Then we made the even more egregious error of watching a couple additional episodes: more cluttered closets, more mounds of clothes on the bed, all that Tupperware and those stacks of books, and oh those Christmas decorations — a whole room full! And, eek, so many boxes in the corners of rooms and in the garage. Who uses their garage anymore for cars? Not these people. The garage has become a storage unit, plain and simple. I watched families bicker and throw their hands in the air and blame but also find understanding and peace as they swam through their ocean of junk together.
Finally, it was one episode too many, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. You watch enough of these and every little pile in your home starts to glare at you when you pass by. Okay, I thought, I will just start with clothes, as Marie Kondo advises. The idea is that you progress from the categories of things that are easiest to sort to the ones that are hardest. I have been needing to clean out the closet and dresser anyway, how hard can that be? Well….
I wanted to be the good student, the way I always was when I was actually in school, so I tried to abide by Marie’s strict rules: Take all the clothes from everywhere in the house! Yes, ALL of them! And pile them up in one place! Now!
Except I couldn’t make myself lump in all of the carefully ironed hanging clothes with everything else. Was Marie going to come over and iron my clothes for me when this was over? I don’t think so. I decided to make a secret pact with Marie: I’ll pile everything except the hanging clothes in phase one, but I pinky swear I will do all the hanging clothes in phase two.
Thus, it began. The clothes pile, I realized as it grew and grew like a bad pimple, was meant to horrify. Mission accomplished. I felt overwhelmed by it, to the point where I tried to find anything else I could do to avoid working on the pile. Does someone need something at the store? I can do that! Isn’t it about time for that walk? I think it is. And didn’t you say that someone needed to count the number of staples we have left for the staplers? You didn’t? Well, I’ll do it anyway.
That’s right. I avoided. But eventually, because I wanted to actually inhabit that room again, I returned to the scene of the crime. I picked up each item one by one, as instructed, and considered it. I sorted and hemmed and hawed, and I gave away and I put back, folded correctly unlike how I have been folding all the decades of my life. Who knew my parents had incorrectly taught me how to fold? This could have saved me years of therapy.
Because I had pulled everything out at first, it allowed me to change where I put things away (I’m guessing that’s the point, too), to rearrange my system. This of course means that now I have no idea where to find anything anymore, but I’m not sure Marie cares about that.
I’m not telling Marie about some of my cheats: I forgot to say thank you to every piece of clothing I gave away. I didn’t always use Marie Kondo’s “Does it spark joy?” measure (I mean, do my athletic socks spark joy? Not exactly, but they sure come in handy every day). I did, however, give away the clothes that did spark joy but no longer fit me. I think Marie would give me two gold stars for that, as long as I agreed to put them in a little box and label them properly.
And I did do phase 2, just as I promised.
As overwhelmed as I felt at the start, I feel equally satisfied with the result. This surprised me. I also understood, only after the clothes part was over, that perhaps Marie Kondo has you start with clothes because somehow that magically kicks you into gear for the next four categories of things: books, papers, komono (bathrooms, kitchen, garage, miscellanous items) and sentimental items.
The books are done, and I’ve skipped papers for now (as a writer, this might be the hardest of categories for me), but the bathrooms are sorted, and the kitchen is in full war zone mode. (On the bright side, however, I did discover the freezer still has a bottom. I thought that had disappeared years ago, but I guess it’s because I hadn’t seen it since the Dark Ages.)
Now if I could just find the key to the house. I know I put it somewhere.
Shuly Cawood is a a writer and author. Her most recent book is 52 Things I Wish I Could Have Told Myself When I Was 17.