Category Archives: Decluttering

A Problem for Another Day

Margaret was a small business owner who worked and saw clients in her home office. She generally kept the space clean and inviting, but she wasn’t happy with how her set up was working and hired me to help fix it. Much of what we did to improve Margaret’s office was simple: rearranging furniture to improve workflow, recycling unneeded paperwork, and adjusting storage areas to solve recurring annoyances.

The real revelation with Margaret came when we moved away from her desk and onto her lesser-used cupboards. I often find that people focus on the mess they interact with regularly, but disregard the clutter that’s been there for years. Margaret opened the first cupboard, pulled out a few binders, and began sorting them into the established piles for recycle, donation, etc. She was moving through things pretty fast, but there was a large box inside the cupboard she wasn’t touching. I asked her about it.

“That is everything that’s left from my old job at the University. I was a teacher there for several years,” she said. “But that’s a whole big project. That’s a project for another day. Not today.” She went back to sorting the binder in her lap.

“So,” I asked, “What’s going to be different on that day?”

She stopped her work with the binder and looked at me blankly, so I tried to explain my question.

“If you think it should be done later I totally understand,” I said. “Maybe something else needs to happen first, maybe you want to use your time with me differently. Those are all good reasons. I’m just curious what will be different on that day.”

“You’re saying we should do this now,” Margaret said, looking at the box. “You’re right, we should do this now.”

I wasn’t trying to trick her. I took Margaret at her word that this wasn’t a project for today, and I wanted to help her create a plan for the future. Oftentimes projects linger in the back of our minds because we haven’t thought about what our first step will be. I was just trying to find Margaret’s first step.

But Margaret, like so many of my clients, knew her own problems better than I did. She took my innocent question and saw the truth reflected back at her. We began to sort through the box.

It had been three years since Margaret left her job at the university. She sorted through the papers and realized instantly that everything she actually wanted to keep was already stored digitally on her computer. Nearly all of the paper went in the recycle, with a few binders moved over to her office supplies to be repurposed. Then we got to the gifts.

“I taught a lot of international students,” she explained. “So they would give me these little presents.” It was a cute collection of dolls, bowls, and fans.

“Do you have good memories of these students?” I asked.

“Honestly I don’t remember most of them,” she said. “It was just a thing they did, to give gifts to teachers.”

It’s hard to get rid of gifts of any kind, but I suggested to Margaret that she consider Marie Kondo’s philosophy: the real gift from the students was them giving her something. It was their expression of gratitude that mattered. Once received, it was up to Margaret to decide if she liked these objects enough to keep them.

“Do you like any of them?” I asked. “Do any of them remind you of your favorite students?”

“Not really, not anymore,” she said. “Maybe…” She poked around the pile and pulled out a few small items. She put the rest in a bowl and handed them to me to put in the donation pile behind me. The cupboard was empty. It took less than ten minutes. Margaret sighed in relief and disbelief.

I explained to Margaret that her problem, ultimately, was that she’d developed a relationship with that box of university stuff. Her relationship was one of denial and deferral. And the longer she put off sorting through the box, the more problems she imagined were inside it. She knew there were gifts, so she imagined them all to be the important kind that meant a lot to her. She knew there were papers, so she endowed them with all her years of teaching. That box became equal to that job in her mind. Her whole career at the school was in there. It’s understandable that she thought it was too big a project for us to tackle on that particular Sunday. It was too big to tackle on any day. That’s why she kept putting it off for another day. Another Day is the longest day of the year, the day when absolutely everything can be accomplished. Unfortunately, the only day you ever have is today. Another Day never comes.

Time Adds Value – But Mostly in Our Minds

The longer you have something, the more valuable it feels. It doesn’t matter why you’ve had it, how much you’ve needed it, or if it’s actually increased in value since the beginning. Time itself makes objects feel like they are worth more than they are, despite the fact that time is also the primary reason most items lose their value.

Sunk Cost

Some objects seem to gain value over time because of the Sunk Cost Fallacy. If an object has been in your house a long time, if you’ve been cleaning it, moving it, and maintaining it for years, it feels like it must be important. After all, that would be a lot of effort and resources to expend on something worthless, right? Because you’ve been waiting for so long for the day when the object finally adds value to your life, the value you imagine it to have grows bigger over time. You keep it because you are hoping to get back in value what you’ve already spent in other resources, even if that hope isn’t based in reality.

Associative Sentimentality

The second way time adds value is through what I call Associative Sentimentality. Because you feel nostalgic for certain periods of time in your life, you ascribe value to any objects you acquired or used during those years. Perhaps it’s a generic t-shirt you wore all the time in college, or a silly present you got from a student while you were working as a teacher abroad. The objects themselves aren’t particularly great and you don’t necessarily like them very much, but because you associate them with that time they feel as valuable as the memories themselves. I should clarify that this is not the same as more traditional sentimental objects, such as the t-shirt from your favorite band you got at the best concert you’ve ever been to, or a gift from your spouse on your first anniversary that meant a lot to you. There’s nothing wrong with keeping sentimental objects, the difference is whether or not the object itself it meaningful, or if it just vaguely reminds you of a meaningful time.

