Organizing your bathroom drawers, folding your clothes into neat origami squares, and finding joy throughout the process is taking the world by storm. The KonMari method, by author Marie Kondo, is at fever pitch in American households and I’ve decided to jump on board and share what I’ve learned.
I bought Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in April of 2017. It sat in my Kindle library unopened until December of last year (don’t judge). I didn’t know Marie had a Netflix show being released; it was a coincidence that I read it while on Christmas vacation. A lot of the book was hard to visualize, but I did love the idea of a “permanent” (as she claims) tidying solution, so before ever hearing of the Netflix show I decided January would be my month to start KonMari. And then by happy surprise, all of America started talking about the method at the start of 2019! For those who are interested in reading a first-hand experience not produced for television, here are my victories and failures so far:
ALL THE CLOTHES
I was lucky that my husband is ALL IN for #KonMari-ing our house. We go through periods of being insanely tidy and being too messy based on our busyness and travel. Clothes and laundry are a huge part of that cycle. Often we (okay, I) let laundry pile up so I can do a big batch of folding and organizing every laundry day. A big reason why I could let the laundry pile up is because of the amount of clothes I had. It was convenient, but wasteful and not really responsible. We both agreed we wanted to set a better example for our four kids.
Make no mistake, that pile of clothes is intimidating. For me, the easiest way to start was to get rid of clothes I knew I no longer needed in my life and have been planning to get rid of for months (okay, years), like my office and business attire. I’m at a different stage in my life now, and all of those expensive, fashionable pieces that I took a lot of pride in wearing no longer had a function in my life. They literally only took up space. I set aside clothes I thought I could sell and put the rest in the donate pile. Next, I tackled t-shirts because I had two deep drawers packed full of them. Some I knew I didn’t need anymore. I knew they didn’t “spark joy” and I knew that I should feel absolutely no guilt for donating them. And yet, it was incredibly hard to put them in the donate pile. Intellectually, of course, I knew Jesus wasn’t going to be mad at me for getting rid of a high school camp t-shirt with a Bible verse on it, and I knew the memories associated with that shirt are not going away, but it was still hard. This is one point where the KonMari method works very well.
Kondo says that as you discard items you should tell the item “thank you” for their service, even if you never used or liked them. (“It taught you what you did not like,” she says.) I found it much easier to get rid of sentimental shirts, shirts that were gifts that I never wore, or any items of clothing that I felt guilty discarding (but did not want to keep) because they were still in good shape or even recently purchased.
I don’t share the belief that items have animate qualities, so my thank you’s to my clothing items were more expressions of gratefulness to God for my excess and for experiences that those clothing items represented. Mentally, or even verbally, saying a “thank you” to each item I discarded was a stress-reducing process for me. The whole process of choosing what to keep and folding my remaining clothes took about three days (with breaks for appointments and daily life). A person could go much faster if they want. I intentionally slowed myself down so I wouldn’t be tempted to keep sentimental items just because they were easier to keep than going through the mental process of deciding to discard them.
Getting the clothes out of my house was another battle. Selling items individually myself on Facebook or Craigslist wasn’t an option. I have a short timetable to get my house tidied and it is not feasible to sell clothes with my busy schedule. Do you put it in the bin at the random parking lot? Do you take it to thrift stores? Are you being a terrible, wasteful steward of your finances if you don’t try to recoup some money?
It requires a lot of research if you aren’t familiar with all of the options or a thrift store shopper. A surprising discovery I made was how hard it is to donate clothes to people who will use them. Some of those random community bins are sketchy, and some charities are so overwhelmed with clothing that there’s no guarantee yours wouldn’t be thrown away. Initially, I wanted to give my work clothes to a local charity that specialized in assembling interview outfits for those who can’t afford them. The ones I researched in my area had very strict guidelines and size restrictions that made it impossible for me to donate.
Consignment shops are a whole other issue. I wanted to get rid of my clothes ASAP. Very few consignment shops allow one to donate without some distant future appointment, and shops that specialize in more formal attire reject almost all mall brands and only accept extremely high-end pieces. I decided that all of my discarded everyday clothing would be donated to the Salvation Army and my office clothing would be sold to a consignment shop in the hopes I would make a little cash.
