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Every Thing You Own is a Relationship You’re In

socks in drawer

I spent six weeks getting rid of several carloads of possessions, and three days arranging what was left. Now my socks are arranged by color, my apartment is way bigger, and being home feels like a vacation.

Some of you have been following my experiment with Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. For those who haven’t, it works like this: you go through every possession you own, hold it in your hands, and keep it only if it evokes some kind of “joy”.

That criterion sounds kind of flaky, but it works surprisingly well. When you hold an item in your hands, its psychological effect on you becomes clear in a second or two. The theory is that any possession that gives you bad or mixed feelings is too costly to have in your life, if it’s possible to get rid of it.

I ended up getting rid of hundreds of things. Now cleaning up takes five minutes, and everything I do in my home—cooking, recreating, cleaning even—has a fun, effortless quality to it. It feels like everything I own is on the same team.

I had achieved an “everything in its place” household before, so I’m familiar with the euphoria of having extra space and no homeless possessions. Tidiness simply feels great, on top of the practical benefit having more space and less clutter. But this time there’s a different kind of euphoria, because for the first time nothing in my house gives me mixed feelings.

Every possession is a relationship

Most of us own lots of things that make us feel bad. Unused gifts. Clothes that don’t fit. Supplies for hobbies you never really got into. Books you’ll never read. Plastic crap from the dollar store. When you hold a possession in your hands it becomes clear that it makes you feel something—joy, guilt, weariness, fear, very often mixed feelings—sometimes very strongly. If it’s normal to have hundreds or thousands of possessions, then we are each, at all times, bearing the weight of hundreds or thousands of these relationships. So it makes sense to very carefully consider what we keep in our homes. 

The result of Kondo’s style of decluttering is that you’re left only with what evokes joy or other good feelings. Unless you’ve done the “KonMari” process already, that’s a sensation you’ve probably never had, because we don’t usually apply a “how does this feel” criterion when we acquire the stuff in the first place. We buy things because they do something we need done, we accept gifts we wouldn’t have bought, and we don’t get rid of things as our tastes and values change.

Now that I care about all of my stuff, I treat it differently. It feels disrespectful to leave something out, especially when it has a perfectly good home.





I sorted things by color just because it felt good. It makes a meaningful difference: I’ve never felt attracted to my closet before. The stuff hanging in there used to be at least 50% repulsive. I’m also storing things vertically wherever possible. It takes up less space and now I never have to remove an item from the middle of a stack. I can’t believe how long I put up with stacks of things.

Unexpected side-effects

Culling things like this forces you to make some austere decisions about your identity. You have to confront certain truths about what you’re going to make time and space for in your life. I decided that I will probably never do A Course in Miracles and got rid of my copy. Now that I use a streaming service for my music, I got rid of all of my CDs, officially ending that era. I donated a turntable I’d been sitting on for years, finally admitting to myself that I’ll never be a vinyl-collecting music dude.

All of these “goodbye” moments felt liberating. Much of this process is about deciding who you are and who you’re not going to be. You can’t move forward when you’re trying to keep a foot in every door.

Getting rid of the joyless stuff can reveal that you never really had what you thought you had. I always had lots of clothes, but when I culled them down to what I actually wore and liked wearing, I barely had enough clothing to fill a large suitcase. Suddenly it’s clear that I only have one pair of non-dress pants that I actually wear, but it seemed like I had more because of the five pairs of pants I never wore. That’s like owning one pair of pants and five pairs of anti-pants. This discovery is pivotal—now there is a clear problem to address, when before it just felt like nothing looked good on me.

The last thing you’re supposed to cull is mementos. This was where the psychological effect of possessions was most obvious. Most of the cards, letters and hand-made gifts in my box of keepsakes gave me mixed feelings at best. It seemed like keeping photos of old friends and letters from old girlfriends was a sensible way of commemorating significant life experiences, but they sure didn’t feel good to look at. Getting rid of them felt awesome. Now I just have a few select gifts from people I love, and each of them makes me smile.

That was a major theme in this process: things that you think should make you feel good actually make you feel bad. Not everything my dad built makes me feel good to own. If I don’t use it, or it doesn’t fit my life for some reason, then the predominant feeling associated with owning it is guilt. I decided to let those items go, and keep only the ones that feel warm to me.

For those thinking about doing this:

The process isn’t perfect. You find a lot of things that you need to keep, yet spark no joy. To help address this I keep a running list of things I eventually want to replace with a more pleasing version.

It also never quite ends. Marie Kondo recommends culling everything in a single swoop, and you do need to do that, but we acquire new possessions without even trying, and so you need to keep vigilant. Keep the joy criterion in your mind when you shop, even just for groceries.

A lot of you said you can’t really do this because you live with someone else that’s not on board. In that case, just do it with your own possessions.

Also, a warning. It’s easy to forget about the joy criterion once you’re in the middle of it, and slip back into asking “Should I keep this or not?” which is not the same question as “Does it spark joy?” If you forget what you’re doing, you might end up keeping things because you think you should, or because they are “worth something”, or because you “might need it”, and suddenly you’re getting nowhere but not realizing it. Trust the process, and don’t forget the purpose. The real benefits are emotional, and so the process is all about assessing your emotional relationship to each thing.

Our possessions are more psychological than physical. What a thing is is much less important than what it does to your mind when you own it. But it’s hard to see what each item does when you’re feeling the effect of a thousand such relationships at once. That’s why you need to audit every single object on its own, and why owning fewer things is better overall.

Probably the most common reason people keep things they’re not using is because they “have value”— meaning they once cost money. But the real value in things is the experience they create for us. Even things with a monetary value can lower the quality of our experience in a lot of ways, by making us feel guilty, taking up space, or keeping us preoccupied with goals we’re not really committed to. And the money is already gone anyway. The important question is always “What does it feel like to own this?” and you can have the answer in seconds when you hold it in your hands and ask.


Photos by David Cain

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Christy King August 30, 2015 at 10:58 pm

This year, we downsized from a house of about 2270 square feet to a 1250 square foot townhouse – requiring us to get rid of more than half of what we owned.

When we were decluttering, we found stuff we hadn’t even remembered that we had. That’s a pretty good indication we didn’t need it!

We love our new smaller space. There’s less time spent cleaning and doing home maintenance, it’s easier to find any misplaced items and it’s a lot cheaper.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:16 am

When you have boxes that you never unpack, you know there’s a lot of excess. There were a number of things I got rid of that I had moved twice already.

Zoe August 31, 2015 at 2:46 am

Great advice as always!
I guess the trap not to fall into is thinking “this thing should make me feel joy” if you’re holding something a loved one has given you. It can sometimes be tricky to separate your actual feelings for it from what you think you should be feeling…

trillie August 31, 2015 at 3:10 am

Good point!

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:19 am

It’s tough to get rid of the thing, but when you have a bit of practice at this kind of culling, it’s easy to see when the thing doesn’t make you feel joy. Donating (rather than throwing out) helps a lot because then there’s a chance someone else will get to make use of it.

Curtis Smale August 31, 2015 at 3:38 am

“Trust the process, and don’t forget your. ” (Third paragraph from the bottom.)

I would like to know the rest of this thought. :) “goal”?

I loved this article, David, and I like that you are staying on the same subject for a while.

You can erase this comment of you want. Just wanted to let you know.

God bless all you do on this blog. It’s wonderful.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:20 am

Thanks for the typo alert, that was a weird one. When I fixed it this morning I couldn’t remember what the word was, but the idea was “don’t forget the primary instruction.”

Curtis Smale August 31, 2015 at 3:39 am

“if” hahaha! :)

Vilx- August 31, 2015 at 4:17 am

There’s something about this… about this whole theme of your life that is… I don’t know, it’s hard to put a finger on it. But it evokes in me a feeling of caution, danger.

It’s like you’re getting further and further away from what is considered normal. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself – in fact it probably IS an improvement and feels great to boot – but I’m worried that it distances you more and more from everyone around you. Small changes at first, here and there, which mount up until there’s nobody left around who can understand and relate to you, because your lifestyle is so different from everyone else’s. Probably culminating with you going away into the mountains to live as a Buddhist monk in solitude or something. It feels great no doubt, but you need to give up everyone for that…

I’m not sure if I make much sense, this is just something that your writing makes me think of lately. :)

Ryan August 31, 2015 at 8:24 am

I’m a Canadian who’s lived abroad (mostly in Norway) since 2008. Whenever I come back to visit family, it’s a bit of a shock to re-encounter the North American version of “normal”, which often seems very much like constant overstimulation.

You have to become a bit desensitized to put up with the amount of visual and auditory intrusion that’s common in many private and public spaces back home, almost all of which is intended to make people buy things they don’t need. Something I appreciate about Norway is how rarely one encounters TVs in bars/cafés/restaurants, billboards on public roads, and commercial radio in general. Living spaces tend to be less cluttered, as well.

So I find David’s writing to be very relatable. :)

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:38 am

Right. What’s normal in one place can seem insane somewhere else. I am used to advertising being everywhere in public, but it would probably seem crazy to someone from Sao Paulo, where public advertising is not allowed. But when I cross the border into the US, and see rows of 10 or 12 highway billboards, that seems crazy to me. Normal just isn’t a very meaningful (or useful) criterion for making decisions.

Sheila September 12, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Not to get a whole thing started about billboards, but I live in Alaska where they are not allowed anywhere. so yes, it is a shock to me when I travel to the lower 48 and see the billboards everywhere. It is interesting & different, if not a bit distracting.

Ian August 31, 2015 at 9:22 am

You might also consider if you really want to invest your life living for what others want and approve of, or for your own fulfillment.

And find new friends who are more compatible with your chosen path or lifestyle.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:24 am

Thanks for the concern Vilx, but I don’t think I am in danger of being alienated from other human beings because of how I fold my socks.

I am often confused by your comments…. you seem to read too much into things sometimes. I’m not really interested in living on a mountain top, but if I was, I don’t think I would avoid it just because it isn’t normal. All I can do is slowly move towards my values, and FWIW I don’t think they’re hard to relate to… the book I’m working from here is a NYT bestseller.

jenni September 1, 2015 at 12:45 am

I know this is written to David,
I have been on a similar journey for 5 years and 12 months ago that’s all I could think about, was going off into the mountains somewhere by myself and meditating not having any contact with people .
That passed and know I’m left with the strong desire to do the activities that bring me joy and peace,and to be with and talk to those I truly love.
Its cutting the shit in your life and your left with the beautiful.

DG September 1, 2015 at 3:13 pm

I believe the lifestyle described would actually allow for MORE time for your friends and family and activities You love. :)

Zed September 1, 2015 at 11:08 pm

My experience is that the people who don’t try to understand or at least be accepting of changes like this belong with the boxes of things that are getting shuffled out the door. But that is a luxury in itself, to have the time to think about and implement that in a gentle way. Life cleaning isn’t necessarily limited to objects once you get started. It extends to people, jobs, where you live, how you think. It depends on how far you can/want to go in order to live in a way that is truly healthy for you. The perfect environment for each person is different, as is the amount of flexibility we have to try to achieve that environment… :)

Zed September 1, 2015 at 11:23 pm

Love this post, thanks for sharing! I have already downsized immensely, and am looking forward to downsizing even more. This way of reviewing items will be helpful.

DiscoveredJoys August 31, 2015 at 4:54 am

Thinking back over many of the Raptitude posts you could summarise them as a series of commandments, or advice, or… Anyway, here’s my take:

The 5 Commandments:
Let go of people that don’t bring you joy.
Let go of possessions that don’t bring you joy.
Let go of activities that don’t bring you joy.
Let go of thoughts that don’t bring you joy.
Use the space in your life to add experiences that bring you joy.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:26 am

You could definitely do worse for commandments :)

ET September 7, 2015 at 4:15 am

Let go an elderly parent with Alzheimer’s disease?
Let go of a dying friend?

Lack of joy can’t always mean we let go.

