Before baby: The KonMari Method

Part of the intention of this blog is to become Eleanor’s mother more fully, but also to remember who I was before. That person is not gone. That person is only made more complete by Eleanor joining our lives and our family. My most recent accomplishment was personal and directly related to preparing for Eleanor’s arrival.

During the pregnancy and adoption process I wanted to nest and control what I could control. It started, like many Americans, in January when Netflix featured the Marie Kondo series of Tidying Up. We were barely pregnant at the time, but upon seeing this show I knew it was exactly what I needed before our little one’s arrival.

We had moved into our home March of 2017, so our stuff had accumulated about three years of inertia. Items did not have a dedicated home. There were boxes of “we’ll look at this someday.” We lived a life of laundry always everywhere, asking what was clean and what was dirty, dog toys wherever she pleased, papers in piles that meant nothing… if we were a character in a The Sims computer game, our environment score were always low.

We said we were busy. We said we were tired. We said we were focused on other things like our careers, our marriage, our friends. In reality, we lived like we felt – all over the place, scattered, unfocused, and yes… tired.

Enough was enough. After all, Marie Kondo always looked so poised, perfect, and happy. Her clothes were pressed, prim, neat. She prayerfully greeted each home she cleaned with a reverence and spirituality that Sara and I craved in our lives. She sold fancy shoe boxes for $75. We, like the Netflix-adoring public, wanted to be more like her.

So I walked to Barnes & Nobel on my lunch break, and behold: an end cap display of all Marie Kondo books – everybody must be thinking the same thing! I bought both of her books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up & Spark Joy and immediately put them in my car so I wouldn’t be tempted to read them while on the clock. That evening, I read through both books in one sitting and then grabbed a notebook to begin the challenge.

What spoke to me most about KonMari was the holistic approach of how everything in your life is connected. You keep an organized house, you’ll find you have an organized mind, spirit and life. You have a place for everything in your home, and you’ll find you have a place for everything in regards to your time, your diet, your creativity. I so desperately wanted this to be true, so I committed to follow her method to the letter.

The first instruction was NOT to start cleaning. I was disappointed at first because I wanted a clean house and I wanted it clean yesterday (see images above). Before you were allowed to put one spice away in your spice cupboard, you first needed to spent some time with yourself. Steps one and two were about you: 1) Commit yourself to tidying up 2) Imagine your ideal self.

“This is so woo-woo,” I told my wife, “I’m not supposed to tidy until I imagine my true self, my happiest self, and embody that while I tidy.” To my surprise, Sara said it seemed like a good idea, “how are you supposed to know what ‘sparks joy’ if you haven’t really meditated on what sparks joy?” Made sense to me. So I truly did my homework. I didn’t get to tidying right away. I committed to having the house Kondo’d by the time the baby arrived, and I filled several notebook pages with stream-of-consciousness about who I would be if I could be anything.

To start, I love yoga, hiking, cooking, meditating, reading, training and taking care of Coda. I love writing and receiving letters, art and design, I love my software design work, and I love it when Sara plays piano. I love entertaining, and I love being the house that people want to come visit to enjoy a good meal and good company. I love playing tabletop games, card games, video games, and I love watching movies – but I’m a sucker for good movies – like art of cinema type movies. My ideal life also has a spot reserved for American and world history, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Sesame Street & the Muppets, Disney, and my active faith life should be prominently visible in my home.

It’s not about tidying or throwing away … I just needed to sync up what my house had become with who I knew myself to be.

I felt so much pride and excitement to make my surroundings match my true self. Once I was done, I sincerely felt like, “now I just need to make my home match.” It’s not about tidying or throwing away, I began the KonMari project feeling like I just needed to sync up what my house had become with who I knew myself to be. It’s not about living with less, or how much can I donate and get rid of, or wouldn’t my life be simpler if I didn’t have this.

So per the instructions, I started with my clothes. I am not a clothes person, so I don’t have many pieces of clothing that I regularly wear. That didn’t stop me from owning a lot more clothes than I actually wear. The first step was a breeze because it was very obvious to me what pieces of clothing I loved and wore regularly and what pieces always moved to the back of the closet or picked around out of the drawer.

I did remark that the KonMari method would be difficult if I LOVED clothes and considered clothes integral to my true self. It would be hard to start with a category that I loved so dearly that I had a hard time determining what sparked joy because of the article of clothing vs what sparked joy because I love owning and shopping for clothes. If this speaks to you at all, keep going! You can always come back to items that may or may not spark joy as you use them, wash them, and put them away. You’ll hone your joy as you keep going. I promise.

As easy as clothing was, I finished clothing in a weekend. Then came the books category. We love cooking, so we owned over fifty cookbooks. We love reading, so we owned well over 400 books. But if there is one thing this category taught me, I don’t feel joy by having more, I feel joy by having a joyful association with each book that catches my eye. Don’t misunderstand me: going though my books for joy took over a month and several touches of each book. I wasn’t good at determining which books sparked joy because of the book and which book sparked joy because I loved having books on every shelf and surface in my home.

However, if I knew then how great I feel now … well, I don’t know if I would have still felt this great without the parting process. I think really determining my joy has led to my feelings of complete contentment when I look at my books on my bookshelves (of which I have four). Marie Kondo says she has no more than 30 books at a time, but that’s not me. After I determined what sparked joy, I would say I still have over 100 “permanent collection” books.

