Turning Japanese... a unique approach to decluttering
Adopting Asian author's unique approach to tidying and decluttering your home can be wacky but effective
Did you ever try 'calling' a lost object? I recently mislaid my precious corkscrew. "Try calling it," my friend suggested. "That always works for me." Feeling like a complete eejit, I called the corkscrew by name and out aloud. It turned up five minutes later.
The rational explanation is that bringing the object to mind helped me to remember where I'd put it, but the somewhat disconcerting notion that there's a spark of consciousness in household objects is a key element of Marie Kondo's bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying (2011).
In Kondo's world, it's not only reasonable but courteous to treat your possessions as though they were alive. "Our belongings work hard for us," she writes, "carrying out their respective roles each day to support our lives. Just as we like to come home and relax after a day's work, our things breathe a sigh of relief when they return to where they belong."
Objects work better, and for longer, if they are respectfully stored in their own place, rather than just tossed into a drawer. "For this reason, I take time to ask myself occasionally whether the storage space I've set aside for them makes them happy."
When reading The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying, you sometimes have to remind yourself that Kondo is Japanese. Her ideas come from a cultural tradition where it's no big deal to imagine an object might have an element of consciousness. In Ireland, it seems very strange indeed to talk to objects, but the notion of asking Saint Anthony to help us find lost things is completely normal (in my experience, this works too).
Strange asides aside, most of The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying is simple good sense. Kondo recommends that, instead of tidying on an ongoing basis, you undertake one single radical tidying session, after which you'll never have to tidy again.
You begin by discarding a lot of stuff. She suggests you tidy by category, rather than one room at a time, beginning with clothing, moving on through books and papers to the category she calls komono (that's a useful Japanese word to describe miscellaneous items). Then, finally, you can tackle objects of sentimental value, like photographs and gifts.
How do you decide what to keep? Once you've dumped all the clothes that you own on the floor, you take each item in your hands. If you feel a spark of joy when you touch it, then you keep it. If you don't, out it goes. The trick, she says, is to handle the items.
I've tried this on a sample cupboard and found that remarkably few of my household objects elicit a spark of joy. If I got rid of the rest, it would be a minimal house indeed.
When the big clearout is complete, the next step is to designate each item to its proper place. That's where it stays - therefore you never need to tidy again. If my corkscrew, for example, had a permanent place of residence, I would never have lost it in the first place.
"Marie Kondo's method is all about decluttering," says the Irish tidiness expert Sarah Reynolds. "I agree with tidying by category rather than by room, but she lost me when I came to the bit about thanking your socks."
This is one of the elements of the book that's liable to get lost in translation. Kondo feels that you should greet your house when you enter it and that hardworking household objects should be thanked after use.
She also feels that it's disrespectful to ball up your socks and knot your tights.
"This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?"
According to Kondo, both socks and tights should be neatly folded. Reynolds, who does not believe that socks are sentient beings, takes a more practical approach. "For me, getting organised is all about saving time and stress. If it's quicker to roll your socks, then why not do that?"
Another cultural difference is that Irish homes tend to be much bigger than Japanese apartments. Kondo's method would have to be adapted to work in a sprawling Irish house. "Decluttering the whole house by category, all at once, might be too big a job. Don't set yourself a paralysing task - you have to be realistic about what you're going to get through," says Reynolds.
Like Kondo, she finds people often need a bit of support with tidying, which is one of the services she offers through her company, Organised Chaos.
Kondo and Reynolds agree on one point - storage solutions are not the answer. We don't need more or better storage, we just need less stuff. In fact, shopping for storage items can be a form of procrastination.
"Basically the only storage items you need are plain old drawers and boxes," Kondo writes. Her favourite storage items are empty shoe boxes. Reynolds is a great believer in "a bookshelf and a good hook", and her favourite storage product is Ikea's Variera series (€1 to €56), designed to separate the spaces within cupboards and drawers.
For more comprehensive storage products she recommends Ikea and Howard's Storage World.
The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying is published by Vermillion and costs €17.40 from Easons. Home organising sessions with Sarah Reynolds cost around €50 an hour, although prices vary depending on the size of the job and the distance from Dublin. For storage solutions see, ikea.ie and hsw.ie.