Debbie Vietzke September 7, 2015 at 9:19 pm

I’m new to letting go of posessions that don’t spark joy for me – I’ve just finished the clothes and books and now starting on papers (its a planned sequence). I feel like a new woman – every part of my life offers itself up to scrutiny – my relationships, my job, my spiritual beliefs. I don’t know how it happened but I’ve never felt so alive. And I’m just getting started.
I’m asking your same questions – should I stick with my 45 year marriage? For now the answer is yes. What is happening is that as I am becoming more real, my husband is changing too.
Both of my parents have passed away in the past 4 years, it was emotionally painful. But I never once would have “let them go”. I made mistakes in caring for them but I did the best I could and I’ve accepted that.
This letting go is a personal and fantastic process that is making me look foward to see what will happen tomorrow.

Karen September 8, 2015 at 1:48 pm

I just have to respond to this. Culling your life down to the things that bring you joy includes, among other things, caring for those who have brought joy into your life in the past. I have a parent with Alzheimer’s, and I’ve cared for close friends until their deaths. Those actions don’t seem to me to be at all in odds with the focus of this article. In fact, getting rid of non-joyful inanimate objects in your life gives you more time and space to make room in your life for just such caregiving. Knowing that I’m helping improve the quality of my mother’s life, even when it’s far from pleasant, sparks its own kind of joy.

ET September 10, 2015 at 12:25 am

I was responding to DiscoveredJoys suggested commandment “Let go of people that don’t bring you joy.”.
I have no problem with letting go of stuff. It’s the letting go of people who don’t bring us joy. Of course it’s up to each of us how we respond and react in a given situation, but I think there are better concepts than joy in these cases. Gratitude, love, equanimity, devotion.

Ruthie September 13, 2015 at 3:45 am

You’re assuming that you can’t have joy around someone you love with Alzheimer’s or that may be dying. Don’t confuse sadness over a situation out of your hands with lack of joy. You can still laugh with a friend who is dying. you can still love them so immensely that yes letting go is hard but having known them makes your heart swell with joy.

Carolyn September 13, 2015 at 8:54 am

True, but we can let go of the expectations that life is fair and find joy in the small things-when the parent with Alzheimers remembers who we are;when the dying friend shares memories with us…If you are going through these things, I empathize with you.I personally have let go of people who don’t bring me joy anymore because our values and what we find important in people change as we age.Of course you wouldn’t get rid of a parent with Alzheimers(although I worked as a Therapist in an Alzheimers facility where many adult children didn’t visit their parents;and yes, some people even distance themselves from a dying friend, because it is a reminder that they too will die someday). I personally am letting go of people who are snarky,negative, gossipy, attract drama and party too much.Lately, I am drawn more towards people who are on the same page as I am-seeking spirituality, minimalism, simplicity, and peace.

katerina August 31, 2015 at 6:09 am

Recently had a health scare and got rid of stuff like there is no tomorrow (literally:-)). Things and choices that I was holding on didn’t seem to have future possibilities any more. The only things that made sense to keep was the ones of warm feelings. I think age (especially the over the hill feeling) makes it easier to discard things that have no perspective and no joy, while it’s part of being young and in the making to persevere with things that will give you some return.
Great post as always, thanks!

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:39 am

That’s the other thing…. we’re afraid to get rid of certain things, but ultimately we’re going to have to give them all up anyway.

Michael August 31, 2015 at 2:49 pm

This sums it up for me really well. I’ve been slowly getting rid of books over the past year or two (though I think I’m now inspired to speed that up a bit). I try to imagine, when I die, my kids going through my possessions and trying to understand who I was based on that. The books I own but have’t read – does that say anything about me other than that I held onto too much that I bought over the years? I’m trying to keep only the books that, one way or another, colour who I am today. I do this for my own benefit as well, as I like to return to the things that have inspired me or simply made me happy over the years. But like you say, ultimately I’m going to have to give them all up anyway, so why make someone else do it when I’m gone?

Sheila September 12, 2015 at 3:54 pm

Great thoughts Michael–I have on my bookshelf my five favorite books. These are the ones that define who am, and I can read them over & over. These are the only books that would ever go with me anywhere I go.

Sheila September 12, 2015 at 3:47 pm

David- this is the very thing my sister and I are dealing with with our elderly mom right now. We are trying to help her get rid of things (at her request) but there is a lifetime of possessions that she won’t let go of. She is also emotionally fragile so we aren’t really pushing the matter, but it takes extreme patience to try to “help” her when she wants to hold on to almost everything (especially when my sister and I are more into minimalism). I have four kids of my own, and I definitely don’t want to saddle them with unwanted possessions of mine when I die. I am trying not to sound cold-hearted here, I love my mom and do want old pictures and a few mementos, but where’s the balance?

Elizabeth August 31, 2015 at 1:32 pm

Katerina…I love your post. And the idea of letting go fo things that don’t seem to have “future possibilities any more” is wonderful.

Great article David. I’m in the Kon Mari process now and it’s so liberating among others things.

flor August 31, 2015 at 7:30 am

I love your posts!
I will join your experiment as soon as i get home this afternoon.
thank you for sharing.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:26 am

Have fun, and let me know how it goes.

Free to Pursue August 31, 2015 at 7:32 am

Having purged 1,000 things in a few short months about a year ago, I realized I had far too much because it barely made a dent in my belongings. I remember the feeling of delight and relief as I discarded/gave away/sold these items and I want to feel that great again. The pictures you posted are truly inspirational. Thank you for the reminder of what that feels like.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:28 am

Isn’t it crazy that we can have a THOUSAND things we don’t need?

I didn’t talk much about it here but there is a specific kind of delight in getting rid of things. I just love it.

Chris August 31, 2015 at 7:40 am

Ah crap you’re making me feel guilty now. The hardest part for me about this isn’t my own stuff. It’s the stuff I’m re-selling on eBay. I’ve culled my buying a lot and I’m better at it. I’m also good at just re-donating something that’s not worth my time. But it’s still hard when I bring in $50 worth of stuff that i need to sort through, research, prep, photograph, list, and then store. But man do I love the buying and the selling! It’s just that middle part that sucks and ends up being a burden. When something of value is just sitting on my garage floor because I’m not on that pile yet, it still weighs on me.

