know this because I counted. Minimalism resonates with me. Why do I need 15 shirts, when 5 will do just fine? Why do I need 150 books that I will never read again? Why do I need photos stored under my bed, never to be seen?
Before I decluttered, my possessions weighed me down. I felt I couldn’t think clearly. To streamline, I picked up Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing*. She preaches that possessions should bring joy.
Before decluttering, I loved some possessions, felt neutral about others, and disliked the rest.
They all seemed necessary though. After reading Mari Kondo’s book, I realized I own so many things because I either fear the future or the past.
I worried that in the future I might need an item. For instance, I kept bank statements for tax purposes. When did I use statements from five years ago? Never. Now that papers can be kept online, I have no excuse. Similar logic can be applied to clothes and other categories. If I haven’t used it recently, I will probably not need it in the future.
Some items remind us of the past. I worried I would forget these memories after decluttering. I had a once-loved shirt sitting at the bottom of my drawer, collecting dust and wrinkling the rest of my clothes. There is no reason to keep it. Though it is difficult, if an object doesn’t currently bring me joy, it should not be in my life.
Decluttering doesn’t mean getting rid of items for the sake of fewer items.
If that once-loved shirt still brings me joy, I would keep it. I may not need the object, but if it still brings me joy, it serves a purpose. I will only get rid of an item if it loses its joyful properties.
I know I am most happy when living in the present. Items that do not bring me joy distract me with the past or future. Getting rid of my acquired detritus forces me to live in the present. I did not discard items so that I own few things, I discarded them so I have possessions that only give me joy. To me, living a decluttered life is living a present and happy life. Kondo’s method helped me achieve this life.
Step by step, I learned to identify which possessions brought me joy.
Instead of decluttering by location, say a specific drawer, or closet, I decluttered by type. By looking at types, I could understand my possessions as a whole. I wouldn’t find a duplicate pair of shoes hidden in another closet, and I knew how many pants I owned and in what styles. By organizing by category, I could feel the relative levels of joy among similar objects.
Kondo advocates for decluttering in the following order: clothes, books, miscellaneous items, papers, specific hobbies, and then sentimental objects. I decluttered non-sentimental items first and moved to the more difficult categories later. As I moved through each category, I became more effective. I could more identify my joyful objects, regardless of its sentimental weight.
For each category, I put all my possessions on the ground.
I went item by item, touching each and identifying whether it gave me joy. I was skeptical though. Why do I need to touch an item? Couldn’t I just look? At first I followed Kondo’s advice blindly, but over time I understood. Through touch I forged a bond with the item, and I could identify whether it brought me joy. I could discard the item after I touched it. I could appreciate the worth of the object and set it aside knowing it had served its purpose. Had I used sight, I limited my connection to the object. It was more difficult to both identify whether it brought me joy and discard it.
But I wasn’t done. I couldn’t put my possessions back from where they came. My belongings needed a home. A general location doesn’t work because they get messy over time. Mess occurs because there are barriers to cleaning. By establishing an item’s home, I decreased these barriers. I know that item’s home will always be free for that item. I can more easily clean.
I went category by category, dumping my belongings on the ground, touching each item, and identifying which brought me joy. For those that brought me joy, I found them homes. Some categories were harder than others.
I found it difficult to declutter books.
I love books. I had a collection of 150+ books that were categorized by genre and author on my shelves. Kondo’s book made me reevaluate.
If I read a book a month and I live until 90, I will read 780 more books (Read this article on Wait But Why for similar assessments: The Tail End). I must love a book to reread it, because there are so many other books. Most likely, I will read a book I haven’t read. In that case, I should get rid of the books I have read.
I also owned books I had never read. Most had sat on my bookshelf for over a year. I realized if I haven’t read them already, I was unlikely to in the future. If I will never read a book, I should donate it to someone who will.
Keeping books is another way of fearing the future. I kept books because I feared I would want to read them. Books are plentiful and cheap. If I want a book, I can buy it or pick it up from the library. Books should not collect dust in the off chance they interest me.
But I did not get rid of all my books. There are a few All Stars that still sit on my shelf. They define who I am, and I reference them regularly. I kept these books because they bring my joy.
I also had difficulty decluttering gifts.
Someone had thoughtfully picked a gift for me. I thought I was doing them a disservice by discarding it. Before reading Kondo’s book, I had never considered the purpose of a gift. A gift communicates love. The act of giving fulfills a gifts purpose. If that gift also brings joy, all the better. I came to terms that I should not feel obligated to keep it.
Regardless of the joy that a gift brings me, I appreciate the gift. It is a token of love. I may still donate it to someone else, but I am thankful for its thoughtfulness. The gift giver may be saddened that I do not use their gift. But if I only use joyful objects, I would not use it. In which case, it matters little whether the object is in my possession. I would rather donate it to someone who does find it joyful. If the gift giver loves me, they will not force me to use their gift. If they love me, they understand my decision.
Wrapping my head around decluttering gifts took time. But I got good at touching each gift, saying thanks both to the object and the gift giver, and bringing closure to the gift’s presence in my life.
Marie Kondo’s method took time, but I reduced my possessions by 80%.
Eventually all my objects were in their homes. With fewer items I have different habits. I do laundry often. Packing is easy. But life hasn’t changed. I haven’t needed anything I decluttered, proving the insignificance of the objects I discarded. I feel freer having possessions that only bring me joy, and I feel more present.
- I read Marie Kondo’s book and got rid of 80% of my belongings.
- I went category by category and touched each object to identify whether it brought me joy. Those that brought me joy, I kept.
- Certain types of possessions were more difficult to declutter such as books and gifts.
- By decluttering, I live a more present life.