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Three powerful de-cluttering tips from Marie Kondo

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Anna Brech
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Want a life less cluttered? Let Kondo be your guide

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. Marie Kondo lays out a simple technique for banishing clutter forever more. 

Her lauded “KonMari method” combines actual tidying with a deeper psychology that promises head space, perspective and clarity of thinking.

Belongings, says Kondo, weigh us down. Getting rid of them makes us emotionally lighter, leading to major and positive changes. 

It’s an approach that really resonates. Since Kondo-ism first hit our bookshelves in 2014, the philosophy has sold millions of copies worldwide; and the Japanese guru herself is now set to star in a new Netflix series about tidying. 

With that in mind, here are three major tools from the school of Kondo to get you started on your own de-clutter mission. Take charge of your future (and stay one step ahead of the Netflix action) by following these steps: 

1. Think with your heart not your head

At the crux of Kondo’s approach is the idea that we overthink what throw away. We start worrying whether we might somehow need that H&M knit we haven’t worn in three years, or if a leftover can of French Country paint will come in useful when (or even if) we move house. Or perhaps we’ll learn Spanish at some point, so therefore we keep that Stage 2 handbook, just in case.

Instead, says Kondo, de-cluttering should be an emotional and intuitive process. Simply sit with your item of choice, focus on it and you will know instinctively whether it “sparks joy” or not. If you’re not feeling anything, that means you have no connection and should immediately recycle/give away. 

By the same token, de-cluttering is something that’s not about what you throw away but instead what you keep. By flipping the focus, you kick-start the clearance process and zoom in on what it is that you want. The idea is that you are only left with the things that spark joy: items that really speak to you, and define who you are. As a result, you’ll be able to see more clearly what makes you happy - unhampered by the dead weight of generic stuff.  

2. Say goodbye and thank you to your items

This sounds ridiculous at first, but it’s a really important part of Kondo’s approach. She recognises that items hold sentimental value, and therefore it can be hard to just chuck them away. Saying goodbye and thank you to each belonging as you discard it is like a balm to the process. It helps you part ways with your stuff without feeling so guilty or nostalgic about it. 

Sure, you might not need it for those holey pairs of tights loitering at the back of your wardrobe, but that cowboy hat from your 18th birthday is a different matter. It might not spark joy anymore but you can acknowledge that it once did and say thank you, to send it on its merry way. 

Kondo also puts forward the idea that you don’t need a particular item to retain the feeling it once gave you. For instance, if you throw away a friend’s gift, you’ll still have all the love that was once poured into the giving of it - even without its physical presence.

3. Discard everything all at once

De-cluttering can change your life, says Kondo: but you have to go big or go home on it. Under her approach, you don’t dither around doing little bits one weekend, and then letting a few weeks go by before you pick back up. You do it all at once, in one dramatic swoop. That way, the motivation and resolve behind your de-cluttering surge stays constant. 

This is also to do with the “spark joy” instinct. If you think too long about anything, you’ll start to doubt yourself. But listen to your gut and let it power you through, and the Great De-Clutter will take care of itself. 

As part of this, you’ll need to clear out by item type, not by room (for instance, clothing, photographs, paperwork). Otherwise you lose focus - because you can only see how much you value one type of thing (say, books) when you compare and process them all together. 

And storage is pretty much a no-go area under the Kondo method: belongings should either be useful and loved, out on display or not there at all. To tuck them away is simply another way to avoid dealing with them, allowing clutter to build up.

Images: Getty

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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for stylist.co.uk. Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.