"discard anything that doesn’t spark joy"
January 11, 2015 6:52 PM   Subscribe

De-cluttering your house with love: "Marie Kondo has built a huge following in her native Japan with her “KonMari” method of organizing and de-cluttering. Clients perform a sort of tidying-up festival: time set aside specifically to go through belongings. Each object is picked up and held, and the client needs to decide if it inspires joy. If it doesn’t, it needs to go."

The front-page link contains audio from NPR's "Here and Now" (approx. 9 min) & an excerpt from Marie Kondo's book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” More from the link:
“She’s really unique from other tidying experts in that other kind of de-cluttering people will focus on what to get rid of, and it’s kind of a depressing process. They’ll say ‘your house is so messy, you really need to de-clutter, you’re drowning in all this stuff.’ Marie takes a totally different tack, she says ‘you need to focus on what brings you joy, you need to focus on what to keep.'”
*NYTimes - Kissing Your Socks Goodbye: Home Organization Advice from Marie Kondo
*Guardian - Top tips to joyfully declutter your home, from Marie Kondo: "Anything that doesn’t make you happy or isn’t absolutely necessary should be touched, thanked and sent on its way, the bestselling Japanese author says"

Psychologies UK - 10 tips to make you more tidy now
"Marie Kondo argues that if you tidy your home properly now, you’ll never need to declutter again."

MindBodyGreen - 10 Ways To Declutter Your Home (And Life!)
"When I discovered her guide The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I realized I had been going about decluttering all wrong... In the spirit of helping others crawl out from under the clutter of our overly commodified lifestyle, here are 10 tips that helped me the most."

a Q&A with Marie Kondo on the "Gransnet" forum
(scroll down to "MarieKondo Thu 29-May-14 15:00:50" for her highlighted answers to specific questions)

the book trailer (YouTube video, >2 min.) featuring a subtitled interview with the author

online excerpts from her book (each link has different content): other possibly useful decluttering links:
*Peggy Wang (Buzzfeed) - 34 Ingenious Ways To De-Clutter Your Entire Life
*Apartment Therapy - the "January Cure" for 2015 (assignment posts on the blog begin here)
*Minimalist Couple - The "I Don't Know" Room
*miss minimalist - twenty questions to clear your clutter
*Unclutterer - "Many people new to uncluttering will begin the process with a simple technique called “a thing a day.”"
*The Minimalists - resources/further reading
*Barking Up The Wrong Tree - How To Motivate Yourself: 3 Steps Backed By Science
*Unfuck Your Habitat - previously on MeFi here

also previously on MeFi:
*a culture of clutter
*the story of stuff
*on Japanese farewell ceremonies for things
posted by flex (143 comments total) 336 users marked this as a favorite
 
Awesome stuff flex. People feeling even the slightest tickle at any of this should immediately get rid of 50% of the things they own. It's the best! Also the rule is: for any one item you bring home, you must get rid of two. I call it: Declutterers of Catan (actually I don't call it that but now I have, it's not half-bad).
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:00 PM on January 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


As someone who is considering moving in the near future and STILL hasn't unpacked some stuff from the last move, I need this so much. Thanks!
posted by chrominance at 7:03 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I moved to Los Angeles from New York, I took this tack and only brought the things I really, really loved.

I arrived in Los Angeles with beloved books, priceless travel mementos, and clothes I would come to wear to rags.

And fucking nothing else.

One thing they don't tell you is that shower curtains, vegetable peelers, and bamboo steamers don't really "spark joy". But you still have to have them.

Two years later, I still try to choose household objects based on whether they're both useful and aesthetically lovely, because I live in a studio apartment with very little storage. But, bottom line, there are some things everybody needs that just aren't very pretty.
posted by Sara C. at 7:11 PM on January 11, 2015 [83 favorites]


Pardon my cynicism, but the notion that everything in life should inspire "joy" or "bliss" has got to be the pinnacle of First World entitlement. Those words have been so diluted by marketers (and those who emulate them) that they're in danger of losing all meaning. I'll settle for a decluttering strategy that, like, successfully declutters my home. You don't have to promise me nirvana too.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:15 PM on January 11, 2015 [48 favorites]


If you are a collector at heart (which I sort of am), if you can collect a different thing than you do now, it can make your life easier. I used to collect something that required approximately 30 boxes when I moved. I swore I'd never collect large things again. Now the things I collect (3 things, more or less) can be fit into 3 boxes.
posted by el io at 7:15 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I absolutely dream about having a minimalist life sometimes, where I'd have white walls and dark floors and clear surfaces and perhaps an orchid in a vase.

But then I go into my living room with jumbles of artwork on the walls from friends and 14 puppets (seriously) on the back of the couch and pictures all over the fridge and 125 rubber duckies in the bathroom (no, seriously) and I realize I will never live like that, no matter what my dreams are.

However, a few years ago I had my house foreclosed upon and the authorities took all my worldly possessions and put them in storage until I could pay to get them back. I had no money for so long that I just gave them up...everything I owned. I was lucky enough to live with family during this poor time in my life, and when I finally got back on my feet, I lived with very little in my first "my very own" place, so I know I can do it.

I don't know what I mean with all this, except that possessions are meaningless and comforting at the same time, and I am privileged to be able to live with too much or just enough.
posted by xingcat at 7:15 PM on January 11, 2015 [23 favorites]


YOU HAVE TOO MUCH SHIT was released this week, is free to download, and can be read in about 10 minutes.
posted by furtive at 7:16 PM on January 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


You don't have to promise me nirvana too.

I gather the decluttering process for nirvana is somewhat more thorough.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:18 PM on January 11, 2015 [21 favorites]


Sara C, she addresses that in appreciating utility and service of objects I think. Like the bamboo steamer is well designed for its purpose and you cooked delicious crunchy veggies with its help that made you feel good. Her approach anthropomorphizes possessions a fair amount.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:18 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


Can't. When my security badge from work doesn't inspire joy in me, I'm going to have a problem.
posted by ctmf at 7:19 PM on January 11, 2015 [27 favorites]


Good luck with your next tax audit if you throw away all your papers because they don't give you joy. (She recommends this.)
posted by gingerest at 7:20 PM on January 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


Goodbye 1040 forms.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:21 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I intend to read that book; my aunt is reading it and loving it. Of course, her house is already almost completely empty so I have no idea what "clutter" she's getting rid of.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:25 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing they don't tell you is that shower curtains, vegetable peelers, and bamboo steamers don't really "spark joy". But you still have to have them.

This quote from YOU HAVE TOO MUCH SHIT seems to apply to people like you and me, in terms of the practicality of some items: William Morris famously said “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”.
posted by nubs at 7:27 PM on January 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


I read this book, and the author is indeed delightfully nutty, but she does a great job connecting with those of us who anthropomorphize our objects. If you've ever felt sorry for a sweater that you don't wear enough, Kondo might be able to reframe your thinking about how you organize your possessions.
posted by redsparkler at 7:28 PM on January 11, 2015 [16 favorites]


Also, I started the new year doing the Declutter 365 challenge with some folks on another forum. I'm enjoying it, so far. It's supposed to only take 15 minutes a day but some take 0 and some take way longer. Cleaning out my kitchen utensils was a trip- who knew I had 12 fondue forks? Or 16 plastic spoons from 16 Handles yogurt shop? I even had something on my counter (right in front of my face!) that I completely forgot I had and had no idea what to do with (it was a mix n' chop).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:29 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


The trouble is, I have a lot of possessions and they mostly do give me joy. If I got rid of all the (inessential - can't get rid of the interview suit or the hairdryer or the doing-unpleasant-muddy-tasks shoes, etc) joyless things I would still have about fifty squillion things, and I know because I've done it before. Honestly, I'd much rather just have a large Thing Archive, not least because it has been very gratifying in the past to think "gee I wish I had a [nice present for someone, or a grey turtleneck, or a copy of the Grundrisse] and realize that I do have one in a box in the back of the spare room.
posted by Frowner at 7:31 PM on January 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I liked especially the advice to do it as a sprint/festival. We had been decluttering slowly like twenty minutes a day and I started doing it in groups (so fun - gather all the painting things! All the jars! All the towels! And easier when you're sorting among the same type to realize oh hey I only need one vase and that's the one I like the most) and then over three glorious days I ended up clearing about 30-40% of everything except for my kids' rooms which is their territory.

So good. Bonus that tidying up takes fifteen minutes tops for the whole place and you like what's left. It's nicer than the whole minimalist only have one of each - if you love a dozen puppets, have a dozen puppets! Pretty sure I don't need to have three baskets of yarn and a pasta roller. But they make me happy and I can see them now in empty shelves instead of crammed in with stuff I don't use or like.

It's too early to tell if we'll buy less. I went to ikea briefly mid purge and felt ill at the thought of bringing more stuff in, but I think it has to be a regular festival.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:32 PM on January 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Good luck with your next tax audit if you throw away all your papers because they don't give you joy. (She recommends this.)

So, I used to be the assistant to this Lifestyle Guru type who was really into decluttering through digitization.

I wanted to scream when she would scan and shred all the receipts related to her travel on behalf of this or that TV network or production company. Because, no, those companies' accounting departments are going to need the originals of those receipts, not scanned copies. I know it made her feel more efficient to do it, but nooooooooooooo
posted by Sara C. at 7:33 PM on January 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


I am naturally messy. At work, I now require myself to throw away something, anything, from my desk each time I get up. Usually it's just something small, like a wrapper, which is fine; but once in a while it's a big thing like a whole stack of papers, which is sweet.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:37 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


>>Pardon my cynicism, but the notion that everything in life should inspire "joy" or "bliss" has got to be the pinnacle of First World entitlement.

I think what has to be understood here is that Marie Kondo wrote her book in Japanese for a Japanese audience. Also, she spent five years helping out at a Shinto shrine. The English translation of her book is very well done, but that concept of "sparking joy" has an entirely different set of connotations in a Japanese context. Consider for example how Japanese anime imbues objects with perky human traits and how Shinto finds spirits in rocks and trees. Same thing here. Think of it as "sparking a connection" and you might find the concept more palatable. The flip side is, it helps to thank an object then set it free (toss it out or give it away). Makes it easier to let go.
posted by mono blanco at 7:37 PM on January 11, 2015 [60 favorites]


What happens when you keep stuff because you're worried you'll need it at some point later and won't be able to afford buying it? That is where 95% of my clutter comes from.
posted by schroedinger at 7:38 PM on January 11, 2015 [35 favorites]


My mother-in-law's house in Japan has stuff that dates back to the early 1970's. It's a real problem in Japan because there is no easy way to get rid of junk - you have to cart it off to the municipal garbage incinerator.

We lived in a house for about five years where the owner had come down with a stroke and the family asked us to tidy it up. I ended up driving carload after carload of junk to the incinerator, and also asked the city to come by and haul away even larger junk. It was expensive, but worth it.

But for most people in Japan, like my mother-in-law, getting rid of unneeded possessions is to big of a task, and once you have this junk - stuffed into closets or piled up in a corner of the room or on the balcony, it becomes impossible to consider throwing out.

Canada has moved towards Japan's model of a low-waste (ie, pay for garbage removal) society. It costs money to discard couches and so on now, so every few months at end of term local university students throw out couches and whatever (boxes of hangers are a common item) on the curbside. Totally illegal, but with the tipping fee and renting a truck, throwing out a couch would cost $150 bucks.