Acquired Tradition

The final and most complex way time adds value is that it turns objects into traditions. Typically traditions are useful because they give us a sense of continuity through time, a feeling that things are right in the world, that society is functioning as it ought to be. They connect us to the past, to our families and communities, and they keep us tied to our important values amidst changing times. And sometimes a tradition built around an object can do the same. For example when my family is celebrating someone’s birthday, that person eats off a bright red plate that says “You Are Special Today”. The plate goes on top of the stack of plates for the buffet line, which means the birthday person also goes first in line. It’s a great tradition that means a lot to us, so much so that nearly everyone in the family owns at least one of these red plates, just in case they’re the one hosting the birthday dinner.

But traditions can also keep us stuck in old and outdated patterns, clinging to things that no longer matter and looking for meaning where there is only habit. This is often the case for objects that have turned into tradition. Does the painting above the fireplace feel important because you’ve loved it since your childhood, or merely because you’ve been seeing it since you were a child? Is the clock actually important to your family, or just exceedingly familiar? Even ordinary objects can fall into this category, like the pen cup that’s been on your desk for years or the lamp you keep on your bedside table. These may have only entered your house by chance, but over the years they start to feel inherently important.

Your Mission

Here are three questions to ask to help determine if an object is truly valuable, or if it’s falling into one of the above categories:

1) If this object disappeared tomorrow, would I make an effort to replace it immediately?

2) Do I love this specific object, or just the thing it reminds me of? Are there other, better objects that I own that already remind me of that thing?

3) If I moved into a new home and the object couldn’t go where it normally goes (above the fireplace, on my desk, etc), is it worth putting somewhere else? Where? Would I ever consider moving it there now (in my current home)?

The #WearItAllChallenge – Fall Edition

Earlier this year my friends and I created the #WearItAllChallenge, beginning with #WearItAllJuly. The goal of the challenge is to wear a completely different outfit every day for an entire month. I love this challenge because everyone learns something different from it, and what they learn is often surprising. So we’re doing it again for the month of October!

Here are the basic rules:

Rule #1: Wear a completely different outfit every day for a month.
Rule #2: After you wear a piece of clothing, set it aside. You can’t wear it again the rest of the month.
Rule #3: If you literally don’t own enough of something to accomplish this (for example, you only own 15 pairs of shoes), you can loop back through them after you’ve worn them all once (it’s up to you whether you want to wear through them all again before repeating).
Rule #4: You choose what categories are included/excluded from your challenge, such as hiking gear and ballgowns. You can choose to not care about pajamas, workout clothes, underwear, etc. It’s up to you. The important thing is that once you decide your rules you stick with them.
Rule #5: Your wardrobe is “locked in” at the start of the month. Anything new you buy after that gets put in the used pile and has to wait until next month!
Rule #6: There may be times where wearing something twice is unavoidable, such as with work uniforms or travel clothes. Don’t worry about it. Count the days you want to count.

Here are some of the most common objections I hear and what’d I’d say in response:

“I can’t imagine wearing my snow boots to the grocery store!”

Me neither, that sounds like a terrible idea. That’s why you’re allowed to exclude whatever specialty clothing you want. I personally drew the line at “anything I would have never worn to any job.” It meant I had to include most of my closet, but excluded my fancier dresses, my hiking gear, etc.

“No one would notice if I did this challenge because I’m so boring with my clothes.”

You’re probably right. Our own standards for what’s “weird” aren’t as universal as we think. Most people in my sphere only noticed at the very end of the month, and even then it may have just been because they saw my updates on Instagram. The point is not to get noticed or get attention, the point is to come face-to-face with your own wardrobe.

“I would but I’m traveling/have a work conference/etc.”

Take some cheat days, I know I did. I had a 6-day trip in July where traveling light and re-wearing clothes was a must, so I just didn’t count those days. I still learned a lot during the month and wore through most of my closet.

“I already have to do laundry every week just to have enough clean clothes.”

Do you have to do laundry in order to have enough clean clothes, or just to have enough clean clothes of one category? It’s pretty common to have more shirts than pants, for example, which means you could easily wear through all of your pants all the time, but be skipping over a lot of your shirts. That’s why it’s worth proactively trying!

“I don’t own enough clothes to pull this off!”

I didn’t either. I wore through my entire shoe and bra collections twice. That’s why we made the rule that you can cycle back through any one category once you’ve exhausted it. Remember that people are really bad at self-assessing the volume of stuff they own, so even if you’re positive you don’t own that much, I invite you to go do a physical count. Pull everything out of your drawers and tell me your totals in the comments to prove that you won’t last a week, and I’ll give you a free pass to ignore the whole thing.

“But seriously, I don’t own enough clothes to make it a whole month.”

Could you make it three weeks? Two? I dare you to go as long as possible. I’m not joking when I say you probably have more clothes than you realize, or that I think you can learn something about yourself even if you already have a pretty minimalist wardrobe. A big part of why I did this was because I already felt like I didn’t own much.

“This seems too difficult/complicated.”

You can make the challenge as big or as small as you want, which means it can be as simple or complex as you want. The first time I chose to exclude or be really loose with the rules on pajamas, bras, purses, jackets, and workout clothes. One woman just did the challenge with her lipstick collection and wore a different shade every day. A friend said he wants to do it with just his t-shirts. This challenge is whatever you want it to be.

In summary, whatever your objection is, my response is, “Just give it a try and go for as long as you can.” After all, the worst thing that can happen is you have to end early, and go back to wearing clothes the way you would have worn them anyway.

