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Experiment Log No. 21 — The Japanese Art of Decluttering

In this experiment I will declutter my apartment according to the principles in Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe book focuses on the psychological and emotional effects of curating your possessions well. There are a lot of instructions in the book but this is the main idea:

  1. Go through each type of possession in order (not each room) and discard or donate whatever doesn’t spark some sort of joy when you hold it in your hands. In other words, if it makes you feel bad to own it, stop owning it.
  2. Arrange what’s left in a way that everything is attractive, accessible and easy to put away.

I’m taking six weeks to do this (July 20 to August 31).

The Log

August 30, 2015

The experiment is done. The place has been decluttered, and I’ve learned a ton. There will be a post Monday (tomorrow) describing my findings.

In the mean time, I want to say this has been a very enlightening experiment. I had decluttered down to “everything in its place” in my previous experiment, but never had such an acute appreciation for the psychological effects of each possession. I highly recommend doing this.

August 27, 2015

Almost done over here. There hasn’t been much of interest to report, because I’ve just been discarding as before. The last things were papers and mementos.

Papers seemed like a huge job before I started. I had an inbox piled about a foot high, and my filing cabinet was in need of culling. It took about six hours to go through them all, piece by piece. It’s hard to cull papers using the joy criterion—letters from CRA will never spark joy, no matter how necessary they are. But it is easy to see what projects bring me joy and which don’t, and I found a lot of joy in letting go of papers pertaining to projects that don’t interest me. Most of the papers in my inbox were no longer relevant, or never were, and I discarded quickly.

Mementos were really easy, although it was impossible to avoid some bittersweet reminiscing. I kept only the mementos that make me feel joy. This was quite revealing. It turns out most of my mementos were painful to even look at, but I believed they represented joy and gratitude for me. I had love letters from old girlfriends and photos of people no longer in my life. For some reason I thought I needed these objects to remember the fond parts of old relationships, but there was no way to look at them and have feelings that were any better than “mixed”. This was so strange, this idea that holding onto melancholy things is good for you. It felt great to toss them. Now all that remains in my mementos box are awesome things that make me smile.

Then I did my photos. To my surprise I really didn’t have that many, in terms of physical prints anyway. (NOTE: I did not extend this decluttering to computer files). I culled a ton of boring, out-of-focus shots of trees and mountains that nobody will ever enjoy looking at, and now I’ve got an album and three envelopes, from four different trips. I’m going to go through a “second round” of culling, because I still think there are too many. But I don’t have any pictures that make me feel bad.

Now that the culling is done, I’m going to switch over to full-time arranging. I arranged quite a few things as I went, but I’m going to go through each category again and make sure they’re arranged in a way that evokes joy. More to come soon.

August 8, 2015

I have done tons of discarding. Several carloads of my things are now available for repurchase at the St Boniface Salvation Army. There are some real finds in there: snowboards, guitars, games, books and electronic devices.

Suddenly I have tons of space for everything. It always seemed like there was just not quite enough space–I always had around 95% of the space necessary to keep all my things. Now I have about 125% and climbing. This “perpetual fullness” is just Parkinson’s law at work. Things swell to fit the space allowed for them. And it feels great to be rid of certain things. I was holding onto a broken turntable for about eight years with the idea that one day I be one of those vinyl people. But I decided I never would be, and that was a relief. I can almost physically feel the time and attention freeing itself up for other things that I do care about.

It’s also satisfying to liberate so many of these hoarded possessions. Now they might actually get a chance to be used. My snowboard will probably see more action. Same with the turntable, and bunch of books that are interesting but evidently not interesting enough for me to want to read them.

Most of the discarding is done, and then I’ll begin the arranging process. Remaining are:

Footwear

Tools

Appliances

Art

Dishes and utensils

Consumable supplies (everything from hand lotion to detergents to vacuum bags)

Food

Papers

Mementos

I’ve turned up the pace and expect to have all that done in the next few days. I plan to finish this project well before my August 31 deadline.

July 30, 2015

Well I did quite a bit over the last few days. I culled my socks down to only the pairs that bring me joy, and this has transformed the sock-choosing part of my morning. They’re all balled up neatly in a their drawer in a single-layer grid, black in one corner, white in the other, and the beiges, blues and greys arranged in a gradient between them. It is positively a joy to pick socks in the morning, and I never knew that was possible. I’ve done similar things with my underwear and pants. I am down to about five pairs of pants (I got rid of maybe six or seven). For the first time in my life, I only have pants I love. I can wear any or all of them. I have never had this feeling before. I know I sound crazy. But you have to try it.

I also realized that I might still have books (and other items from categories I’ve already done) in my storage locker downstairs. I brought up every box and Rubbermaid and went through it all, tossing or donating almost all of it. It was a really strange feeling–I had the impression the locker was bursting with stuff, but after getting rid of just two or three boxes of books, CDs, and knickknacks, there is almost nothing in the locker aside from my snowboard, my bike, my seasonal tires and golf clubs. There was just so little of any value to me in there.