Personally I hate accumulating anything. I've even stopped buying books and magazines. I like throwing stuff out.
posted by Nevin at 7:48 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


my heart's all aflutter
because I've de-cluttered
it's so nice and clean around here!
i'm feeling so happy
no longer so crappy
i think i'll go open a beer!
but, wait, i can't do it
away's where i threw it
my old bottle opener's no more!
i can't drink my beer
i'm miserable here
this de-cluttered life is a bore!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:57 PM on January 11, 2015 [17 favorites]


I'm at a taqueria right now eating a burrito because I sat in near paralysis in my room trying to move everything from an old desk to a new shelf/dresser. The stuff, I just don't even know what to do. It's one of my biggest challenges in life, cleaning up and tossing out.
posted by rainperimeter at 7:59 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


This book has taken over my life. A dear friend mentioned it to me a couple weeks before the holidays, then sent me pictures of her dresser drawers all re-done using Marie Kondo's "filing" method. I mentioned this friend and her life change in passing to a work colleague, who then got me the book as a gift in our office gift exchange. I read the book. I rolled my eyes at the woo. But clearly something held, because I then, on New Year's Day, ended up filling 18 bags worth of items to discard/recycle/donate. "Does it spark joy?" is, I am surprised to discover, one hell of an effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff for me. I am not a minimalist, but I had a lot of stuff that I was keeping out of a sense of obligation, a sense of guilt, or in the belief that I needed to keep "in case." In case what? Well, good question.

Anyway. It worked for me. I especially appreciated her suggestions for thanking items that have served their purpose for you, then discarding them with love and appreciation.
posted by minervous at 8:05 PM on January 11, 2015 [30 favorites]


It brings me joy that I do not live alone. But, on the other hand, it also means that if I declutter a room, or clean a space, I have simply created more storage space for other people's clutter, and that clutter will quickly expand to fill it.
posted by tyllwin at 8:05 PM on January 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


@scroedinger I haven't read the book, but I think it'd be considered bad news to keep things because of general worry. How does one handle the situation when one needs something they don't have and can't afford? Regardless of whether or not they've owned it at some point in their life.
posted by askmehow at 8:05 PM on January 11, 2015


I am certainly not good at being a minimalist. I enjoy doing all of my own repairs and renovations of the house, car, yard, cottage, boat, bikes, etc, and have a workshop packed full of weird tools, odd bits of stuff, wires, nuts and bolts, pieces of wood and so on is extremely useful, and would be a royal pain and a large expense to procure on an as-needed basis. Saves a lot of money to do it myself. I also have a lot of old things in every day usage, like 1950's boat motors and other antique and ancient machines and electronics. So, a natural course of action is to horde spare bits because there is no way to acquire them otherwise. All the weird an obscure tools that only get pulled out on rare occasions are damn nice to have in easy reach when they are needed. Like when I replaced the stairs in our basement with a nice oak set over Christmas. Or having to do some emergency plumbing. Or repairing the ancient used lawnmower that just won't die. Soldering up some electronics. Wiring. The list goes on.

As for the home library, we have shitloads of books, and we love it. We rarely buy novels, as those are better acquired from the library, but it still grows continuously.

Minimalist homes give me the creeps. So much emptiness. So sterile. Ugh.

My own method of decided what to keep or acquire is to use the term hobbit term "mathom" -- is it a mathom, or likely to become one? Then it has no place in my home.
posted by fimbulvetr at 8:07 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


One thing they don't tell you is that shower curtains, vegetable peelers, and bamboo steamers don't really "spark joy". But you still have to have them.

Yeah obviously you don't throw out your bamboo steamers. I think we're all focusing a little too much on the bamboo steamers. There are things in life other than bamboo steamers.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:07 PM on January 11, 2015 [11 favorites]


The entire "Self Storage Facility" industry, which didn't used to exist, and the reality show ofshoots, including Antiques Roadshow, are predicated on the difficulty of abandoning sentimental objects - both because of emotional attachment and that there is gold in them thar thing your grandma gave you.

In reality if you live in the same house for a while sentimental objects gradually accrete until you find one day there is a whole dresser full of tiny toys, that soma cube that you can still solve, the magic 8-ball, that novelty book, refrigerator magnets, friendship bracelets, and crap concert shirts. Then you look at the very back of the bottom dresser drawyer and find you've saved your retainer for some goddamn reason. It's there by the now ossified butterscotch candies from years ago.

And then you move out of the house you grew up in and leave all that shit at your Moms house and pack clothes that you will wear and you steal enough from the kitchen to make Top Ramen.
posted by vapidave at 8:10 PM on January 11, 2015 [7 favorites]


mono blanco nails it: this is a message from a different culture and, even with a good translation, there are some fundamentally different ways of thinking about permanence, transience and the nature of objects, even in an aesthetic perspective, that are part of this. Minimalism is also something I suspect one has to think about differently when you have 17% usable landmass and a dense population. But it's more than that.

You don't have to understand wabi-sabi or mono no aware to find the book useful. However, if you find that it's really something that you don't get, looking up at least wabi-sabi, to understand how a loved object can be made more beautiful through repair, may help in grasping some of the background here.

I am not Japanese nor am I a particularly deep Japanese scholar but the small amount I do know helps a great deal when trying to translate the cultural aspects underneath the language.
posted by nfalkner at 8:11 PM on January 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


I only keep things that when I look at them and touch them I think, Will this be useful to me when all the electricity runs out? If the answer is "no" then I'm like, well, I'll keep it for now because it's expensive and I use it daily, but as soon as the electricity runs out I will put it in that corner over there.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:12 PM on January 11, 2015 [10 favorites]


The entire "Self Storage Facility" industry, which didn't used to exist

When did this not used to exist? I mean in ye olden tymes probably, but I'm in my 30s and there was a self-storage facility on my bus route to elementary school in a random small town in rural Louisiana. So it at least dates to the 80s, even in places where people typically have homes large enough for plenty of stuff.
posted by Sara C. at 8:18 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


Her book has been making the rounds in my social circle. I read it, and made a halfhearted attempt at dealing with the ludicrous amount of unnecessary stuff I have. I wish it had worked for me, but after a couple hours of effort I eventually had the in-retrospect-obvious realization that trying to assess whether things "spark joy" when you're in the anhedonic pit of depression is basically a recipe for wanting to set your whole house on fire and run off into the woods to eat bark.
posted by dorque at 8:19 PM on January 11, 2015 [52 favorites]


Be brave, rainperimeter! You can do it!
posted by Emor at 8:23 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


this is a message from a different culture and, even with a good translation, there are some fundamentally different ways of thinking about permanence, transience and the nature of objects, even in an aesthetic perspective, that are part of this. Minimalism is also something I suspect one has to think about differently when you have 17% usable landmass and a dense population. But it's more than that.

You don't have to understand wabi-sabi or mono no aware to find the book useful. However, if you find that it's really something that you don't get, looking up at least wabi-sabi, to understand how a loved object can be made more beautiful through repair, may help in grasping some of the background here.


Eh, I would never, ever say that the Japanese are minimalist. Homes are full of junk, knick-knacks, whimsical tchotkes, and towering piles of newspaper.

If anything, North America is more minimalist in terms of how interior space is used.

It could be because North American homes are larger and there is more storage space than the cramped condominiums so many Japanese people live in, but people live in cramped cities because that's where the jobs are, not because there is no land.

Go out to the countryside (and I have lived off and on for 20 years in the Japanese countryside) and there is plenty of space for housing. But there's no work that pays particularly well.

I think the woman here is performing a pretty valuable service because people in Japan tend to collect all sorts of useless crap. It's a quantifiable fact, especially in a country where everything is wrapped with excess packaging, and every takeout sushi comes with disposable chopsticks, a packet of soy sauce and a fake bamboo leaf for colour.

This is not a rant, but to suggest that Japan has embraced minimalism is the polar opposite of a country that is typically visually and materially cluttered.

The only "wabi-sabi" part of the country I can think of are the stained and ageing ferroconcrete housing blocks that rise up out of the rain gloomily. The past twenty years have not been kind to much of Japan outside of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Fukuoka. The buildings built during the 70's and 80's are beginning to fall apart. Very wabi-sabi.

(We will be staying at my mother-in-laws in a few weeks. A cousin is using part of her house for "storage" and it will be my job to get all that shit out of the way)
posted by Nevin at 8:25 PM on January 11, 2015 [26 favorites]


There is an amazing book (by Taschen I think) about all the piles and piles of shit that Japanese people have in their tiny little apartments. I definitely don't think it's a special Japanese state-of-mind thing. There really was a lot of shit.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:27 PM on January 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


but what if the thing that gives me joy is the whole gestalt of this intricate and dangerous garbage nest i call an apartment?
posted by jason_steakums at 8:28 PM on January 11, 2015 [12 favorites]


Minimalist seeks other.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:29 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


I see I've actually mentioned it on here before. The corpse in the library reminded me at the time that it was this one.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:30 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Nevin: I stand corrected and enhanced! However, I wasn't actually suggesting that all of Japan had already embraced minimalism (or this book would be superfluous) but, based on the reaction of people to the book here, that the reaction of Japanese people to this book would potentially be more positive because they have got so little space. Sorry for being unclear.
posted by nfalkner at 8:33 PM on January 11, 2015 [4 favorites]


As someone who is considering moving in the near future and STILL hasn't unpacked some stuff from the last move, I need this so much.

This just means you have boxes of things to donate/ sell off, no sorting necessary (assuming the last move was more than a few weeks ago).

"If you haven't used it in a year, you probably don't really need it" is a fairly safe rule of thumb. (Says the guy who has boxes of things that he has lugged around from a few moves.)
posted by filthy light thief at 8:36 PM on January 11, 2015


If anything I am too unsentimental about objects -- I am always getting rid of things that later might have been useful, but even then I don't really have any regrets about it. I love photographs of super minimalist interiors, but they don't tend to look pleasant to live in at all. I like my living room to have a few piles of half-read books, some extra pillows, and lots of art on the walls.

If the author's approach is helping people get rid of things they would be happier to not have around, then that is great. Clutter is obviously something that many people in this world struggle with (and as I think someone above alluded to, some of the most cluttered spaces I have ever been in were the houses of people poor enough to legitimately worry that if they got rid of something, they would not be able to afford to replace it).
posted by Dip Flash at 8:40 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Marie Kondo and her KonMari Method are considered "eccentric" in Japan. One of the reasons she became popular is that she is really entertaining on chat shows.
posted by betweenthebars at 8:50 PM on January 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


How does one handle the situation when one needs something they don't have and can't afford?

Well, in my case, the solution is to not get rid of the thing in the first place.
posted by schroedinger at 8:53 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Throw away everything you own and replace with the Hello Kitty version. teehee.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:55 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


"When did this not used to exist? I mean in ye olden tymes probably, but I'm in my 30s and there was a self-storage facility on my bus route to elementary school in a random small town in rural Louisiana. So it at least dates to the 80s, even in places where people typically have homes large enough for plenty of stuff."

wiki
Although there is historical evidence of publicly available storage in ancient China, modern self-storage facilities (in which the tenant has exclusive access to the storage space) did not begin to appear until 1958, when Lauderdale Storage in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (founded by the Collum family) opened for business.

