The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Ending the Cycle of Busy

Image // via  Steep Ravine

Image // via Steep Ravine

One of our stated principles at New Minimalism is to break the cycle of busyness.  

Busyness has become among the most pervasive and relentless dis-eases of our modern culture because it gives to us a few things we value so desperately: the sensation of accomplishment and the appearance of importance.  

But what this constant, frantic, frenetic busyness actually represents is a profound lack of clarity.

Busyness happens when we stop saying no to things -- actual physical items as well as relationships, commitments of our time/energy/resources.  It arises when we lose track (or have never clearly uncovered) what is most important and most desired in our lives.  

Why, as Declutterers and Designers, do Kyle and I care so much about how people spend their time? Why do we worry about busyness when we ought to be worried about stuff?

Because busyness and clutter are inextricably tied to one another -- they both are the root cause and result of each other.  

1) Clutter is the result of busyness.  

Clutter is deferred decisions -- things we put off for the future because we don't have time to deal with them now.  Clutter is physical manifestation of all the things we need to do.  

2) And clutter is the cause of busyness.  

Having too much stuff for your space requires constant maintenance, which takes time.  Whether that maintenance is direct (managing things, searching for items, storing and maintaining them, purchasing new objects) or indirect (distracting yourself with other forms of busyness instead of dealing with them), it fills our time.

The whole point of having a clutter-free life is that the time + energy you save not managing and dealing with stuff is time + energy you can spend actually living life.  

You know, doing things like:

  • being in nature,
  • snuggling with the people/pets/blankets you love,
  • taking photos,
  • meditating,
  • learning languages,
  • building machines, 
  • writing books,
  • composing songs,
  • knitting hats,
  • eating oysters,
  • laughing with your favorite people,
  • being an activist for your most important causes,
  • hanging with your kids,
  • volunteering in your neighborhood, or
  • making the world a better place by just being pleasantly not-busy while wandering about.  

So how to end the cycle of busyness and all the nasty-ass clutter that comes with it?  

1. Take the time to figure out what you love.  

It's hard time saying no to things when you don't know what you want to shout YES! to.  But when you know how you want to feel, you know immediately, at your core, if this shirt or work commitment or relationship makes you feel that way.

Marie Kondo uses the standard of “spark joy” which is a great place to begin.  Even more powerful?  Taking the time to choose those feelings you personally desire most

2. Say no to relationships / events / objects / experiences that do not support you in living your most desired life.  

Clarity turns the process of decluttering -- which otherwise can feel like a painful parting with things you used to love and items you might need someday -- into an empowering, dare I say enjoyable, exercise in shedding the things that are not adding to the life you want to create.

It’s a self fulfilling prophecy, a positive spiral.  When I know how I want to feel, I can easily identify which things help me feel that way.  Which allows me to experience those feelings more frequently, with greater depth, and with greater clarity.  Which makes it that much easier to determine if something is in fact aligned with those desires.

So, please tell me, how do you most want to feel in your life?

Look, I want to love this world
as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get
to be alive
and know it.
— Mary Oliver, "October"

Want more?  

The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (and our review of that book here)

NM Book Review: 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up' by Marie Kondo

Only a few years ago the terms minimalism, tidying or decluttering were guaranteed conversation killers.  

In particular, this word "minimalism" seemed to jumble around in people's mouths like a pile of unpleasant tasting pebbles.

Now if I'm at a dinner party, merely the mention our business name sets off hour-long discussions.  People I've known for 5 minutes share with me the deepest pain points in their homes, talk about past attempts at decluttering, ask me about the craziest room I've worked in or if I've ever given something away and regretted it.  

And honestly?  It's awesome.  

Kyle and I started doing this work because we love it and believe in it.  So this larger cultural shift in awareness and interest in simplified living is of unending excitement for us.  Much of the attention is due to the higher visibility of some of the amazing innovators in our industry (Leo Babauta, The Minimalists, Bea Johnson). 

The latest rising star on the scene is our Japanese spirit-sister, Marie Kondo, whose book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" has become a worldwide best-seller.  

This book has been a sensation in the general public, among our clients and for us -- making it the perfect inaugural //NM Book Review.  Below I've cherry-picked my favorite 10 principles from "Life-Changing" and organized them according to a few topics:

  • what we learned from Marie,
  • where we agree with her work, as well as
  • a few things that we do differently at NM.