Happy #WearItAllOctober!

Inbox Zero: Unsubscribe

When I teach classes on helping people get to and maintain Inbox Zero, I will sometimes get a lot of pushback on unsubscribing from things. Here are a few of the most common excuses I hear and why you should ignore them.

1. They’ll just add me back again later

Yes, its true that sometimes you end up being put on the same email lists over and over again. It could happen if you buy another product from the same company, if you sign up for something related, or if your email is on some publicly available list. But just because the problem may return at some point in the future doesn’t mean you have to put up with it in the meantime. You still clean your house even though it will just get dirty again later.

2. It never seems to work – I still get emails from the same company

Rather than having a single, central email list, many companies will have multiple lists based on what info they want to share. One list is for general news, one is for deals and offers, one is for a niche interest, etc. Theoretically these are so people receive the content most relevant to them, but unfortunately most companies start by putting you on every list and waiting for you to self-select out of the ones you don’t like. So maybe you did unsubscribe from the “Offers” mailing list, but you’re still subscribed to the “News” list. It may be annoying when you feel like you’re repeating the same action over and over, but eventually you will make it through each list and stop the onslaught.

3. It’s easier just to delete

In the moment, yes it is easier to just click the trash icon rather than finding the unsubscribe button, getting re-directed to another page where you might have to manually type in your address or uncheck a bunch of boxes, and then going back to delete the original email. But the difference is an extra 15 seconds now in order to never spend 3 seconds hitting the delete button for this company again. Taking the time to unsubscribe pays for itself quickly.

4. If I click unsubscribe they’ll know my address is good and send me more

There was a time when clicking on any link in an unwanted email could cause your address to get used and abused even more. However that’s not really how modern email scams work, and it’s not where the bulk of your unwanted email is coming from. Most of your unwanted email is coming from completely legitimate companies or individuals who are just trying to market themselves and their business. Most are doing so using companies like MailChimp which actively discourage malicious use of people’s email addresses. If you’re still suspicious, just think about the person or company the email came from. Is it really worth it to Target or Macy’s to sell your email to scammers? Or are they just going to auto-remove you from the list exactly as promised, because it’s not worth the negative response if they don’t?

(As an aside, I’ve often heard it repeated that you only have to worry about unsubscribe links that make you type in your own email, not the ones that do it automatically. This actually has more to do with the level of sophistication in their mail campaign program, not anything nefarious.)

5. I’ll just mark it as spam instead

While marking all unwanted emails as spam does generally work, I don’t recommend it because it’s a bit like using a machete instead of a scalpel. You’re relying on your email program to learn what you do and don’t want rather than telling the offending company directly. So your email may not catch everything you want it to, and it may overcorrect and start marking wanted emails as spam by accident. Additionally, if the company sending these unwanted emails changes their send address or mailing program, you may have to re-teach your spam filter that these emails are unwanted. Save the spam button for “Nigerian Princes” and “Cheap Prescription Drugs”.

6. It’s not that big of a problem

It’s easy to dismiss these unwanted marketing emails, or to say you “don’t really see them” and they don’t effect your work. But they do. Anytime your space is filled with something unwanted it effects you and how you live your life. This is especially true if you have any form of notifications set up for your email, such as sounds, buzzing, or badges. Every time you receive an email you get interrupted, and most of the time for no good reason. Even without notifications these unwanted emails are cluttering up your inbox, making it harder to see what’s important. This is especially true if there are some newsletters you actually want to read, because it’s easy to disregard them with everything else.

7. It’s such a big problem there’s no point in trying

Dealing with email, and especially unsubscribing from unwanted email, can sometimes feel futile. But I promise that small changes you make now will compound over time. The more you take the time to hit that unsubscribe button, the more automatic the habit will become. The fewer unwanted emails you get, the more obvious it will be to you when you’re added to new lists, and the more likely you are to keep unsubscribing.

When I working at a real estate brokerage my work email was on many of the same lists that were repeatedly used and sold to marketers and other agents for self-promotion. My flood of unwanted email should have been just as bad as the agents, but it wasn’t. This was because I was ruthless about unsubscribing from every unwanted list starting with the very first offense. This kept my inbox free from unwanted email most of the time, which meant when it appeared it was so obviously out of place that I couldn’t just gloss over it.

 

Your Mission

  1. Do a search for the word “unsubscribe” in your inbox.
  2. Find one of the worst offenders – either because they send so much or because they consistently send content you find worthless.
  3. Open one of the emails and unsubscribe.
  4. Do a search for that specific offender, most likely by searching for the company name or their email address.
  5. Delete all the existing emails you have from them.
  6. Repeat these steps 4-5 more times.
  7. Bask in a sense of deep satisfaction and revel in your dramatically improved inbox.

Why ‘Spark Joy’ Works, and When It Doesn’t

The popularity of Marie Kondo’s Netflix show “Tidying Up” has exposed more people to her ideas than ever. Because Kondo has such a clear, codified message and a confident way of expressing it, I find that many are happy to take her tactics at face value. Those that don’t tend to ridicule her. Neither side seems to spend much time trying to figure out why she says what she says, or why it works for so many people. Today I’d like to talk about the core tactic of the KonMari method, and why it is so effective.

