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When I first picked up Marie Kondo’s book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying” in 2016 I thought it sounded like a fun thing to do. I like tidying. I like the word “magic”. And hey, if it’s life-changing? Bonus!

But as I read it, I began to get excited about the prospect of tidying not only my things but my life. It made sense: get your home in order, and you’ll have more time to spend on the things that really matter to you.

In the end? It has changed my life. And I love the thought of sharing my experience with anyone who’s starting where I was – with a life’s worth of stuff and a desire to clear it out once and for all.


Why tidy?

So other than the obvious (an uncluttered, beautiful home) why declutter and tidy?

If you’re anything like me, you find sentimental value in the smallest of things. Your exercise books from school, where everything is in your handwriting. Receipts from overseas travel (ticket stub from Radio City, anyone?). Boarding passes, for that matter. Clothing worn not only by you as a bub, but by relatives who’ve passed on. Plates and mugs your family used to use when you were growing up. Christmas decorations from your childhood… The list goes on (and yes, these are all real things I previously held onto).

And that stuff? It’s hard to say goodbye to. So why would you?

Because by recognising the joy in the precious few things that truly sparkle in your eyes – not holding onto things just because you’re scared to let them go – that’s a kind of freedom that’s hard to describe.

Freedom from the feeling of obligation.

Freedom to finally create the beautiful home that lives in your mind.

Freedom to look around you and realise you’re surrounded by things that make your heart race (in the good way).

And freedom to hold onto those sentimental things that really, truly mean something special. Things you will see regularly. Things you’ll use or look at and, in doing so, experience the joy they were always designed to bring.

Tidying isn’t about letting everything go. It’s about identifying the things that genuinely hold a place in your heart and giving them the space to shine their light in your everyday life.


Does tidying really change your life?

Please see above.

Kidding. Kind of. In short? Yes, it can change your life.

How?

By helping you develop your sense of what truly (to use Marie Kondo’s term) sparks joy. A handier skill than it might sound.

And by giving you the confidence to make decisions about what stays in your life (material possessions or otherwise), and the space (physical or otherwise) to enjoy the ones that do.

From a space of holding onto (almost) everything for fear of letting go, to a life of confidently keeping only those things that bring you joy? That’s life-changing.


Where to start

Ok so you’re committed to moving into this new era, what are the first steps?

1. Crystalise your vision

The best place to start is with the end in mind, pardon the cliche. But really, what is your vision for your perfect life? We’re not talking “wouldn’t that be amazing but it’ll never happen” perfect, we’re talking “what would make my heart sing and my feet walk on air every day” perfect. Take a little time to think about your perfect life. Have fun with it.

Now specifically, what does your home look like in that vision?

Is it a tidy kitchen first thing in the morning, where you rise before everyone else for a quiet cup of tea?

Perhaps a zen-like bedroom where the only activities are those that are *supposed* to be done in bed (hint: they usually don’t involve electronic screens).

Or maybe it’s a room dedicated to your books/ hobbies/ memorabilia where, even though you’re surrounded with stuff, you feel an indescribable joy and you can’t wait to spend time there.

Whatever your vision, make it *yours*. This isn’t the time to envision a minimalist space because that seems to be the trend. This is about truly identifying what brings you elation, joy, happiness and holding it close to your heart so you can begin working towards it.

If it helps, take inspiration from magazine clippings or Pinterest boards. I always think it’s helpful to have visuals.

2. Set your criteria

Before you begin, take a moment to decide and commit to the criteria you’ll use to make your decisions about what to let go (or, perhaps more potently, what to keep).

Marie Kondo’s now famous recommendation is to keep only that which “sparks joy”. She says everyone finds their own way to knowing what that means, but during the process of letting things go you’ll have an awakened moment when you recognise something you own as “sparking joy” and suddenly you know what it means to you. She describes it as a physical sensation. A reaction in your body, which is why holding every item individually is critical (more on that in a moment).

Personally, I do use this criteria and it’s worked for me. I recommend trying it, even if you’re skeptical to begin with.

But you might decide to use something different.

Perhaps your criteria aligns with the Minimalists’ idea of discarding everything except that which you’ve used in the last 90 days, or are likely to use in the next 90 days. They also suggest it’s ok to get rid of anything that you can replace for $20 or less, in 20 minutes or less.

This is an important step. It’s going to carry you through the rest of the process – including your sentimental items, which are hardest for most people to let go.

Be sure you’re confident in your criteria before you begin. It will also stay with you beyond the end of this process and carry you through future decisions when decluttering.

3. Set aside time

Know that this is going to take some time and it’s unlikely you’ll finish in one weekend. The payoff is you should only have to do this scale of project once – future tidying efforts will be far quicker and easier.

So start by dedicating some time to get started.

4. Begin decluttering

I’m going to reference Marie Kondo again, because it’s the method that has worked for me. It’s well worth trying.

If you follow this process, you’re going to tidy by category – not by location in your house. This is key. It allows you to see everything you own within one category. This achieves two things:

  1. You suddenly see the volume of things you have in one category before your very eyes. You’ll be astonished.
  2. You will quickly complete category by category and see true progress before long at all.

