Clean, Organize, and Declutter with Marie Kondo's Magic: Part 1

Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has changed my life. Here's what happened when I used her method, and why I think it worked.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #373

You'd think that as Get-it-Done Guy, I would really value cleaning. You might even imagine I'd have the neatest, most organized house in the world. Well, I do. If by "neat" you mean "messy," and by "organized" you mean "stuff is all over the place." Earlier this year, however, shmoopie delivered an ultimatum: 2015 is the Year of Learning How to Organize. The very thought was scary.

Fortunately, right about the time we made that decision, I stumbled across a rather remarkable book that claims to be how to organize your closet and your stuff, but it's really about how to organize your life. It's called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo is a professional organizer from Japan. As she goes to great lengths to emphasize, she is not obsessive about tidying up. She is just like any other person who, at the age of five, would go over to the neighbor's house and declutter. And then come home and tidy up her siblings' bedrooms. Just like you or me.

Her book is intriguing. Much of her advice is counter-intuitive, but she says over and over: follow her organization system to the letter, and your life will be transformed. Being transformed sounds pretty cool, almost as cool as being Batman. So shmoopie and I decided to read the book and try it.

As she cleans, she talks to her possessions. She thanks them for being in her life. She even runs her hands over each and every object. It's all very consent-based. We resolved to give her unusual method a try, even though took me sixteen years of therapy to stop talking to inanimate objects. We learned her system works. It's actually is life-changing. So come with me to explore some of her non-intuitive principles.

Declutter by Category, Not by Room

Most personal organizing systems are based on knowing how to organize your room. They tell you to go through room by room and organize one room before starting on the next. Instead, Marie has you clean by category. The first category is clothes. You gather up your clothes and put them all in one big pile (or in my case, spread carefully over the bed) for organizing. This is also convenient because when you talk to your clothes, you can talk to them all at once, without having to yell at the clothes that are in the other room.

Discarding comes before you decide how to organize your room.

If you have a lot of clothes, you can subdivide the clothes into sensible sub-categories and do each sub-category separately: shirts, pants, underwear, costumes, fetish gear, and so on.

Take Everything Out From Where it Lives

Taking everything out of its normal place and putting it in one place really gives you a sense of everything you own. It lets you see every single item in the context of every single other item you have. There's that pink paisley spandex bodysuit you so love and keep in the upstairs closet. And for the first time, you are seeing it right next to your basement discover, that puce paisley spandex body suit. If you'd gone room by room, you would never have remembered that you owned both of them. Seeing them together, you realize that there really can be too much of a good thing.

Not only do you get to see everything in one place, but by taking it all off the shelves, you now have empty shelves. When it's time to put stuff back, figuring out how to organize your room starts with a blank slate, which is really liberating!

Discard First

The way I used to declutter was by going through my room, item by item, and deciding where each thing would go. As you surely know from listening to my episode on how to clean your apartment last, I created this organization on paper to be speedy. Then I move everything where it belongs.

Marie Kondo would never let me do anything so crass. She would lasso me in my tracks, get out her kinbaku handbook (those are decorative Japanese knots used especially for bondage) and keep me firmly immobilized while she explains the proper discipline for cleaning a room.

Once you've gathered a category one pile, discard everything you don't want to keep. Discarding comes before you decide how to organize your room.

This way, you've touched and handled every item in your category. By the time you are ready to put them away, you have a sense of everything you have and can plan storage smartly. You know how much (or how little!) you actually intend to keep, and since your storage areas are completely empty (you piled everything into the middle of the room, remember?), you have maximum flexibility in how to re-use your space.

Sort by Joy

How do you decide what to discard? I'll bet you think it's some rule you've heard before, like "if you haven't touched it in the last year, toss it." Nope. Marie's criteria, like everything else about her, is unusual. Touch every object. Pick it up. Thank it for being in your life. Be grateful! Then ask, "Does this bring me joy?" If the answer is no, let it go.

"But I might need it someday!" Let it go, unless the thought of having it around just-in-case brings you joy. "What will my evil parent-in-law say when they notice there are suddenly no pictures of them anywhere in the house?" Who cares. They're evil. Throw away their pictures. Heck, burn 'em! (Unless that would count as a mystical sacrifice that just feeds their store of energy for evil.)

Most of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is spent walking you through all the excuses you'll find to keep things that don't bring you joy, and showing you why you should get rid of them anyway. She starts with the easy stuff, like getting rid of old clothes, and works her way up to how to get rid of mementos and nostalgic possessions.

I can't overstate this principle! And neither can Marie. By keeping only items that bring you joy, everywhere you look in your home is filled with things that bring you joy. Joy everywhere! It's really, really awesome!

The first steps in Marie Kondo's method are: sort by category, put everything in one pile, discard first, and keep only things that bring you joy. In the next episode of Exploring Tidying Up, we'll learn more about her awesome method. Soon you'll be living the dream of a gorgeous, clutter-free world.

Follow Get-It-Done Guy on Twitter and Facebook. I help people live extraordinary lives in business, entrepreneurship, or the social arena. If you want to know more, visit http://SteverRobbins.com

Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!

Declutter photo courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.