The discarding process is a really self-affirming process. It forces you to make some austere decisions about what will and will not be in your future. To decide to finally get rid of a turntable I’ve been hoping to get up and running, I had to admit to myself that I will never be a vinyl guy. I’m just not going to go down that path, and it feels great to close that door, because it’s just freeing up time and space, both in my mind and in my home. I got rid of A Course in Miracles. I will never do it, and now I feel freer than ever to read the books I really do want to own.

Contrary to what I expected, it felt good getting rid of perfectly good things, because now somebody else can pick them up at the thrift store and be thrilled with it. I was holding some valuable stuff captive, and now it’s free.

I also had to declare the end of a particular era: I got rid of all my CDs. I subscribe to Spotify and have not played a CD in a few years. The MCC on Sargent Avenue will soon be overflowing with some excellent music. Some West End music nerd will be thrilled. Also, all the DVDs of Six Feet Under are there too.

So, done is:

Socks, underwear, pants, shorts, jackets, books, CDs/DVDs.

Next up: Electronic gadgets/cables, shirts, “other” clothes, food, tools & utensils

July 23, 2015

I have done my books so far, and it’s quite amazing how much of a difference it makes. My bookshelf is lean and spacious, and contains only books that I’m attracted to. I couldn’t believe how many books I had kept that I could never see myself reading, and which would make me feel bad whenever I saw them. Presumably all of my possessions are like this. Clothes will be interesting — I know at least half of my clothes will go.

Over the next week I’ll be doing small subcategories (socks, underwear, bags) but the major things will have to wait until the end of next week, when my exam is done. But I’m very excited.

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{ 6 Comments }

Alison August 5, 2015 at 4:14 pm

I hope you’re continuing with your experiment. I followed most of the advice in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” this spring. Overall, my place is much more tidy now. One of the things I’m enjoying daily are my folded clothes in the way Kondo describes in the book. Yes, I even fold my underwear into a rectangle and place it upright in a drawer. It takes a little longer to fold things, but then I can see what’s available and my daily decisions are much easier. I’d like to get down to a capsule wardrobe and a work ‘uniform’ but I’m not there yet. Looking forward to your next log entry.

{ Reply }

David Cain August 5, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Do you find things like cotton t-shirts wrinkle? I haven’t decided whether to fold my t-shirts or continue to hang them up. I don’t have a dresser so I would need to get one.

{ Reply }

Leila August 31, 2015 at 2:36 pm

Hey David, I don’t find that my t-shirts are wrinkly. I used to roll them into little tube-shaped things, though, so the KonMari folding method is far superior in that way.

{ Reply }

Alison August 6, 2015 at 4:58 pm

The shirt might show some fold lines when you first put it on, but they’re different than pressed in wrinkles and disappear quickly with body heat…at least that’s what I’ve found. When I fold t-shirts I make sure they are as flat as possible before starting, and I don’t press the folds down with my hands too much, just as much as is needed for a tidy fold (e.g. don’t feel you need to compact the shirt).

{ Reply }

Jordan August 16, 2015 at 12:20 am

I’ve been checking in on your website for a couple years now, but I think this is the first comment I’ve left.

In the last 5 years, I have lived in 7 different houses/apartments. Each year I 1) pack up less and less to move with 2) dump more and more at my parents house. My room there was basically a storage unit.

I recently just graduated from school and moved back in with my parents. My #1 goal was to get rid of unnecessary crap so that I don’t have anything holding me back from moving out for good. Luckily, it was very easy for me to commit 6+ hours a day for this task, because I was dogsitting for them and didn’t need a job yet.

I haven’t read the book by Marie Kondo, but I under the gist behind it. I already took 6-7 carloads of stuff to the thrift store. The biggest obstacle for me were books/papers. I sold most books online and made around $200. I had class notes from middle school under my bed still…oh my gosh. I had numerous journals and diaries from when I was a kid. I got rid of most stuff right away..but still have some “maybes.” At least it ALL (important documents, books, journals) went from 4-5 crates to all being able to fit on one tiny shelf.

TL,DR:
It’s incredibly empowering to rid excess junk out of your life. I strongly believe (through direct experience) that getting rid of material clutter/crap is representative of clearing away congested emotions and mental attachments. It’s amazing.

I’m excited you are doing this also!

{ Reply }

Tim August 31, 2015 at 9:23 am

Another great post. Thanks for sharing.
Have been working on lightening the load for some time now.
Letting go of several pieces of furniture recently from my uncle’s and grandfather’s home was hard. I had been carrying them around for decades and loved them but once again, after they were gone, I definitely felt a bit lighter anx s sense of relief.
Several boxes of my kids stuff ftom when they were young; momentos, knick knacks, crafts, cards, etc., are hard to let go of, even though the predominant feeling they elicit is melancholy. The ties to happy days and thoughts of ‘what if they saw them, could it help rekindle a relationship’ hold me back ftom letting those things go.
Thoughts ?

{ Reply }

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