I found the perfect consignment shop: No appointment needed and they would pay me a little cash on the spot for items they could sell and donate the rest. I went to the consignment shop with my immaculately kept, stylish office clothing, hoping that young people in D.C. would be able to purchase this office attire for cheap. I was doing my part for the young, beleaguered employees of D.C. and I was excited to get these clothes off my hands and into the hands of young women who could use and appreciate them!
After over an hour of waiting for them to sort through my clothes, I was told my that giant bag was “too mature” for the store to make any sales and that I should donate the clothing. The very nice young person could not hide the look on her face that clearly said, “You’re an old person, this is a young person store.”
My clothing that I am DONATING is old-person clothing. What does this say about my new clothing? While I was driving home defeated for not recouping any of the money I spent on my apparently ancient clothing, I decided that I should be grateful for the lifting of the burden of responsibility of those clothes and the responsibility those clothes represented.
GETTING THE HUSBAND INVOLVED
Here’s the thing: everyone’s for tidying up until they have to start making slow, methodical, and thoughtful decisions. My husband asked me to do a pre-sorting of his clothes that I no longer want him to have and clothes I enjoy on him. This system worked well.
I tried to be as KonMari as possible the evening my husband sorted his clothes (yes, it only took him one evening). I kept telling him my opinion really didn’t matter every time he asked me if I wanted him to keep or discard something. It only mattered if he liked it and it brought him joy. The whole “does this pair of socks bring me joy” aspect of this was a little challenging for him to adopt because all he wanted was for me to give an up or down vote with the knowledge that he might overrule me. To my happiness, on some items of clothing he did overrule me (on things I was very much hoping he would decide had fulfilled their usefulness). However, we made a deal that those items would be “inside clothes.”
This teamwork also revealed a lot of my husband’s clothing needs that I didn’t know, because he rarely asks for things. And it revealed some things that I didn’t know he really didn’t like. For many items he didn’t like, he was only holding on to them because he didn’t have a suitable replacement. So it was nice to get a shopping list for items that my husband will actually wear and use out of the process.
If you read Kondo’s first book, the folding can sound a bit complicated. Even watching her demonstrations on YouTube can be a little daunting, because getting that perfect, self-standing square out of a soft camisole seems impossible as she whips through it in less than 30 seconds. The key to folding pretty much anything in KonMari method, I found, is this:
- Make a rectangle. However you get there; folding in sleeves, crotches of pants, towels, sheets, or whatever it is, get the piece of cloth to a rectangle.
- Fold in halves and/or thirds until it is the size you need.
I am here to tell you that truly almost anything will stand on its own and it is crazy origami magic.
One of the biggest disappointments for me was how much I had left over. That may sound silly, but I truly went through my clothes multiple times, even after folding them, to make sure I really had “joy” and wanted them.
Another surprising discovery was that folding the KonMari way doesn’t necessarily mean you save space. I now can put much less in my drawers than I used to, the tradeoff being I can now see everything in my drawer when I open it. It was hard for me to let go of the efficiency side of storing clothing to trade it for the benefit of being able to see everything I owned, hopefully, at one glance.
Accumulating, discarding, and folding my clothes has not been the hardest part of this process. The most challenging part has been storing them in a way that “brings me joy.” In the KonMari method, all storage until the complete end of the tidying process is temporary. While that sounds nice, it’s not totally reasonable to have my clothes on the guest bedroom bed while I finish sorting. Also, for my own need for accomplishment, I wanted to start seeing free space appear (especially when I had dressers of empty drawers taunting me). And a great upside with storage has been maintaining my clothes, especially those stored in drawers. There is literally only one place where that item, when folded, will fit. So it’s easy to put items back in their “home” and maintain a tidy appearance.
