The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: Weeks 3-5, Paper

A real family uses the Marie Kondo method from her “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” for a minimalist household of items that spark joy.

Paper spreads around like snowdrifts in our home. It’s everywhere and hard to contain. We plow and shove papers to different areas of the home, but sooner or later it starts to pile up.

I’m an English teacher, so piles of papers are a regular fixture in our home. Our six-year-old brings home folders of school papers and artwork daily. She leaves trails of paper projects and scraps all over the house, making me curse the existence of scissors.

Decluttering paper was the toughest challenge we’ve had yet in our family’s home organization project using the Marie Kondo method from her bestseller Marie Kondo method from her bestseller The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. The KonMari method is ruthless in its once-in-a-lifetime purging process, but leads to a minimalist home where your family is surrounded only by items that spark joy.

Tackling my daughter’s papers was manageable. We came up with a system two years ago to deal with her artwork and school papers. The rule of thumb is that 99% of all of her artwork and papers get recycled.

We take photographs of artwork and papers we want to remember with our iPhones and post them to Notabli, a safe app for saving and organizing your child’s moments. We created an Art Room for her in Notabli where we post these items. At the end of each year, we print out a memory book of her art.

The 1% we do keep goes into a special memory box we keep for her. Sometimes she likes to pull this out and look at former books or projects she’s made. It’s a very small box.

To be honest, we recycle and throw away 99% of her projects behind her back. She hasn’t quite figured out where all the paper goes. It’s easier than tears and hurt feelings.

We want her to feel free to get messy when creating with paper. She’ll make a mask, construct armor, cut up snowflakes, or make books with paper. Our challenge is getting her to clean up her scraps after her projects.

We’re discussing these behavior changes during problem solving time in our weekly family meetings based on Vicki Hoefle’s Parenting on Track.

My partner got off easy with this challenge. All of his papers are digital. He didn’t have to do anything for this challenge.

I was the one who shoveled and plowed for three weeks through the piles of paper and snowdrifts that plague our home.

Marie Kondo’s rule of thumb for decluttering your home from papers is to discard all papers from your home. I suggest you invest in a paper shredder if you decide to use the KonMari method.

Kondo advises holding off on sentimental papers and keepsakes like old journals or love letters for this step in the decluttering process, as they slow you down. Instead she recommends focusing on papers that bring you no joy.

Papers people hold onto that clutter up space include credit card statements, warranties, greeting cards, used checkbooks, and pay slips. Shred or recycle them all.

Only keep greeting cards that “spark joy in your heart”, says Kondo. Once you read a greeting card, you’ve gotten everything you can out of it. The same can be said for lecture materials. Kondo argues “that precisely because we hang on to such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice.”

Kondo acknowledges everyone needs to keep some papers around. She suggests the following tips for organizing papers you keep:

  • Keep all paper strictly in one location, where they can’t drift to other rooms.
  • Organize paper by three categories: needs attention, should be saved forever (contractual documents), and should be saved for short term (others).
  • Do not further subdivide papers. Keep all papers together in same folder or container.

There should be few papers in the needs attention folder. This folder is for bills that need to be paid, permission slips that need to be signed, or forms that need to be completed. You should be looking at this folder daily with the intent to keep it as empty as possible.

Papers that need to be kept indefinitely should be placed in plastic sleeves and placed in a binder for easy access. These include items like home mortgages, birth and wedding certificates, or graduation certificates.

Papers that need to be kept for a short time get placed in one container. These might include items like warranties, filed taxes from the previous year, or notes for a course you’re taking.

This sounded like a nightmare to me since I’m a teacher, but I went all in on this challenge.

Fortunately I went 90% digital with lesson planning and collecting student work three years ago. This made it much easier to mercilessly recycle old papers for my job.

I took a lesson from my daughter’s art room on Notabli and photographed old notes from students or papers I wanted to keep for sentimental reasons. Then I tossed them out. They will get printed into one book rather than stored in files taking up space.

I’m also a writer. Sometimes I type, but other times I use paper to sketch out ideas or get feedback from others. I applied Kondo’s method by dividing my writing into three categories: assignments needing immediate attention, short term projects, and long term projects I might not revisit for months or years. This was the one place where I deviated from Kondo’s method – I couldn’t mix up my writing with other papers.

At the end of three weeks, I’d shredded seven trash bags worth of paper. I can now say that all of my papers are contained in one folder for needs immediate attention, a binder for permanent items to keep, and a binder for temporary items. All of my paper resides in the office space of our home.

It brings my partner and I much more joy to no longer have paper piles all over the home. I’m more organized and pay closer attention to papers needing immediate attention. Decluttering papers is an arduous task, but I guarantee you won’t miss those papers once they’re shredded and gone.

You can learn more about our family’s home organization project here. You can also visit earlier posts from our project to learn how to declutter books or clothes from the home.

