The greater KonMari way: Life beyond the method

Sarah Fought checks in with where she is, who she is, and what her life is like now that Marie Kondo’s “tidying” method has turned her daily experience upside down.

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Author Sarah Fought penned a beautiful story of her personal journey through Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method of tidying and organizing your life through the mindful preservation of the things you love. (That is: get rid of stuff you don’t need or you don’t like, and you will feel a lot better). We recommend you catch up with that one first, if you haven’t already, for some backstory.

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.” – Henry David Thoreau

“When are you going to KonMari KonMari?” my brother-in-law, Jon, asked me yesterday as I was preparing to leave their home in Asheville and drive back to mine in Richmond. He’s referring to Marie Kondo’s encouragement to get rid of the things you no longer need or want.

“Soon,” I told him. It’s true. Once I’m finished with KonMari, my outward fervor for this method, this wholly life-shaping experience, will diminish and I will begin the business of living fully the life that I was meant for. I don’t fear that I will go back to my old ways. KonMari is so deeply embedded in my being now, that it cannot leave me.

In January, I started this process knowing that I would be in it for the long haul. This week in Richmond, a musician friend, Joe Pug, is coming to sing at Friday Cheers. On his latest album is a song called Windfallen where he sings, “If you’re in it for the windfall, don’t be surprised, when your will to fight wavers and eventually dies. But if you’re in it for the long haul, in it to survive…then there’s not a drought could drag you down.”

This is one of my KonMari theme songs, lately. I am in this to win this. There were promises made and I want to see them fulfilled. Marie Kondo promised me. I promised myself.

When I started KonMari, I knew that I would get to the end. I am waiting for what Kondo calls her “just right click point.” Once you find the amount of possessions that are just right for you, you will never go above that amount, she claims. I believe her. She says that when you feel it, you will know it immediately. So, I continue to find things that can leave here and I wait for this moment of clarity.

Marie Kondo tells us that the goal is clearly in sight. All we must do is stay the course. Once all that does not truly spark joy has left for a new life and every last joyful thing has found its place in your home, the journey is through.

An old friend from my past works for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. In 2002, he through-hiked it the same summer as another old friend from a different part of my past did. Each of these hikers told me that although the AT is an incredibly tough journey at times, it is one filled with awe, beauty, camaraderie, friendship and that once you reach your destination in Maine, you realize exactly what tough stuff you are made of. The goal is in sight and the way there is simply one step at a time. Each day, you wake and you know that all you must do that day, is hike a little more.

“Put yourself in the way of beauty.” – from Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Its so simple this way, the KonMari way.

KonMari has been my own through-hike. I have hiked through my past, I have mapped out my future but most importantly, I have reset my life so that all I must do is be here now, taking one step at a time in the present moment of this life.

As I listened to my heart, held and considered every object in my life and then asked my house where the things wanted to live and put them in the best places, by category, I have realized that there was even more that I could put down along the way. I am still discarding.

I read an article in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, last week about mindfulness. It compared our lives lived out to climbing a mountain. As you walk up the mountain, you cannot possibly carry with you all of the things that you find along the way. You may carry them for a while, or keep them while they are useful but once you don’t need them, you put them down as the terrain gets steeper and as the trail moves upward. You must release the heaviness in order to reach the summit.

The journey is where the magic dwells.

“Those who do not believe in magic, will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

As I have been letting go and letting go and letting go and letting go some more, the space around me is feeling fresh, clear, open. It feels like morning at the ocean. Clear skies, light breeze, warm light.

When I am home, I am on vacation.

I’m like a spinning top that was set into motion in January and I am nearing the end of my spinning now. I am finding stillness.

I will be at rest, soon.

Storing my photographs is taking some time. I just scheduled another bulk pickup through the city of Richmond to pick up the huge carpet roll from the 70s that was left in the attic by some former inhabitant of this home. I am listening to my house tell me what it needs to have happen next.