If you know anything about KonMari, you know that you are only supposed to keep items that ‘Spark Joy’ for you. Kondo asks that you hold each item individually, ask if it sparks joy, and either keep or discard it based on your reaction. Critics of this method don’t like how nebulous and impractical the concept of “sparking joy” is, while supporters appreciate the simplicity of having a single question to always come back to. So why does it work?

Humans can easily jump onto emotional and logical hamster wheels when it comes to our stuff. We get stuck in repeating patterns that lead us to acquire but never remove, and even if we see this as a problem there’s often no clear way out. So when decluttering we use little shortcuts and tricks to help us. I’ve recommended many on this blog, and seen plenty of others work for people. These are things like turning around the hangers in your closet to see what you wear, getting rid of anything you haven’t touched in a year, packing up all your “maybe” items in a box and donating it after three months without opening it. The point of all of these is to get you off the hamster wheel and thinking about your possessions in a new and different way.

Spark Joy is a sledgehammer of a shortcut. It is a high-grade military tank designed to plow right through your excuses and cut to something visceral: does this make me happy or not. It works because it ruthlessly cuts past all of the “I might need it someday” and “this was suchthoughtful gift” and “I’ve been meaning to get back to this” and forces you to think exclusively about the present. Does this item bring you joy right here, right now, in this moment? If not, get rid of it.

Most of the clutter we hold on to is based on clinging to the past, ignoring the present, or being anxious about the future. Kondo’s philosophy breaks up those negative mental pathways and gives you one singular focus above all others. Most people struggle with living in the present and being true to the life they have right now, and the question “Does this spark joy?” pulls them past their struggles and to the issue at hand.

So that’s why it works for most people, most of the time. But the reason I don’t use Kondo’s methods exclusively is that I see occasions when asking if an item sparks joy doesn’t work as intended. The prime example, which Kondo admits to in her book, is that you will invariably go overboard on some items and regret getting rid of them. I know I did when I first read her book and tried her method on my own belongings. She actually predicts you will regret at least three things, and I can personally think of three things I got rid of when using KonMari that I wish I could get back. Kondo’s answer is that her clients find this to be a more than reasonable price to pay, and that having to replace a discarded item only reinforces in them how much they care about it. I didn’t respond in quite that way, as two of my three items weren’t really replaceable. I still accept my three items as a reasonable sacrifice for the huge gains I got in minimizing as a result of her methods. However I don’t feel comfortable asking my clients to make the same sacrifice, which is why I’m more cautious than KonMari normally allows.

A second reason the question of joy may not work for a person is that they struggle to define joy for themselves. Kondo has a very specific order for going through possessions that’s designed to increase your awareness of joy and make it easier to find that feeling. I believe her order is sound and generally works well to train people in the skill of finding joy. But depending on your relationship to certain objects like your clothes or your collectables, you may not respond as well as others. You might also find that outside circumstances make finding joy difficult or interrupt your ability to assess your own emotions accurately. Suffering from depression, dealing with a new job, trying to adjust to an empty nest – these are all things that can distract you away from joy and push you back on to that emotional hamster wheel.

Finally, looking for that spark of joy can be really difficult for certain items. Sometimes the meaning we derive from objects isn’t about joy or happiness. Documents detailing the death of a child. Notes from divorce hearings. Inherited objects from a parent we weren’t on good terms with. The relationships we have with these objects are complicated, and can create concrete walls that even the sledgehammer of Spark Joy can’t get through. Sometimes, the right decision is to get rid of these items and the pain they remind us of. Sometimes it’s not, because beneath the pain is a reminder of the strength we developed as a result. And sometimes it’s just a matter of time and distance. Notes from the divorce hearing may grow more or less important over time depending on the relationship you’ve managed to maintain with your ex. With these items, Spark Joy can’t easily find the heart of the problem, which is why you may struggle to let go even though you can say with certainty that the object doesn’t bring you joy.

Kondo disagrees with the use of smaller shortcuts because they rely on outside judgement about what you should keep, rather than letting the decision come from within. And those other quick fixes have their limitations (sometimes we wear things we don’t actually like, inactivity doesn’t always mean we don’t want something, we love things for irrational reasons, etc). However I employ these shortcuts myself and with clients because I know that they are all still tools, and they can come in handy when implemented in the right way. When you’re working by yourself and aren’t used to thinking critically about your relationships with your belongings, an extremely powerful tool like Spark Joy is really useful. I still recommend it to people all the time. Just remember that no single strategy works perfectly for all people at all times. There’s nothing wrong with you if you can’t make Spark Joy work. You may just need a different set of tools.

https://www.instagram.com/o_tres
Photo via O-Tres Organization

The #WearItAllJuly Challenge

On July 1st I posted a picture of myself on Instagram with the following description:

Can you wear entirely different clothes every day for a month? My friends and I are challenging each other to do this, not only to put on things we don’t wear that often, but to learn what we really use (and what we could let go of). Plus, it’s a fun game! Think you can do it?

A good look from co-creator @gavinverhey

Rule #1: Wear a completely different outfit every day in July.
Rule #2: After you wear a piece of clothing, set it aside. You can’t wear it again the rest of the month.
Rule #3: If you literally don’t own enough of something to accomplish this (for example, you only own 15 pairs of shoes total), you can loop back through them after you’ve worn them all once.
Rule #4: You choose what categories are excluded based on your own wardrobe and what you’re hoping to get out of the challenge. You can choose to exclude specialty clothes from your rotation, such as hiking gear and ballgowns. You can choose to not care about pajamas or underwear. It’s up to you. The important thing is that once you decide your rules you stick with them.
Rule #5: Your wardrobe is “locked in” at the start of the month. Anything new you buy after that gets put in the used pile and has to wait until August!
Rule #6: There may be times where wearing something twice is unavoidable, such as with work uniforms. Don’t sweat it – you’re doing your best, and that’s what counts!