On a side note, I’ve done this several times with blogs I read. Do I really care about that one person’s weird life that I’m not into anymore? Is it worth me wasting my time on them? Most of the time, I find it to be no.

Then afterwards, I feel like I have all this free time that I don’t know what to do with and end up wasting the time on the internet. So then I try to look for positive things to fill that void. And end up finding new blogs that I read for a month or two. I need to work on my process still.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:30 am

I didn’t touch “virtual” clutter for this experiment, but I am a lot more aware of it now. I’d love to go through all my bookmarks and feeds and digital files, but that is probably an even bigger job. I think I will start fresh next time I get a new computer.

Chris September 8, 2015 at 12:51 pm

That’s what I always say. And then I copy everything into one super folder called “Stuff” Sometimes there’s a few layers of old stuff folders too. WHAT IF I NEED THAT LAB REPORT FROM FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE?!?!?!?!?!

yes1and August 31, 2015 at 8:11 am

“Anti-pants” is the best thing I’ve read all day. Thank you. :)

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:30 am

There are a lot of us out there with a negative pants total.

Hamlet August 31, 2015 at 3:00 pm

“Anti-pants” is a great word. It reminded me of Umberto Eco’s word “anti-library,” as written about by Nassim Taleb, but as a reason to keep 30,000 (!) books in his home. It is his way of reminding himself of how much he doesn’t know, an idiosyncratic method of avoiding intellectual hubris knowing there are books and ideas out there unfamiliar to him that may be important or life-changing. Marie Kondo may not approve, but I do find a kind of joy in keeping all my books and getting more! You may need to write another post, just for people like me, to let us know of less cluttering ways of staying intellectually humble.

Ben September 3, 2015 at 5:11 am

If your 30,000 books give you joy, Marie Kondo won’t object.

Lorrie Beauchamp August 31, 2015 at 8:15 am

Quite intrigued by the comment posted by Vilx. I’ve noticed this lately; a pushback from my friends as I become more of my authentic self. It seems that many of us are threatened by those among us who are unconventional, even if it means we’re happier. I put a note in my “wish bucket” recently which reads: “Care less what other people think.” This does not mean I’m being dismissive of others’ opinions, simply that their opinions need not dictate the way I choose to live.

I have a habit of moving every two or three years, which has resulted in a lot of cleansing. David is RIGHT ON when he confirms that less clutter physically means less clutter mentally. I love the idea of keeping only good-energy items, and will take a new look at my home with this in mind. Recently I put a diamond ring on that my ex had given me, thinking that it was still a beautiful ring and why not? But the negative energy I experienced wearing it wasn’t worth it. Time to give it to someone else who might appreciate it more!

Thanks, David. I’m going to print this out for my Mom, who has just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and is looking at maybe moving to a smaller space. This might help her make her decluttering decisions. Awesome.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:33 am

The relationship between physical and mental clutter is no secret, but I do think we still underestimate it. Every object gives us involuntary thoughts and feelings, and so fewer objects necessarily makes our inner lives less chaotic and less prone to disruption.

kiwano August 31, 2015 at 8:36 am

Living on a sailboat (and not a particularly large one at that), I have an exceedingly difficult time with the joy criterion. The boat, and living on it, definitely bring me joy. On the other hand, I can’t quite say that my wrenches bring me joy, though I’d be a damned fool to get rid of them, given how often I need them to keep the boat seaworthy. My lifejackets and flares aren’t particularly joyful, but I’ve got statutory requirements to comply with when I go sailing.

I wonder if I should write about my own organizational principles and methods at some point.

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 9:35 am

Really? My tools bring me a lot of joy.

I think it is helpful not to define the word too narrowly though. I have files full of paid utility bills, and while they don’t exactly make me *joyful*, it is pleasing in a sense that they’re all organized and together. It might bring you joy to have your statutorily-required items clean, well-stored and in good working order.

Dave Hughes August 31, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I think people who live on boats have already mastered the process of owning only what they really want and need.

I remember a vacation 20 years ago in which I took an excursion for a few hours to go snorkeling off the island of Bonaire. The excursion was hosted by a couple who had left their American rat race existence behind, bought a boat, and took it to wherever they felt like liking at the time. These snorkeling excursions were a way for them to bring in some money as well as have human contact. I remember marveling at how few possessions they needed, and how efficiently everything was stored throughout the interior of the boat. Yet, they had room for 30 cassettes (remember, this was 20 years ago) of music that they loved.

Cait Flanders August 31, 2015 at 10:18 am

David! Your pics are a great visual reminder of how well this works and the joy it brings. Your bookshelf even made *me* happy, because I remember doing the same thing with my books as a kid: sorting them by colour. As an adult, I slowly began to organize my books by fiction/non-fiction, then topic (what am I, a library!?). And the worst yet: shelves dedicated to books I had read vs. still had yet to read <- that one always made me feel incredibly guilty to walk by. Today, I only have two shelves of books left and they are arranged by size… but I'll have to give colour order some thought. :)

"Now that I care about all of my stuff, I treat it differently." That's another sentence that struck a chord for me. I hadn't really thought about it, but it's true. Ever since I got rid of 70%+ of my belongings, I do treat everything I own differently. When I take off my clothes at the end of the day, I put them in their appropriate drawers; my dishes and glasses are always lined up; and I tidy my desk when I'm done work, so I can start fresh the next day. I love my space and all the things in it. They all take care of me, in a way, so why wouldn't I take care of them in return?

I'm curious, do you have an estimation of how many things you got rid of? Either a visual (filled a truck) or approximate percentage?

David Cain August 31, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Hi Cait! It sure is easier to keep everything in its place when you respect all your things (and have fewer of them.) That alone is worth the doing this for.

I’m not sure about the percentage of stuff… maybe 40%? I already kept things pretty lean though because I’ve culled a lot before. It was several carloads of stuff.

