KonMari Project 1: Lifestyle

It’s January, the traditional time of my people to make life-altering resolutions. (Actually, it’s late January, the traditional time of my people to abandon those resolutions, but I’m running a bit behind.) I’m thinking big this year, and I’ve decided to work my way through the KonMari Method as both a life-altering and home-altering resolution for this year.

Now as I’ve said, almost no one mentions visualizing their ideal lifestyle in their descriptions of applying the KonMari Method; they mostly talk about the decluttering and the sparking of joy. But it’s clear that lifestyle planning is how you’re supposed to start. If I’m going to follow this plan, it would be silly to screw it up this early in the game. So, Step One:

Before you start tidying, look at the lifestyle you aspire to and ask yourself, “Why do I want to tidy?” When you find the answer, you are ready to move on to the next step: examining what you own.

As I’ve also mentioned, I never really spent much time thinking about the lifestyle I wanted to have when I grew up. My current lifestyle developed along the lines of “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So Kondo’s first step was two steps for me: to figure out what lifestyle I aspire to and to answer that question.

The lifestyle of my dreams

First off, I don’t hate the life I’m living right now. I’ve barely done a thing to plan it, but the decisions I made throughout my adult life have gotten me the lifestyle I have today. For example, I chose to go to college almost 500 miles away from my hometown and to not move back after I graduated. I moved to some neighborhoods and not to others. I made relationship decisions that resulted in my staying single and childless. And this series of decisions where I was trying for the best possible outcome turned into a lifestyle that could stand to be tweaked, but I hope won’t need to be completely overhauled. What I want out of all of this is to consciously create the life I’m living, not fall into it absentmindedly.

For a few weeks now, I’ve been documenting my current lifestyle. What do I like? What do I want to be rid of? I’ve also been noting what I see in other people’s lives that I either want to have as well or wish to keep avoiding. I’ve ended up with pages of notes in no particular order: I like sitting in cafés to write, I like being in walking distance of interesting or useful stores, I don’t want to have a commute to work that’s more than an hour long, I haven’t decided if I want pets again or not. A lifestyle is made up of little things. I haven’t covered everything yet because I keep thinking of new things to add, but I’ve got enough to work with.

Why tidy?

I already knew I’m uncomfortable being around clutter. That’s probably true of most people who read Kondo’s books. I do like a place to look lived in: a sterile home is a home without life. But too much stuff piling up leaves me feeling claustrophobic. I have a pretty low trigger point on this, and I know that by many people’s standards, my apartment isn’t cluttered. Still, I look around at what is clutter to me and because I can’t just wave my hand and make it all disappear, I feel overwhelmed and ineffectual. Even if Kondo’s method does nothing to change my lifestyle, it offers a way to make my home less oppressive and I figure that’s worth the price of the books.

Also, even when I’m not feeling defeated by the mess, clutter is distracting. I sit down to do something and notice piles of papers and books (and sometimes yarn) around me. Then I’m torn between doing what I was planning to do and stopping to straighten everything up. I don’t like being scattered and unfocused, especially at home—it’s “anti-Vestal.” Yes, Vesta is the goddess of focus, so to speak: the English word comes from a Latin word for hearth and Vesta is the goddess of the hearth. Focus starts at home, it seems. So to answer Kondo’s question: by tidying and decluttering, I will bring my life into clearer focus, aligning it with what I want and like. I’ll make a living environment in which it’s easier for me to focus. And through all this, I’ll be honoring Vesta.

fireplace
A search for “lifestyle” got me lots of photos of the Sims, so enjoy this nice picture of a hearth instead.

I don’t know as I’ll find the perfect lifestyle buried in my apartment, just waiting to be revealed as I discard various random items. But I figure my apartment should reflect the life I’m living now, not one that I was living years ago, and I think the KonMari Method can help me with that. Off to figure out what sparks joy!

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photo credit: A Rare Sight! – 52WFND 6/52 via photopin (license)

Hidden in plain sight

It took me a while to notice the KonMari Method. I eventually realized that I was hearing about the same book from both Facebook friends and my knitting group, and that articles about it were sailing across my feeds. I resisted reading it for a while mainly because it was so popular. (I’m weird that way: if something gets too popular, I don’t trust it, which is no more rational than adoring it only for that same popularity.) But I decided that if I was going to discuss it with people, it would be better if I knew what I was talking about.  Reading the book itself was a good thing, both for being able to talk about it and because the articles I’d read hadn’t given me the entire picture.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Every article that I’ve read focuses on Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering: if an object doesn’t “spark joy,” it goes, unless there’s a compelling reason to keep it (your old tax returns probably don’t spark joy, but hang onto them anyway). This was great, because I’d already been doing something like this: if an item gave me a feeling of guilt or obligation, out it went. (And it’s amazing how many things I own do exactly that, but that’s another blog post for another day.) So like many readers, well before I finished the book, I was already looking around, considering what I could toss.* But, tempting as this is,  it isn’t the way Kondo wants her method to be followed.

“Before you start, visualize your destination,” Kondo writes. Sure, her book is about decluttering. But this is decluttering in the service of a larger purpose: creating the life that you want to live, rather than the life you’ve somehow fallen into. This isn’t a secret buried in the heart of the book, available only to initiates. The title clues you in: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. We seem to notice the “tidying up” bit more than the “life-changing magic” bit, but it was there from the start. And Kondo gets to the point right away, saying on page 2: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”

So why the near-complete overlooking of a major point of the book? I figure, Kondo’s purging process is so dramatic, it distracts people from anything else. She does spend more time explaining how to declutter than how to visualize your ideal lifestyle. Decluttering and organizing are pretty much the same for everyone. Kondo can’t tell readers which clothes to keep, except that they have to spark joy, but it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this book has clothing. On the other hand, lifestyle changes are specific to individuals. Beyond saying that the first step is that readers need to concretely visualize the lifestyles they want and offering a few examples, I doubt she could get more specific. That visualization is a challenge in its own right. I don’t know what it’s like in Japan, but in the United States, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We don’t ask them—or ourselves—what kinds of lives they want to have when they’re adults. So should it be a surprise to discover as an adult that maybe you have a job you like, but that other parts of your life are not what you expected or wanted? (What did you want, anyway?)

It’s said that sculpting is the art of seeing a statue in a block of stone and then chipping away all the bits that aren’t that statue. The magic of the KonMari Method appears to be the act of removing the clutter in your home to reveal the lifestyle that you really want. Kondo warns that if the reader skips the visualization step, there’s a higher danger of relapse. So we’ll see: how many people are aiming to change their lives and how many aren’t hoping for anything more than a bedroom closet that isn’t bursting at the seams?

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*I’m using “toss” as a catch-all term for give to someone else, donate to charity, recycle, throw away, or whatever would be the best way to get an object out of my home. Rest assured that dumpsters are my receptacles of last resort.