For a long time now I’ve been unhappy with the number of possessions I own. My one-bedroom apartment is fairly spacious, and though it’s not bursting at the seams, it is still approaching capacity. I want to have more room in my life: room for moving with minimal effort, room for roommates and visitors. There are no life-changes imminent, but I want to deal with all this stuff while there is no time pressure, rather than waiting until it has to be done.
That said, I’m not a minimalist and I never will be. I like to have mementos and things that belonged to my grandparents, and I’m interested in way too many crafts to ever pare down completely. I just want to have only the stuff that I love and use, not stuff that makes me feel obligation or stress. It seems fairly obvious, but it is something I haven’t been able to achieve for awhile now.
You may have heard about the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. A few months ago it was all anyone in my Facebook feed and in the podcasts and blogs I subscribe to could talk about. I finally got it out of the library as an e-book a couple of weeks ago and devoured it in a couple of days. The way Marie talks will definitely put some readers off; she imbues possessions with emotions and talks a lot about their “spirit”. Still, she has some very useful tips and a different perspective on decluttering than most, which I think explains why her book is appealing to so many people.
For me, the pieces of advice that resonated the most are (I’m paraphrasing here):
- Divide all your stuff into categories and sub-categories, then tackle one at a time.
- Keep only what “sparks joy”
She also recommends a particular order to the categories that helps you go from the easiest things (clothes) to the hardest things (mementos), so that you build up the skill of choosing only what you really love. The idea of only keeping things that actually bring you joy (plus maybe the bare necessities like toothpaste) really resonated with me and inspired me to give decluttering another, concentrated try.
On Sunday, I started with the first category, Clothing, and the first sub-categories: Tops and Bottoms. I had intended to get through Hanging Items (coats, dresses etc) as well but I didn’t quite get that far. Tops and Bottoms alone took me nearly 6 hours, with a few breaks thrown in there. It turns out trying on all of your clothes is a fairly physical endeavour.
First, I dumped out everything in my closet and dresser onto my bed. There were also a few things in underbed boxes but those were mostly “special event” clothing like ski stuff, which will come later.
Then I tried on Every. Single. Item. It took a very long time, but it was totally worth it, since it forced me to recognize when something didn’t fit my body. I taped this sign above my mirror to keep me focused:
The “red-carpet worthy” question comes from Erin Doland of Unclutterer.com, I think. It was helpful in weeding out clothes I was sentimentally attached to but didn’t look good on me any more. I also folded everything neatly once I had decided what to do with it. Respecting my clothes this way somehow made it easier to part with the stuff that didn’t fit or wasn’t my style.
This was what the piles (Keep, Donate, and Can’t Decide) looked like when I was finished with all the Tops:
And this is what remained after I finished all the Bottoms and put all the Donate clothes into bags and tucked them away before I could change my mind:
I’ve now put everything back into the two bottom drawers of my dresser and into my closet. There are a lot more free hangers than there used to be, partly because so much more fits into the drawers now. I think I’m donating about 1/4 to 1/3 of my clothing! The stuff that is barely worn is going to clothing charities, and the other stuff is going to a place that makes rags out of old clothes, so hopefully none of it goes to waste. I still have one small pile to make decisions about, but I’m just going to tackle that as part of the next sub-category.
I still feel pangs over the clothes that I’m getting rid of, especially when I see photos of myself wearing them. But I keep reminding myself that they don’t fit any more (mostly) and keeping clothes that don’t look good just isn’t worth it. Now I have room to add a few pieces that I will actually like and wear.
This is going to be a long process. By my reckoning I have 3-4 more (hopefully shorter) sessions of this just to get through Clothes (this includes accessories like bags, shoes etc), and then there are all the other categories! But there isn’t any rush, and judging by how nice it feels to have a half-empty closet I’m really going to enjoy the end result. The trick will be not letting anything fall through the “gaps” between categories, and getting the donate bags out of the apartment before they take over.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, Knightley enjoyed this process as only he could:
I’ll let you know once I get through the next set of sub-categories. I’m going to try to space out the sessions close enough so I don’t lose motivation and far enough that I don’t get exhausted. We’ll see how it works out.