Sunday, May 31, 2015

Why do you have so much stuff?

This is an excellent question, and one I'm planning to ask myself often for the next few months.

Like many cool people, including Erica and my mom, I recently read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

(Personally I feel like that title could be a little tidier. It's quite the mouthful. But I suppose since it was translated from Japanese, we'll give the publisher a pass. Plus the publisher—imprint, actually, if you want to get technical—is Ten Speed Press, and I have a soft spot for them because they're based in Berkeley.)

Anyway, this is a wonderful book that's all about creating the life that you really want by getting rid of all the things you don't really love. In theory, I am all about living a simpler life. I love tiny houses; I'm trying out car-less-ness; I like minimalism. But . . . that's all been pretty theoretical up to now.

Even as I've been dreaming my tiny house dreams and testing out my car-lite life, I've still been accumulating more and more stuff. Not in a crazy pack-rat kind of way. Just in a normal, consumerist American way. I feel like in our modern society, you have to fight pretty hard to stop the influx of things into your life. You have to learn to say no and keep saying no. And because I have the space right now and a place of my own, I haven't been saying no.

Eventually all of this "stuff" starts to wear on you. There's just so much of it. Who even knows what it all is? And by then the thought of moving or trying to organize becomes so daunting it's not even worth the effort. Might as well just shove it a little farther back into the closet and worry about it another day.

That's what I was doing. Until I read this book.

The author, Marie Kondo, makes some bold claims at the beginning of the book.

1. You'll only have to do this once and then you'll never rebound.
2. You can learn to be tidy, even if you never have been before.
3. The process of tidying up will improve every aspect of your existence from your work life to your weight loss goals.
4. By the time you are done, you will own only the things that make you truly happy and you won't feel compelled to constantly buy more.

Armed with these dreams and my own inherent optimism, I attacked my closet. The KonMari method, as it's called, goes through all of your belongings in categories. You have to physically touch each thing and figure out if it brings you joy. In all, the process is supposed to take about six months.

And you start with your clothes.

So that's what I did. I went through my whole little house, gathered my clothes from everywhere: the scarves I kept in my dining room table drawers, the sandals I'd forgotten were on a back shelf of my closet, the robe I normally hang in the bathroom, even the gloves I had stashed in the saddle bag of my bike. I hunted it all down and dumped it on the floor of my bedroom. It was quite the pile. I had no idea I owned all that. I would've taken a picture of it, but honestly, it was a bit embarrassing. There was just so much.

By then I was sneezing up a storm. Spring allergies plus dust bunnies do not equal a happy nose. But I wasn't about to give up. I knew what I wanted, and I was determined to win the day.

So I started in. I went through each clothing subcategory: tops, bottoms, dresses, coats, underthings, bags, scarves and accessories, and of course shoes.

It was tough at first; I'll admit. There was so much that I didn't love that I was worried I'd have nothing left to wear when I got done. But as I progressed through each category, it became more and more like a game. I was honestly surprised by how much I decided to part with. Many items were simply past their point of usefulness or had some small thing wrong with them that made me less inclined to wear them.

As I finished each subcategory and bagged up the discard pile, I thanked each piece of clothing for the time we'd spent together. This is another part of the KonMari method. You're supposed to express your gratitude to your belongings for a job well done. It sounds a little strange, but it was actually really helpful. I felt satisfied knowing that I had made peace with my decisions and that my clothes and I were parting on good terms.

Then when I was done with all the subcategories, I got to put away the things I was keeping. This was also fun because each piece was something I really loved. Plus there's a really specific folding method you use that helps your clothes stay upright in your drawers and it's AWESOME. I know that sounds crazy if you haven't tried it. How could folding be that exciting? Trust me. It is. There is something so satisfying about folding your clothes well. It just feels right. Like this is the way your clothes want to be all the time.

Now that I've done my clothes, I'm really tempted to tackle my books right away. That's the next major category. But I think I'll wait.

1. Because I want to savor this whole process.
2. Because my sister's car trunk and back seat are already full of the clothes I'm taking to DI to donate.

I hope this post doesn't come off as preachy. I have nothing against owning a lot of stuff if it truly makes you happy. But for me personally, I get a lot more joy out of having too little than too much. And I'm excited to have found a method that I think will help me get there.

This way, someday, when I'm ready and have saved up enough pennies, I'll be able to move right into a tiny house with all of the things I love most. And in the meantime, I won't be wasting any extra pennies buying things I like but don't love.

I know I have a long way to go, and I'll try to keep you all posted about my progress, but I wanted to record the beginning of this process—mostly for myself, so that when I'm having a hard time with the later categories, I can look back on this and remember how excited I was and why I wanted to do this in the first place.

That's another part of the KonMari method. You're supposed to ask yourself why you want to do this and for each reason you can think of, you say, "But why do I want to do that?" a few more times until you really get to the heart of the issue.

When I did this, all of my reasons basically boiled down to having a clearer mind to receive revelation, having more time to spend observing and creating beautiful things, and being better able to serve others. It might seem like a bit of a stretch to think that tossing out some old clothes will give me those things, but the process has only just begun. And I have faith.

Happy tidying, friends!

See? I still have plenty of clothes and shoes. I don't know why I was worried.

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