Janine August 31, 2015 at 10:21 am

Oh, the luxury of living alone! I envy you. I’d rather be married than not, and living with my spouse has LOTS of benefits, but dealing with his stuff is not among them. After several decades of marriage, it’s not a simple matter of “his things” and “my things.” A lot of what I spend time dusting every week or so are “our things.” I don’t feel free to get rid of them. Even worse are “his things” which I detest (ugly, useless) but which have a lot of sentimental value to him. I have to dust those, too. I love the idea behind the book, and I love that you’ve done the process with such positive results. But alas, I think it’s not in the cards for me.

I especially want to thank you for “You can’t move forward when you’re trying to keep a foot in every door.” It’s a good metaphor for lots of situations!

Jill August 31, 2015 at 10:22 am

Thank you for a timely article, it’s helping me explain to my OH the principles of Konmari decluttering that I’m using (he’s not a reader), adding the emotional element is having a big impact on the process and making it so much easier to let go of ‘stuff’.

Alex T August 31, 2015 at 10:41 am

Here’s a trick that has helped me to let go of many things. Often I’ll have a t-shirt or gift that has a lot of meaning for me, in terms of what memories it represents. I sometimes want to keep those, but it becomes a pyschological burden. Now, instead, I put it in good light, take a photo of it (which syncs to Dropbox automatically = huge peace of mind in general), and then I feel a sense of relief that if I now get rid of it, my connection to those memories is still accessible through a 2Mb photo that is of little physical burden to me.

This reminds me of another trick I learned, not really on the same topic. If I’m reading a book or watching a movie and I realize it’s not very good, or I’m not enjoying it, in the past I would often finish it just because I feel compelled to know the ending. What I do now is pop over to wikipedia (or elsewhere), read a synopsis of the book or movie, and within 5 or 10 minutes, I no longer feel interested in that item.

Rem September 1, 2015 at 2:33 am

That’s so funny – I do both of those things too! I really appreciate the possibility of digitising memories and how much space it allows me to save.

Frankie August 31, 2015 at 12:35 pm

I’m part-way through doing something similar already so was great to read the post today. l mostly struggle to feel ‘joy’ about anything so instead choose to get rid of something if it produces negative feelings like guilt (I’m looking at you Cloud Atlas!) or dislike. I also love organising but it often comes from my inner control freak so have to be a bit careful with that too.

Priscilla August 31, 2015 at 12:35 pm

Last summer I put my 3 bedroom house (plus garage, basement and walk up attic) on the market and sold all my furniture and most of my possessions. I didn’t use KonMari methods, as I did not know about her, and I moved into basically a furnished room for the past year. I can’t tell you how freeing this was.

I have not missed much of anything, and for the first time since then, I’m moving into my own unfurnished space — 600 sq ft. I will never own even a fraction of what I did before, and I love the idea of only keeping what brings me joy.

One thing I’ve learned over the past year: ‘stuff’ is always an issue. I can always do better, and staying on top of it is a necessary part of living in 21st century United States.

Kenneth August 31, 2015 at 1:12 pm

One of your best posts ever! Thanks for the visuals, very inspiring. I did a small electronics purge yesterday (before I read this). I used about the same method – only it was will I use this any more? The ones that the answer was no either got thrown or photographed and put on Craigslist. Very freeing!

I bought the Tidying Up book for my clutter bound dear wife, and surprisingly she accepted it and enjoyed it. She’s been working on just her clothing for now, but I appreciate the baby steps.

Cindy August 31, 2015 at 1:16 pm

I am in the middle of a downsize. I got rid of or donated about a third of my possessions and furniture in preparation for a long distance move. My new place simply does not have space for all my things. I used the book ‘Clutter Busting’ to help me cull things that were no longer useful. I couldn’t get ahold of a copy of the KonMari book before the move, but I intend to soon. I still brought too much, but now I want to use the joy criteria to help winnow it down even more. As I drove away from donating my excess there really was a sense of weight lifting. I never believed it before experiencing it myself. Thanks for sharing your experiment. I look forward to reading more!

Jessi Smith August 31, 2015 at 2:13 pm

I appreciate the article, as it encourages me on a path I have already started. A few months ago I began to seriously start getting rid of things in my house. At first, the questions were “Do I need this? When was the last time I used this?” Those questions were good enough at first. It helped too, that some items I was able to get rid of immediately, and other items I boxed up to review later. A month later when I looked through the boxed up items again, I was able to part with half of them immediately. After a few large purges I became unsatisfied with my results. I still had a lot of items I didn’t need but didn’t feel I could let go of. Then I came across the idea of asking myself “Does this item bring me joy?” I reviewed items again and found that there were quite a few items I did not “need” or had used very “rarely” but they brought me a lot of joy when I did use them. I instantly felt more satisfied with my results knowing now that I had a positive relationship to the item that was more than need or use. I don’t think I’ll ever get down to 100 items or less but I realize that less is not the goal, value is. Part of having valuable things is only having what brings me joy, whether that is 100 items or 500 items.

David Cain September 1, 2015 at 10:22 am

It is the best criterion I’ve found, because it leaves you with the things that have a positive effect on you. I got rid of a lot of “useful and beautiful” things, and that’s good, because they weren’t adding anything to my life. And if it’s not adding something, it’s a needless cost.

Tim September 4, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Sorry to be late to these comments, but I was just reminded of a saying from William Morris that bears directly on your “useful and beautiful” comment above. To wit: “Have nothing in your house which you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” For me, I think this is a more, uh, useful pair of criteria than deciding whether or not something brings me joy.
I’m in the early stages of a major life transition: from full-time employment to retirement, and moving from one state to another. Sometime next Spring, if all goes well. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of has become a matter of some urgency. Great thanks, David, for helping me along as I move into a new mindset! You’re half as old as I am and (at least) twice as wise!

