The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Week 1: Clothes

Less Clutter, More Joy

There was a time in my life when I lived out of a suitcase. I lived in Italy for a year and carried only the bare necessities with me. It surprised me how easy it was for me to part with my material possessions and live with so little. Life felt simpler and more carefree.

When I returned to the United States, the amount of boxes I had to retrieve from storage felt daunting and overwhelming. It bothered me at first, but it wasn’t long before I surrounded myself again with tons of useless stuff.

Years later my partner and I moved in together and combined our belongings. This led to a packed garage, stuffed closets, and a $125/month storage unit. We recently decided it was time for a simpler lifestyle and drastic change.

I read Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up and recruited my family in a project to help create a more minimalist lifestyle in our home. Kondo is a bestselling author and world-renowned home organization specialist from Tokyo, Japan. She recommends decluttering the home by category, rather than by room in order to avoid reshuffling clutter to other spaces in your home.

The first category to focus on is clothing.

We’re a family of three. We’ve tried several systems to organize our clothes, yet none have stuck. Getting dressed for our six-year-old means emptying half the contents of her bureau onto the floor. Her closet looks like an exploded Laundromat. We can’t find items in our overcrowded closets. The family needed a once-in-a-lifetime purge.

My partner and I included our daughter in the process. We reasoned that our daughter will never learn how to tidy up if we don’t actively teach her how to do it. Rather than sorting through her clothes for her, we decided to involve her in the process and give her some autonomy in the decision-making, even if it meant she might decide to discard an item of clothing of hers that we love.

It started as a game. We let our daughter grab armfuls of clothing and throw them down the stairs. Kondo recommends removing every item of clothing from closets and dressers and bringing them into one room. It’s laborious to do this, but the task is important because it lets you visually see how many clothes you own.

Our daughter made signs for various clothing categories and placed them where she wanted to in the living room. Then the three of us sorted the clothes to the correct sections of the room. Kondo recommends sorting clothing by the following categories: tops, bottoms, clothes that should be hung, socks, underwear, bags, accessories, clothes for special events, and shoes.

Most people make the mistake of asking the following questions when sorting through clothes: Does it still fit? Do I have fond memories attached to this? Will I fit into it one day? Will I offend the giver of this item if I get rid of it? This is how you end up with 20 sweaters you don’t need.

Kondo recommends you only ask one question: Does this bring me joy? Reframing the question and going by intuition, rather than logic, helps one purge more clothing. The point is to only have clothes in your home that spark joy in you and create a more minimalist lifestyle.

We chose to create a sell, donate, and trash pile even though Kondo doesn’t recommend a sell pile since most of the time people don’t get the items out of their homes in a timely manner. Rather than sort through all of our clothes at once, we did it by family member.

My partner went first, so he could role model for our six-year-old. The six-year-old went next, as we worried she’d tire halfway through the project (she did). I sorted last since I have the most clothing in our home and knew I’d need more time.

Items that were difficult to part with included a custom-made tweed coat given to my partner from his deceased grandmother, the first leather jacket I purchased in high school, and superhero shirts that no longer fit our six-year-old. Our daughter broke down in tears at the thought of parting with these and said, “2015 is turning out to be a nightmare!”

We took photos of items that once brought us joy and were difficult to part with, so we could remember them. That helped.

We ended the day with three bags of trash, five bags to donate to Goodwill, and five bags to sell to used-clothing stores (we made $105.00). My partner and daughter parted with 30% of their clothing, and I managed to get rid of 45% of mine. We discovered that we suddenly had plenty of room in bureaus and closets once we returned our clothes to their proper rooms. And we could now say that every item of clothing we owned sparked joy for us.

Having less clothing in our home already makes our space tidier. It’s easier to locate clothing and stay on top of laundry. The six-year-old is still working on not emptying half the contents of her bureau onto the floor, but at least there’s less of a mess to clean up now.

You can learn more about our family’s home organization project here