Adventures in decluttering

Adventures in decluttering

We’ve lived at our house for 12 years, and we’ve accumulated a lot of “stuff” – remnants from our childhood, gifts, and things we’ve chosen for ourselves. Earlier this year, I looked around our home and realized that my home wasn’t making me as happy anymore.

Then I came across “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (2014) by organization consultant Marie “KonMari” Kondo, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.  It’s a slim book, so I knew it wouldn’t take a lot of time to read, with a soothing light blue cover. Even the title drew me in. Who can resist “Life-Changing Magic”? And “Tidying Up” sounds more friendly than “throwing things away” and much easier than “cleaning.”

Kondo’s secret: “Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.”

Over about three weeks this summer, I tidied up. It surprised me that I felt happy and relieved to discard things. I generally followed Kondo’s advice of starting with clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and lastly mementos.

* Clothes, toys, and household items. I donated 12 bags of gently-used items to United Cerebral Palsy of Hawaii. I got rid of clothes that don’t fit well or make me feel attractive (even if they look good on a hanger). This was one instance when I sorted through someone else’s things – my son’s baby clothes and toys – though I did set aside clothes that commemorate an event or activity, and saved some of his favorite toys.

* Books. I donated 70 books to the public library. My favorite place in my home is my library, a corner of a room where I am surrounded by my favorite books. It was a struggle to weed through books that I have outgrown or that I don’t enjoy enough to keep, but I now have a little more space for more books.

* Paper. I shredded 8 bags of old papers, tax returns, bank statements, and more. Would you believe that I found the first tax returns I ever filed?

* Trash. I got rid of 28 bags of trash. Part of it went into our grey trash bin and part of it required a trip to the city dump. These were broken items, ungently used clothes and toys, and random stuff. One of my challenges was deciding which recycled items (like boxes or bottles) I could re-use or re-purpose – and then actually using them in crafts, instead of pointlessly storing them.

If I felt guilty about discarding a gift someone gave me, or something that still had the tags on it, Kondo’s assurance really helped: I reminded myself that it had already served its purpose (a friend or relative’s thoughtfulness or a shopping pleasure) and it was okay to let it go so that someone else could enjoy it.

I didn’t follow all of Kondo’s advice. Instead of sorting similar items all at once, I went room by room. We have too much stuff to be able to sort everything in a central location. I also ignored her advice about keeping storage simple. Living in Hawaii, I’ve learned to keep certain dry foods (like pasta and flour) and certain papers (like children’s artwork and school work) in dry, plastic containers to avoid insects and water. Finally, all of those plastic diaper wipes containers that I compulsively kept have come in handy – I’m using them to organize my drawers.

The garage was my biggest roadblock, because it’s my husband’s domain. He has tools, equipment, appliances, home improvement materials, and yard tools. I couldn’t throw anything away, but I did try to organize it and make sure we have a clear walkway.

Today, I’m probably the only one who notices how much less stuff we have, because so much of it was out of sight. Kondo warns us to let each person declutter and choose the things that make them happy, so I’ve left my husband’s and son’s things basically untouched. Though there is still a lot more tidying up that I can do, I appreciate how much lighter our house has become.


Note: The fantastic drawing in this post is from Eastnine (, free for non-commercial use.

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