Modern storage facilities grew slowly through the 90s, at which time demand outpaced supply and caused a rush of new self-storage developments. From 2000 to 2005, over 3,000 new facilities were built every year in America.

The Self-Storage Self - New York Times.

I suppose maybe there is analogy here to, of all things, shoes. There were no athletic shoes other than "tennis shoes" and Chucks until Nike. Nike had revenue of $7.98 billion last year.
posted by vapidave at 8:59 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


Sure, but 1958 is more than 50 years ago. This is not really a new development at all.

It also very neatly goes hand in hand with the postwar economic boom, and later, the influx of dirt-cheap imported consumer goods.
posted by Sara C. at 9:03 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thank you for putting together this post, I have some major stuff choices to make, and I am an incorrigible crouton-petter... I think this approach will help me!
posted by NorthernAutumn at 9:04 PM on January 11, 2015 [5 favorites]


I spent my whole life being minimalist, since we moved around a lot when I was a kid and my parents got me to declutter down to a box or two every time. Then I left home at 17 with one suitcase full of stuff, and then moved around all over the world every couple of years from then until my mid twenties, again, cutting down to one suitcase of stuff each time.

So I got into the habit of using non-ideal items for as many purposes as possible (e.g. the oven or stovetop for making toast or boiling water instead of buying a toaster and a kettle; making coffee by boiling the grounds in a saucepan; frying things on the base of a saucepan instead of buying a frying pan), or just doing without (wrinkle free clothes instead of buying an iron, letting my hair air-dry so as not to need a hairdryer).

I also tried to never get emotionally attached to objects, even books, to borrow or buy second-hand so that I could just give the things back when I moved. I had a capsule wardrobe and only two pairs of shoes before that was a Thing.

It was nice to never need to rent more than a single room or studio apartment, and still have it feel uncluttered. And I'm still the queen of traveling light, even when I don't intend to.

But I am SO HAPPY now to have things that are perfect for a single purpose and not feel guilty about the space they take up. It is wonderful to just buy a book, or a piece of artwork, without having to figure out how I'll transport it when I next move, or whether the price is a stupid amount to spend on something I'll just have to sell or give away in six months.

Right now I am embracing the clutter and feeling good about taking up space in the world. I like the idea of seeing whether an object sparks joy, but honestly, even the eight (eight!) boring plain metal forks in my cutlery drawer right now spark joy because ha ha ha I get to have enough cutlery to host a dinner party for the first time in my life.

(We are going to move again some time in the next six months, but only across town so for once I don't care.)
posted by lollusc at 9:13 PM on January 11, 2015 [18 favorites]


Like srsly, the most exciting things about my life right now are that I have multiples of each cleaning product, stored under every sink, so that I don't have to fetch them from one room to another when I clean; and I am keeping an old stained t-shirt and jeans just for gardening, painting or cleaning in. I am not even kidding about how exciting this to me.
posted by lollusc at 9:19 PM on January 11, 2015 [20 favorites]


Another thing about Japan is that very generally speaking (without exactly generalizing) certain kinds of things, such as photographs, tax receipts and even stuffed animals have to be disposed of, usually burnt, in a special way. So this can lead to the sorts of clutter that I ranted and raved about upthread.

Anyway, this Guardian article has some pretty interesting insights about hoarding: Buried in treasures: there’s more to hoarding than OCD. The reasons for the habit are many and various – understanding this is the only way to help release sufferers from their trap.
posted by Nevin at 9:23 PM on January 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


This book has been going around my friend circle and now I'm really feeling like I need to read it. This is going to be a decluttering year. Might as well declutter it right.
posted by immlass at 9:34 PM on January 11, 2015


I have just read this book*; it's working very well for me at this point in my life; I am in the middle of a giant tidying based on this book, with a very few modifications of my own.

I don't believe in anthropomorphizing objects; but I do believe that we, as people, can have emotional relationships with or about objects, even though the objects don't reciprocate. I'll give my anecdote here:

The author says we should start tidying (i.e., purging) with clothes, then books; and these categories are so personal that the idea of "does this can of tomatoes or vegetable peeler spark joy" doesn't really enter into it. So I've done my clothes (by the way, her folding and storing methods are great), and I've had to confront several outfits, suits, etc. that don't spark joy at all but that I "can't get rid of." Well, why can't I? "Because I need them for this part of my job that I don't like." Well, why is this part of my job, that I don't like, taking up so much of my closet? And by extension, my life?

The final chapter of the book says that when we have objects that don't spark joy, but that we still can't get rid of, it's because of an inappropriate attachment to the past, or a fear of the future. FOR ME, there are lots of things in my apartment that I do not like but was afraid to get rid of or "had to keep". And by figuring out WHY I am surrounded by things that don't give me joy--why I have allowed them to stay in my space--I am actually getting more insight into my own needs and wants at a transitional point in my life.

But if you are generally content with your space and your stuff, please don't feel the need to read this book.

* I wanted to read it for a while, and then we came home from Christmas with four huge boxes of gifts, a quarter of which we would actually use, and we have a small apartment and I was freaking out, so I went out and bought it. For me personally, having the conscious thought of "Wait, I have control over the stuff that comes in, I don't need to freak out at the idea that family members are filling my apartment "on my behalf" with crap I don't want" has been worth $17 on its own.
posted by Hypatia at 9:37 PM on January 11, 2015 [21 favorites]


You can have my tools (which include the musical instruments, which are but tools for making pretty sounds) and boots when I die. Until then, I use them all and they're mine.

Srsly, last winter there was a week when I had 12 pairs of boots, all in different stages of dripping wet to wearably dry, in the living room. This is what year-round motorcycling and walking outside require in a rain forest.
posted by Dreidl at 9:49 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


I just finished reading this book and loved it. A little too hokey in places, but overall helpful. I found useful her method of before progressing to actual work, you take time to think about what you want out of your home. What do you want to do in your home, etc? Instead of starting with how, she asks you to examine what your goals are.
Mine are:
1. Not being embarrassed to have friends over with short notice (I love hosting)
2. Being able to work on projects without having to dig through a dozen boxes for various supplies and them find I've bough 6 of the same thing.

I discovered in my own retrospection I hold onto a lot of stuff because of guilt. And you know what? It doesn't make me a very happy person to be surround by things that inspire guilt in me.
posted by HMSSM at 9:54 PM on January 11, 2015 [22 favorites]


Wow. Very interesting article.

I'm not officially a hoarder, but definitely veer in that direction. Every time I pick up practically anything in my house, I remember why I bought it, who was there, what it meant to me at that time. I bought my wok the day of a friend's wedding (their kids are now in 3rd grade), I bought my red shirt when I was out with a friend and he moved away a few weeks later, I bought much of my furniture off old room mates who I haven't seen in years. Maybe I should just order everything online so it has no emotional baggage.
posted by miyabo at 10:04 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


For me the best way to approach her book was in the mindset of moderation, using good judgement if something didn't feel right for me and to realize that sometimes things need to be kept for utility even if the reaction to them isn't joyful per say. But anything you do keep needs to have a place, it needs to belong somewhere.

You can also substitute you own word for joy, whatever makes sense to you. A huge part of this is just realizing what each object means to you and is it a positive or negative association. Her books isn't some scared religious text you are mandated to follow. You can totally read it and scrape it for ideas and hints without buying into every aspect of it.
posted by HMSSM at 10:10 PM on January 11, 2015 [6 favorites]


To each their own. There are as many people who would feel guilty and depressed for getting rid of things. Even if those things didn't give them joy. Some things you simply NEED.
posted by ReeMonster at 10:18 PM on January 11, 2015


What happens when you keep stuff because you're worried you'll need it at some point later and won't be able to afford buying it?

That's when you realise "decluttering" is just a coping mechanism for the anxiety ridden middle classes, especially those living in far too expensive cities on far too modest salaries to be able to afford anything other than one of those clean, white, efficient studios. It sets you apart from lower class scum who can't afford to just buy what they need but actually, can you believe it, need to hold on to old tools or clothing and it sublimates for the worry that here you are turning forty and still living in a cramped apartment your parents wouldn't have wanted to life in as students.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:34 PM on January 11, 2015 [14 favorites]


is this something I would have to own belongings to understand
posted by DoctorFedora at 10:42 PM on January 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


There are a lot of books full of advice for decluttering our lives and I suppose they sell well and are effective for some folks. I'm a happy-with-clutter type of person and, though I have too much of it (again), I'll hold on tight to what I have for now. I've had to do the dump-everything bit three times in my life and to this day I think of something I wish I still had now and then - and if I think about it, I feel a little sadness at things I've gotten rid of that I didn't really want to but circumstances demanded it. I don't have a lot of extra money and I hate having to replace something I used to have. As an example, I used to have several pillow forms and this past Christmas I wanted to make some pillows for gifts and had to buy new pillow forms - and I was gobsmacked when I found out how much they cost now; might as well just buy a pretty new pillow.

I'm old - SO much older than what Sara C. considers ancient (lol - just kidding, Sara C), but one thing that old age business means is that those of my generation grew up repairing things and figuring out how to make what they needed with what they had, which is one reason we collect and hold onto oddball bits and pieces of stuff. I still take a small amount of pride in being able to put together what I need from materials I have around the house rather than go out and buy something every time. We never heard the term "repurposing," but yes, that's a way of life for most older people. DIY used to be a respectable thing; in the 70s, Better Homes & Gardens started a series of magazines called "100 Ideas for Under $100" and the magazines sold like hotcakes. People began gathering up scraps of all sorts of things and making them over into new things - it was the kick-off, perhaps, for stuff like "shabby chic" and other clever terms that all mean redoing stuff to give it another run rather than discard everything and buy new. I like it - I like character over bland, so the redo idea works well for me. I have to laugh now also because of the great realm of ideas on Pinterest regarding taking old wood furniture from thrift stores and painting it wild or bright or pastel colors - a "new" look - that's also being recycled, which is why I laugh. I remember taking wood furniture and painting it - I had a chartreuse coffee table and yellow end tables and more, but then I also remember when I would groan at the perfectly wonderful old wood that people had covered up with black paint - and I'd get out the stripper and go to work trying to get back to the great old wood. So here we go again with the painting.

I have friends whose apartments are like something out of Pottery Barn - and then there are others with places like mine. I think it's simple: We are symbolized by our things, whatever they are or aren't.