Participants are encouraged to share some of their outfit creations with the hashtag #wearitalljuly

My friends and I all started the challenge with different goals in mind. For me, I liked it because it was the opposite of how I normally approach this kind of thing. I’m usually the one doing challenges that ask you to pair down and minimize your options, like with Project 333. And I pack extremely light, essentially forcing myself into a capsule wardrobe every time I travel. This challenge was completely different. Rather than limiting your options, it forces you to take all of them. None of us knew what to expect, and I don’t think any of us could have predicted the learnings we got from it. Here are a few of mine:

We were joined by others on Instagram, including user @jenn.rych

Clothes are meant to be worn – I know that when you work from home you should always get dressed, even if you aren’t going to leave the house. But I had been breaking that rule constantly. I realized it was because I felt like I was “wasting” my clothes by wearing them when no one would see me. It’s true that every time you wear and wash an item you are wearing it down a tiny bit, but I realized that I was still doing that to my pajamas by wearing them all the time. I have to wear something, and getting dressed really does make you more motivated to get work done.

Embrace discomfort – I’d been prioritizing comfort so much, I forgot what is and isn’t comfortable and to what degree. When I started to run low on shoes and pants I had to embrace Anti-Casual-Monday and wear a dress and heels to my writing group. And you know what? Heels aren’t that bad. Dresses aren’t that bad. Sure they aren’t the most comfortable things in the world, but if it’s only going to be a few hours of mostly sitting, who cares? And if you’re working from home, flowy skirts and dresses are a great option to stay cool on a hot day.

Co-creator @kristinahorner showing off some of the diverse looks we had to come up with over the month

Every day is a day worth dressing up for – I have this beautiful pink and white skirt that I love and always get complimented on, but I rarely wear it because it never feels like a fancy enough occasion to wear it. But this month I found myself wearing skirts to casual get-togethers and dress slacks to coffee shops.

Your first choice isn’t always the best choice – The first time I thought seriously about cheating was when I realized I was supposed to go to a Mariner’s game and I didn’t have any jeans left. I couldn’t fathom wearing anything but jeans to watch baseball. To me, sports = cold. But the weather report for the evening said it would stay warm past the 9th inning, and I had one more pair of shorts left in the drawer. This turned out to be perfect, as I was too hot for most of the bus ride down to the game, and perfectly comfortable the whole time I was in the stadium. I didn’t even have to zip up the hoodie I was wearing and never bothered with the additional long-sleeve shirt I brought to layer. By forcing myself to make the “wrong” choice, I was way better off.

Some of my outfits from the later half of the month

Hoodies4Life – Speaking of hooded sweatshirts, have y’all worn one of them lately? Because apparently I stopped wearing them ten years ago and I forgot how incredibly comfortable they are. No wonder I used to live in them.

It’ll be fine even when it doesn’t work – The second time I considered cheating was when I was invited to another baseball game. I had absolutely no pants or shorts left, and as much as it pained me to wear a skirt to a baseball game, I did it. Honestly I did it mostly because the people I was going with all knew I was doing this challenge and would have totally called me out on cheating. They of course all noticed and commented that I was pretty fancy for baseball in my long black skirt, but it was fine. I was maybe a little cold during the last few innings, but it wasn’t bad. And honestly if they hadn’t all known about the challenge, I wonder how many of them would have even noticed.

Nobody notices and nobody cares – Over the course of this month my friends and I put together what we thought were some pretty disjointed and weird outfits. But when the pictures showed up on Instagram everyone looked…fine. Even the very weird and dressy stuff at the end of the month probably would have escaped everyone’s notice if we hadn’t been watching for it. I think we all get these ideas in our heads about what works and what doesn’t, and they are way more restrictive than they need to be.

A week’s worth of outfits from participant @adarosefaery

No seriously, your first choice isn’t always the best choice – The final time I considered cheating was when I had to see a client on the very last day of the month. I normally wouldn’t dream of wearing a skirt when working with a client because I never know if I’m going to be reaching around awkward piles, moving furniture, crawling around on the floor, etc. But I’d been wearing a pretty sensible skirt and tank top combination all day, and it was still very hot outside when the time came to start our evening session. This was a client I’d seen many times before, and while you never know where the day will take you, I knew his house never seemed to involve a lot of manual labor. So I wore the skirt, and it was the best decision. I could still easily do my work, and I never got too hot despite it being well into the 80s while I was there. I never would have chosen the skirt, but it was the better choice.

All the photos included in the post are pulled from people who participated on Instagram. Check out the hashtag #WearItAllJuly to see more! And who knows, there may be a #WearItAllOctober in my future…

“I Might Need It Someday”

One of the most common excuses we have for keeping things we don’t use is that we “might need it someday.” Someday it might be useful to have this costume jewelry. Someday I might need this half-used box of crayons. Someday I’ll have a problem that can only be solved by eight sets of takeout chopsticks.

