“Whether you’ve read her book or not, you might be wondering how Marie Kondo’s methods of decluttering and organizing stack up with my own, which also come from a lifetime of experience and years spent in the business of helping people clear their homes of unwanted stress and stuff.”–Stephanie Bennett Vogt
If sales figures are any indication, it seems that the world is fed up, maxed out, and ready to listen. In my twenty years as a space clearing professional, I’ve never seen a book take the world by storm like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
We live in an insatiable culture of “more” and “better.” We are swimming in stress. Closets (and landfills) across the land are stuffed to the gills with things nobody needs or uses. And even if the desire to simplify is genuine, most are lost as to where to start (or even begin) to reduce the excess and quiet the noise.
Yes, it’s a jungle out there. The situation is as dire as I’ve ever seen.
The author of this unassuming little book with the soothing turquoise cover is Marie Kondo, a beautiful, demure Japanese master declutterer who cuts through the piles with the tough-love methods of a Ninja warrior. “Tidy in one shot,” she advises. “Discard first, put away later.”
I love her tips on how to fold and stack clothing (upright). I love that she busts us (me) on the spot for hanging on to paper that we will never use or read again. I love her invitation that we hold each one of our possessions in our hands and ask: “Does this spark joy?”
Her approach to clearing books by placing them all on the floor and “exposing them to fresh air and making them ‘conscious'” makes sense. Besides me, she’s the only other person I know who suggests we honor our things on their way out the door.
She’s good. Very good.
Whether you’ve read her book or not, you might be wondering how Kondo’s methods of decluttering and organizing stack up with my own, which also come from a lifetime of experience and years spent in the business of helping people clear their homes of unwanted stress and stuff.
The truth is, we both love nothing more than to deliver life-changing magic for our students and readers. We both were organizational geeks as children – always looking for the best ways to bring order to chaotic spaces. We both believe that the home is not just some empty box that we fill with our things, but a living, breathing animate presence that supports and informs us.
And yet with all those similarities, our approaches to clutter and clearing, could not be more different.
So what gives?
Consider these distinctions:
Kondo offers fantastic tips – some of which I adore and have implemented myself in my home. You can read about them in these three previous posts: Taming Clothes, Taming Paper Clutter, and Does it Spark Joy?
That said, I believe that with a slight vector shift of attention we can play an even bigger game that can lead to even more magical outcomes.
As I see it, it is not about the stress and stuff, nor about “getting rid of” the stress and stuff. It is ultimately how we relate to them – how we relate to the emotional patterns that led to that stress and stuff.
It doesn’t matter if your challenge is the mildewing boxes in the attic, the dog next door that barks all night, or the annoying hairball on your jacket. When you bring your compassionate awareness to the feelings that these things activate in you – i.e. the attachment, the shoulds, the guilt, the fears, the shame – you lighten the energetic load you carry. Lightening the energetic load reduces the physical one – like magic.
Being the compassionate observer of your experience is the work. The stress and stuff gives you a fantastic opportunity to practice.
My “slow-drip” approach to clearing wasn’t just some crazy idea I dreamt up. It is grounded in science and based on another Japanese principle, in fact, called Kaizen – the practice of continuous improvement. It was another little hardcover book by Robert Maurer, Ph.D. called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, that was the real game changer for me in my work.
It turns out that Maurer’s baby-step methods, designed to bypass the brain’s fight-or-flight wiring, work like a charm to reduce overwhelm, clutter, and anything that keeps us stuck.
The practice of slowing down and simplifying not only feels good, it creates new neural pathways in the brain that lead to new habits and lasting change.
When we focus on outcome and perfection we miss the opportunity to embrace our innate imperfections; to heal; and to enjoy the simple pleasures that come with cultivating ease.
As a recovering control freak who has exhausted herself reaching for perfection and trying (way) too hard to bring about change, let me save you years of efforting and unnecessary suffering.
Getting your closets and drawers, papers and problems “under control” is not where it’s at. You can certainly try it and see where it takes you. My experience is that it’s hard, it’s exhausting, and does not ultimately lead to happiness.
The best advice I can offer to all of you out there desperate for change is this: Have fun with your tidying and clearing. Lighten up (as it were)! Aim for consistency every day, even if all you can handle is one minute.
Aim for progress, not perfection.
Clearing is not a race. You do not need to get it perfect. And you do not need to “get it done.”
All you need is to “get it.”
Destination, or journey?
What happens when we see decluttering and organizing as the endgame is that we miss some of the goodies that are buried below the stress and stuff. These goodies have the potential to take us to a whole new level of personal transformation.
My method may rattle a few cages from time to time, but it’s simple. It is a daily practice that integrates five key principles (the “Five S’s”): slow down, simplify, sense, surrender, self-care. It transforms clearing from a linear task that you do until it is done, into a revealing and nourishing journey of self-discovery that lasts a lifetime.
All at once, or bit by bit?
Tidy in one shot, or in baby steps?
Coke or Pepsi?
I sent out a survey recently to my readers and students about programs and resources that might better serve them. One of them responded with this: “Just did Marie Kondo’s book and cleared out everything. So no longer in the market for your work.”
She’s right. “The Spacious Way” to decluttering and organizing is not for everyone – especially for those who want to see change fast. In the end it boils down to personal choice and resonance.
That said, I do believe there is a winning middle ground where the two methods dovetail and can blend together nicely.
Here are some ways to play:
Tidy in this order: clothes, books, paper, komono (miscellaneous) sentimental attachments. Instead of going “all in” (and potentially stressing yourself out), apply Kondo’s technique to smaller, more doable tasks that won’t create huge piles of chaos on your floor. Remember, when you’re overwhelmed it means you’re in the red zone. You need to dial it back.
Tidy by category: Kondo’s suggestion to address your clutter by category instead of by room is ideal. For balance, follow up each session by rewarding yourself with something that feels really good. Put your feet up, have cup of tea, walk your dog, smell the roses. It will rewire your relationship to clearing and tidying – from something onerous – to something that you can’t wait to do again because of how good it feels.
Does it spark joy? Asking yourself if something makes your heart sing is a terrific measure of what stays and what goes. If you’re overwhelmed it may be easier said than done, however. (Cluttered minds do not make good decisions.) Create a “Don’t Know” pile to come back to later. Over time your don’t know piles will get smaller and smaller. They are also a nice visual reminder of how much progress you’re making.
The Spacious Way invites you to integrate a few key principles like continuity, ease, compassionate awareness, and self-care into a daily practice. If you’re looking for the immediate rush of seeing big huge garbage bags lined up along the hallway and empty shelves and drawers – to “get it out,” “get it done,” “do it faster” – this approach may not be your cup of tea.
Baby-step sessions may not look like much on paper, but if you stick with them, they will morph into seamless clearing that will surprise you.
It might even take your breath away. Like magic.
The Spacious Way
If you’d like to learn more about my counter-intuitive approach to clearing what’s holding you back, I recommend you read my first book Your Spacious Self: Clear the Clutter and Discover Who You Are. It is the foundation for a whole new way to clear. My second book, A Year to Clear, takes you on a deeper clearing journey of peeling more layers. It is designed to integrate the slow-drip principles in a daily, nourishing way. Both books are perfect companions to Kondo’s book.
End of Series*
Care to weigh in?
What are you experiences of the KonMari method? Tell us in the comment thread. We welcome your thoughts!
This is the fourth in a series of four articles that chronicles my experiences and impressions of Marie Kondo’s hugely popular book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. To catch up and read the previous posts, click the active links here:
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