Or ... whatever toots your horn, I guess. Anyway, I like the anthromorphizing of anything - it makes me smile.
posted by aryma at 10:51 PM on January 11, 2015 [15 favorites]


YOU HAVE TOO MUCH SHIT was released this week, is free to download, and can be read in about 10 minutes.
Free pens, mouse mats and mugs; your hidden stash of takeaway menus; those glittery wine gift bags that you keep in case you ever give someone else some wine; your bag full of plastic bags; the office toy that forever sits idly on your desk; a pile of long since subscribed-to magazines that now more closely resemble the trunk of a tree; the remote control car someone bought you for Christmas to show that you still have a childish side; your plethora of novelty electronics; unwanted Christmas presents that have hung around too long; your CD collection (the CD is the no man’s land of musical storage); boxes full of photographs that you, be honest, will never look at again; rolled up posters hidden from view; the musical instrument lying against the wall that you never play; crap paperbacks; any books you don’t intend to read again; worn-out trainers; all the clothes you hardly ever wear; discarded broadband routers; obsolete gizmos you keep lying around in case they’re ever worth something; chargers and cables for obsolete gizmos you keep lying around in case they’re ever worth something; the car sitting in a garage all day; DIY materials, bought for an unfinished project several years ago; pretty much anything being stored in a cardboard box or bin liner...
HE'S CALLING FROM INSIDE MY HOUSE
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:30 PM on January 11, 2015 [49 favorites]


So much clutter lie in unfinished projects, many I still intend to finish, but suspect a touch of undiagnosed adhd keeps me starting more than finishing. Combine that with periods of feast and famine unpredictably in my adult life (like right now, with my husband I not working for different reasons and barely scraping by on dwindling savings) and it's hard to throw things out. But I know that way madness lay. And yet, once again being broke, I think of the things I've thrown out and how stressful it was to need to rebuy later.

But the clutter itself is stressful. And our house lacks proper storage most houses have. (Never again will I buy a place with a basement that's supposed to be part of the living space.) I suppose I should be happy we have a house for now. But the clutter is suffocating.

Writing this post did get me thinking of a few things I can trash though - a box of junk from my last job 3 years ago. A plant hanger bracket. Two bins full of stuff I haven't looked at in years. But the cookie press, though infrequently used, stays.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 11:30 PM on January 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have literally just downloaded this book a few days ago, so this is a timely post for me.
While we move every < 2 years, we have paid professional movers so other than the cost of contents insurance, that is not a huge incentive for us to get rid of stuff. And while I want to be a minimalist, every time I try it bites me in the butt. For example, I have been getting rid of our thousands of books, trying to keep new purchases to ebooks and have less on our (still very full) shelves. Then yesterday my son pulled our copy of Maus off the shelves and started to read. He is reading it still as I type. Yes, he may have come across it if we had an ebook copy, but having it there, on the shelf, is what caught his eye. I wonder how much he is going to miss because he doesn't see it there.
And of course there are tools - my husband has a lot of tools, both for recreational and practical reasons. But some he may use less than once every year.

And then, of course, there is the yarn stash .... becoming a knitter kind of ended any hopes I had of minimal possessions living ...
posted by Megami at 12:25 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


No one seems to have mentioned what a challenge children can make decluttering, so I will, and forgive me, child free people. But the vast majority of young children are among the most conservative on earth -- THEY HATE CHANGE. They like seeing all their shit spread out around them day after day, and they can be hyper aware if the quantity or quality changes, and the moment you try to get rid of a headless action figure will be the moment your kid develops a deep attachment to it.

I also have to say that there are certain art forms, like collage or doll-making or assembled sculpture, that absolutely require the artist to hoard. A beat up wire drain cover? Becomes a tiny door to another world. That old love letter? Blow it up and Xerox it enough times onto textured paper. It becomes a background pattern for a painting.

Not to say that everyone needs to live like this, but it shouldn't be a universal goal. That being said, I'm really enjoying the posts here from people who have found the book useful.
posted by jfwlucy at 12:34 AM on January 12, 2015 [11 favorites]


I have really enjoyed reading this book and acting on its precepts.

You don't have to be a minimalist with one bowl and a spork to comply with its guidelines. You're just discarding things that no longer speak to you. You stop when you stop, wherever that is for you. But you have permission to get rid of things that you are holding on to out of duty, in the belief that it might be handy one day, because it could be repaired, because someone else might want it, or any of the other reasons that aren't because I like it or I find it useful to me. This is very empowering for people like me who have major guilt issues about throwing things away.

For the first time since I was a kid, all my clothes fit in a dresser and a wardrobe, neatly folded and hung. Marvellous.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:41 AM on January 12, 2015 [18 favorites]


Actually another thing I should add is that her approach of working category by category, rather than area by area, starting with the least emotionally draining categories, is refreshing and helpful to me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:43 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also the rule is: for any one item you bring home, you must get rid of two.

I have been doing this for a while with books. If I do this long enough, I suppose I will wind up with one truly excellent book. All by itself on 200 linear feet of shelf.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:34 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


I read her book recently and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's definitely on the eccentric side, but in a charming way which makes you feel okay about liking your stuff instead of living in a minimalist white box. I've scheduled some time to sort out my clothes using her method, and I can already tell which items are definitely leaving my home. I'm actually looking forward to it instead of dreading it as a horrible chore which must be endured lest I die under a pile of my own junk.

Crouton-petters who want to declutter or have tidier homes will get a lot out of the way she asks you to honour your possessions - if it is useful or you love it, it deserves to be treated with respect and not buried under a pile of crap you don't like or need.

And I have no problem with people who enjoy being crowded in by their possessions. Whatever works for you! But if you've struggled to declutter because you have emotional attachments to stuff, then this book (and the delightful Discardia) is worth a look.
posted by harriet vane at 3:42 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


B...but I might one day use those D&D manuals again. Can't just throw them away, either, and small town thrift stores don't have a lot of use for weird gaming stuff in a foreign language.
posted by pseudocode at 4:25 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Mid-2014, Shepherd and I went from a two story house to a maybe 1000 sq ft apartment in another city. OH MY GOD THE SHIT WE HAD TO GET RID OF. He'd lived in the house longer than I had so there was tons of stuff that been moldering and forgotten in the downstairs area of the house, as well as having so many books/board games/shit that my MIL insists on giving us every time they visited (thank you kindly, but I really really really have no need for an entire set of china especially as I have no kids and will be having no kids and we might have dinner guests once a month).

So. In order to make the move from big space to small space easier on us, we got rid of stuff that was clearly junk first. Even hired a guy to haul it away for us. Sadly, the hardest thing to get rid of was all our English language literature as we were living in a very Francophone town and not a lot of interest in books in that language. Then all the useful neat stuff that we had accumulated over the years, either together or alone, we had serious talks about which stuff mattered, what held memories that we would like to smile and think about. After that was decided we went around our house and put Post-It notes on all the stuff we were going let go, created a FB event, and invited everyone in town we knew (we called it The Unstuffening).

And wow, did so many friends and acquaintances come over and take our stuff. Furniture, books, board games, beer making kits, shelving, canned goods that we had hoarded from canning season, extra flatware, kitchenware that we weren't using, etc. It was awesome. And we came to a new city with considerably less stuff than before.

We're in the process of house-hunting this year and we've made the solemn promise to never let stuff accumulate like that again, even if we get more space. But I must confess I'm worried. I'm already thinking of stuff to buy if we get a house and I'm like, "Whoa, why don't you just wait and see if you need anything at all there, hoss."

Decluttering was necessary for us to move last year and while it was bizarrely agonizing, I regret it not a whit.
posted by Kitteh at 5:36 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Minimal is nice: I spent 7-8 years being able to move with roughly two big suitcases, by necessity as I was changing continents every two years. It also helped transition to life in a city with crazy real estate and (good but) not sufficient income: as a family of four in 370 sq ft it's us vs stuff.
Some caveats though because of kids:
- We can decide to not keep much of our own stuff, but it's hard to decide for them; so we are actually extra aggressive with our stuff so we can keep a good archive of their stuff (drawings and crafts and toys and books) and they can decide later what to do. My mom kept a lot of my stuff and I recently re-discovered kids books I loved, which I'll give ot my own kids.
- I remember the huge amount of books my parents had when we were growing up and when bored I could always just leaf through random ones. It's nice to say you should give away books you do not intend to read again, but maybe somone else in your family will.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 5:48 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


lollusc's point about mobility really resonated with me.

I grew up in the Midwest, but came to the east Coast for college -- and then never left. This environment is not the one to which I have old emotional ties. The objects that I brought here with me therefor carry extra power because they hearken back to a physical place (as well as a time) to which I can never return. This is true of inconsequential things (concert t-shirts) as well as truly important items (grandpa's WWII dogtags, very favorite books, etc.), and to some extrent true even of things that I have acquired more recently.

Now, my wife grew up ten minutes from where we live, and she is a positive fiend for throwing out things. It has taken me many years not to reflexively save all the things, regardless of their value or desirability, only because I have fewer of them.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:51 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


What a great post! It's timely for me, too -- right before the holidays I started unloading some of my more valuable clutter on Craigslist. It's been tough to sell things I never thought I'd ever want to get rid of, things I've been holding onto because maybe someday I will want to use them again -- but after literally years of these things collecting dust, it's been easier to realize that the time for these objects was in the past, and they don't really have a time in my future other than if their purpose is to continue being a sentimental paperweight. That's impossible to see without all of those years of disuse in between.

What's probably helping me the most with my decluttering spree is that my parents have finally decided to let me take care of all my childhood crap. (Yes, "let me" -- my mom is the hoarding type and anything I acquired while living under her roof was, by extension, hers, and she has only now become willing to let me have full ownership of it all.) It's been lovely to see all these books and things again, but after the 10th box of books it became apparent that being sentimental was going to drown me in stuff. It was easy to do a first sweep of things that didn't have memories attached, and after a year or so I surprised myself by doing multiple sweeps and eventually whittling it down to one box of books (and even that box isn't safe). It's like I needed time with these things in my environment again, and after a while it was easier to see that they didn't really have a place anymore. It was impossible to think that way without the first cull, though.

I admire people who can declutter in one sweep. Wish I could do it that way, too, but I don't have enough perspective on my belongings to be able to apply it to my entire junkpile at once. I have to let it sneak up on me. It's slower, but it still works.
posted by phatkitten at 5:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, I learned a variation on the relationship to an object given here (when you consider keeping it or throwing it away, saying thank you and all that). For a while, when I had to keep the number of my possessions really low, I was a difficult person to give presents to. I'm not a very good liar/faker of emotions and if someone gave me I would not want to keep they sometimes would guess my feelings.
I learned to really prepare myself and open presents thinking about the person giving them to me and, once the present opened, what it conveyed about their intention and our relationship. The fate of the object would not change, but I could be sincerely happy to receive it, as a proxy/message from someone close. This also means that I felt no need to keep the object for a while before letting go. In a sense I had already gotten the message and could thank the object for it without delay.
posted by anzen-dai-ichi at 5:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [10 favorites]


When I moved last, the movers estimated it would take 4 semi-tractor trailers to move all my shit. I have way too much shit. Because of time crunch, I couldn't sort through everything then, so I put "decluttering" aside as a “deal with tomorrow” project. It’s a Scarlett O’Hara thing I do.

But, there comes a point where you just can’t keep toting around boxes for decades, refusing to open them in case you find something icky from your past. So, I put on the big-girl pants and started going through the landmine boxes.

And while I did find stuff that made me cry…letters from friends who have died, announcements from friends I’ve lost touch with, pictures of people who I can no longer name, I also think I found redemption, and peace, and forgiveness. None of which are things one generally finds in a box.

I'm still working through the clutter, but I'm finding that it's letting me put the past where it belongs. I found a picture that reminded me why I was once in love with him. And a picture that reminds me why I still miss her, almost 20 years later. And pictures of us all on the beach, and in the jungles, and atop the ruins. And I could read the love letters and realize that broken hearts heal, that not all love is eternal, and that we can choose to remember the happy times, and forgive the bad ones.

