We’ve read ALL the guides to decluttering – and you probably have too. If you’re like us, they’re taking up space in the third drawer down – that famous one where you put the things you’re going to deal with ‘some day’.
Well, that’s all over now. Here are ten radical but highly effective ways to banish the mess – forever. Marie Kondo argues that if you tidy your home properly now, you’ll never need to declutter again. Take a deep breath, lose your received wisdom about cleaning and tidying, and read on...
1. DO IT ALL AT ONCE, AND DO IT NOW Ignore all the advice about tidying for 15 minutes at a time, or getting rid of one thing a day, or starting with the bedroom. You need to set aside some time and tackle everything all together. But do it as soon as possible.
2. DISCARD FIRST, SORT AND TIDY LATER ‘Do not even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding,’ says Kondo. ‘As soon as you 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.’
3. START WITH THE EASY STUFF Don’t begin by going through old photo albums or love letters. These are the hardest things to throw away. Unless you’re a style maven and clothes are your ultimate passion, you need to begin with your wardrobe, move on to books, then papers, miscellaneous items (e.g. kitchen equipment) and, lastly, items of sentimental value.
4. PUT EVERYTHING IN EACH CATEGORY IN ONE PLACE FIRST If you’re sorting and tidying clothes first, find every bit of clothing in every part of your home. Kondo says when she’s working with clients she warns them that anything they don’t bring to her at this stage is going in the bin. Tell yourself the same thing, and you’ll find anything that’s of value. Anything else probably isn’t that important to you.
5. THROW AWAY EVERYTHING YOU DON’T LOVE If you want to achieve true tidiness, you need to really think about the things you are throwing away – don’t throw away randomly, instead hold each item in your hand and think about its meaning to you. Kondo says that if the item ‘brings you joy’, you’ll feel it straight away. If it doesn’t, it’s time to let it go. I found this method particularly useful for the two non-essential sets of possessions I also happen to love – clothes and books. As Kondo says, ‘Pick them as if you were identifying items you loved from a display in your favourite shop.’
6. DITCH YOUR PAPERWORK This one is tough, but ultimately fair. Time to throw away elaborate filing systems. Kondo argues that all your paperwork should fit in one place, in two groups – papers to be saved, and papers to be dealt with. This means being absolutely ruthless about what you keep. Gone are the electrical manuals. Think about how often you go back to use them – never, right? If you really need to figure a part out, most information can be found online now. Ditto old bills, credit card statements and payslips. The only thing you need to keep are contracts (employment, mortgage, lease, etc) and insurance policies. Avoid piles of papers – store them in an upright holder to avoid the collection getting too big.
7. LET GO WITH LOVE (GIFTS AND KEEPSAKES) This one is truly life-changing. You know that hideous vase you keep because Great Aunty Maureen gave it to you when you first moved out of home? It’s OK to say goodbye. Kondo recommends quietly thanking the person who gave it to you and the item itself for its time with you, and then putting it in the charity pile. Sounds nuts, but strangely enough it works to get rid of the guilt. Dithering over old love letters? Ask yourself why you’re keeping them. Do they bring you joy? Or is there a reason you’re holding onto that part of your life? If you can honestly say you feel happier holding on to them, fine. Otherwise, let them go with love...
8. DON’T BUY EXPENSIVE OR COMPLICATED STORAGE EQUIPMENT Kondo claims to have tried every kind of storage on the market in Japan and says ultimately the only thing that is truly useful is a shoe box. Our insatiable need for ‘better storage’ comes from having too much stuff in the first place – and once stored away in your latest pretty box from IKEA, your things are forgotten about and you’ve just added another box of stuff to your life. Shoe boxes can be used in a drawer to store tights in neatly packed upright folds or, in a kitchen, used to store baking pans and trays upright instead of piled on top of each other.
9. LEARN HOW TO FOLD CLOTHES – THEN STORE THEM ‘STANDING UP’ With the exception of heavy coats and trousers, delicate dresses and suits, most items of clothing do better folded than hung, and properly folded clothes take up far less space – Kondo claims that ‘depending on thickness you can fit from 20 to 40 pieces of folded clothing in the same amount of space required to hang 10’. Watch Kondo’s folding video here:
To store your newly folded clothes, don’t press them down on top of each other in piles, says Kondo. Allow them to ‘breathe’ – and help yourself to locate them more easily and use things in more regular rotation by standing folded clothes upright at the height of the drawer they’re in.
10. TREAT YOUR POSSESSIONS LIKE PEOPLE This one might take a bit of getting used to but Kondo recommends an ongoing ‘dialogue’ with your things, which will allow you to sense more readily when it might be time to let them go. She says, ‘We often hear about athletes who take loving care of their sports gear, treating them almost as if they were sacred...Our belongings work really hard for us.’ Caring for your possessions is the best way to make sure they support you, their owner, for longer. (Turns out your granny was right about caring for your clothes after all…)
READ MORE: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying: A Simple, Effective Way To Banish Clutter Forever (Vermilion, £10.99) and Marie Kondo's new book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying (Vermilion, £10.99) are both out now.
Read our review of Spark Joy here