I want to share with you a book that has absolutely changed my life. It’s called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever by Marie Kondo, the creator of the KonMari Method. As the title says, this is a very simple (though not easy) way to get to the root of your clutter problem and help you to resolve it once and for all: If you don’t love it, don’t keep it!
Piles of stuff in our homes are one of the greatest stress triggers. Clutter literally increases your cortisol level! When we have a lot of clutter in our homes, it has the effect of distracting us and can even cause chronic restlessness. When you reduce the noise of the things around you, you can focus on creating your life.
For most of us, clutter accumulates over time. We don’t notice how much stuff we are accumulating until we hit a breaking point. Sometimes it’s a major life event — such as a move, death, marriage or divorce, or even changing jobs – that forces us to declutter so that we can move on free from the weight of objects that have outlived their usefulness to us.
What Does Your Clutter Symbolize?
Everyone’s tolerance for clutter is different. But, like the imagery in dreams, there is a psychology to clutter. Where your clutter is located in your home says a lot about you. Here are some examples of what cluttered rooms may mean in your life:
- Living and Dining Rooms: These are your main entertaining rooms. Clutter here may mean you are hiding your true self from the world
- Kitchen: The kitchen is often where we dump everything from our daily lives — mail, electronics on chargers, from purses and school bags to dog bowls, vitamins and many other items from our daily lives. All of this clutter in the kitchen can make it difficult to truly nourish yourself and your family
- Hallways: These are the connectors between rooms and represent your ability to flow. Cluttered hallways may mean your life’s path is not clearly defined or thought out
- Bedroom: Clutter in your boudoir may make you feel “wired and tired” and may inhibit intimacy with your partner
- Bathroom: The bathroom is where we pamper ourselves and prepare to face the world. Think about all the products under your sink that you never use. Clutter in this room may mean you lack self-worth
- Closets: Closets represent that which is hidden from view. If we stuff our closets we block our ability to use our insight and intuition to “see into” ourselves and situations
- Attic: Attics are typically where we squirrel stuff away that we no longer use or are “saving” for someone or a future event. These things are potentially the most complicated. Attics symbolize our connection to the past and families or ancestors, and also to our higher selves. When you fill your attic with unwanted items, you literally have “stuff hanging over your head” that can make it difficult to resolve issues from your past and grow
- Basement: Like attics, we often look to basements for storage of unwanted or unused items. As in dreams, basements represent the subconscious mind. A cluttered basement can blunt your intuition
- Garage: Cars represent our independence and ability to get around. If there is so much clutter in your garage that you can’t get your car in and out easily, you may feel difficulty moving forward in life
Lighten Up With The KonMari Method
Marie Kondo has been a “tidier” since the age of 5 and began studying the art of tidying seriously when she was 15 years old. Today she owns a business in Tokyo where she uses her KonMari Method to help people transform their homes into peaceful, inspiring spaces. It took her much trial and error, which she shares in her book. And it’s amazing to me that I – and probably you too — have been approaching tidying the wrong way.
With the KonMari Method, you can get out from underneath your clutter once and for all. Here’s how:
- Tidy all at once. Tidying a bit at a time never works. Things will get messy again quickly. (All at once means allotting about 6 months to the project.)
- Visualize your destination. Before you throw things away, visualize your ideal lifestyle. Goals such as, “I want to live clutter free” or “I want to be able to put things away,” are too broad. You must think in concrete terms, such as: “I want to live like a Goddess, surrounded by peace and beauty.”
- Identify why you want to live the way you envision. For every answer ask yourself “why?” again. For example, if you want to live clutter free so you get a better night’s sleep, ask yourself, “Why do I want to sleep better?” Do this 3-5 times. When you find the answer to why you want to be tidy, you are ready to move on.
- Determine if each item “sparks joy.” Rather than focusing solely on throwing things away, which Ms. Kondo acknowledges only brings unhappiness, be sure to cherish what you love. Do this by taking each item in your hand and asking yourself “does this spark joy?” If yes, then it stays. If it does not spark joy, then throw it out. Note: You must touch every item so that your body can react. This is NOT an intellectual process. It’s a “felt” physical sense that you can develop over time, or the kind of intuition I discuss in depth in Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. You let your BODY and emotions tell you.
- Tidy by category, not location. In most households, items that fall into the same category are stored in multiple places. If you are tackling your clothes, then you must get all the clothes out of every closet and drawer in every room first. Start with tops first, then bottoms, and work from there. She also instructs you in the fine art of folding, which frees up an enormous amount of closet space. My drawers are now works of art—with my folded blouses and tops arranged like envelopes so that I can see everything easily.
- Tidy in the right order. Ms. Kondo says that the following order is the way to tidy: Clothes, Books, Papers, and then Komono (miscellaneous.) She goes into great detail on how to separate and each category into sub-categories.
- Discard before you place things back. You must discard first. Don’t put anything away until everything you are going to discard is removed.
How To Organize Your Home
Once you are done discarding, Ms. Kondo then teaches you how to organize. Again, there is an order and simplicity to this and everything has its place, even the items in your handbag! One of my friends told me that emptying her handbag every evening has been one of the most transformative aspects of this experience. When everything, including the items in your handbag, has its place, it’s virtually impossible to let clutter take over again. I haven’t gotten to the handbag yet. But I absolutely love what has happened in my drawers and closets!
The KonMari Method also teaches you how to store all items of the same type in the same place so that things don’t become scattered and lead to more accumulation. Once you learn proper storage methods you will not only be organized, but you will save money because you won’t spend it on buying special storage items and gadgets. All you will need are drawers and boxes. Ms. Kondo prefers shoe boxes!