I saw Montana through the eyes of a woman who loved it. I saw Scotland through the eyes of a friend who chose to end his life there. I saw myself through the eyes of a man who loved me then. I saw him though the lens of the girl I once was. I found old friends, and forgave old enemies. I cried. I laughed. I saved a memento of each. And then I lightened my load by getting rid of the rest.

As I fed each thing into the shredder, I lived the moment that created it. And then I let it go.

I feel disconnected, as though I’ve untied a huge part of my reality, but I also feel better. I’ve had my bonfire, and I feel lighter. I can look back now, not in anger, but in wonderment. I don’t know that I can be forgiven for some of the things I’ve done in my life…but I feel like I took a day to forgive anyone that I’d assigned as a shadow in my heart, and I feel good about it.

Disconnected. Discombobulated. But relieved, and happy, and moving forward.

All that said; I still think it’s a bit insane that I’ve got a giant box full of rocks, which I’ve apparently moved more than once.

I’ll think about that tomorrow.
posted by dejah420 at 6:02 AM on January 12, 2015 [37 favorites]


I read this over the holiday and it was a really weird experience - large chunks of it made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out, but parts of it were also very useful. I ran through and further whittled down clothes, books, and DVDs I thought I had already whittled down as far as I could, because thinking about which ones actually made me happy (or, had another specific legitimate purpose that was not filled by other items in my life, because yeah, 'joy' isn't the only metric here) really did make me realize there were some things I was hanging on to that I could easily let go. My space feels less overstuffed already and that's a really pleasant feeling for me.

I also picked up a few random useful tips like storing my handbags inside each other - why didn't I ever think of that? I don't know! But it works and now I don't have all my closet hooks full of handbags! But again, that was balanced out by the fact that I am not going to stop storing my socks the way I do just because this author thinks that it makes my socks tense and unhappy. Just...no.

It's a super-quick read and has made my house a more pleasant place to be, so I do recommend it, but I also suggest skimming over the bits that do not resonate.
posted by Stacey at 6:08 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I also have to say that there are certain art forms, like collage or doll-making or assembled sculpture, that absolutely require the artist to hoard. A beat up wire drain cover? Becomes a tiny door to another world.

I'm a collage artist and this used to be me. When I moved into my tiny current place it forced me to pare down, but I still clung on to a ton of stuff. I didn't realize it, but I was actually thwarting my creativity by forcing myself to consider all these things I'd collected instead of always looking for new inspiration. I started organizing my apartment in earnest but also started throwing things out and it was addictive. Yes, I've had some D'oh! moments where I wished I had "that thing" but life went on.

Interestingly, it also got me out of a deep creative rut: my old work was very detailed and dense with imagery; my new work has the same point of view using 99% less material and technique. I've been collecting my ephemera since I was 20, and I guess uncluttering my space also uncluttered my mind. As others have said, if keeping stuff works for you, keep on keeping it! But if it's not, I encourage you to take a baby step and see how it feels. (I still have and collect stuff, of course, so I assume I'll go through this process again in another 30 years.)

Sara C: > When did this not used to exist? I mean in ye olden tymes probably, but I'm in my 30s and there was a self-storage facility on my bus route to elementary school in a random small town in rural Louisiana.

> Sure, but 1958 is more than 50 years ago. This is not really a new development at all.


You're going to need a really big storage space for those straw men.

Of course self-storage facilities existed, but by selectively quoting the original comment you ignore the context, which is that in recent years the nature of the self-storage industry has changed from the practical (eg, for people between moves or to store excess inventory) to the impractical (like encouraging people to keep all the junk they used to sell at garage sales.) There's probably a great FPP to be made about it.
posted by Room 641-A at 6:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


My in-laws have lived in their house for 40 years and were raised by practical, Depression-era, working-class parents; their house was full of stuff, most of it potentially useful but not actually needed. They're going to have to move out temporarily soon, and everything in the house must be either put into storage or gotten rid of.

My mother-in-law seems to have figured out a system -- she hasn't said as much, but this is what I've noticed. If she has some item she can't bring herself to get rid of, she gives it to me. I tell her "You know I'm going to give this to Goodwill, right?" and she makes a joke.

And then I take the box of Christmas-themed drinking glasses to Goodwill, or give the box of Melamine plates to a friend, or, I will admit, keep the box of my grandmother-in-law's good silver.

My MIL gets rid of the stuff guilt-free. I don't mind being the intermediary. It works. For now... but now I have a box of silver that I will never use because it needs to be handwashed, sitting in the garage.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:04 AM on January 12, 2015 [6 favorites]


I've been living in the same tiny two-room apartment for twenty-seven years, and I'm always a bit envious of the natural dekipplization that I see when family and friends move, but I like where I live, my house smells about right, and a small place keeps my pack rat instincts regulated by the threat of Collyerfication.

Instead, I tend to have a look 'round twice a year to ask "why is this here?" I have a few stupid possessions that I can't quite figure out how to handle, like an Empire sofa stored on end in my workshop in the basement, or the garish Victorian parlor organ that was in the house where I grew up and which dominates my living room because…well, what the hell can I do with it? I've tried to sell it, and then to give it away, but there are some antiques that just belong to a dead time and no one has the sort of space or interest anymore, and so each year I ponder hauling it into the back yard, having a party, dousing it with gasoline, and returning it to the carbon cycle. Otherwise, it's a three hundred pound, five foot tall stand for the LP I'm currently playing and the punchline to a mildly amusing joke to new visitors to my home, when I say, as I'm unlocking the door, "Would you like to see my enormous organ?"

I tend to get orphans, too, like the 1840s reclining campeche chair with rockers that was given to me while I worked on the dissolution of one of Maryland's grand old estates, and which was used by Oden Bowie to recuperate from his injuries in the Mexican-American War. It's an absolutely preposterous piece of furniture designed for a milieu of grand estates and immense rooms and while it is the most comfortable piece of antique furniture I've ever sat in, in 2015, it's pretty much just a strange, ominous rocking sex chair that could not be better designed for nefarious purposes between men. In my apartment, it's a page from Edward Gorey, so it's been consigned to clutter my workshop, hanging on sturdy hooks for some distant time when I either move to a giant house or find some worthy perverts with an 1840s sex parlor.

That said, I manage to live with a modicum of grace in my tiny tiny space because of two things—one simple principle and one simple rule.

The principle is straightforward, and when I'm called upon to help friends and family get their trash-filled crazyhouses in order, I always call this one out. The architect Paolo Soleri used to decry the two-dimensional gigantism of our built environment, and man, people get the same thing so wrong in their houses. You look at a cluttered house where people are all frazzled from the mess, but paralyzed into inaction, and you know what you always see? Nothing from three feet up. Everything's on the floor, sprawling out like suburbia. Put in a goddamn bookcase, for chrissakes, I'll point out, and it aggravates me in particular because my home is dominated by windows and radiators, so I can't really do what most people can with their acres of featureless drywall. PUT UP SHELVES.

The rule is also easy—train yourself to ask the question in a visceral way every single time you move around your space, "where does this thing live?" and return everything that is not already there to its home. If it doesn't have a home, find it one or dump it. Simple. After a while, and in my case, after twenty-seven years in the same space, you develop a housecleaning method that looks a little peculiar, but works brilliantly. Walk from end to end in your place, taking things home, throwing things out, finding homes for things until you don't find anything that's not where it lives, and then sweep/vacuum/mop. If your place is still cluttered, look for things that should have homes elsewhere, and then make that happen.

Of course, I'm an outlier in lifestyle terms, so your mileage will vary.
posted by sonascope at 7:06 AM on January 12, 2015 [23 favorites]


I just bought a melon-baller at an antique shop. It is the coolest thing. Some people just don't believe me when I tell them how much joy this mellon-baller gives me. My point being, if your vegetable peeler doesn't bring you joy, maybe you should find one that does.
posted by j03 at 7:14 AM on January 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


Yesterday I began what will be a lengthy decluttering of my house. I say lengthy because it's overwhelming (16 years, three stories of house, much of the clutter is in a dank basement).

So I have to break it up into small chunks, each of which is doable in a couple of hours each weekend. I went so far as to create a kanban (another Japanese innovation!) on Trello for it.

So this is super timely for me and I'm sure I'll find it useful. However, I will need to put the principles into practice consistently as opposed to reading about them online. :-)
posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:28 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


My point being, if your vegetable peeler doesn't bring you joy, maybe you should find one that does.

Mine totally does- because it's from this guy.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:39 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every time I need something I hadn't thought about in years, and find it in the junk drawer or box in the closet or other 5 clutter repositories scattered throughout the apartment, I can practically hear the tiny little triumphant Aha from all the collected hoard celebrating another reprieve. You see... you can't throw us out... you NEED us...!
posted by Mchelly at 8:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


And meanwhile the digital hoard keeps growing - I can't trash photos off my hard drive - they're people! And I might want that half-finished story... And if I sell everything in the barn and the silo on my Hay Day game, then I'll just have to make it again - must keep it full, always... aaaaaaaaa
posted by Mchelly at 8:34 AM on January 12, 2015


I have felt bad about just how much stuff I own, lately. Then a couple weeks ago, I had a project to make for a Secret Santa present (a stuffed baby Groot!), and I only had to spend $4 on supplies because I already had everything else in my craft stash. Very satisfying.

Last night my honey needed some brass wire in a few different gauges and I happened to have both 18 ga rings and 20 ga wire. I'd estimate 70 percent of my possessions are craft supplies and the rest is clothes, and I'm going to try to view the former more as "tools" and less as clutter -- even though I'm literally surrounded by it, since I live all in one room.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:43 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Ever see a man say goodbye to a shoe?"

"Once."
posted by fedward at 8:47 AM on January 12, 2015


I once helped friends move, and the boxes included one with the now-legendary label "Gadgets, broken." I use the memory of that box whenever I start to pack a broken gadget away for potential repair instead of either repairing it right then or putting it directly into the recycling pile.

During my own electronic decluttering a few years ago I recycled two entire car-loads of old computers and related parts and peripherals. I'll admit it helped me to put my first Mac on top of the stack of computers discarded by other people. Further, it helped that there was a related-but-newer Mac two layers down on the same pallet. It had also helped that I was able to power everything up in order to do a last sweep for files that had been missed or skipped in previous backups and migrations – with one exception, every single computer I powered up died, more or less completely, while I was checking (there's a reason this data archiving thread is so relevant to me). Hey computer, thanks for dying. Makes you easier to recycle along with the printer that just quit working and the flaky monitor somebody else gave me for free.

At that, I still ended up with a single box labeled "expensive adapters for obsolete electronics" that I have moved twice, and never once opened except to put more stuff in it.
posted by fedward at 8:57 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


You can have lots of crafts/supplies and still keep your environment de-cluttered. Casey Neistat has some great videos that talk about how he tames the chaos to keep his studio organized. (sonascope, you'll dig his effective use of vertical space as well.)

Studio Series Vol 1. The Red Boxes
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 9:09 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nothing encourages the hoarding of craft supplies like being a Girl Scout troop leader.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:10 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Haven't read the book, but heard this idea before my last move a couplethree years ago, and used it to good effect. Making an active decision to keep everything I took with me (rather than having the default option be to pack it and cart it along with me to yet another home) made the process a lot smoother and less emotionally taxing.

