How Tidying Up Magic Actually Happened
in a Five Child Family
by Julia M.L. Whitehead
In order to understand why I felt compelled to write this article, there are some things you need to know about me. I’ve always aimed to live the adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” Values of preparedness and thrift permeate from my core. On top of that, I KEEP things in the name of sentiment. So statements written by Marie Kondo in her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, like, “Unnecessary objects in your home are a burden” and, “Don’t be distracted by thoughts of being wasteful” totally contented with my belief system.
My husband, on the other hand, is naturally hoard-conscious. I understand his desire to help keep our brimming home livable, but there have been times when the messes fuel his dejunking desires beyond what I consider reasonable. I can’t forget the semi-broken Mouse Trap game, the toy doll crib, and the action figure that I literally pulled out of our big green garbage can after discovering he had chucked them without my knowing! You can keep playing a semi-broken Mouse Trap game that was bought with your child’s own hard-earned money, right?
The author promises “a change so profound that it touches your emotions,” and also that this change “will irresistibly affect your way of thinking and your lifestyle habits.” I honestly thought that was a tall order in my case.
As Kondo touted convincing each client to willingly throw out massive quantities of “garbage”, I felt nervousness, doubt, and a large dose of defensiveness. I was leery about jumping in to such purging. These emotions boiled inside me as she spoke of “re-setting your life” through tidying. Did I really want to spend my limited time and energy gutting the entire house? Had this expert tidier dealt with big families and large living spaces? I am among the western mothers who wondered how much credence we should give to this extreme, young, “Tiger Mother for Your Home.”
But when I answered, “yes” to her question “Have you ever tidied madly only to find that all too soon your workplace is cluttered again?” I admitted I must have something to learn. Kondo claims that the storage containers you needed, will often be found amidst current belongings. Re-organizing without spending money on more containers to store my stuff? That possibility appealed to a thrifty Momma like me. So I continued listening and, category-by-category, the magic ensued.
Feat #1, “Attractive” CLOTHING
Because I was studying this book with a group of Moms who expected a weekly report, I stuck my toe into the first category Kondo recommends a person sort; clothing.
Getting rid of some too slender slacks felt sensible, and safe. I said goodbye to one of my three swimsuits that the chlorine had made threadbare. With my closet eventually complete, I moved on to the apron drawer. Since I had received a new frilly apron for Christmas, I felt like parting with one I had sewn as a newlywed would be natural. The forest green apron with red angel print lasted about a day in the donation bag before I just had to run out and rescue it! Kondo claims that “Just because you dispose of something does not mean you give up past experiences, or your identity.” But that apron’s memories seemed tied ever so tightly to its strings. I couldn’t let it go. I read on.
Remembering “unnecessary objects in my home are a burden, and “what you wear affects your self esteem”, I tackled the rest of the closets in our seven person house. It was helpful (and almost magical) to visualize the people who may be receiving some of the clothes that no longer served us, but were still in good shape. It was also helpful (although initially laughable, especially for my tweens) to vocally thank certain articles for protecting and adorning our bodies while in our possession. I was in tune with Kondo’s personification of different articles, and found it helpful to wish them well on their journey away from our home once they had fulfilled their purpose for us. My family, however, could never do it with a straight face. The fact that they were participating in the tidying process was enough for me, even if they didn’t concur with what they thought were eccentric antics.
My family’s participation in my tidying furor was magic manifestation number one. Once we were all on a roll, we easily cleared out those closets, including throwing about a billion cheap department store hangers into the recycling bin. Right before my eyes, the first garbage bag was filled. Shazam!
Some surprising “Law of Attraction” type magic followed. According to Life Coach Talane Miedaner, “Decluttering is probably the fastest and easiest way to attract something new in your life. It can be surprising and even shocking to see how quickly new and better things and opportunities come into your life.” 1
Here’s how it happened for me. My sister-in-law, who was also reading Kondo’s book cleaned out her closet and brought her “tidying trophies” (a.k.a. full 13 gallon bags) to me as donations for a school fundraiser. The fine arts department found an organization that pays by the pound for bags of anything soft. I was glad I didn’t resist the urge to glance through them, though, since over ten of the things she discarded were perfectly fitted to my size and taste! Please know that I said goodbye to one additional piece of clothing for everything I kept. (I know Marie doesn’t generally feel like this practice is a sufficient tidying method, but I hope she would still be pleased with my overall wardrobe upgrade!)
As is the goal of Kondo’s book, I have now developed my awareness of what brings me joy to the point where I can go through a bag of free second hand clothes with confidence and ease. Rather than hanging on to too many “loungewear” articles, I pass them by knowing they will bless somebody else.