We can store an almost unlimited number of things in Someday, because it doesn’t actually exist. Someday is, by definition, a day that we never get to live. When we say that we need to keep something because we might need it someday, we are not just holding on to the object, we’re holding on to the potential. And potential can be very difficult to give up.

Rather than imagining an amorphous Someday with all its potential and all it’s needs, imagine your specific future self and the exact situation that might come up. Keeping asking questions about that future self and situation until you come to a confident answer: either you should definitely keep this item, or you obviously shouldn’t.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What is the exact situation where I will need this item? You’re not allowed to say that it “may come in handy”, or that it “seems useful”. Plenty of objects in the world are useful, but that doesn’t mean they are useful to you. I once got a set of fun cocktail garnish toothpicks as a gift and kept them for years before admitting that I was never, ever, going to host a party where I served fancy cocktails.

How likely is the future need? You still have the Allen wrench from when you put your Ikea dresser together. It was very useful at the time, but will you ever actually need it again? Do the screws in the dresser ever loosen, or have they stayed tight in the years since you first bought it? And how many identically sized Allen wrenches do you have anyway? Is there really going to be a time in the future when you simultaneously need two of the same sized Allen wrench?

Why did I stop using it? Perhaps you have some jewelry that you liked when you bought it but haven’t worn in awhile, or eyeshadow palettes that you haven’t opened in months. But you might use them again someday, right? There’s a reason you haven’t worn these things in a while. Maybe the jewelry is too flashy for your taste, or the colors don’t look good with your complexion. So what will be so different Someday that hasn’t happened yet? Will your complexion change? Probably not. Will your style change? Perhaps, but there’s no reason to believe it will change in the direction of the pieces you already have but don’t wear. In fact, it’s probably the least likely direction you’ll go, since some part of you has already proven you don’t like it.

Why haven’t I needed it already? You’ve got a box of cables and a bunch of power adapters because maybe you’ll need them in the future. But you’ve been using all the electronics you own just fine without them. Is it possible that these are all adapters for electronics you’ve already discarded? Or extra cables that were included but never needed? If you know why the items haven’t been used yet, it might tell you whether they will ever be used at all.

Will I actually want this when the time comes? Many people find themselves with stashes of certain free items, such as hotel toiletries, pens, USB drives, etc. The giveaway versions tend to be of a lower quality than what we’d buy for ourselves. So even if you do run out of all your current chapsticks, you won’t actually want to use the cheap version you got for free. You’ll just go buy new chapstick.

Is this just an inferior duplicate? Similar to the question above – I find this is most often an issue with clothing, such as pajama pants with loose elastic that have shrunk into high-waters. They’re functional as PJs, sure. But you never reach for them. You’d rather wear the better PJs you already own. Imagine if all your best pajamas were gone and this pair was all you had left. How long would you wear them before you bought replacements anyway?

How often do I get more of this item? I understand keeping a couple pairs of unused takeout chopsticks in the silverware drawer just in case you order takeout and the restaurant forgets to include them. But the reason you already have spares is that you’re usually given too many. They are easy to acquire. So you can ditch most of them, secure in the knowledge that more will arrive at your house soon – whether you like it or not.

How easy/cheap will it be to replace? A popular rule of thumb is that if it would take less than 20 minutes and $20 to replace, go ahead and get rid of it. The time and money you’ll save in aggregate by getting rid of your excess will make up for the few occasions when you’ll actually need to replace something.

Do I really need so much of this? Certain categories of just-in-case items make sense to keep for some people, such as an active crafter keeping spare fabric, paint, and supplies. The problem is not that you’re keeping extra stuff around, just that you’re keeping too much. If you rarely dip into your spare fabric, you probably don’t need five bins of it. In this case, I often encourage clients to choose a designated amount of space they want to devote to the category (two drawers, one bin, a single bookcase, etc), and pick out only the best items to keep until the space is full. This also makes it easy to keep the collection in check, since you’ll know you have too much when it doesn’t fit in the designated spot anymore.

Will I EVER use this much? When items are smaller, such as bobby pins, it’s hard to use the Designated Space solution. In this case, I think about lifetime usage. Even if you regularly use and regularly lose bobby pins, if you have hundreds of pins it will take you years to get through them all. In fact, the more you have of something the more careless you will be with it. A person with only 20 bobby pins is more likely to keep track of them than someone with 500.

Ultimately, there are two possible futures in front of you: one in which you still have your Someday item, and one in which you don’t. One in which your house is filled with items you almost never use, and one in which you occasionally kick yourself for getting rid of something too soon. Choose the future that brings you the most happiness.

Your Mission:

Pick at least one of your “I might need it someday” areas this week and ask yourself the questions listed above. Can you believe in your Someday event all the way through to the bottom of the list?

Three Things Marie Kondo Never Says (and Three Things She Does)

With the popularity of her recent Netflix show, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of Marie Kondo. Personally I like her work and agree with many of the things she says, even if my own approach is slightly different. What I find more interesting is the misconceptions people seem to have about her. Here are three things I’ve heard about Marie Kondo that she never actually says, and a few overlooked things I wish people would focus on more.

#1 – You should be getting joy from that hammer if you want to keep it.

