About seven months ago, my husband and I moved temporarily into a small apartment while our home undergoes major renovations. Most of our “stuff” is in boxes in our garage awaiting the day we move back in and unpack. I’ve been looking forward to that event with a mixture of excitement and horror. Remodeling presents us with a clean slate–a chance to organize ourselves and our belongings in a way that will be efficient and aesthetically pleasing. To be frank, I’m worried I’m gonna fuck it up. So when I saw Spark Joy in a Little Free Library on one of my morning walks, I embraced the serendipity and took it home with me to read and, hopefully, learn from.
First, I need to say that I’m not looking to change my entire life with this book. In the introduction, Marie Kondo writers “Are you committed to completing the once-in-a-lifetime special event of tidying up? If you answered yes, then please go ahead and read this book. . . .If you answered no, however, please start by reading my first book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you have already read it but still aren’t committed, please read it again.”
Me: “Please just show me how to fold my underwear.”
If you are someone who has embraced the Marie Kondo method and changed your life, you have my congratulations and my envy. I’m not there yet, and even if I were, I have a husband and three cats who would have to get on board first. What I’m trying to say is, I’m not knocking the Spark Joy method, but I really just wanted some tips. And, happy to say, I found some! Read on for tips that caught my fancy.
Tidy by category, not by location
“One of the most common mistakes people make is to tidy room by room. This approach doesn’t work because people think they have tidied up when, in fact, they have only shuffled things around from one location to another.” Ouch, yes. How many times have I picked up something from the room I’m cleaning and thought, “Oh, this can go in the ‘other’ room.”
Meanwhile, the “other” room.
Kondo recommends that you gather all your things from a certain category (for example, clothes) from every room and every corner of your home and go through them all at once. This allows you to see everything together, and it may just scare the bejeezus out of you when you realize how many pair of dress slacks you own when you haven’t been to the office since March 2020. (Also, what’s with the crop tops? They can’t all be Halloween costumes.) Kondo recommends the following order for tidying: 1) clothes, 2) books, 3) papers, 4) komono (miscellaneous), and 5) sentimental items. Presumably, clothes should be the easiest to sort, and sentimental items the most difficult. By following the order she proposes, you get practice on the “easier” categories.
Everything can be folded into a rectangle
Kondo includes illustrations on how to fold almost any type of clothes, and these drawings are the real reason I took this book home. No matter what you need to fold, if you can get it into the shape of a rectangle, you can then fold it over into a neat little bundle.
I’ve done this with my sock drawer, check it out below.
Marie Kondo: “Amateur hour. The cats aren’t even all facing the same way.”
I do like her folding methods, and when I get my new closet I’m going to fold lots more articles of clothing and place them on shelves, rather than cramming everything into drawers. When items are in drawers, I’m going to attempt to give them breathing room, not because I’m afraid of crushing the spirit of an inanimate object, but because opening up a drawer where everything is smashed together is depressing. I showed my husband a method for folding his underwear and he asked, quite fairly, “Does this save space?” It doesn’t, really, but I replied, “This way looks cuter.”
If you keep something, let it be seen and used
Kondo is not out to make you throw away everything that is dear to you. It really isn’t about minimalism, but about getting rid of stuff that isn’t adding to your life in any positive way. One of my takeaways from this book was to find creative ways to enjoy the things that are dear to you. For example, I have some old coat pins and other jewelry that I never wear. They are pretty, but I don’t have any practical use for them. Kondo suggests using things like this as ornamentation on hangers. My husband then had the idea to use them to mark different sections of my closet; for example, turquoise coat pin marks the start of blouses; clear coat pin marks the start of skirts. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a place where all my sentimental items are out in the open, but I like the idea of coming up with creative solutions to breathe new life into old possessions.
Keeping something “just in case” is hazardous
Kondo gives examples specifically related to clothing (think of a belt that goes with a dress you gave away years ago), but this principle applies to almost anything. I have quite a few craft supplies that I don’t use. I have been in the habit of saying, “If I can find a place for it, I’ll keep it.” I recognize now that this is silly–keeping something just because you can just means pushing the problem of disposal down the road. Might I take up paper quilling some day? It’s not impossible. I tried it a few times when I first got supplies, and it’s kind of relaxing, but let’s be real: I have so many interests and potential hobbies that I’ll have to live centuries for paper quilling to rise to the top of my priority list. Even Bill Murray in Groundhog Day never got around to it.
Little-known fact: Murray’s scrapbooking sequence was cut in favor of the ice sculpting montage.
Not only that, but the presence of those supplies, sitting there in my craft bin, makes me feel kind of sad (which, you will note, is the opposite of sparking joy). That I own these materials and never do anything with them suggests a non-existent failure on my part. Meanwhile, somebody out there really enjoys paper quilling and could be using those supplies to make art that others will enjoy. Giving the supplies away is a win for everyone.
I started out by saying that I was just in this for tips, but some of Kondo’s philosophy has won me over. I’m not ready to completely change my life, but I’m ready to look at my possessions objectively. If something has been sitting in a box in my garage for 15 years, who is it serving? Hiding possessions I don’t use or even want certainly isn’t honoring the object or the person who gave it to me. Looking at items dispassionately is the secret.
Ironically, I am now faced with the dilemma of whether to keep the book and find a place for it on my bookshelves or pass it on. Does Spark Joy spark joy?
I’m thinking I’ll keep it until I move back home to help guide me as I unpack. Afterwards, I can thank the book for its service and drop it into a different Little Free Library, where another confused individual who wants to tidy can find it.