When my husband and I moved to this apartment, we traded a larger master bedroom to get another room for the kids. One of my dressers had to be put in the guest bedroom. It’s a source of frustration while I’m getting ready in the morning. Either guests or children staying in that room prevent me from having access to clothing while I’m getting ready. And now I’m trying to find a way to intelligently use my space so I no longer have this frustration. My solution, so far, has been that any clothes stored in the guest bedroom are second-layer clothing. Mostly sweaters and hoodies are in the half-filled drawers with the idea that I put those items on last, often just before I leave the house. I still have folded clothes waiting for a home sitting on my husband’s dresser or on the guest bedroom bed.
The bento box method for drawers of socks, underwear, and accessories has been very successful for me. I used 6×12 bamboo drawer organizers (largely meant for kitchen drawers) for my underwear, socks, and sports bras. I used a wood paper tray (meant for desk organizing) for my other bras. These drawers and my t-shirt drawer have been my happy place when I’m frustrated with the rest of house in the midst of tidying. I highly recommend getting an early success for storage. Obviously, you can’t store everything, because new space will open up. But having some physical portrait of success (rather than a picture from a homemaker magazine, as Kondo suggests) is motivating on days you don’t feel like making decisions to get yourself out of the mess you put yourself in. Below are some pictures of my successes. Y’all will just have to take my word on the underwear because I’m not putting pictures of my underwear on the internet.
Arranging my clothes hanging in my closet in an aesthetically pleasing way has also been challenging. KonMari suggests hanging clothes by length, going upward to the right, and then by color to get a sort of chroma scale. That probably works if you don’t do patterns and bright colors in your style and don’t live in an old building with cheap sliding closet doors. I, however, rarely wear solid colors and do live in an old building with cheap sliding doors on my closet. I can only see half of my closet at a time, so when I initially arranged my closet solely by length I didn’t get any “joy” at all. It took days of me mulling over a solution before I found something that has given me partial satisfaction. I arranged my clothes left to right by black-tie wear, pants, long-sleeved items (jumpsuits, dresses, shirts), and then short-sleeved/sleeveless items. Within those categories (some of which only have a few pieces) I arranged by length from left to right. In some cases where I have a lot of pieces, like sleeveless dresses, I also arranged those by color because they were all relatively close to the same size. I made sure that the categories with the longest items of clothing were to the left of each half of my closet so I get the benefit of the “lift” of clothing. Reading it in the book makes it sound very simple, and watching the Netflix show with perfectly chroma-organized closets definitely did not prepare me for the challenge of making my closet look picture perfect. That may not be your goal so you could avoid this problem.
Another challenge has been to move on to the next phase of tidying when this first stage – clothing – is complete, but not yet perfectly stored. Though I’ve moved on to our biggest nemesis, paper, my husband still comes home to find his pajamas moved to another drawer (for the third time) as I think of more creative ways to organize things. And I still wake up in the middle of the night with ideas of where to put my swimsuits or hats.
Overall, I love the KonMari method. Folding laundry really is a pleasant event. The feeling of guilt or regret from letting go of things is officially gone. My husband and I both have moments where we stop, look around and say “this feels great,” even in the midst of organizing. Kondo is not lying when she says this is a marathon, not a sprint. This is an endeavor to take on when you are ready to commit for a long process and are able to commit to doing something to further the goal every day it’s physically possible. It can be challenging not to jump ahead, or go room by room and try to take care of everything at once. However, I have found that because I knew I would eventually get to whatever I wanted tidying (papers, books, etc.) I didn’t feel the stress of it being out of sorts while I was working on my clothes.
The biggest benefit of using this method to sort my clothes (and beyond) is constant gratefulness. It really is good for the soul to spend a few hours saying “thank you” over and over again. I hope that Kondo’s Netflix show’s popularity will not only have the added benefit of showing Americans how to handle our excess, but how much right now we have in our lives for which we should be grateful.
Meredith Dake-O’Connor is a freelance multimedia journalist and video game enthusiast. Prior to freelancing, Meredith oversaw multimedia journalism and web development for CQ Roll Call and video for Breitbart.tv. Originally from Oklahoma, she lives in Maryland with her husband and four step-children.