What Marie clarified for us:

1.  Start with your wardrobe.  While clients call us in to work on a variety of rooms, every time we begin with that person's wardrobe the entire process is clearer, the results more impressive.  This is because our clothes are the foundation of our relationship to the material world: it's our second skin, protects us from the elements and offers a means of self-expression.  And this is why we have an amazing resource for your wardrobe coming out in April!

2.  Knowing what you don't have feels good.   For me, one of the ultimate highlights of the book was Marie's response to the most common fear our clients have: “I might need it some day.”  The truth is that we rarely "need" these things we haven't used in years (often never used at all). The problem with rarely used items is uncertainty: we never know where they are or if we even have them.  We must search our house for extended periods of time, frustration growing with each passing moment.   But when you've done a thoughtful and thorough decluttering of items that don't bring you joy (including, eh-hem, all the fear based "I might need it" items), you'll end up knowing exactly what you have and don't have in your home.  You save so much time by not looking for something that is not in your home and can instead start the process of making something else do or borrowing an item.  

Where we agree:

3. Highly impactful decluttering requires a commitment.  The process that Marie refers to as “putting your whole home in order” is to us synonymous with decluttering your space.  Whether you own a large home or rent a bedroom in a shared apartment, this process will take everyone at least 2 full days to complete -- 1 day for your wardrobe, 1 for the rest of the items in your bedroom, 1 for each room or category beyond.  Anything short of touching every single item in your space simply will not produce deep and long-lasting results.   

4.  The results of decluttering are life-changing and magical.  After we've worked with clients, they tell us how much lighter, happier, more free they feel.  They spend less time on errands, are far more selective about what new items they let in their home, and find that packing, hosting and cleaning is a breeze.  But even beyond those obvious benefits are the mystical and miraculous ones: clients clear out their closets and then get engaged; they sort their kitchen and lose 10 pounds or their skin clears up; they get their bedrooms in order and then quit their jobs to travel the world/start a new business/start a family.  By removing the heavy and stagnant items and their energy from your space, you open yourself up to a world of possibilities.

5.  Complicated storage systems are an excuse hoard.  By doing a thoughtful decluttering of every item in your home, a natural organization will emerge.  All of the bins and baskets and color-coded binders that supposedly create organization are just pretty ways of holding excess stuff, aka: clutter.  See if you have any of our top 7 biggest offenders in your home. 

6.  If you don't need it, your family doesn't either.   During about 50% of our sessions, a pile of unneeded items is created for the client's mom/brother/friend.  By "gifting" these items to other people in your life, you're simply deferring the decision of what to do with said item and passing the guilt onto the receiver.  Our rule: don't pass things on to others unless they have a specifically stated need or desire for the exact item.

7.  Do it once.  Do it right.  Then never do it again.  Like Marie, we have never come back to do the same space twice.  This is because we don't skimp or cut corners on the process.  We clear every single bobby pin from each junk drawer and touch every single item in your space.  It absolutely takes less time initially to buy a storage tray and pack your stuff in (the time you spend searching for things and organizing that drawer don't emerge until later...).  But by investing time into this process upfront you don't just get a clean room once, you finish with an understanding your relationship to your stuff, a clear sense of what is important to you, and with the habit of being far more selective about what you allow in.  If you do it right, once is enough. 

What //NM does differently:

8.  Donate, don't trash.  Among our top values at New Minimalism are: the environment (honoring it, treading lightly where possible) and our community (sharing, being compassionate, adding value to those around us).  While it's true that most people have too much stuff, just dumping everything in the trash is a short-term personal solution to a much larger problem.  Our clients are amazing people -- they have clutter because they don't want to be wasteful by trashing things that still have life and value left.  By donating these same items, not only does your space feel better, but you feel better knowing that the items will be used by people who need them. 

9.  Over the top cleaning. We never want to create a system too complicated or time-intensive for a client to actually use (ie: hanging your dish sponge to dry on an outdoors clothesline after each use, bringing all plates and dishes outside to dry in the sun, completely clearing out and drying off your toiletries after every shower).  Don't let yourself get bogged down by small processes; a thoughtful decluttering of your space is the bigger, more important work.  

10.  Good design makes a huge difference.  In addition to decluttering, we value and execute thoughtful design in every space we work on.  Without good design, a room can feel sparse and impersonal.  With good design, the same items feel calm, intentional and inspiring.  


What do you think?  Have you read "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying" yet?  Did it help you with your own decluttering process?  Please share below in the comments!