Even this morning, I took a mirror off the wall in the bathroom, revealing a hole in the wall that was there when we moved in. I felt as if my house asked me to figure out a plan about this hole that, frankly, both my husband and I had forgotten. I just decided to get rid of another piece of furniture that I have been using for storage. The drawers are sticky and heavy. It is big. It wants to leave. I will let it go.

I am finding every single thing the best places for them, right now. Taking care of our home and our things is becoming much more routine. With less to care for, we can better take care of what is left.

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Kondo claims that those clients who have gone all the way through the process never experience relapse. As I continue to place things in the right spot for storage and let things go that can’t find a good home, I understand this to be real. I can’t possibly go back to how I used to be. I’m not that person anymore.

Upon walking into a room, I can immediately see what is out of place. I can easily pick up any of the items that don’t belong or had traveled to this other room to be of use and I can have our entire three-bedroom home tidied up within minutes. What used to take me a dedicated Saturday or a whole weekend sometimes, now takes me ten minutes or so.

This feels like pressing a reset button. The home has a resting state and when it is put back to this through a quick daily tidy, it is happy, and so are we.

My weekends are what I have been calling “free days”. There may be a project or two to work on for awhile but the overwhelmed, over scheduled lifestyle is fading away. I am finding blocks of time for all the things I must do. I am building a better rhythm. I am choosing quality. I am taking my time.

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We have been KonMari-ing our bills and our digital life, too. There is no stone left unturned. If it can be simplified, it is getting picked up and regarded for joy.

Does it spark joy? Act accordingly, either way.

There is nowhere else I want to be more than at my home. I feel so loved here and I appreciate all the things here so much. It is a joyful space. It is a serene space. It is a vibrant space. It is a sacred space.

I have started to compare my daily tidying to my time working at various coffee shops in college in Chapel Hill or the summer camp where I spent all of my college summers in South Carolina or Chick-Fil-A in Matthews, North Carolina, where I started my very first job.

As a barista, a sandwich maker, and the drive-through girl, I knew what the expectations were and I was a diligent employee. If we left the kitchen without closing it down properly, the opening crew would be super angry with us. So, now, I see myself as my own other employee. For some reason I have treated myself with way less respect than I have given to co-workers, even strangers. Why?

In those jobs, there were checklists for opening and closing. There was training. There was a list of inventory that was checked daily. There were cleaning tasks to do as needed and some tasks that were done daily, or hourly. I am streamlining my family routines. I am checking off unfinished projects lists. I am working my way through all the things hanging over my head. I am developing systems to simplify the tasks so that most of my time transforms into free time.

Kondo says that the “needs attention” file in our papers should remain empty. Mine is most definitely thinning out. The things that I put off today, are my problems tomorrow. A tidying routine and rhythm and system for storage is crucial to spending the least amount of time tidying and the most amount of time living the good life.

I want to live out my vacation life with my home as a retreat.

I have taken on this massive, almost six-month-long tidy with the goal of perfection so that the rest of my life won’t have to endure a grueling, ongoing sense of something left undone.

Some of Marie Kondo’s more interesting instructions involve the treatment of socks in the sock drawer. She claims that socks are some of the hardest working articles of clothing and that the only time they get to rest is when they are back in their drawer. Balled up socks are full of tension and cannot possibly rest this way. She asks that we unball our socks and stockings immediately and fold them as per her instructions. We also should thank them for all their support. Thank you, socks.

It occurred to me today to imagine myself as a pair of socks and to imagine my home as my little place in the drawer. When I am away, my home is there, waiting, expecting me.

We work hard, we need spaces to rest and recuperate. We shouldn’t have to go looking outside of our homes and our hearts for the stillness that we seek. We can live it out, daily. We can meditate. We can create rhythms. We can spend our time and money only on the things that spark joy.

We trade the moments of our lives to make money, to buy things. If we want fewer things, we have more money and then more time, to do the things that we love.

I just returned from a road trip to North Carolina. It was a six-hour drive there on Friday and a six-hour drive back Sunday. Pulling off the interstate and heading up Chippenham Parkway to the Forest Hill exit, I had such a sense of anticipation. I wanted to hold my child. I wanted to be in my house. I wanted to see my husband’s face.