I'm not saying there weren't tears when I reached the point where not all my actively-chosen items would fit in the car and I had to get rid of my French press, but it would've been so much worse and so much more expensive if I'd made keeping stuff my default option.

As for the yarn stash, well. I did de-stash as much as I could bear before leaving, but at least yarn makes a great packing material, so it didn't need its own home in transit.
posted by asperity at 9:23 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


When food was scarce, being plump was considered attractive. Now food is plentiful and thin is attractive. When stuff was scarce, rich Victorians filled their homes. Now goods are plentiful.

I like having stuff that I can use, and I try to have good quality so it will last and I don't have to think about it. I love shopping at the Goodwill Outlet, where stuff goes when it doesn't sell at Goodwill. Americans get rid of towels that seem new, sheets, furniture, baby stuff, dishes, kitchen goods, electronics. Year-round, the volume of Christmas decorations at Goodwill is staggering. And clothes, so many pieces of clothing.

Yes, you have too much shit. Stop buying so much clothing. Tell the organizer you don't want another race t-shirt because you have 12 of them at home. Tell your family you don't want any more sweaters. Buy less useless decorative crap.

Recycle your electronics, especially batteries. (Household batteries - AA, etc. - are not terribly toxic and can be tossed in the trash.) Take the old CFLs to Home Depot's recycle bin. Donate your stuff to Goodwill. Part of what exasperates me about the minimalist approach is the urging to throw stuff out. You acquired it, joy or no joy, take the time to dispose of it in the least irresponsible manner.
posted by theora55 at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I am quite serious about Konmari, I have been thinking about her a lot. She says that if you discard everything that does not bring you joy, your home becomes like a shrine, it is uncluttered and your mind becomes clear. So you start by imagining how you want to live in an organized space, what kind of lifestyle you want it to support for you.

But I am in terror of doing her Big Tidy, she says you should "start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely." I call this a "brute force sort." You have to handle everything you own once, in rapid succession, and make a decision to discard or keep it. So you start with the low value stuff, like your clothes and your books. Then you sort stuff by categories, leaving the photos and mementos until last, when you have made thousands of keep/discard decisions and you are tired of the burden of all that crap, and you have a well honed sense of what is truly worth keeping.

She has a lot of ideas that just stunned me in their practicality, and some that don't necessarily apply. She says paperwork never brings anyone joy, so just discard it all, unless you are legally compelled to keep it. Mari said it was unlikely you'd ever need stuff like 10 year old credit card records, what, is someone going to sue you over a credit card payment from 10+ years ago? Well yeah, that's exactly what happened to me, so I keep tons of records. But this becomes a different storage problem, I just scan that crap, file it carefully, make backups, and discard the originals. But this is only a recent project and I still have dozens of boxes of business records.

Marie says there are two fundamental problems, you don't have places for everything, and you don't put stuff back in its place. You are hoarding too much stuff, or you are a slob and don't put your stuff away. Usually it's a mixture of both. I noticed that lately I make stronger efforts to just throw stuff away, and not accumulate a lot of stuff that I have to throw away. Ultimately, everything is going to end up in the same place: the garbage. Stuff wears out, it is just ephemeral material possessions. It doesn't bring you joy unless it's supporting your life. You own too much stuff, and it ends up owning you. And at the end of your life, you're not going to look back and wish you had more stuff. You can't take it with you.

But a lot of this "spiritual" approach of the Konmari method isn't obvious from the stuff you find online. If you look on Youtube there are lots of videos of people folding clothes, even Konmari herself leading a class of housewives folding shirts and pants. But if you really want to see what the overall Konmari system is about, there is a wonderful video from Japanese TV here. I am thinking of downloading this video and subtitling it, since it follows her book point by point and shows how to implement it. Marie comes on like a force of nature. She's a tiny woman even by Japanese standards, and she approaches her tidying job with unbelievable energy. She comes in to declutter a home, and the video shows each step like a powerpoint presentation. I think my favorite part is early in the decluttering (about 5min in the video) when the guy is sorting t shirts. He shoves one shirt in a bag and says, "iranai" (I don't need it) and then Marie stops him, she insists that you say thank you to your discarded goods, expressing your appreciation for the joy they brought you once, but now they no longer do and you must let them go.. with your thanks. This seems like a sort of exercise in detachment from material possessions. And then, his wife starts nagging him to discard more stuff, at one point even chanting "iranai iranai iranai." Marie stops them and says everyone has to deal with their own stuff, by themselves, don't let other people pressure you about how you feel about your possessions. This is an exercise in resetting our relationship to our material life, you can't let other peoples' values affect you, you have to do it for yourself. Anyway, Marie ejects the wife and the sorting resumes at high speed. Then she takes the guy to his bookshelves. You have to pull it all down and look at each book. That book you're saving to read someday? Someday never comes. She confronts him over a book that he admits he read 4 pages of and he just doesn't need it.

I will have to read more of the Konmari links, I am steeling my nerves to jump into this Big Tidy. I could use some life-changing magic, even at the cost of tedious, thorough tidying.
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2015 [27 favorites]


What do you do if nothing--or next to nothing--material sparks joy in your life? Is there a book for that, smartypants?

I ask because all I love in this world is my partner and a particular sweater and I'd love a book that could quickly cure me of all of...this.
posted by still bill at 9:31 AM on January 12, 2015


If only I'd known de-cluttering was a monetizable activity. It's one of the only things I'm good at, and I'm great at it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:36 AM on January 12, 2015


And now all I keep hearing is just this ashtray, and this paddle game. And that's all I need...
posted by Mchelly at 9:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [15 favorites]


> Mari said it was unlikely you'd ever need stuff like 10 year old credit card records, what, is someone going to sue you over a credit card payment from 10+ years ago? Well yeah, that's exactly what happened to me, so I keep tons of records

I used to keep them, but now my bank has easy-to-access statements on their website. My annual "box of papers I might need some day" has gotten lighter and lighter every year.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:52 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Found a brief article on Unclutterer that seems very appropriate here. It talks about different types of disorganization and hoarding, with helpful links.

Unclutterer: Situational disorganization, chronic disorganization, and hoarding
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Tell the organizer you don't want another race t-shirt because you have 12 of them at home.

The worst thing is how many shirts I have in the "gym pile" (mostly of the free promotional swag variety) as compared to the "Stuff I Actually Enjoy Wearing" pile. This is where I could probably take the "sparks joy" idea to heart.

The worst is that I'm sure that, someday, when this project is over or I'm not working on this studio lot or maybe I've just washed the thing a zillion times, the shirt in question will become "cool". Somehow, though, these shirts never ever evolve into cool shirts.
posted by Sara C. at 10:17 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


turbid dahlia: "One thing they don't tell you is that shower curtains, vegetable peelers, and bamboo steamers don't really "spark joy". But you still have to have them.

Yeah obviously you don't throw out your bamboo steamers. I think we're all focusing a little too much on the bamboo steamers. There are things in life other than bamboo steamers.
"

Like all the pizza boxes and candy wrappers on my floor.
Yes. I'm 12. Why do you ask?
posted by symbioid at 10:22 AM on January 12, 2015


The worst thing is how many shirts I have in the "gym pile" (mostly of the free promotional swag variety) as compared to the "Stuff I Actually Enjoy Wearing" pile. This is where I could probably take the "sparks joy" idea to heart.

Yes, Konmari does deal with this specific issue, you get a limited exemption for T-Shirts. She wrote a chapter called "Loungewear: Downgrading to "loungewear' is taboo." Marie says this so well, I'll just quote from her book, it's a good example of her approach to material possessions.

Pilled cardigans, outdated blouses, dresses that didn’t suit me or that I just never wore—it wasn’t long before I had developed the habit of demoting clothes like these to “loungewear” rather than discarding them. Yet nine out of ten times I never wore them.

I soon discovered that many of my clients also had collections of dormant “loungewear.” When asked why they don’t wear them, their answers are very revealing: “I can’t relax in them,” “It seems a waste to wear this inside when it was really for going out,” “I don’t like it,” and so on. In other words, these castoffs are not really loungewear at all. Calling them that merely delays parting with clothes that don’t spark any joy. There are stores dedicated solely to loungewear products, and the design, material, and cut are all aimed at relaxation. Obviously, it is a completely different genre from what we wear outside. Cotton T-shirts are probably the only type of regular clothing that could be reused in this category.

To me, it doesn’t seem right to keep clothes we don’t enjoy for relaxing around the house. This time at home is still a precious part of living. Its value should not change just because nobody sees us. So, starting today, break the habit of downgrading clothes that don’t thrill you to loungewear. The real waste is not discarding clothes you don’t like but wearing them even though you are striving to create the ideal space for your ideal lifestyle. Precisely because no one is there to see you, it makes far more sense to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love.

posted by charlie don't surf at 10:26 AM on January 12, 2015 [9 favorites]


I have "someday" clothes. Old t-shirts that were just undersized when I ordered them. Old shirts that I grew out of, but are still in good condition. Old shirts that... someday, once I ... I swear... I'll lose this weight, and I'll fit in them again.

:(
posted by symbioid at 10:30 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Recycle your electronics, especially batteries. (Household batteries - AA, etc. - are not terribly toxic and can be tossed in the trash.) Take the old CFLs to Home Depot's recycle bin.

You know what someone really ought to write or monetize in some way, more than all this "stand in your bliss" stuff?

How to actually declutter. Practically. X type of item needs to be disposed of in Y way. Secondhand Z is highly sought after by homeless shelters, while ZOMG no srsly you cannot donate open perishables to the foodbank are you fricken high

You could even include breakdowns of how to schedule a major declutter so that it's easy to actually get rid of stuff. I cannot tell you the number of times I've dedicated a day to decluttering and then realized the garbage was full, or it's Sunday and the thrift stores are closed.
posted by Sara C. at 10:32 AM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


Sara C., that's a business plan for a lot of people -- it's the IP behind their livelihood as a consultant or author! :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:37 AM on January 12, 2015


I realize the storage question is a tangent, but storage units I'm sure relate in part to Too Much Stuff but they may also relate to urbanization (no barn!) or higher mobility in the workforce.

Or it may be that minimalism came in and that's how a lot of people achieve that look. When I think Victorian or Edwardian, clear spaces do not come to mind.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:45 AM on January 12, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sara C., that's a business plan for a lot of people -- it's the IP behind their livelihood as a consultant or author! :7)

Well then why don't any of these consultants and authors ever actually detail this stuff in their work?

The closest I've ever seen is something like Apartment Therapy's "Eight Week Home Cure" book where they give you a timeline for home renovations. But even there, the decluttering stuff is like "figure out what is recyclable and recycle it" and "donate stuff to thrift stores". Which, duh.

(per upthread, I used to work for one of said "consultants".)
posted by Sara C. at 10:49 AM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


You know what someone really ought to write or monetize in some way, more than all this "stand in your bliss" stuff?

How to actually declutter. Practically. X type of item needs to be disposed of in Y way. Secondhand Z is highly sought after by homeless shelters..


Konmari says no. I will push the boundaries of fair use with another excerpt from her book, because this is the core of her method.

