5 Decluttering Tips You Won't Find in Marie Kondo’s “Tidying-Up” method.
Marie Kondo’s Netflix series, “Tidying Up” is another cultural phenomenon! We love that Kondo has taken to the screens of aspiring minimalists everywhere. No matter where one are on their journey towards an intentional lifestyle, more exposure to the philosophies of decluttering means more people thinking twice about their consumption habits which means progress towards the paradigm shift required to live as a sustainable species here on planet Earth! We have lofty purpose-driven goals over here at New Minimalism.
Back in 2015 when Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up first came out Cary and I were thrilled to witness the widespread public interest that followed. We had been practicing our method of decluttering for a few years at that point, and when Cary and I would describe the work we did at New Minimalism, we would be met with puzzled looks. Contrast that to the reaction after Kondo’s book began to circulate, and it was like night and day. “Decluttering” had become a familiar, household word that stimulated a ton of conversation. From the beginning we affectionately described Marie our “Japanese spirit sister” (we are officially fans!). But there are some super important aspects where the KonMari process falls short. Below we’ve described the five decluttering tips that you won’t find in the Kondo method.
1. The promotion of environmentalism and removing toxins from your home.
Obligatory rant: We started this company because we care about the planet and know that consumption rates are a considerable part of the equation. Sustainability imbues every part of our business: We donate and repurpose everything that can be, even the unexpected items: art supplies and office paper are donated to a local school; food goes to a local soup kitchen; we even connected with a local organization who gladly accepts pre-owned socks that are clean and in good condition!
Halllllo?! It’s 2019. If you haven’t read the news, we are literally drowning in plastic. The fact that Marie Kondo overlooks any sort of environmental stewardship in her process is shocking to us because it is the #1 reason that motivates us to do what we do at New Minimalism.
The piles of plastic bags filled with garbage and donations in the TidyingUp show makes our hearts hurt. Single-use plastic bags are a BIG “no, no” in our world. Instead, you can use a use a large bin that you have on-hand and simply take the bin back with you after wards. We also use large paper “lawn” bags and cardboard boxes when we can’t repurpose what is on-hand at the client’s home. We promote cleaning products that are free of fragrance (not laced with endocrine-disrupting fake fragrances). Curious about that last sentence? Open this link to watch a 7-min. "Story of Cosmetics" video on the subject … after you finish reading this, of course!
Thankfully the KonMari process doesn’t promote buying new containers and instead advises to use what you have. But we wish that there was discussion of material choice and the importance of whether an item can be donated, repurposed, recycled, or composted.
2. “staging” should be orderly and systematic.
The first step of the New Minimalism decluttering process is “staging”. This is when you pull everything out that belongs to a particular category from where its been hiding in various parts of your home — for clothing you grab your jackets from the front closet, the ski clothes from the attic, the t-shirts in your dresser and anywhere else clothing might be. At New Minimalism we stage items in a super methodical and organized way, so as to not overwhelm the client and increase the feelings of chaos that likely already exist in abundance. We neatly stack all pants together to make the decision-making process for the client more approachable — it is easier for your brain to understand what you have. You can easily pull out your never-fail-guiding-light-favorite jeans to compare them to the less-than-ideal / ill-fitting / tired AF jeans.
An orderly start also initiates the process of respecting the object by placing it with care in an orderly way. Rather than pile your mattress high with a mountain of every single piece of clothing you own and then pick away at it piecemeal, we think systematic and orderly staging is a vital component to tackling your decluttering projects.
3. The indispensable value of an outsider’s perspective
“Oh, now you need to make a ton of difficult decisions? See ya later!” Marie and her assistant leave the client for the hardest part! Decision-making is often the most difficult part of decluttering and is usually why a client has hired us in the first place. I can’t imagine piling the bed high with a mountain of clothing and then saying, ok BYE! Good luck! We are there to guide the decision-making and help the client see their blindspots that got them into this mess in the first place! If you can’t hire us, you can trick a friend into helping you! Having someones else there keep you on track and out of the black hole known as memory-lane and other common distractions.
It is also through the decision-making process that we as the designers of the space come to deeply understand how a client needs to use the different rooms in their home and what objects they need access to daily, monthly, etc. It is from this detective work we can create new systems that will actually work for the clients’ particular needs.
We are there to guide the decision-making and help the client see their blindspots that got them into this mess in the first place!
4. Folding isn’t always the answer.
The vertical “file” folding method that Marie Kondo has become famous for is a smart optimization of space, for sure. But in the typical American household it’s not a lack of space that’s the issue. It’s too much stuff in the space to begin with. We even say at New Minimalism that a complicated organizational system (or complicated folding, in this case) is often indicative of needing to do a deeper, more thorough decluttering.
Take, for example this badass lawyer client of ours who lives in San Francisco. We were decluttering this working mother’s wardrobe and it was clear from the state of her room that she lead a busy life that resulted in clothing chaotically strewn about the master bedroom. At work she was killing it, at home it was a disaster zone.
After discussions on the value of slowing down to “end the cycle of busy” and a deep clothing purge, we were able to easily fit about 10 cotton shirts in a drawer in her dresser. I observed, “So it looks like folding is not a priority for you. Would you say this is true?” She laughed at my phrasing and agreed, so I gave her “permission” to let the cotton t-shirts float free as contained chaos within the single drawer. Her eyes opened wide and she said, “Wait, so I don’t have to fold?! Wow, you just blew my mind!” It was like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders at this fact. In this case, a “contained chaos” approach works. And since with this client we were starting at a beginners level of organizational prowess, it would be unrealistic to ask her to fold her shirts neatly. Baby steps. She’s not going to go from throwing her clothes all about her room to neatly folding cotton t-shirts in a dresser drawer. Getting the clutter under control and manageable is the first step in the overall behavior shift that will translate into keeping an orderly space. This will improve over time, and with commitment and desire from the client. The main takeaway is that the vertical folding technique of the KonMari method works in some cases, but should not been seen as a cure-all storage solution for every item in your home.
Getting the clutter under control and manageable is the first step in the overall behavior shift that will translate into keeping an orderly space.
5. Design matters!
What about the design of the space after your decluttering sweep? Many of the spaces either feel bare and bereft of character or don’t feel different at all. How about the rearranging of furniture? Repurposing that gorgeous rug as wall-hanging piece of art? A fresh coat of paint? When you thoroughly declutter, you have to redesign the space to accommodate the new needs. Tricks like placing your dresser in your closet, displaying everyday objects as art or repurposing sentimental items for decor are overlooked parts of the KonMari process. We have 12 Design Principles in the New Minimalism book that tackle this subject head-on. We recommend spending time and effort on redesigning the space so that it retains a warmth and character and actually inspires New Minimalism clients to continue to care for their spaces long after we are finished working together.