MiButterfly August 31, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Have to tell you…I did exactly what you did when I moved to my very ‘first’ place of MY OWN back in April. What David has described is exactly what I myself have experienced. Was it easy…no. Was it worth admitting so much of what I carried around from place to place my whole adult life, snowballing into a huge amount of attempts to find me….yes, it’s been priceless. Fantastic suggestion this week David, everyone should at least make the attempt.

Anke (anke-art) August 31, 2015 at 4:04 pm

Thank you for this honest, insightful post! My “aha!”-moment came when you wrote “You can’t move forward when you’re trying to keep a foot in every door.” How very true! Currently I’m in a phase of decluttering, and I’ll definitely continue with your approach.

Jack September 1, 2015 at 3:34 am

David, surely one of my fave articles of yours and it came exactly at the right time. Very helpful, thanks! Also: the order in your pics is satisfying and liberating merely to look at (can you post some more?) – especially for someone who’s been struggling with being organized all their lives.

Anderson September 1, 2015 at 12:05 pm

David, a few months ago i started doing something like this experiment, i looked at all my stuffs and started imagine “why do i have this? I don’t need it”. Was not like that things make me sad or were bringing bad memories, but i looked at my clothes, a few of presents, towels, shoes and a lot of other little gifts accumulated and had to get rid of what i do not use. I Donated all that were good (many things never used) and threw the rest away. Even almost all my friends and family judging me, look at my room half empty brought me more peace and joy than i ever felt since i started living by myself. I hope all who try it feel the same.

Mark September 1, 2015 at 4:15 pm

I try to do something like this every couple of years, and the _Tidying_ book was the most recent that I took a stab at. As you can read here:


…it certainly helped with my clothes, but I haven’t had a chance to apply it to everything in the house yet, mainly because I have too little time and too much crap. I’m not sure that her expectation that you get it all done at once is reasonable, because we can’t all match her experience of relatively well off people who would even think to hire someone to help them organize while they take off work for a few days.

That said, the “sparks joy” criterion seems to be a very helpful one, even if some of my initial decisions to “keep” turned out to be a bit off base (e.g., clothes that I thought did bring me joy, but still sit in the closet unworn a few months later.) I have tendencies toward ADD, and what sparks joy today, my brain my be bored with in a few weeks or months. It’s partly my brain, and partly getting better at decision-making, but I’ve resigned myself to this being an ongoing process, rather than a one-time deal. That in itself has been a tough lesson for me to learn.

Eric Normand September 2, 2015 at 12:15 am

Hey, congratulations! This looks very freeing.

I did a partial tidying up a few months back, mostly for my clothes. It was really nice. I certainly appreciate how much faster and easier putting my clothes away is.

However, as I was going through it and checking if things gave me joy, I came to the realization that I don’t really like many of my clothes. Then I realized that all of the examples she gave were mega-hoarders who had tons of stuff, usually some stuff they loved and some they didn’t. I’ve got a more stuff than I need like most people, but I’ve never really invested enough time, energy, and money to have stuff that I love.

It really made me stop and search for an answer. I looked through the book a couple more times, trying to see if I missed something. It sounds like a really cool dream to have stuff that I love, but it also sounds expensive and not worth it. In the end, I stopped the purge. I wound up keeping socks I don’t like because I don’t have any others. That’s just one example.

I see that you couldn’t get to only joy items, either. Any advice besides keep a list? I just can’t bring myself to think about how many pairs of pants I will have to buy just to find ones that bring me joy. How many trips to what stores?

Overall, I think this is the most humane approach to purging and making a decluttered home I’ve seen. It’s just missing that part where you actually don’t have enough stuff. How do you find joyful things besides bringing many new things into your life?

Rock on!

maureen September 2, 2015 at 2:30 am

great post, I’ve been promising to declutter for years and years and years. yesterday I walked quickly out of my bathroom stubbing my toe really hard on the edge of a wooden hanger that was jammed tight underneath a suitcase sitting with loads of other STUFF on my landing. I now have a broken toe so I am starting today and hopefully have an empty house someday soon, never thought my clutter could harm me lol.

C September 2, 2015 at 2:50 pm

I’m curious about something. You previously posted about your process of having a place for everything, which involved getting rid of stuff; however was this experience an extension of that process or did you find that since that you’ve since accumulated more things that you ended up getting rid of?

I’ve been on my own journey with this, and I find that even more important than getting rid of the joy-less things is making conscious thoughtful decisions on what gets brought into the home.

David Cain September 4, 2015 at 9:02 am

The first big cull was about four years ago I think. So I had accumulated a lot since then. But I also did that cull on different criteria. I basically got rid of everything I wasn’t using, but I wasn’t really considering how it affected my mind.

ARBM September 2, 2015 at 5:27 pm

Well done! Your photos look amazing! I’ve been on a slow declutter mission, but I think it might be worth it to follow the Marie Kondo method and get it all done at once. It must take some time commitment though. Not sure if I have that much time right now for that big of a task…

Gladys Strickland September 3, 2015 at 4:10 pm

What a powerful article – thank you for sharing. I especially liked your thoughts on recognizing who you are and who you want to be, and let go of the things that you never will be. In letting go, you open up space to become the person you want to be. Very powerful, but hard to relate to my clients when I’m helping them declutter.

I also like you idea about creating a list of things that you want to replace. Great way to keep focused on bringing things in that enhance your life!

uncephalized September 4, 2015 at 11:02 am

I read Tidying Up after you mentioned it the other week, and was very impressed.

We’re currently living with parents and have limited opportunity to tidy space that is not ours–but we’re just about to get our own place, and wife and I are absurdly excited to get a fresh start on ordering our living space for joy and harmony. We have been traveling and living light for a couple of years so our possession load is very low and it should be almost easy to build a tidy space from the ground up. (Still have more than a few things to let go of, though…)

Can’t wait!

Michele September 4, 2015 at 12:51 pm

Another vote for “Amazing Article!”

Unless I missed it in your post or another comment, what I think her system says and means about doing it all at once is more like this:

Don’t spread it out to do a little each day, moving from room to room ….

She said to aim to finish the house decluttering in six months if you can, and attack each type of “thing” all at once. It might take weeks to finish all the clothes, but do it step by step — like all shirts, then all pants, etc.