There are several common patterns when it comes to discarding. One is to discard things when they cease being functional—for example, when something breaks down beyond repair or when part of a set is broken. Another is to discard things that are out of date, such as clothes that are no longer in fashion or things related to an event that has passed. It’s easy to get rid of things when there is an obvious reason for doing so. It’s much more difficult when there is no compelling reason. Various experts have proposed yardsticks for discarding things people find hard to part with. These include such rules as “discard anything you haven’t used for a year,” and “if you can’t decide, pack those items away in a box and look at them again six months later.” However, the moment you start focusing on how to choose what to throw away, you have actually veered significantly off course. In this state, it is extremely risky to continue tidying..

Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.. I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.

You may wonder about the effectiveness of such a vague criteria, but the trick is to handle each item. Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill. You must take each outfit in your hand. When you touch a piece of clothing, your body reacts. Its response to each item is different. Trust me and try it.

I chose this standard for a reason. After all, what is the point in tidying? If it’s not so that our space and the things in it can bring us happiness, then I think there is no point at all. Therefore, the best criterion for choosing what to keep and what to discard is whether keeping it will make you happy, whether it will bring you joy.

posted by charlie don't surf at 10:50 AM on January 12, 2015 [5 favorites]


Some people just don't believe me when I tell them how much joy this mellon-baller gives me.

I remember that chapter in Suttree, too--a laugh-out-loud sort of joy. =)
posted by resurrexit at 10:51 AM on January 12, 2015


My town used to have an annual Heavy Item Pickup, popularly known as Big Trash Days. Cars would cruise for good stuff. Many people would display their discards to enhance adopt-ability. That's how I furnished my 1st apt. I still have a nifty rug I rescued.

Manufacturers should be required to plan for the disposal/ recycling of the crap they sell. Currently, it's just a hidden cost to the consumer. If you get a chance, visit your local dump. There will be a massive pile of chipboard from the crappy desks and shelves and crap people buy, that falls apart when you look at it funny. Flatscreen tvs = lots of media cabinets at the dump. Laptops, tablets & phones = lots of computer desks at the dump. And the quantity of cracked plastic storage bins would be hard to overestimate.

I hate waste.
posted by theora55 at 10:59 AM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


theora55: "My town used to have an annual Heavy Item Pickup, popularly known as Big Trash Days. Cars would cruise for good stuff. Many people would display their discards to enhance adopt-ability. That's how I furnished my 1st apt. I still have a nifty rug I rescued. "

In Madison - Aug 15th is called "Hippie Christmas" because that's the common move in/out date for places near campus - then the hippies scavenge for all the stuff left on the roadside! :)
posted by symbioid at 11:12 AM on January 12, 2015 [12 favorites]


As a lifetime slob with many many things who wants to be tidier in 2015, this book sounds perfect. Every time I see a list of stuff that other people think I need to throw away, I feel like someone's trying to give me driving directions without even asking "Where are you trying to get to?".
posted by 23skidoo at 11:56 AM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


...right before the holidays I started unloading some of my more valuable clutter on Craigslist...

That's actually a good litmus test of the actual value of something. With eBay/Craigslist/Gumtree etc., people tend to hang on to stuff a lot longer than they usually would, because they think that it might be valuable to somebody else and you could get some dollars for it, and it's easier to put something up on eBay than it is to have a garage sale (although it's still pretty painful putting something up on eBay).

If you think something might be worth something, list it on Craigslist or Gumtree and you'll quickly find it's worth exactly fuck all. Comics, books, DVDs and CDs especially.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:45 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


My final tip is, when you're looking at something you have and are on the fence about keeping it or tossing it, ask yourself: "Knowing what I now know about this thing, having owned it for a while, if I did not have it, would I buy it again?"
posted by turbid dahlia at 4:10 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


Just this year I spontaneously started thanking things as I get rid of them. I just thank them for their good service and send them on their way.

Maybe it's time for a good declutter? Yes, I think it is.
posted by Archer25 at 4:55 PM on January 12, 2015


Those words have been so diluted by marketers (and those who emulate them) that they're in danger of losing all meaning.

Well, that does not mean that a person can not be intelligent enough to restore and question the meaning of the word "joy", and we all must complacently affirm its so called "meaninglessness'.

Pardon my cynicism, but the notion that everything in life should inspire "joy" or "bliss" has got to be the pinnacle of First World entitlement.

Is she saying that everything in life must inspire joy? That's not the sense I got. To look at the objects around you, that you hold intimate in your home, in this way, seems intelligent to me. The idea that this can be reduced to so called "First World entitlement" seems massively reductive and nonsensical.
posted by Blitz at 5:54 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I hope that everybody who's getting rid of books and CDs remembers that the local library takes donations. Not gonna lie, they'll probably turn around and sell more things than they'll add to their collections, but there's a good chance they'll add a few things, you can get a tax deduction and, unlike the typical used-whatever store, they'll also take the crap.
posted by box at 7:23 PM on January 12, 2015 [2 favorites]


Keep in mind that everything you buy is future trash.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:30 PM on January 12, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have a little "free shelf" in front of the house, on a street where lots of people walk by. It helps me get rid of things (especially books) as I consider that finding them on the street for free will spark joy for *someone*.
posted by geeklizzard at 8:46 PM on January 12, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've got the summer roach problem. I've just cleaned and sprayed, and in the process removed everything from every cupboard and I think the time may be right to introduce some shinto-flavoured peace and joy into my kitchen.

But there is no way in hell I can take it out into the rest of the house. I have 2 children, 7 and not quite 2, and it makes me cry to say this but I just don't get to have joy. Everything that brings me pleasure, a favourite chair, a reading nook, a beautiful tea cup, is either already ruined or locked away in the hopes that it won't be.

Where's the guide for finding joy when you look on your beautiful chair and see crayon smeared into it? I think I need the actual shinto shrine for that, not the cliff-notes application to cleaning.

Kids are cute, but god damn I just want to howl.
posted by Raunchy 60s Humour at 11:05 PM on January 12, 2015 [7 favorites]


If you think something might be worth something, list it on Craigslist or Gumtree and you'll quickly find it's worth exactly fuck all.

Ayup. Put up a piece of heavy particle board "entertainment center" that is pretty useless now that the world is full of giant flat screen televisions. Sat for a week on freecycle without even so much as an inquiry. I broke it down for the next big haul day and only saved one bit that could be repurpoused (and has been) into a table.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 7:57 AM on January 13, 2015


> Knowing what I now know about this thing, having owned it for a while, if I did not have it, would I buy it again?

I also think: "If I saw this on the shelf or rack at a thrift store, in its current condition, would I buy it?"
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:00 AM on January 13, 2015 [6 favorites]


I also think: "If I saw this on the shelf or rack at a thrift store, in its current condition, would I buy it?"

I think this is what Marie warns against, you are trying to find reasons why you should get rid of stuff. This causes self-recrimination about bad purchases of stuff that is now junk. Marie allows that the item might have sparked joy when you bought it, although that joy might have faded away by the time you even got the purchased item home. At one time, it brought you joy and that was a positive thing. Don't let the dead weight of the thing become a negative. Thank the stuff for bringing you joy at one time, and let it go.

My last comment quoted from her book (and I unfortunately mangled the formatting). I didn't realize it is the very first FPP link, it's worth reading the whole book excerpt.

Anyway, I have been thinking more about Konmari and I suspect some of the more obscure aspects of it, are more related to Japanese culture. A lot of the reason this is coming up now is because of the New Year in Japan, and the tradition of an annual cleanup called o-souji. Marie talks about being a Shinto shrine maiden and I think there is a lot of that sensibility in her method. Just as an example, many temples and shrines are entirely reconstructed every hundred years or so. They have two sites, and periodically the entire temple is disassembled, each piece is cleaned or replaced, and the same temple is reconstructed on the new site. In a hundred years, they will pull it down and reconstruct it again on the old site.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:18 AM on January 13, 2015 [3 favorites]


My in-laws have lived in their house for 40 years and were raised by practical, Depression-era, working-class parents; their house was full of stuff, most of it potentially useful but not actually needed.

My grandparents were the same way, and my mother did the same in turn - until she ended up being the one to do most of the work of cleaning out my grandparents' home after they'd both died. It was actually a house my grandparents had moved into when I was about eight, and she'd helped them pack up their old house and supported them bringing all the things they'd brought - all the furniture and everything - but then when she encountered a lot of it again during that final cleanout, she saw the state of disrepair and ruin a lot of their things had fallen into, simply from lack of use and lack of upkeep.

This sofa was kind of the last straw for her - a sofa that had been in wonderful shape when the'd moved INTO their last house, but there was no place else for it so it was shoved down in the basement next to Grandpa's work bench, where it got old and dirty and grubby and finally musty and moldy. In the 30 years they lived in that house, with that sofa in the basement, the only thing it really held was stacks of papers. And Mom kind of lost it when she saw that - "they could have given that to Salvation Army!" she kept saying. "And I just kept thinking of some young family who maybe would have really needed a couch back then, and could have bought it and used it, rather than it just getting all ruined! I don't know why they even bothered to keep it!"

And ever since, Mom has been a LOT more cognizant of whether she truly needs something and whether it really is something worth holding on to.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:05 PM on January 13, 2015 [9 favorites]


But there is no way in hell I can take it out into the rest of the house. I have 2 children, 7 and not quite 2, and it makes me cry to say this but I just don't get to have joy. Everything that brings me pleasure, a favourite chair, a reading nook, a beautiful tea cup, is either already ruined or locked away in the hopes that it won't be.


Our youngest (of 3) is 7, and not really a toy kid like the older two were, and sometime in the last year suddenly our house wasn't too small for us anymore. It's been a really organic process of getting rid of things the kids are done with, and realizing that the inflow has slowed to a trickle. I say this just to encourage you with the idea that this hopeless, hopeless time in your organizational life will likely pass.
posted by not that girl at 6:56 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


And Mom kind of lost it when she saw that - "they could have given that to Salvation Army!" she kept saying. "And I just kept thinking of some young family who maybe would have really needed a couch back then, and could have bought it and used it, rather than it just getting all ruined! I don't know why they even bothered to keep it!"

We had a basement flood ten years ago and lost a lot of stuff: furniture we weren't using but might someday, a lot of stuff moved from my partners' parents' home when they died. The cleanup people filled one of those long dumpsters with all of it. It was a shift for my partner in terms of being willing to get rid of things because he realized that, by keeping the furniture, we were depriving it of being useful to someone else. Also, of all the stuff from his parents and grandmother that we lost in that flood, there was only one thing he mourned.
posted by not that girl at 6:59 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think, too, that as other people have touched on up-thread, there are times in your life when things are just going to be cluttery. We have ruthlessly weeded books, for instance, except for things we especially love, and things we think might catch the eye of one of the children sometime. I buy books for the kids, both books they request (my oldest likes to own his books, and who am I to say no, just because I am a heavy library user?) and books I think they might like sometime. It's good, I think, to have enough stuff around for kids to browse through and discover. There's a time to gather together, and a time to cast away, after all.
posted by not that girl at 7:03 AM on January 14, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm nearly finished with Kondo's book and it's just wonderful. It's like the Alan Carr Easy Way to Quit Smoking book, but for clutter.

