For Women, By Women

Posted on Monday, June 1, 2020

How to embrace the life-changing magic of tidying up

1st for Women Insurance recently spoke to award-winning journalist, Eugene Yiga, about making the most out of our time at home in lockdown.

If you’re feeling bored from all the time at home during the COVID-19 lockdown, here’s something to consider: putting your house in order positively affects all other aspects of your life. This is the belief Marie Kondo expresses in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and her Netflix show.

“I started reading home and lifestyle magazines when I was five,” she says, “and it was this that inspired me, from the age of fifteen, to undertake a serious study or tidying that led to the development of the KonMari Method.”

She believes that the reason most people can’t keep their house in order is because we never learned how. And even though food, clothing, and shelter are the most basic human needs, we don’t often consider where we live as important as what we eat or what we wear. As a result, what she calls “the job that keeps the home alive” is disregarded because we assume that the ability to tidy is something we naturally acquire instead of deliberately train.

How to eliminate clutter

Her main inspiration was a book called The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi. It was here that she learned that tidying a little a day means tidying forever. It’s best to tidy in one shot so that the tangible results you experience immediately cause a dramatic change in your mindset.

“Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly, when in fact they have only sorted and stored things halfway,” she says. “If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you’ll see instant results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after.”

Her view is that if you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep it tidy even if you’re lazy or sloppy by nature. The trick is to treat it as a once-off special event, rather than a daily chore. It’s also important to realise that effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved,” she says. “But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and so new and ‘easy’ storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral. This is why tidying must start with discarding. We need to exercise self-control and resist storing our belongings until we have finished identifying what we really want and need to keep.”

The problem with storage

In practical terms, she suggests that you start early in the morning, visualise your destination so that you have a vivid picture of what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space, and start in the best order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos.

“The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go much more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about,” she says. “As you gradually work toward the harder categories, you will be honing your decision-making skills.”

She also suggests that you sort through things by category (not by location) because “when we disperse storage of a particular item throughout the house and tidy one place at a time, we can never grasp the overall volume and therefore can never finish”.

“Things stored out of sight are dormant,” she says. “This makes it much harder to decide whether they inspire joy or not. By exposing them to the light of day and jolting them alive, so to speak, you’ll find it’s surprisingly easy to judge whether they touch your heart.”

Sparks of joy

Her key criterion for deciding whether or not to keep something is by physically taking it in your hands and asking if it sparks joy. This means the process is more about deciding what you want to keep and less about what you want to get rid of.

“When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life,” she says. “You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order. In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.”

For things you struggle to let go of, her suggestion is that you don’t let your family see what you plan to throw away (“what you don’t need, your family doesn’t either”) in case they change your mind. Similarly, as much as it might seem economical, don’t force items you don’t want onto others (“your parents’ home is not a haven for [your] mementos”) because you can’t bring yourself to discard or donate them. The only exception is if these items would spark joy for the people you have in mind.

“Just because you dispose of something does not mean you give up past experiences or your identity,” she says. “Through the process of selecting only those things that inspire joy, you can identify precisely what you love and what you need. “

Putting your house in order

Ultimately, her belief is that tidying is just a tool and not the final destination. What matters most is that you’re working toward a lifestyle you want. Indeed, because a major reorganisation of your home causes a major reorganisation of your perspective, putting your house in order means putting your affairs in order too. This allows you to see clearly what your life needs and doesn’t need as well as what you should and shouldn’t do.

“When your [space] is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state,” she says. “You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change.”

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