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, Week 2: Books

Less Clutter, More Joy

We’re a family of book lovers and book hoarders. My daughter never wanted a blanket or stuffed animal in her crib as a baby. She wanted me to line the inside of her crib with board books. I’m an English teacher and writer. My partner is a writer and editor. We eat, sleep, and breathe books.

We dreaded week two of our family project inspired by home organization consultant Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo suggests stripping your book collection down to 30 books. That wasn’t going to happen in our home.

My partner and I both dream of a home library with books stacked from floor to ceiling, complete with a sliding ladder. The reality is we live in a small home and don’t have the room right now. We reasoned for the amount of money we pay for storage, we could buy books when we have the space down the road.

Kondo recommends taking every book in the home and placing them in a large pile on the floor. It’s an arduous task hauling heavy books to one spot, but it’s part of the process. Sort books into four categories: general (books read for pleasure), practical (reference, cookbooks), visual (photography, art), and magazines.

Pick up one book at a time. If you get a thrill of joy just by touching the book, keep it. If you don’t, donate it.

It’s difficult for Kondo’s clients to get rid of books they think they might read one day or books that once gave them great joy. “Sometime” means “never”, says Kondo. If you want to read a book in the future, you will go through the effort to borrow or buy it.

She argues we rarely read old books that once brought us joy again. “Books you have read have already been experienced and their content inside you, even if you don’t remember.” Only keep books that move you or bring you joy.

Not every book in our home brings us joy. There are some books we have to keep for work. We removed them from our home and brought them to work.

We all flat out refused to whittle our book collection down to 30 books, and here are three reasons why:

  1. There’s a direct correlation between books in the home and childhood literacy.
  2. Seeing a wall full of books brings us immense joy.

  3. We all use books for inspiration on multiple creative projects on a regular basis.

We did manage to remove 50% of the books from our home for other readers to discover and enjoy. Our daughter has a small bookshelf in her bedroom, and my partner and I placed our books on one wall of shelves in the living room.

We smile every time we look up at our bookshelves. Every book brings us joy. Books now have breathing room, and our library has room to grow.

We’ve rediscovered and revisited past loves and said goodbye to others. As designer Nicholas Burroughs says, “Minimalism is not a lack of something. It’s simply the perfect amount of something.”

You can read about week one (clothes) here.

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

Need to Know: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidying-upLess Clutter, More Joy

Life clutters easily with two working parents and a young child. We toss around the word “systems” a lot in our home. The hall closet is messy again, so we need a new “system”. Towels aren’t getting hung up properly, so we need a better “system”. We need to plan a trip to IKEA to find a better home office storage “system”. And our “systems” often work – for a month or two.

We’re a fairly tidy family. We regularly weed through unused items to sell or donate. We do what we can to declutter our home, yet we’re stuck in a constant cycle of reorganizing and shuffling our belongings. This is why I didn’t hesitate to read Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up after three different couples raved about how it’s changed their lives to me within the same week. I decided to try the latest minimalist home organization trend for myself.

Marie Kondo is a bestselling author and home organization specialist from Tokyo, Japan. She’s spent decades perfecting the KonMari Method, her own personal system for decluttering homes and spaces. There’s a three-month waiting list for her services, and she boasts that clients who follow her method exactly never need her services again.

What makes Kondo’s method so different is that it is relentless in its process of weeding out clutter. The purpose of decluttering the home is to weed out all unused and unnecessary items until the only items left in one’s home are those that “spark joy.” It’s meant to be a once in a lifetime purging process that will cure your family’s clutter problems once and for all. Kondo claims the process can take up to six months to complete, but then clients never have to do it again.

Kondo says the main home organization mistake people make is focusing on what items to get rid of or throw away. Her method emphasizes what to keep by asking the question, “Does this bring me joy?” If it doesn’t, get rid of it. But it’s not always that easy. People have a hard time getting rid of things they can still use, items that hold information they might need one day, objects that hold emotional value, or things that are hard to obtain. Rational thought often makes it difficult for people to discard of items they no longer use that just sit in storage or clutter up space. Kondo recommends sticking to intuition and focusing on what currently brings you joy.

Another mistake people make is organizing room by room. All this does is reshuffle clutter around and create a revolving door of decluttering room by room. Kondo suggests focusing on categories instead. She recommends purging items in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. By focusing on a specific category, people declutter every item in that category from their home at once, rather than shuffle it to another room.

Our family made a commitment at our last family meeting: to declutter once and for all and only surround ourselves with items that bring us joy. We know it means sacrificing some of our time the next few weeks. It means making tough decisions and letting go of items that have meant something to us in the past, but we’re ready for a more minimalist lifestyle. The first project we plan to tackle is our clothes. Kondo claims that “not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover.” The same can be said of the items we keep in our home. We’re ready to discard of past lovers and friends that once brought us joy or never brought us joy. You can follow us here on Parent Co. as we purge our way to joy each week and learn some decluttering tips along the way.