One thing that she emphasizes that many people seem to have missed is that you aren't supposed to focus on throwing things out, you're supposed to focus on keeping the things you love and use (and loving and using the things you keep!). It's not just about throwing out everything that doesn't give you joy, as many upthread interpreted it; it's about using and loving and appreciating the things you own and that allow you to live your life. In her view, it's not respectful to your possessions to keep them in a box for years without using or loving them.

She's a crouton-petter of the highest order, and I say that as a huge crouton-petter myself. When she gets home from work, she puts everything away and thanks it for doing its job that day. It's lovely! "Shoes, thanks for protecting my feet, good job!" is just a perfect statement of mindfulness and gratitude and it's a much different way of interacting with our things than is usual, at least in American culture.

I think the points made upthread about Japanese culture are interesting and don't necessarily imply that Japanese people are all perfect minimalists; the important thing is that there are a few common cultural concepts on which to hang this kind of framework, where American culture is largely lacking those concepts. Mindful acknowledgement of the transient nature of existence is really not our wheelhouse here.

If there's anyone still reading this thread who knows anything about Japanese language, I'd love to know what words she's using for "tidying" and "joy" - they both appear in every other sentence of the book and, as with all translations, I worry that I'm missing shades of meaning in the original text. I suspect that people interpreting "joy" differently might account for some of the consternation upthread. Many of the examples people gave (e.g. badge to get into work) might count as "joy" because they allow you to have a job, which allows you to provide for yourself and your family, which is a source of pride and self-sufficiency (even if work itself inspires dread).

She argues that each item presents an opportunity for mindfulness about yourself and your life; she might argue that examining the badge should inspire you to take a moment's reflection about whether you really hate your job, whether you want to be doing something different in life, whether you are proud of what you do and how it allows you to care for yourself and others. She frequently emphasizes that it's as much about clearing clutter from your mind as from your house, and that interrogating our complicated relationships with certain items ought to help to illuminate our thoughts and values as well as allow us to declutter.
posted by dialetheia at 9:55 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


I need to read this book. Does she have anything to say about browser tabs?
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:44 AM on January 14, 2015 [5 favorites]


Motivated by this discussion, I went and purged several bags of stuff that I'm about to take to Goodwill. I found a Christmas present I forgot to give my kid (it's not a very interesting present or I would've remembered).

I also found a baby blanket a friend brought back from New Zealand and gave the same kid, many years ago. We don't need a baby blanket any more, and it's not a particularly great blanket or anything. The friend has since died under sad circumstances.

I can't decide which thought makes me sadder, keeping the blanket or giving it away.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:18 AM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


About 10 years ago I went through a phase and got rid of 90% of my stuff. That included books. I went from around 2,000+ books to around 100-200. I don't miss all the regular household stuff I got rid of, but to this day I deeply mourn my books. I felt like I'd lost a piece of me.
posted by crayon at 1:40 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Around the time I realized I'd be working as a librarian for probably the rest of my life, I started going hard at weeding my personal collection. If it's not emotionally significant (gifts, mostly), if it's not something I consult often (Cheryl Mendelson and a few cookbooks), if it's not the kind of ready-reference I might need when the Internet is down (mostly emergency and home-repair stuff), if it's not a book with big pretty pages that loses something viewed digitally (for me, that's mostly art and tattoo books), if I expect it will be available at libraries into the future, it goes (generally, this means it's added to a library collection--and, no illusions, there's a good chance it will someday be weeded again).

I just wish I could be as rigorous with my records.
posted by box at 5:37 PM on January 14, 2015 [2 favorites]


I talked to a friend today, he said he is teed off at me because I told him about Konmari a few weeks ago and he idly mentioned it to his wife, who bought the book and is now fanatical about it and has begun tidying their entire house. I told him to read the book, it will explain why she can't tidy his stuff, he has to do it for himself.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:00 PM on January 14, 2015


I can't decide which thought makes me sadder, keeping the blanket or giving it away.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:18 AM on January 15


Turn it into some felted slippers, or coasters, or something else you actually do need, and then you have the best of both worlds. If you aren't crafty, you could probably pay someone to do it for you.
posted by lollusc at 8:52 PM on January 14, 2015 [3 favorites]


Sara C. : "You know what someone really ought to write or monetize in some way, more than all this "stand in your bliss" stuff?

How to actually declutter. Practically. X type of item needs to be disposed of in Y way. Secondhand Z is highly sought after by homeless shelters, while ZOMG no srsly you cannot donate open perishables to the foodbank are you fricken high
"

charlie don't surf : " Konmari says no. I will push the boundaries of fair use with another excerpt from her book, because this is the core of her method. …"

Not to speak for Sara C., but I think this is responding to something she wasn't saying. For me, coming from a New England Yankee family background, where "but it might be useful to somebody!" stands like a stone wall between me and decluttering, it would be helpful and freeing to have practical advice for how to get rid of the stuff I've decided doesn't spark joy. Because if "anything I don't keep will go straight to the landfill" is in my head while I'm evaluating stuff, the "joy" question won't even make it to the point of consideration.
posted by Lexica at 4:19 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because if "anything I don't keep will go straight to the landfill" is in my head while I'm evaluating stuff, the "joy" question won't even make it to the point of consideration.

My impression is that this is super common (and all over the country, not just stereotypical New England families), to the point that there probably is a viable business model based on "pay us to remove your stuff, sort it with great care and respect, and report back to you that the maximum possible amount gets reused and repurposed." There's still no getting around that the vast majority of the stuff in people's houses has no economic value at all, and very little use value to anyone else either, but that doesn't mean that people's desire to not just have it all dumped indiscriminately isn't real.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:52 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yes, Lexica, that's exactly what I mean.

Even as a non-New England non-packrat, I have a ton of stuff because I know it has to be disposed of properly, but I don't have the information I need to do that, or to do it in an expedient manner.
posted by Sara C. at 7:34 PM on January 18, 2015 [2 favorites]


Even just "declutter on a Wednesday night so you can drop off at the thrift store on Saturday and avoid the whole closed on Sundays thing" would be a help. Though I suppose I just figured that one out.
posted by Sara C. at 7:35 PM on January 18, 2015


Not to speak for Sara C., but I think this is responding to something she wasn't saying. For me, coming from a New England Yankee family background, where "but it might be useful to somebody!" stands like a stone wall between me and decluttering, it would be helpful and freeing to have practical advice for how to get rid of the stuff I've decided doesn't spark joy.

Some of this is surely due to cultural differences. For example, the Japanese don't like used clothing so Marie talks about putting them in the trash. But there is a huge book resale market so that stuff all goes to resale shops like Bookoff.

However, even in the US, nobody wants your used clothes. The Red Cross now asks people not to send donations of clothing during disasters. Yes the people need clothes but it costs more to sort and distribute your old crap than to buy new clothes. If you have designer goods, put them on eBay and throw out the rest.

So I'm still sticking with Marie on this one. You can't focus on what to discard, you must focus on what to keep. You can't hold on to stuff because it might have some use someday to someone, that's hoarding. Let's go to the book again, she talks about this problem over and over.

“Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.” If you have tried this method even a little, you have realized by now that it is not that difficult to identify something that brings you joy. The moment you touch it, you know the answer. It is much more difficult to decide to discard something. We come up with all kinds of reasons for not doing it, such as “I didn’t use this particular pot all year, but who knows, I might need it sometime.…” or “That necklace my boyfriend gave me, I really liked it at the time.…” But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.

During the selection process, if you come across something that does not spark joy but that you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, stop a moment and ask yourself, “Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or because of a fear for the future?” Ask this for every one of these items. As you do so, you’ll begin to see a pattern in your ownership of things, a pattern that falls into one of three categories: attachment to the past, desire for stability in the future, or a combination of both. It’s important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. Attachment to the past and fears concerning the future not only govern the way you select the things you own but also represent the criteria by which you make choices in every aspect of your life, including your relationships with people and your job.


If you have issues with letting go of your stuff, I urge you to read the book. It gives you a spiritual uplift from releasing your junk.

Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:20 PM on January 18, 2015 [5 favorites]


It can be useful to separate the "do I want this?" question from the "how do I get rid of this in the optimal way?" question. Answer the first question, then deal with the remainder. Once you've already decided to remove it from your life, it can be easier to figure out how.

There isn't really a single guide for how to dispose of things that's applicable to everyone, since that varies so widely. Local resources to help you answer the question might include: local solid waste disposal facilities (some offer hazardous waste reuse for things like paint or bug spray or whatever; you can leave it or take it when you need it), local charities and thrift stores (preferably ones that have staff to deal with incoming donations), Craigslist/eBay/garage sales/etc (if someone's willing to pay for your stuff, it's for sure going to be used), local public libraries (may be able to use book/music/video donations, and are very likely to be able to help you find all of the above resources and more.)

And sometimes things just aren't useful anymore for their original purposes and you do not have the time or need to make things yourself out of their materials. This Ask on unusable clothing donation has some ideas for how to deal with that: textile recycling is a thing.

I keep saving holey jeans thinking I'm going to bust out the rotary cutter and turn them into enormous yarn to make a denim rug. Someday it'll happen, but so far I've saved and donated/recycled three bags full over the years without actually doing it. We have to be kind to ourselves about what we can reasonably hope to accomplish with our time and resources. Maintaining a bunch of stuff we don't want in our lives is probably not the best way to do that. And it's not about having a specific quantity of stuff or being minimalist -- it's about making sure that the stuff you have is stuff you actually want.
posted by asperity at 10:59 PM on January 18, 2015 [1 favorite]


It can be useful to separate the "do I want this?" question from the "how do I get rid of this in the optimal way?" question. Answer the first question, then deal with the remainder. Once you've already decided to remove it from your life, it can be easier to figure out how.

Yes, that is really the point, the book focuses on how to discard objects from your life, not on how to dispose of them. For example, in that Japanese video I posted, it ends with the family and Marie standing in front of a room full of garbage bags. Some contain books, some clothes, plus lots of other stuff sorted by categories (only because she says you must sort by categories, so that's when the bags were filled). I didn't hear anything about how they actually disposed of them.

Disposal is mostly a local issue. There will probably always be ragpickers and other recycling methods. But I'll tell you one thing that is pissing me off lately. I have been seeing drop boxes from this company appearing around town, replacing recycling bins for Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army. The new kiosks are from a for-profit private company. Now sure, the Goodwill and other thrift shops are usually run by third-party corporations that give Goodwill only a fraction of their profits. But this new recycling company takes ALL the profits.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:42 PM on January 18, 2015


However, even in the US, nobody wants your used clothes.

This is categorically untrue.

The Red Cross doesn't want clothing donations because it's much more efficient and cost-effective to get monetary donations and use them in-country for what is actually needed. People rebuilding after an earthquake in Haiti don't need sweaters from Ohio.

However, there are many domestic nonprofits that will gladly take used clothes. Goodwill, Salvation Army, St. Vincent, the usual suspects.

A lot of cities also have clothing resale boutiques like Buffalo Exchange where you can sell gently used name-brand clothes. As someone who needs to look nice but can't afford full price clothes, I buy clothes pretty much exclusively from these places. So I can personally say, that, yes, I want your used clothes!
posted by Sara C. at 9:20 AM on January 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


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