Take The Next Step To A Clutter-Free Life
If you have been holding on to things for emotional reasons, then the KonMari Method is perfect for you because it calls for you to rely on your intuition and honors how you feel about your possessions. As such, there is no reason not to begin decluttering immediately.
The great thing about the KonMari Method is that you don’t have to follow rules that don’t suit you, such as “if you haven’t worn it in a year, throw it away,” or “seven jackets and ten blouses are the perfect number.” And the best news is that, at the end of the process, you are left with only the things that you love. This allows you to cultivate a new relationship with your belongings.
And remember, getting rid of things through thrift shops, charities, or recycling does not mean you are throwing away the fond memories you may have or giving up your identity in any way. In fact, allowing unused possessions to leave your home quite literally liberates their energy —as well as your own. When you are surrounded by things that are a direct extension of your essence, you will truly have come home to yourself. And, you feel healthier and more vital.
Are You A Hoarder?
The KonMari Method is a wonderful way to organize your home and free yourself from clutter. But, if you can’t even begin to wrap your head around letting go of anything, you may have a hoarding disorder. Hoarding disorders range from mild to severe. Personality types that are typically associated with hoarding include indecisiveness, procrastination, perfectionism, difficulty planning and organizing, and impulsiveness. And, hoarding is often associated with depression, as well as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). About 1.4 million U.S. adults are hoarders. Unlike collectors, who display their items for others to enjoy, hoarders are driven by fear to accumulate things, thinking “I may need it someday.” Even if a particular possession does not give them joy, or has little monetary value, hoarders worry excessively about with parting it. Their belongings make hoarders feel safe, and getting rid of possessions causes undue stress. Children begin collecting things around two years old. By six years old, about 70% of children are collecting and storing things. Hoarding behavior usually starts between the ages of 11 to 15, and it tends to get worse with age. Hoarding is more common in older adults.
9 Ways To Tell If You Have A Hoarding Disorder
If you have a family member who has a hoarding disorder, there is strong likelihood of developing the disorder yourself if this family legacy is not uncovered and healed. In addition, some people develop hoarding disorders after experiencing trauma or a difficult life event that they are unable to cope with, such as divorce or the death of a loved one.
Because hoarding can range from mild to severe, it may be difficult to know if you have a hoarding disorder.
Here are some ways to tell if you are a hoarder:
- You feel that you need more space. You have a build-up of clutter to the point that much of your space has become unusable for its intended purpose. For example, you may have difficulty accessing your stove or refrigerator, making it difficult to prepare food in your kitchen. Or, perhaps you have a guest bedroom that is always piled high with things so that you cannot invite guests to stay there.
- You collect things you don’t need. You are constantly acquiring things for which you have no immediate use. This is usually the first sign of a hoarding disorder. It may begin as early as the teenage years. These items gradually accumulate in your living spaces and may include magazines, clothing, or items of sentimental value. It may also include unsanitary levels of trash or food. In addition, it may include having too many animals.
- You have difficulty organizing. Hoarders often don’t have the ability to organize, categorize, and make other decisions involved with decluttering even a small space. If you are a hoarder, you may even lose things in the clutter, and still not be able to sort through. This is usually coupled with an inability to discard items you aren’t using or enjoying.
- Your relationships aren’t working. Hoarding is a private behavior. Many hoarders live in isolation because their possessions can cause feelings of shame. And, often hoarders don’t want others touching their belongings. Hoarders may try to hide their clutter by shutting off areas of their house, or keeping people out of their homes completely.
- You can’t pay your bills. Hoarders often don’t pay their bills. This is usually not due to lack of money, though hoarding can drain your bank account. Often, it has more to do with not being able to locate your bills and keep track of what you owe due to clutter.
- You don’t maintain your home. Because hoarders are uncomfortable with people entering their homes, they often do not take care of normal repairs and maintenance such as leaky faucets or roofs, broken toilets, permanently stuck windows, and more. When hoarding becomes extreme, items may pile up to where you have blocked doors and windows, posing serious safety and fire hazards.
- You’re suffering from preventable health issues. Hoarding can also lead to respiratory issues. For example, dust, ammonia from decaying garbage, and mildew from food that has turned bad can contribute to allergies, asthma and other severe respiratory problems. When there is poor sanitation due to animal hoarding or other lack of hygiene, homes may become infested with flies, cockroaches, and even rats which can spread disease to both animals and humans. Excessive amounts of clutter can also contribute to accidents, such as falls.
- You’re unable to care for dependents. Improper care of dependents, including children, elderly adults and pets due to hoarding behavior may put you at risk for legal recourse. For example, you could face fines, misdemeanor or felony charges resulting in forfeiture of animals, and even imprisonment.
- You have other problems in daily life. Hoarders may suffer from loneliness and even mental disorders, including depression. They often perform poorly at work and may have legal troubles.
We all have clutter pile up from time to time. The KonMari Method is a wonderful practice for those of us who just need a little help making our living space and lives better. And there are also professional organizers who will work with you on this issue. These individuals can be a Godsend, and have been for me personally. But, if you have a hoarding disorder, this method is not going to help you. And soon your belongings will prevent you from leading a healthy and safe life.
Hoarders typically don’t seek help for themselves. However, if you suspect a loved one is a hoarder, encourage them to seek professional help. There are therapists who specialize in hoarding and related disorders. And there are many online resources and support groups for hoarders and their families.
Do you or someone you know have a hoarding disorder? Please share your stories with me in the comments section.