I’m betting that if you’re one of those folks who make New Year’s resolutions, somewhere on your list is a variation of “get organized/tidy house”. Tidy houses are great things – they allow you to find things easily, move about freely, and be less stressed by clutter, but even with resolutions they are often hard to achieve.
The big hit organizing sensation of 2015 was Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Now, I don’t know about the “Japanese art” bit here, because most of the tricks Kondo espouses in her KonMari system are things that I’ve always done. (I’m apparently slow on the draw for telling people how to be like me and making money from it.)
Kondo’s advice includes things like discarding any item that doesn’t “spark joy” and thinking of your belongings as having a soul. There’s a whole lot of talking to your stuff in this system – “thank you tea towel, for making my dishes dry…” that is kind of hokey and unnecessary, but the idea of having a sense of respect for your belongings, and taking care of them, makes a lot of sense.
Discarding clutter is a serious business in the KonMari cult (yes, it’s being called a cult) – when you finally get down to the cleaning, Kondo advises no music or background noise such as television, and no helpers, lest they lure you down the path of nostalgia, provoking you to keep things that you no longer need.
The KonMari system can apparently be quite daunting for many people and most of the reviews or articles I’ve come across writing about Kondo seem to only get as far as decluttering their clothes closets. Which is a fair enough place to start.
Decluttering the average alternative person’s wardrobe has the potential additional issue of everything being black, which is why weeding out the stuff that no longer sparks joy is an even better idea. There’s no joy in frantically trying to find a particular garment when they’re all the same colour (and sometimes fabric).
So here’s a system for decluttering the wardrobe, part Marie Kondo, organizational specialist, part Sheryl Kirby, gothy neat freak.
- Set aside an afternoon when you can go through your whole wardrobe without interruption. If that’s not possible, choose one element (closet, dresser).
- Arm yourself with boxes or garbage bags for discards, a marker to label the boxes, and a notepad and pen.
- Pull everything out of the area being re-organized. Everything.
- Examine each item. Immediately discard anything that is torn/worn and not repairable, or anything that no longer fits. Kondo points out that people keep a lot of stuff they think they might use in the future, but this usually never happens. From personal experience, I can vouch for this point. If you haven’t worn it in a year, and don’t realistically expect to be able to wear it in the coming year, get rid of it. Use the notepad to make a list of important things that must be replaced.
- Can’t bear to part with something because of sentimental value? Take a photo of it. The nostalgia of things is usually memory based – having the actual thing is unnecessary to spark the memories. And holy crap, anything with bad memories, like wedding dresses from marriages that ended in divorce, or the coat you were wearing when you gut mugged, should not be given space in your home or your life.
- Sort your stuff into keep, donate and trash, with the donate and trash items going into the bags or boxes. If you come across things that need to be repaired, ask yourself how realistic it is to keep that item. If you haven’t mended it by now, what is the likelihood that you will?
- The items you keep should, as Kondo states, “spark joy”. I don’t love this theory, although I get where it’s coming from. I prefer the theory of “only keeping things that are beautiful, useful or that bring joy” – just don’t let the “beautiful” bit get out of hand. And make a point of having any new “useful” thing you bring into your home also be beautiful or joyful.
- Put anything that can be folded without creasing into drawers if possible. Kondo advises storing folded items vertically in a row, instead of stacked in a pile, and maaaan, is this ever a great idea. As in, if you have cabinets or shelves and not drawers, go buy boxes or containers to follow this tip because being able to see all of your options at a glance, and having them easily accessible, is so much better than fighting with a pile, especially if most of your wardrobe happens to be the same colour or of similar fabrics.
- Hang items so there is space between them with the fronts all facing the same way. Button or zip items that might lose their shape if left open.
- Hang garments from longest to shortest, as opposed to by an arbitrary category, although this arrangement tends to sort itself into categories naturally (long evening gowns, shorter dresses, jackets, then shirts). Kondo says to do this for visual flow. I say to do it because it gives you some extra floor space in the closet.
- If you have a reasonable number of shoes, use a hanging canvas shoe cubby to keep shoes visible and not in piles on the floor. Collectors could look at storage boxes with a clear panel so you can see the shoes and not forget about them or have to open every box looking for a specific pair.
- There are plenty of racks designed to hold scarves and necklaces. I keep my small stuff in a collection of pretty hat boxes. Yes, it means a bit of searching but it fits with my space, and is less cluttered visually.
- Purses or bags can also be put to work holding other small items. My hall closet has my regular rotation of bags each holding a type of accessory – winter hats, gloves, fur collars and scarves. Yes, I have to dump everything out if I want to use that purse, but it all goes back in when I get home, and it is a better use of shelf space than empty handbags would be.
Kondo espouses the big purge over doing little bits of decluttering at a time, but once you’ve cleared that wardrobe or dresser, the trick is in keeping it from getting cluttered again. This is easiest to do if you deal with your garments immediately after taking them off – put dirty clothes in the laundry, hang other clothes to air, put jewelry, shoes and accessories back in their proper place (Kondo and I are both sticklers for everything having a place). Wipe salt off boots or shoes. Fold or iron clean laundry immediately and put it away, rather than letting it pile up. Set aside half an hour a week to polish shoes and do any mending.
Finally, one utterly OCD tip for drawers once you’ve employed Kondo’s vertical arrangement system. If you’ve still got too many garments that look the same but are different – for instance I have half a dozen different tops or jackets that are made from the exact same black jersey fabric – safety pin a label to each one in a visible place describing the piece (long black jacket, trapeze dress, tank top) to save yourself from unfolding every item to see what it is. The few seconds it takes to attach that pin will save the stress while getting dressed and all the time refolding everything after you’re done.
This article originally appeared on Still Weird Zine.