This is an argument that tends to go away as soon as actually try her technique. When Marie Kondo tells you to only keep items that spark joy, she’s not talking about the joy you find in a hot fudge sundae or a favorite movie. At least, not exclusively. Joy doesn’t have to be frivolous or impractical. Joy is something you can attach to any item or action. I find this easiest to see in kitchen tools. If you have two can openers, one is usually better than the other. One is easier to use or quicker to clean. One cuts smoother edges or fits better in your cupboard. You’re happier with one than the other. You want to use one more than the other. In other words, there’s more joy in one than the other. If not, you probably have two crummy can openers and it’s time to invest in one you actually want to use (and get rid of the two you hate!). The point is not to find joy in the action of opening cans, but in how this particular tool makes that action more enjoyable.

#2 – Throw unwanted items in the literal trash.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo tends to use the word “discard” as a catch-all term for removing things from your home (or more likely, her translator Cathy Hirano chose this word). As a result, you will often hear commenters lamenting that we shouldn’t be throwing out perfectly good clothes, that we should be donating, recycling, etc. There’s no part of Marie Kondo’s method that insists items need to be thrown in a trash can, simply that if they don’t belong in your life then they shouldn’t be in your house. In fact, in one story she talks to a client about “getting rid of this garbage” in one sentence, and minutes later is talking about “what you throw out or donate.” On the very next page she suggests asking family members ahead of time if there’s anything they need that you might come across in your discarding, so you can set it aside for them. While the language may be a little off-putting, it’s much easier to use universal words like “discard” than specify the unique ways in which each item needs to be removed or disposed of. By all means, recycle and donate whenever you can.

#3 – Burn all your books.

I watched the whole Marie Kondo Netflix show anxiously waiting to see her sort books. I’d heard people were upset over something she’d said, something that implied you should throw unwanted books in the trash or only be allowed to keep a few. It wasn’t clear exactly what she’d said that angered people so much, but clearly it was bad. So I was both surprised and disappointed to find that most episodes skipped books completely, and the ones that included books featured only brief scenes. My guess is that sorting books doesn’t make for very good TV footage. But if she didn’t talk about books much in the show, where did all this Marie Kondo book hate come from?

I did a little digging and as far as I can tell, it started with a small joke on twitter that referenced Kondo, which wasn’t really intended to make fun of her specifically. The joke spiraled, people combined this with their own assumptions about decluttering, and suddenly the conclusion was that Marie Kondo thinks you should only have 30 books and literally burn the rest. However the closet thing I can find to this sentiment was in her book when she’s talking about her personal journey: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.” That’s it. Marie Kondo says she personally owns less than 30 books. She has never suggested that anyone else do the same. In fact, in response to this backlash, she’s suggested that anger over someone else trying to take your books is a sign of what’s important to you, and you should use that knowledge to help you tidy. Here she is explaining this further: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWFYFzwT_HA

What Marie Kondo Is Secretly Saying

So if those are all things she isn’t saying, what might she be telling people instead? Most people know about her ‘spark joy’ philosophy and specific folding methods, but there are a number of other messages I see coming through in Kondo’s work. Much of it is below the surface, so much so that I can’t say for sure which ones are intentional and which are the unintended consequences of a good method:

#1 – Admit to Your Duplicates

By making you sort an entire category at once, the KonMari method forces you to see and acknowledge your duplicate items. ALL of them. Sometimes we store like-items is different spots throughout the house, either because the preferred storage spaces are full, or because it’s easier to grab things if they are in a more convenient location. By pulling out everything from one category at once, it becomes clear that you don’t need six black tank tops or enough dinnerware for forty people.

#2 – This is Not a Fight

Marie Kondo spent five years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and it’s clear when you watch her work that she has reverence for both spaces and the belongings in them. Kondo starts her work at a house by greeting the house in silence. As some of the guests on her show have pointed out, this reminds you that the house is not the enemy. The things are not the enemy either. They have done great things for you in your life, and it’s time to repay the favor by letting them breathe. And sometimes, by letting them go.

#3 – Men and Women Approach Clutter Differently

Gender does not come up much in Kondo’s book, however it was extremely apparent in the first season of her show. The different ways in which men and women are socialized to care about their homes, their stuff, their chores, etc., is on display in many of the episodes. Her Netflix show is a good masterclass on how the burden of the home is often put on women, sometimes without anyone intending to do so. It also highlights how much happier families are when that burden is more evenly distributed, and men and children are allowed to take on more responsibility for their living space. I wasn’t sure how much Marie Kondo was aware of this until I found out that her senior thesis in college was titled, “Tidying up as seen from the perspective of gender.” So yes, she knows.

 

Let me know in the comments if you have heard any other strange misconceptions about Marie Kondo and the KonMari method, or if you know where I can get a translated copy of her senior thesis.

Ask An Organizer: Monsters Under the Bed

Every once in a while I’ll find myself on an online forum with people asking for help decluttering. This is a question I answered a while back that I thought might resonate with others. If you have an organizing or decluttering question you’d like answered, send it to me at katrina@katrinaconsults.com.

Her Question:

“I have been persistently de-cluttering for years now. I moved from a two bedroom oversized sublet to a 50 sqm apartment with no real storage. It used to be a serviced apartment so there is the illusion of storage without any real space.

I’m getting down to some designer footwear that I’ve not worn for years but can’t quite get rid of or pass on, and a bag of old clothes that fit into a small under-the-bed zippy bag. Out of sight, right?

There is a great deal of symbolism in these dresses and I am inching closer and closer, but it’s hard. With these specific items. Everything else I manage to clear without problems but I’ve dragged these guys everywhere, for the last 15 years.

