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Decluttering Lessons from a KonMari Expert

A cluttered home makes for a cluttered mind, but through the KonMari art of decluttering, you can find calm in the chaos.

Ruby Deevoy

Our homes are our safe space. A place to unwind, to process experience and emotion, to recharge and enjoy the company of our closest family and friends. For many, after a year spent indoors probably a fair bit more than we would like, home has also become a place of work – a place to expand your mind, focus, and make progress on your chosen career. But none of this is possible (or at least, not possible to its greatest potential) in a home full of clutter.

But first… what is KonMari? 

Most of us are familiar with the name Marie Kondo (if you’re not, she’s a decluttering sensation with a TV show and four books on organising!). Her unique method of tidying is called KonMari. It’s an approach where you sort by category, not location, and the end goal is to let go of anything that does not spark joy in your heart. It’s a practice in mindfulness, as much as decluttering.

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A cluttered home makes for a cluttered mind and, incidentally, it’s not uncommon for a cluttered mind to make a cluttered home. The two are undeniably and intrinsically linked. Don't believe everything you read on the internet just because there's a picture with a quote next to it.

This place of warmth and comfort can all-too-easily become a place of stress and overwhelm – particularly during the unusual and anxiety-laden circumstance of lockdown – when ‘stuff’ reigns supreme. Even a quick tidy up of a messy desk can make for a more productive workday (so don’t feel too bad if this is your first ‘go-to’ procrastination when deadlines are looming!) – just imagine what a fully decluttered home, not just in sporadic areas or moments, but always and everywhere, can do for your mind, body, and soul.

“I believe that people have different ‘clutter tolerance’ levels and therefore different people react in different ways to it.” Says Sue Spencer, KonMari Consultant and member of APDO (Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers) “Wherever you are on the scale, clutter around your home can have an impact on your wellbeing – from increased cortisol (stress hormone) levels to an inability to switch off and relax both physically and mentally.“

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Clutter causes our senses to work overtime on the stimulus that’s not important, leaving less mental capacity to both cope with and enjoy the things that are.”

~Sue Spencer Kon Mari Consultant

There have been a plethora of studies into the negative impact raised cortisol levels can have on our overall wellbeing and now, researchers at UCLA’s Center have identified a direct link between the elevated cortisol and clutter (referred to as “a high density of household objects” in the study). Another study, performed by The American Association for Nurse Anaesthetists, even indicated that people with messy homes are ‘77 percent more likely to be overweight or obese due to the negative interior monologue that living in amidst disarray perpetuates’. 

But rather than simply looking at the fact we have clutter surrounding us, and learning how to clear up our living space, and therefore mind, for good (which we will explore below), it makes sense to first pose the question: why?

Why do we, as human beings, feel the need to accumulate possessions to the point where our homes are practically bursting at the seams?

Many scientists have theorised that the desire to buy and store things we don’t need (or even really want, in many cases) comes from a natural instinct that has run amok. Our ancestors would have sourced and stored essentials for survival and, although our modern world operates in a very different way, this outdated behaviour can help us feel safe. Because of this, it’s not at all uncommon to feel the urge to indulge in some retail therapy when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed. But as we are now being compelled to gather without fulfilling a genuine need, we are left feeling more stressed, unable to focus, and unsatisfied in our cluttered surroundings.

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Understandably, tension has been sky-high of late, so if you’ve ended up with more clutter than your home can hold know that you’re not alone. Find some comfort in the knowledge that this accumulation of stuff is nothing more than a desire to seek safety and stability. And in understanding this, perhaps you will find yourself more at peace with (and ready for) the process of decluttering and letting go. In decluttering your home and freeing your mind from the constant ‘noise’ mess brings, you may find you can create the haven you have been yearning for.

Start the process of decluttering

Sue Spencer, KonMari Consultant and member of APDO (Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers) shares her expert tips on how to declutter your life with the ‘KonMari Method’ - a simple framework that guides you slowly through the process of decluttering and organising your home.

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Image by Dan Gold

• Take a bit of time to think about what it is you’re working towards, consider how your home is working for you at the moment, and the areas that you struggle with. Then think about how you’d like it to feel and look, how you’d like to feel in your home when you open the door and walk in. Make this as real as possible – I encourage people to use Pinterest as having this in mind helps to motivate you to start decluttering and is your reminder of why you are doing it as you lose enthusiasm along the way.
 
• Start small! If you empty everything out in one go it can be overwhelming so I always encourage people working by themselves to choose one category or box of items (socks, toiletries, cutlery drawer) and work through it making decisions about what you want and need. The feeling of accomplishment you will get from tidying this one small thing will spur you on to continue.
 
• Work in categories of objects (tops, dresses, shoes, books, DVDs) and gather everything similar together. That way you can see the volume of things you own and any duplication (I once worked with a lady who found she had 15 very similar black tops once we had emptied all the tops from the different places she stored them). Having all the similar items in one place helps to make informed decisions about what you love and want to keep, what you need, and what can go.

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• Choose what you want to keep (what you love that ‘Sparks Joy’ for you) rather than what to discard. Having a positive mindset as you declutter helps to ensure you curate a home full of things you love rather than things that you are keeping just in case.

• Finally, if you fall into the ‘keeping things just in case’ frame of mind ask yourself the following questions:
HOW LIKELY is it that you’ll use the item? Be honest.
WHEN was the last time you used it? Are you going to need it again?
HOW BIG is it? If it’s bulky, getting in the way & your clutter is annoying you - you see where I’m going with this.
HOW EASY would it be to find a replacement if you needed it in the future?
How much would it COST to replace? if it’s cheap then why keep it?
Is it PERISHABLE? Does it have a shelf life? Think paint pots, ingredients used for a recipe a year ago.
How much value do you put on the SPACE it’s taking up? If you decide it’s something that still fits your life then store it with similar items so you know where to find it.

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