Start with clothing. It’s often one of the easier categories to tidy because you’ll quickly see which items ‘spark joy’ (or identify with whatever criteria you’ve selected).

Put every piece of clothing you own into one pile (except those items in the laundry). Check throughout your house and bring every piece together.

Take a moment to absorb the volume of clothing you possess.

Then start going through the pile.

Pick up one piece of clothing. Measure it against your criteria. Decide whether it stays or goes. Focus on what you’re keeping, not what you’re letting go. After all, you’re designing your beautiful future life – decide what to put *in* it.

Personally, for the items I’m discarding I usually:

– put them in a box for donation to Vinnies

– ask friends/ family if they’d like them (this is especially good for sentimental items, as it keeps them within my circle!)

– sell them (on Gumtree) if they’re potentially worth anything

– put them in the bin (I try to minimise this selection – more on that in a future article as it’s a significant consideration in today’s environment)

Work quickly, making decisions based on your immediate reaction.

For those items leaving your home, one of the big ideas I’ve seen but not done – my journey has been much slower – is the ‘free garage sale’. Put everything on your lawn and invite friends, neighbours and visitors to take anything they want. What a liberation! This idea would be good if you were moving and had to discard in great volumes, or simply want to liberate yourself in one giant leap.

Once you’ve created a “keep” pile, it’s time to store your items.

5. Store what you’re keeping

Since you’ve removed everything from a category, now is a good time to rearrange your storage if you feel the need. The caveat is that often by the time you’ve finished going through a category you’re pretty wiped, so making decisions about new storage solutions might have to wait until your next opportunity.

Here’s my approach:

– review the space you have to store the items – be open to new ideas/ spaces

– consider whether there are any improvements you could make on your previous solution (eg would it it help to swap shelves around? store some things in draws that were otherwise on shelves?)

– use Marie Kondo’s folding technique, if you desire

– store things in a way that make you smile – you’ll benefit from this every day 🙂

– store like things together, wherever possible, so you can always see how much stuff you have in the same category

6. Continue working through categories

Once you’ve finished a category, move onto the next one. I follow Marie Kondo’s process:

1. Clothing

2. Books

3. Papers

4. Komono (essentially: miscellaneous)

5. Sentimental items

There is a logic to this order.

It allows you to strengthen your decision-making muscle as you inch towards tackling the harder items to discard.

Most people find sentimental items the hardest to let go. So by the time you are holding your late grandma’s jewellery or old family holiday photos in your hand, you’re more confident about the immediate sensation they evoke and whether they hold a place in your future life. By starting with clothing and books, most people find they get a sense of which items bring them joy.

Then, it’s just practice, working through the categories.

While working through the categories, if you find sentimental items set them to the side. It’s easy to be distracted looking at photos or letters when you’re working on another category – don’t worry, you’ll get to them eventually.

7. Know that this is going to take some time

The aim here is to do this as a big project, in what may be the only time in your life you need to do it at this scale. You’ll revisit the process in future, but you probably will not have the volume of stuff to go through.

So this process is going to take time – go easy on yourself, and get it right.

Marie Kondo suggests 6+ months. For me, it’s taken 2+ years (and counting), though I did have a baby in the middle of it.

My point is don’t rush yourself or set unrealistic expectations. It’s ok for this to take time. It might be life-changing, after all.

The secrets (at least, in my experience)

There are a few things that may help you make progress on this journey.

Start with something easy

Pick an item you know clearly sparks joy (or doesn’t) or that obviously matches the criteria you’ve chosen to work with. Do this a few times to get the hang of how you’re going to move through this process.

Don’t rush

As I said, this is going to take time. Be realistic and be gentle with yourself – if you need time to make a decision, take that time. This will change your life and the way you view your things (and more).

Be confident in your own criteria

Whether you go with Marie Kondo’s criteria or your own, you need to be confident that it meets your desired lifestyle. When friends and family get wind of what you’re doing, you may be challenged about your decisions.

You need to be confident you’re working towards your true desires, or you may be swayed off track.


Where does it end?

Technically there is an end to your tidying fiesta – it’s when you’ve held every item you own in your hands and made a conscious decision about letting it go or bringing it forward into your future.

But in reality it extends far beyond this.

In a basic sense, you’ll still need to review your items periodically (I intend to do this annually) and make sure you’re keeping only those things that continue to support your desired lifestyle (with whatever criteria you set for yourself – eg ‘sparks joy’).

Further to that, you’ll find that having spent such intense time reviewing each and every item you own, and making decisions about them, you’ll naturally start to view your material possessions in a more respectful, more meaningful way.

Keeping items that truly spark joy for you becomes a wonderful habit.

Beyond the material realm, your decision-making abilities make their way into other areas of your life.

You’ll find yourself questioning ways in which you spend your time and whether they’re truly what you want. Again this is an incredible life change because you’re infusing more meaning and deliberation into all areas of life, ultimately building a life of joy.

So really, it doesn’t end. The act of ‘tidying’ becomes a habit and a way of living that brings you ever closer to your ideal life. And that’s a project worth your time.