Feat #2, CLOTHING continued, “If the Box Fits…”
Marie gives shoeboxes a five star rating as storage containers. In the past I have used sturdy shoeboxes for Legos or batteries. Marie’s praise of them caused me to take their usage to a whole new level. Each girl in my home now stores her tights in a shoebox drawer divider. Because my husband is not a box saver, unless it’s close to Christmas, I don’t generally have shoeboxes available. Still somehow they magically materialized to fulfill organizational needs! While tidying papers in the storage room, we ran across last year’s Valentine’s box. My daughter was magically willing to bid a fond farewell to Cookie Monster, and we repurposed him as her drawer divider.
Will my girls’ unmentionables be folded and placed in vertical rows every week. Heavens no! Way too many socks and undies are constantly a comin’ through my washing machine! In fact, if it appears there are too many socks in this drawer, don’t fret. As any mom of school-aged kids can attest, the natural processes of dancing and dragging will reduce them before we know it. My own t-shirt drawer also became permanently more pleasant and functional by applying Marie’s folding methods. I conveniently finished enjoying my box of holiday chocolates just in time to serve as my “junk drawer” divider.
Do I have too many notepads? Maybe. But the author has given the perfect comeback for times when someone questions your favorite collections. “They bring me joy.”
Feat #3, PAPERS : Vertical Files = No More Piles!
I took the author’s advice to "Try taking a pile you already have and standing it on edge. You instantly become more aware of what/ how much is in the pile."
I wasn’t sure how to get this job done without running to the store for more magazine dividers. Then I magically remembered that I had emptied one when I went through my books. Marie actually convinced me to get rid of at least fifteen old magazines whose content can now be found online. Although my highlighting and margin notes can never be physically recovered, Kondo reminded me that the knowledge came to me when it was meant to, and is now stored somewhere in my subconscious, and I have to trust that I will recall it in time of needed inspiration. Besides, this difficult parting produced exactly what I needed! (Because I underwent the Mind Organization for Moms course around the same time I read this book, the divider now serves as my “read and review” basket.) My husband has one that matches. Viola!
Feat #4, TOYS: “Toying With My Mind”
The sleek, young, single author did not cover managing toys. She does have a section on Japanese charms, and what she calls “Komono”, or miscellaneous stuff. Even given her lack of experience mothering multiple children, I have no doubt that she could come over and coach us through a tactical trinket overhaul. I believe the proverb referenced by Kondo; “A messy room equals a messy mind. “ The positive effect that de-junking physical items can have on your mind is undeniable. This must be why, when it came time to tidy my playroom, the freed space in my brain made me magically able to come up with an improvement for the constant clutter problem.
The Geotrax set that we love was overflowing out its Rubbermaid container. Because the lid didn’t fit on, the pieces were easily accessible and the toddler’s temptation to DUMP resulted in a perpetual pile of unconnected pieces. Not wanting to go purchase alternative containers, I waited for a magical stroke of inspiration. Then it came. If I transferred the Geotrax into two of my holiday décor totes, the whole set would fit nicely inside his bedroom closet! I immediately did so, and switched the holiday décor into the awkwardly shaped long tote. I placed it under the basement stairs where we only need to access it once a year. Of course, I discarded a few unnecessary/ duplicate things out of all the aforementioned bins during this “stroke of genius” swapping process!
Our playroom is also my youngest son’s bedroom. Notice how his closet is arranged with the long, heavy clothing on the left. (Go me.)
The theory posed by the author is that if you tidy up “all in one go,” it will prevent rebound. Because she wasn’t actually here coaching me (just through my audiobook ear bud), I surely held on to more than would be ideal according to the KonMari method. Honestly, I could count on my fingers the number of garbage bags that are gone. Most things were donated. I guarantee only the absolute trash went to the curbside. Despite my long held tendencies to stockpile in the name of preparedness, I dove in and discarded enough to produce some promised visible and emotional effects!
At the conclusion of Kondo’s book, she talks about her favorite little green T-shirt with a Japanese anime print, that she feels silly for not giving up. With this confession, she gave me permission to indulge in keeping selected items, like my homemade forest green angel apron, that bring me a unique type of joy.
Kondo eventually convinced me that not just continuous straightening of clutter, but having a tidying mindset is helpful in creating and maintaining order in any home. Her respectful treatment of belongings led to my respectful view of her principles. “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” increased my awareness of the unnecessary STUFF surrounding me and moved me to deep cleaning action in a healthy, almost magical way! In my household we are not striving to be featured in a design magazine. We are, however, working together more effectively than ever to maintain the level of order we have worked hard to achieve.
I am left to hope that all of the re-organizing we’ve been inspired to do as a five-child, one income family will really keep our house in impeccably tidy order. But alas, as my mothering friends could attest, that would take not only a tidying expert - but a bona fide magician.