Don’t jump around from clothes closet to kitchen cabinets to papers, or try to do everything in one room. By looking at ALL T SHIRTS, you can see what you have, and decide on each one, but also by knowing where each is in context of others like it.

Sometimes joy becomes relative. That’s when you (I) can decide that some shirts that make me smile, but aren’t really wearable any more should be honored by a nice photo I can look at on my screen saver or photo gadget that runs shots continuously on a picture frame. I love to see then drift by, knowing they’re still part of my life, but in a happy way, not one that makes me guilty.

There’s a marvelous feeling about FINISHING something, and being ready to move on to the next area. I started in my kitchen instead of my clothes, and haven’t made the progress I’d wanted to, but I have unloaded a lot of non-joyous stuff.

I understand the reason now for starting with clothes. It may not be what she intended or even said, but getting dressed is the first step to doing almost anything. Clothes are what touch us the closest, literally. If we don’t feel good about that “second skin”, it’s hard to feel good about anything else.

Good luck to you, David, as you continue your journey and what you share with all of us. And good luck to the rest of your readership, as we learn, experiment, tweak, and embrace the possibilities of life.

David Cain September 6, 2015 at 11:51 am

Yes, the amount of stuff people have varies greatly, so the amount of time it will take varies too. I have always kept my possessions lean, but I know there are people who live in houses with five times the square footage and keep two or three times as much stuff in each room. It could easily take months, but doing things category by category makes it much less intimidating.

arne September 4, 2015 at 2:01 pm

I just wanted to say thanks. After having read your last post I bought Marie Kondo’s book, read it in no time, and never since have had so immense joy looking at my slimmed down and newly ordered wardrobe. Thank you so much.

David Cain September 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

That’s one great thing about it: because you cull things by category, the benefits happen quickly. Enjoy your new wardrobe.

A Guest September 4, 2015 at 4:53 pm

Hi, thank you for the review. is it ok to offer my doubts?

I am reading the book in question and it feels very nice to read. My resistance in parting with a lot of stuff that doesn’t bring me joy in the moment however is that in other moments, they do, or are damn useful otherwise. I fear that to make things as simple as bringing joy in the moment of a clean up frenzy, that I’d be inviting the idea that if I were to run into a situation where I’d need The Unjoyful Thing that I threw out again, I could just go and purchase another, and I despise that. I don’t want to buy the thing again.

Real life example is of the body naturally changing, or losing and gaining weight over the span of Several years, and being relieved that I still had a pair of Size X handy for when the pendulum swings. Perhaps I’m harbouring old Size X Spirits in those clothes and I am a different, new version of Size X and should honour my present Size X form, but that just seems wasteful.

Another example, changing jobs. It’s damn handy to have scrappy clothes when you get a dirty job. They are not joyful clothes, so should I acquire joyful clothes to destroy as well?

I guess I’m just saying that this method feels more short-sighted than joyful. Life changes a lot and I prefer already having the thing on hand than to come up with the money to buy again, even if the items aren’t full of joy. I feel joy when I don’t have to buy/find more stuff.

Also I will say that looking at rolled up clothes does not bring me sparks of joy at all. Thank you.

David Cain September 6, 2015 at 11:48 am

A lot hinges on how broadly you interpret the phrase “Sparks joy”. When you actually do this you realize the bigger question is “How does it feel to own this, and why do I still own it?” The “sparking joy” phrase is really a shorthand for confronting how ownership of a particular thing affects you emotionally.

Also, there’s no reason to organize things exactly as she puts it in the book. I rolled up my socks because I like them that way, but I didn’t fold my shirts the way she suggested because I prefer to hang them. If you treat it like a prescription, it’s not going to fit anyone well, but I think the spirit of the book, and the benefit of culling and organizing this way, becomes self-evident when you start reading it.

Jackqulynn September 6, 2015 at 2:02 am

I found a great resource for being helped and helping out in my community. Defiantly realizing since my move from FL to WA how much stuff can be lived without. The unimportance of stuff. The relationships are real with things and this is a good place I have found to regift those unneeded relationships. Hope your local group helps you help others as it has helped me. http://buynothingproject.org

Lisa Page Rosenberg September 6, 2015 at 1:12 pm

“Anti-pants” is my new favorite word.

the gold digger September 6, 2015 at 7:48 pm

I am not an accumulator (my dad was career military and we just couldn’t keep a lot of stuff because we moved all the time), but I am married to the child of quasi-hoarders who have covered every horizontal and vertical surface in their house with junk. When they moved from Pittsburgh to Florida 12 years ago, they culled some – I am told, but still managed to move a paper bag of old newspapers and all their winter clothes.

I am dreading the day my husband and I have to clean that house out. There is so much crap in it and my husband gets emotionally attached to things. We already have enough of his junk in our house. I don’t need to import junk from his mom and dad.

Debbie Vietzke September 7, 2015 at 9:26 pm

You said – “It feels like everything I own is on the same team.”
YES! that’s the feeling exactly. Thank you for putting my feeling into words!

Samuel Mandell September 10, 2015 at 4:07 pm


Another great article. The whole concept that it’s great to LET THINGS GO wasn’t on my radar at all two years ago. Then my wife and I got on a simplicity kick (now one of our CORE values), and reduced our entire lives down to a single carload (granted it was a Ford Expedition). I remember looking at a donation pile of 42 tee-shirts, most of which I never wore, and wondering why I had moved them from apartment to apartment for so long. I was left with five tee-shirts I liked, and that’s all I still have two years later (plus a few nicer shirts and dress shirts). They all fit great, feel comfortable, and I’m not greeted with this panic of trying to make all my clothes match. I just kept the comfortable and good-looking stuff, chucked the rest and feel great.

One book you might find interesting is called The Zero Waste Home, as it was one that influenced us quite a bit as well.


S Fry September 12, 2015 at 1:02 pm

Great article. However people should remember that the book is a translation from the original Japanese. Maybe “joy” is not quite the exact word. Maybe “resonance” is better.

