Sunday, December 21, 2014

Tidying Up

Lately I've been reading a lot about minimalism. Through some convoluted internet pathway, I ended up at The Minimalists' blog. Being slightly OC about blogs, I read every single post over the next couple weeks. I don't think I'll ever be a true minimalist, but I was quite impressed by the idea of severely paring down one's accouterments in order to achieve a streamlined and purposeful life.

Around the same time, I saw an article from the New York Times float past, reviewing a recently translated book called "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." The author is a young Japanese woman who runs a cleaning consultation company in Tokyo. I've been interested in Japanese culture and ideas for several years now, so I was intrigued by the book.

Then one of my favorite bloggers, Jennifer Scott, posted a very positive review of the book in a v-log. That made me decide for sure that I needed to read it, so I requested it at my local library and they bought it almost at once. I read the book over the course of a week (it was quite short, but I read it slowly and took notes so that I could remember the guidelines). The morning after I finished, I decided to try out her organizational method on my belongings.

So what is the method, you may ask. Basically it boils down to one sentence: Throw away anything that doesn't make you happy and find a suitable place for everything that remains

This may sound rather daunting, but it actually turned out to be both liberating and affirmative. After reading the Minimalists' blog, I had been a bit uncertain about the idea of simply discarding everything but the necessities (I am drastically simplifying the Minimalists' message to keep my blog post manageable, my apologies). I agree that fewer belongings lead to greater freedom and perhaps even greater happiness, but at the same time, many of the things I own which are not strictly necessary nor even used very often do still say something about me and to me. I wouldn't want to get rid of them. 

The KonMari method (as the Japanese woman calls her approach) solved that issue. Instead of getting rid of things for the sake of sheer freedom from material goods, the follower of the method is advised to take everything he or she owns and sort it into categories - clothes, books, etc. Then starting with the first category, one takes each item and asks, 'Does this make me happy? Do I love this?' If the answer is no, or even only maybe, get rid of it. Only keep those things for which the answer is an unqualified, 'Yes!' Everything is sorted to leave only the items that make you happy, you find a sensible place for each of them and your work is done - theoretically forever besides some occasional maintenance work.

When I started the project, I was already quite organized. I had a room and a large closet full of my belongings, about three boxes in storage, three more boxes of kitchen supplies and a few things in the garage. Everything mostly had a designated spot and I kept it pretty neat. Then I spent a week trying out the KonMari method. During that time I discarded (sold, donated or threw away) a box of clothes, four boxes of books, three bags of trash, and one more box of assorted household items and toys. According to the author, that is actually on the low end of the spectrum for items discarded by people consulting with her about her method.

Such a large purge sounds scary, since obviously if you get rid of those things, you can't get them back. However, it's not just an exercise in minimalism, which is why I found it more helpful than the Minimalists' advice, even though they started me on the path to a simpler life. Instead it is an exercise in self-examination. While asking yourself over and over, 'Does this make me happy?' it becomes clearer what exactly does make you happy and what you may be missing, not just as far as possessions go, but on a personal level. 

Reading The Minimalists and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has opened my eyes. The former pointed out that by detaching  from the bonds of possessions and societal expectations, a person can come to a clearer understanding of his or her true hopes and goals. Moreover, with limited possessions and fewer financial obligations, a person will often become freer to pursue those goals. The latter also pointed out the benefit of clarifying what it is that makes one truly happy. Through detachment from the distraction of unwanted possessions, one discovers the energy and time to find that happiness. 

Several things have become clearer to me thanks to these revelations. My greatest goal is to become a published author, so I'm planning some bolder steps toward making that happen. I'd also like to look into a new living arrangement. I have a few other obligations that will come before that, but eventually I feel like a new home might suit me better than my current one. 

I'm happy to have come to these conclusions. I also have felt marvelously lightened since completing my KonMari experiment, so I have more determination to prompt me to fulfill my goals. The only thing lacking currently is time, but hopefully once the holiday season has passed my schedule will become a little more leisurely for the pursuit of my true interests.

In the meantime, I will wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2015. I hope to be back in January with news and poems and pictures.


  1. I will never be a minimalist. Hard to do with having children and grandchildren. And well after 35 years of marriage one tends to accumulate a whole lotta stuff. But I have been attempting to clean out the cobwebs and what they are resting on.

    Good luck to you. And best wishes to you and yours. See you in the New Year! ~Jules

    1. Best wishes for a happy Christmas season to you as well, Jules! I don't think I'll ever be a true minimalist either, but it has been healthy for me to reduce some in the past couple of months. It has let me clear out the mental cobwebs too!

  2. Thought you'd like this.
    You can teach 'an old lady' new tricks.
    Fun how we can help and influence each other...