It’s hard to let go – especially since I can justify the space…”

My Answer:

The fact that you have thought about these items and been bothered by them enough to go online and craft a post asking for help speaks to the burden they represent in your life. Your logical self is saying that they aren’t a big drain on the physical space and therefore you can keep them. But that self doesn’t take psychological space into consideration. You are wasting mental energy on these items. Storage has nothing to do with it.

I’m guessing the footwear is hard to let go of because it cost a lot, and it feels like a waste of money to get rid of them. That’s a really common problem, I’ve faced it myself. But you are getting no value out of shoes that sit under your bed. The money spent on them is gone, it’s already been used and wasted, no different than if you’d gambled it away. They are zero value now – less than that because they are making you fret. Let the local thrift shop make some money off them, they have no value for you.

The fact that you said the dresses are ‘symbolic’ rather than ‘sentimental’ seems telling to me. That usually speaks to an item that means nothing itself, but is directly related to something emotional that is important. If the memory is positive, consider the difference between the memory and the items. Is there anything else you intend to keep that reminds you of that time? You don’t need every object associated with a memory. Would the dresses be just as effective as memory tools if you had pictures of them? What if you cut off the best parts and made them into art, or a blanket? Ask yourself what really matters about the dresses. Not all of that fabric is crucial.

If the memory is negative, these should be gotten rid of immediately. They only serve to remind you of a part of your life that is in the past – a part that can only hurt you if you keep thinking about it and letting dresses under the bed remind you of it.

In short: it is upsetting for you to continue to have these items. You should only keep them if their value in your life (current, not potential) is greater than the grief they bring. That is the only thing to consider.

Her Response:

You’ve helped me to articulate consciously what has bothered me for some time, but not been able to pinpoint. There is nothing that needs to be retained. Nothing.

There are no good memories here.

I’ve booked the charity collection for the 22nd.

Photo by Mink Mingle on Unsplash

No, You’re Not Going to Sell It

There’s a scene I’ve come to expect when helping people declutter their homes: a client will finally make the decision to let an item go, only to insist that it can’t be put into the donation pile because they could sell it online and make back some of their money. While this sounds like a smart idea, it almost never actually happens. And when it does happen, clients often regret doing it. Here are some reasons why:

First of all, it’s a lot of annoying, difficult work. You need to set up the item in the right room with the right lighting and take a bunch of pictures until you think you’ve got a good shot. You have to draft the posting for it, possibly looking up specifications and details that you know will be important to potential buyers. If you don’t already have an account on the chosen site, you have to create one, potentially waiting several days for confirmation. Once your item is listed online, you have to answer questions, negotiate prices, arrange for pickup, or package and ship the item. Each individual task doesn’t sound that bad, but put together they are a lot of work. What’s worse, the work will be drawn out over several days or weeks.

Second, it’s expensive. Shipping costs money, not only in the materials to ship and the actual cost of shipping or postage, but in the time and effort to package and send items out. Even if you’re selling locally, you may end up having to drive to a specific meeting location to avoid giving your home address out to strangers.

Third, it’s probably not worth what you think it is. No one wants to buy a used item from a stranger for the same price as a new item from a store, which means you aren’t getting all your money back. Additionally, very few goods retain anything close to their original market value over time. The ones that do are high-end specialty or collectible items, like fine art, diving watches, and original Star Wars figurines.

Finally, you will almost never get enough money to make it worth it. To make selling an object worth doing, your profits need to be in excess of the cost of shipping plus the 2+ hours you personally spent making it happen. Even if you only value your time at about $15 an hour, we’re looking at $50 just to break even (and that’s assuming you’re not shipping something large or heavy). Which means you can really only count the money someone pays you in excess of that $50 as profit. Unless you are personally struggling a lot financially, anything you sell for less than $100 is unlikely to feel worth it.

So when IS it a good idea to sell things?

Here are a few factors that make selling items preferable to donating:

1) The items are high-end or luxury goods that are in good condition and are known for retaining their value

2) There is a collector’s market for this specific type of item (think Jackie Robinson’s rookie card, not “my grandma always said this type of china was very popular”)

3) You personally are used to selling things online, so you have your own eBay store already, you’ve got all your packing materials, and you’re confident in your ability to appraise your items correctly.

4) You have a lot high-quality items to sell, allowing you to batch the work and make the total setup cost worth it in the long-run. I would suggest a minimum of 10 items that you are positive will sell for more than $50 each. Being “positive” of your price means you’ve done research on what similar items have sold for.

Your Mission

If you are dead-set on selling an item, you have 30 days to get it out of your house. If you’ve been holding onto an item with the intention of selling, your 30 days starts now. If you can sell it in that time, great. If not, you need to donate it. If you’re trying to sneak around the system by saying that you have a big thing you’re working on right now and you couldn’t possibly focus on selling something until afterwards, then your due date is 30 days after whatever thing you listed as your excuse. Put it on your calendar. Busy with finals until April 3rd? Get it sold by May 3rd. Getting married and won’t be back from your honeymoon until July 20th? The stuff needs to be out of your house by August 19th. If you still want to hold onto it after that, try writing me an email explaining why you should get more time (katrina@katrinaconsults.com). See if you can get all the way to the send button before deciding you’d rather put it in the donation box.