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The Art of Decluttering and Organizing


The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing | Farnam Street

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This article is gold.

Two Essential Actions of Tidying

Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.

There are two further types of tidying: daily and special event tidying. Daily tidying is the act of using something and putting it back. Special event tidying is putting your house in order. Until you have done the “once-in-a-lifetime” act of putting your house in order, any attempt to tidy on a daily basis will fail.

Start by Discarding

The secret to success is to “tidy in one shot, as quickly and completely as possible, and to start by discarding.”

Do not even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding. Failure to follow this order is one reason many people never make permanent progress. In the middle of discarding, they start thinking about where to put things. As soon as they think, “I wonder if it will fit in this drawer,” the work of discarding comes to a halt. You can think about where to put things when you’ve finished getting rid of everything you don’t need.

Deciding what to discard

This is where people often have the most trouble. Until reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I focused on how to throw things away, not why.

Kondo, however, totally changed my perspective on this.

There are several common patterns when it comes to discarding. One is to discard things when they cease being functional— for example, when something breaks down beyond repair or when part of a set is broken. Another is to discard things that are out of date, such as clothes that are no longer in fashion or things related to an event that has passed. It’s easy to get rid of things when there is an obvious reason for doing so. It’s much more difficult when there is no compelling reason. Various experts have proposed yardsticks for discarding things people find hard to part with. These include such rules as “discard anything you haven’t used for a year,” and “if you can’t decide, pack those items away in a box and look at them again six months later.” However, the moment you start focusing on how to choose what to throw away, you have actually veered significantly off course.

A better approach is to choose what you keep, not what you dispose of.

I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.

You may wonder about the effectiveness of such a vague criteria, but the trick is to handle each item. Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill. You must take each outfit in your hand. When you touch a piece of clothing, your body reacts. Its response to each item is different. Trust me and try it.

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

Letting go is more important than adding.

A better approach is to choose what you keep, not what you dispose of.

I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.

You may wonder about the effectiveness of such a vague criteria, but the trick is to handle each item. Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill. You must take each outfit in your hand. When you touch a piece of clothing, your body reacts. Its response to each item is different. Trust me and try it.

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

How to get Started

My advice to begin tidying not by room but by category does not mean that you should start with any category you like. The degree of difficulty involved in selecting what to keep and what to discard differs greatly depending on the category. People who get stuck halfway usually do so because they start with the things that are hardest to make decisions about. Things that bring back memories, such as photos, are not the place for beginners to start. Not only is the sheer volume of items in this category usually greater than that of any other, but it is also far harder to make a decision about whether or not to keep them.

In addition to the physical value of things, there are three other factors that add value to our belongings: function, information, and emotional attachment. When the element of rarity is added, the difficulty in choosing what to discard multiplies. People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.

The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go much more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about.

[…]

The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.

What to do When you Can’t Throw Something Away

Human judgment can be divided into two broad types: intuitive and rational. When it comes to selecting what to discard, it is actually our rational judgment that causes trouble. Although intuitively we know that an object has no attraction for us, our reason raises all kinds of arguments for not discarding it, such as “I might need it later” or “It’s a waste to get rid of it.” These thoughts spin round and round in our mind, making it impossible to let go.

[…]

When you come across something that’s hard to discard, consider carefully why you have that specific item in the first place. When did you get it and what meaning did it have for you then? Reassess the role it plays in your life.

[…]

Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those special people even more.

[…]

When you come across something that you cannot part with, think carefully about its true purpose in your life. You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.

[…]

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence?

Kondo argues that by keeping so much stuff, we’re not valuing what we have.

The fact that you possess a surplus of things that you can’t bring yourself to discard doesn’t mean you are taking good care of them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. By paring down to the volume that you can properly handle, you revitalize your relationship with your belongings. Just because you dispose of something does not mean you give up past experiences or your identity. Through the process of selecting only those things that inspire joy, you can identify precisely what you love and what you need.

In a world where we often focus on how to get more than we already have, sometimes the best approach is to remove something we already have. “Letting go,” Kondo says, “is more important than adding.”

Read about this book in the Times a couple weeks back. Really amazing concept, that I've already started implementing (with positive results) in my life. My favorite: Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?

That's good, but here's the challenge:

People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.

That's why this order is recommended: "Clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos."