Joyful Tidying — An overview of the KonMari method

Life is beautiful and it’s a little more so when you are surrounded by things you love.

Baby & Company believes heartily in buying right and buying once.  Making the right purchase means more than a great sale price, it means a well made item of clothing, one you truly love.

As we have been urging each other to take stock of the items we own, to keep what really matters, we synchronistically came across a fantastic, small, yet potent book that we want to share with you.  The book is The Magical Art of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, a guru from Japan and now internationally acclaimed who teaches her ‘KonMari’ method of assessing one's belongings and truly tidying up.  Her process is so thorough that supposedly, if done right, it will never have to be done again.

Kondo’s book first caught my attention when I saw a post on the New York Times’ twitter feed, and roughly a week later a good friend randomly gave me a copy of the book to read. My friend who offered the book, was hip-deep into editing her library. Texts and binders she had collected and kept while finishing her doctoral studies were now neatly stacked in banker’s boxes near her front door, resting momentarily on their way out. What a weight off of her shoulders, what a physical volume of space gained back in her home, but what did it mean to her? Parting with these books meant acknowledging a time in her life, accepting the role the objects played in that moment, and consciously recognizing this so that she could let go of the physical items taking over her bookshelves.  This editing process is not easy, even for the hardened organizer. What allowed her to make such a momentous and generous donation was this tiny and potent book by Marie Kondo.

Having had two grandmothers who held and kept objects in multiples, I am not one for keeping chintz or collecting.  But having spent the last ten plus years in the fashion industry there are items that have stayed in my closet longer than their usefulness has warranted.  We have been urging you to examine and edit your closets through the Baby & Company Sunday Guide and Closet Cues, and now I would love to give you a real life account of putting Kondo’s method to work as I tried it on my own closet. 

 First, let me sum up Marie Kondo's (KonMari) method: keep only the objects that bring you joy.  The way to discover what brings you joy is to take every last piece of clothing (process to be repeated for books, papers, etc.) from the corners of your home and put them in one place on the floor.  It is necessary that every garment be done at one time to offer the clearest picture of your collection. One by one pick up each item and quietly ask yourself whether this object brings you joy.  Kondo insists that the voice inside may not be very loud at first, but as you go through your objects one by one you will soon be able to hear very clearly what objects bring you true joy.  Conversely, it is imperative that you get rid of the pieces that do not bring you joy.  No more over-thinking or negative statements like, “I shouldn’t have bought that piece! It was expensive and I never wear it.”  Kondo suggests feeling deeply whether the object brings joy and if not, then simply thank the object for what it has taught you and send it on its way.  By removing joyless objects we are left to enjoy a home containing the items that truly reflect our personality and in turn inspire us.

Like most attempts to edit and change our habits the task of cleaning one’s closet, even when looking for joy, is easier said than done.  Taking everything from my closet and putting the items in one place for the true KonMari assessment at first seemed unnecessary, but as I finished reading the book, I recognized there is benefit to seeing everything in your sight all at once.  Not only did I realize the magnitude of my collection, specifically of my jacket and coats, (ahem, time spent working at London Fog and Helmut Lang)  but simply noting where I was storing the clothing spoke volumes to its significance to my day-to-day.  I realized instantly that I divide my closet between vintage and sentimental garments that are rarely worn, from the more rugged, new, and work-ready items that I own.  Some of the vintage pieces were literally threadbare, for example a double breasted shawl-collar coat with astrakhan lapels that tears apart a little more every time I pull it on. As I held it in my hands I tried to feel whether the garment was still able to muster the joy it once brought me; the joy of finding the coat second-hand for an amazing price, and remembering with pride when a store clerk on London’s King’s Road offered me money to sell it in her store (of course I refused!)  As I looked at the beautiful design I was surprised to realize that the weight of keeping the vintage coat and caring for it was actually less than a joyful feeling, and more like a weighty burden.  I surprised myself again by putting it in the discard pile. 

The process of editing every piece of clothing using an arcane process proved fruitful.   I was able to offer two beautiful dresses to friends who were very excited to newly cherish them.  I got rid of every last pair of socks that never felt good underfoot. It's true life is too short!  I realized that I could get rid of a moth-eaten cashmere sweater that belonged to an old boyfriend’s departed father as I smiled, internalizing the feeling the person gave me and consciously separated the memories from the garment itself.  The memory lives on with me regardless of the physical item and I felt freer giving the sweater over to the recycling pile. If you are a sewer like me, you can find a second use for many of these items in patches and quilt padding, but Marie Kondo would urge you to simply thank the items and let them go. 

I looked back over my now spacious and perfectly folded closet and drawers and realized that what I was left with was a brilliant reflection of who I am right now.  With great relief the choices I made in life, and in my closet, do bring me joy.  By looking at my closet I realize I’ve grown up just a little, that I’m still mad for high-waisted denim, a good wool blazer, and that overall I prize comfort as much as I prize pieces that make me feel truly beautiful and truly myself.  And on my way home yesterday I picked up a box of blue dye because you know I’m not ready to let go of those Thom Browne button-ups even if they are no longer the brightest shade of white.  They still bring me tremendous joy.

Clothing at its best is artwork, but artwork that is completely open to interpretation and personal styling.  No other medium allows for such a solid reflection of the political and social favors of the time, but regardless of vanity and uniforms we live in a time where we can truly choose what works for us. It is only once we clear out the distractions that we can hear clearly the beat of our heart and the joy in our soul.   

—Anna Telcs, Designer and Creative Consultant

Leave a comment