AND, because I am an avid reader, I have a shelf dedicated to “books I’m going to read next.” Since going through this exercise in March and April 2020, I have already read through three of those books on the “to read” shelf and donated them because they didn’t spark joy enough to put in the permanent collection. It creates a very peaceful ritual whenever I finish a book. I spend a moment reflecting on whether Sara would like to read it next (and put it on her “to read” shelf), determine whether it is worthy of the permanent collection if Sara has already read it, or donate it to our local library book seller if it isn’t worth keeping.

For example, the titles in our permanent collection are Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Dune, The Thirteenth Tale (which if you haven’t read, I highly recommend), Anansi Boys, and many many others that we know we will pull off the shelf and enjoy again – even if it just by flipping through to our favorite parts.

I gush about the books category because this category really spoke to me. It was a category that I really need to sink my joy-teeth into. I really needed to question Marie Kondo’s “30 books” suggestion. And in her defense, she didn’t say you NEEDED to get to 30. She only mentioned that when it came to her sense of joy, only 30 books ever truly made her cut. That’s not me, and that’s probably my biggest joy of all – I know that about myself.

Papers were always our Achilles’s Heel because mail comes in and NEVER goes out. It piles and piles and piles. When a pile started as “this needs to be handled asap,” too many additional papers got thrown on top and the important to-dos would be lost. Since my work-life is 100% digital, paper in my life is an embarrassment and a outlier from my mostly digital routine.

It took us both over six weeks to get through ALL the paper everwhere in the house: for us there really were three types of paper 1) Strong box items like birth certificates, marriage licenses, etc 2) Stuff to handle TODAY which is now stored in a slotted standup sorter by the door 2) Important papers that don’t need to be accessed often like tax returns, car information, home improvement receipts, etc. Everything else that comes in our door like catalogs, junk mail, requests for charity, reminders to get the oil changed, and others, either gets put in the standup sorter for “doing this now” or gets thrown away.

So far, this system has worked well, I have thrown away more catalogs that have been put in the “doing this today” sorter but I haven’t looked at in a day or two. They just get tossed without flipping through them. If they haven’t caught my attention to flip through them in the first couple of days of being obvious in the sorter, I’m not really that interested. This method allows for my amount of paper clutter to be confined to ONE standup sorter, and nothing gets lost in the piles again.

Ah, the Komono category, the catch all of everything and anything. We truly went in her order, and we truly grabbed EVERY item within that category – regardless of what room we thought they were kept. This was truly the category that taught us who we are by what items we choose to surround ourselves with. Not everything was worthy, and many things needed more prominent display in our home.

For example, yes, we kept DVDs of movies we loved, even thought many of them were available on the multitude of streaming services we have. It sparks joy for us to look at the top shelf of our bookshelf and see the extended additions of Lord of the Rings, The Hollow Crown miniseries, several movie musicals, and more. All in all, we kept about 50 DVDs to look at and enjoy.

We removed hundreds of pounds of computer hardware and old technology that had cluttered up our lives. It was still on desks due to our own inertia of not taking it to the e-waste center. We removed and donated furniture that did not serve any purpose other than we had bought it and didn’t know how to get rid of it. We donated small tables, desks, extra chairs, old IKEA bookshelves. For a 1350 square foot home, there was far too many items that didn’t speak to who we were.

Lastly, the memories and sentimental items: by this point, we were feeling the KonMari strongly. We were really honed in on who were were and who we wanted to be. And the sentimental items taught us two very important lessons 1) Keeping everything makes everything less special 2) If you love it enough to keep it, it shouldn’t be in a box hiding under your bed.

These memories like trips we took, school yearbooks, photos, ribbons, awards, plaques, and trophies, were all in boxes – never to be seen. When I looked at my elementary soccer trophies, I had no reason to display or brag about this accomplishment. But when I looked at my elementary soccer photos, it made a very cute collage of memories from my childhood – and that deserved a place among our family photos and memories. None of these memories were being cherished or honored in a box under a bed. The true memories that sparked joy are now framed and displayed proudly on mantles, or on our walls, or even tucked into bookshelves to have my eye come across the small photo frames and make me smile.

In summary, I ended up feeling differently than Marie Kondo about some of her specifics, but that’s a good thing. I feel joy about different things than she does. I have a different level of clutter threshold around my house than Ms Kondo does. But EVERYTHING in my home that I see has a place, a purpose, and makes me smile.

I agree with her that my house is staying tidy, even with a fifteen-day-old infant, because everything has a place. If I see a bottle of scotch on my kitchen counter, I know it belongs in the bar, so it takes me under 20 seconds to put it away. And the collection of 20 second put-aways makes it worth the six months of tidying I had to do to get there.

I disagree with Marie that if you tidy once, you will never need to tidy again. These days, even with a baby, I find myself constantly checking for joy. As I wash, fold, and put away clothes, each item gets a little mental “thank you” and a joy check to see if this item is still in line with my true self. Every time I look at the bookshelf, I see a book that I either take down and loving flip a couple pages or decide it’s time to donate. Paper no longer runs my life because I have committed the extra few minutes each day to keep it tidy.

So I don’t agree with Marie that I don’t need to tidy again, but I will say that the 20 seconds of tidying each item I come across in my home makes me more mindful, more present, and more joyful in my own home. Don’t worry, I’ll continue to share with you how the KonMari method holds up as Ellie continues to grow and dominate my whole world. But for now, the KonMari method has truly changed my life, and I feel like my true self every day.

Published by @electrickduckdesigns

Eight days into motherhood, I needed a place to be myself again. Follow me as I grow into this new role.

3 thoughts on “Before baby: The KonMari Method

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