For example looking at a set of tools would spark the realisation that they are exactly what is needed for the job and will be incredibly useful in the future. Or holding a motorbike helmet would make you feel not joy but the knowledge that it will keep you safe.

Sheila September 12, 2015 at 4:09 pm

I really enjoyed this article. I found you through Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist. I’ll definitely be back!

Ilse September 13, 2015 at 7:16 am

Great article! Great comments too!
Just moved to another smaller house smaller garden. Love the ease of maintaining it. Like to travel and even that got easier. Just bring a carry on everywhere I go.
Traveled one time with family of 5 , one suitcase, 4 weeks Europe.

Tony W September 14, 2015 at 8:59 am

Never thought about the relationship I have with stuff. It makes sense that you would treat possessions that stir feeling and possessions that you care about better.

Gayle Fitzpatrick September 14, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Great article! I’m currently in this process and returning back to who I was before a marriage and family (when I lived in a 600 sq ft house of my own design with only items that I cherished).

Ten years ago, I left that marriage, the house, the too numerous to count things, bringing my children, cats, father and the tools of my work.

Somehow, more stuff has accumulated.As I opened a kitchen cabinet last night, I encountered two blown glass vases, made by a former friend who moved on and away from what my life is about. Your article just gave me permission to let go of them because I felt bad about a former friendship.

I’m slowly working on this recent cleansing. Questioning whether each article resonates with me is a perfect stance.

And I own way to many anti-pants….

Jen September 16, 2015 at 1:34 am

Three things I love about this post:

1. “It feels like everything I own is on the same team.” What a bright way to put it! That statement could even go a step further and say “on my team.”

2. “You can’t move forward when you’re trying to keep a foot in every door.” Yes! Holding onto things from too many “potential identities” keeps me trapped.

3. “Anti-pants.” That’s just dog-gone funny. =)

Ron September 24, 2015 at 11:38 am

When people come to my house and see that I have very few things, and minimal furniture, I almost always became the butt of cheapskate jokes. I have several friends who are constantly trying to get me to take their used furniture, so that they can have an excuse to buy new things. One time I make the mistake of “storing” someone’s old dining set in my house. Eventually, almost at the cost of the friendship, I had the furniture removed from my house (four years later). These days I don’t invite people to my house. I love being a minimalist and won’t apologize for my choice.

Jenny Dumas September 26, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Great article! I got rid of everything that doesn’t bring me joy. Now I have no microwave, cooking utensils, pens, pencils, socks, underwear, refrigerator magnets(cuz I ditched the fridge too). I no longer have tools, socks, underwear, toilet paper, cooking utensils, phone chargers, luggage, or dishes. I feel so much better knowing that I’ll eventually need to repurchase all the stuff I just threw away. I feel so smart.

David Cain September 26, 2015 at 5:27 pm

I think you might have missed some of the nuance here.

Megan May September 26, 2015 at 11:35 pm

Weird and unnecessary sarcasm you’ve got going here.

But seriously…You don’t find joy in cooking? Eating? Writing? Creating? Travel? REALLY COMFY UNDIES? Your definition of joy is really different from mine.

Megan May September 26, 2015 at 8:48 pm

This is fantastic. I am in the middle of creating this journey for myself, and there is so much I love about your process! After I read it again and sleep on it, I’d love to share it on my blog. Do you mind?

Maggie September 28, 2015 at 8:33 pm

Best written essay on this book and doing the process first hand. Twice I’ve let go of everything and the results were amazing in different ways. The first time color emerged and I became a painter. The second time, I ended up living overseas for a couple of years. Now, I was about to have another massive purge, but this time I had this book. Reading it, I saw her methodology and was really impressed. I could see the sense of it. I wasn’t able to one group at a time as she suggests. But I did rooms in this order. What I found was how easily I slipped into keeping things because I might need them, or I wasn’t sure, or whatever. What really struck me was I had forgotten the main question – does this spark joy? I did the best I could and I have moved (about 8 weeks ago). As I unpacked I had another opportunity. I have to really love it to keep it. And I see the attachment to things that maybe that person made for me, I love it, but it saddens me that they are not in my life anymore…so letting go of the item represents letting go of the relationship…that isn’t really even there anymore. Not able to do it in one fell swoop, but certainly 90% of the time. Kudos for you doing it full boat.

The other thing tho, is that I have parred down to so few socks, so few towels, etc., that there is nothing to roll horizontally. You can ‘see’ everything as there is not enough to stack. Just using what I need. But still, I want to go further I know the benefits of Conscious Clearing.

Great read. Great topic. I invite people to let go more to make room for ‘other’ things/experiences to come forward. It’s fun! It’s invigorating! You will be surprised and feel more alive. I promise.

Laura Dodson October 6, 2015 at 2:21 pm

Letting stuff go can be quite freeing. I was always looking for places to put stuff before I cleaned everything out. The condo literally feels lighter in weight. Highly recommend!

Lasse November 11, 2015 at 12:30 pm

Thank´s for the article, wanted to try this for a long time now:) But my question is, what should I do with things that gives me no feelings at all, for example a pair of socks? /Hälsningar from Sweden

MilitantRubberDucky December 8, 2015 at 5:24 pm

Donate them to local charities. Clothes to the homeless or orphanage, towels/bedding to the animal shelter, furniture to a school or church.

Debra November 13, 2015 at 7:04 am

Thank you, this is a great summary. I have already read the book and culled my clothes but I’ve got a bit stuck and slipped off the path. You’ve reminded me of the bigger picture and the main focus of joy and I feel a renewed energy to get going again!

Norah Charles November 16, 2015 at 8:10 am

I loved this book and am ready to do another round of purging. Your essay came at the perfect time for nudging me into action–again.

Linda December 6, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Hi David,

Wonder how neat your home still is after a couple of months – are you still reaping the benefits of this big clean-out? :)

I’m tempted to have a go at this, and take before/after pictures to remind myself of the chaos I accumulated over 30+ years, every time I want to buy more stuff…. Now if only I could persuade my Mom that I really, really don’t want a present for Christmas :(

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