I am usually glad to come home after a trip, but these days, my home has become more than just the place I sleep and eat and store my stuff. It’s my sanctuary. It’s my power spot, as Kondo promised. Time spent here is time to recharge.

I no longer see my home as a place that needs attention that I cannot give it. I am becoming a better steward of all that is in my care. My home is the place that restores balance to me after I have been out in the out of balance world.

My home gives me energy. It is restorative. It doesn’t sap me like it used to. I don’t try to be away as often as I used to. I remember living in places where I barely set foot in my house. I rented a room in Atlanta for a summer but barely stayed there. It was so full of my things: paintings, furniture, momentos. Even a few hours in my room felt overbearing. I could barely move in my own space. I avoided my own home.

I am a changed woman. I have accepted that change is the nature of things. I have embraced simplicity and non-attachment. I am seeking wisdom and wisdom is finding me waiting.

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Tidying up has been spreading like a wildfire, too. Many friends and strangers have commenced. As we pulled more and more things to the curb to be picked up by the city, neighbors asked to throw things on the pile. Tidying inspires the urge to tidy in others. My heart is singing for all those that find solace and motivation and encouragement and inspiration from my story.

For the first time in my life, I have a message of hope to share that I have been diligently living out. I am a few steps ahead of many. I am simply offering observations about this journey for others on the trail behind me.

I see myself as a KonMari camp counselor. Working at summer camp for all those years was the joy of my working life. I can’t think of any other work that I have done since that suited me quite so well. I have listened to my heart tell me this since the 10 years I have not been at summer camp. I am able to hear fully and to follow my heart now. I am going to begin my own little camp in Richmond.

I am going to share what I’ve learned through KonMari and I am going to create mini-camps about all the things that I love. All the things that spark joy for me, get a place and a time to be in my life. I won’t waste my time on things that don’t truly matter to me. All I have to do is say yes to the things that spark joy for me and be open to learning and growing.

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Over the weekend, I snagged a book off of my sister’s bookshelf.–A Year of Living Consciously by Gay Hendricks. In one of the first entries, the decision to live consciously is described as a series of lessons to be learned. Instead of seeing ourselves as lacking, in need of healing, rather, we view ourselves as students. We ask, what lesson do I need to learn?

The most beautiful part for me, personally, about the KonMari method is that it never allows you to feel lacking. It’s quite the opposite. It encourages you to take full responsibility for your choices of the past and to face yourself head on and keep only what you love and what you need in your present life. Everything else has been a lesson.

All the people of the past that are no longer around were lessons. Some lessons were more difficult to learn than others. I have struggled to let go of photographs of certain people in the past. Kondo reminds us that the memories most precious to us do not need evidence. We are these experiences. They have shaped us but we do not need to stay back there, with them. The people of our past have taught us things. We can put them down if they are especially heavy and we can keep hiking through the mountain of our lifetimes, unencumbered, carrying only the lesson in our hearts.

For my living, I’m an art teacher in Richmond. One of the ways that I check for understanding as I teach something new, is I ask the students to teach it back to me. I feel like KonMari and The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is now a part of me that I will never lose. I have followed it. I am living it. I can testify to the truth of what Marie Kondo says. I can teach it.

I am going to host a mini-camp on June 20th for anyone wishing for their own camp counselor to guide them from a few steps ahead. If you want to sign up for camp later this month, please contact me through email or my website. I want to be of service in this life. I want to share what I’ve learned.

Someone inspiring that I stumbled upon during my KonMari experience is a guy named David Kelley of IDEO design in California and a professor at the d school at Stanford. He gave a talk about finding your purpose and shared an image of a Venn diagram he saw presented once. He said that the three circles represent: 1. What are you good at? 2. What do you love to do? and 3. What can you make money doing?.

I have #1 and #2 taken care of and now, I work toward building a financially sustainable life as a writer, artist, teacher, musician, and messenger of love. I feel like a freight train that is just starting to move away from the station. The wheels are slowly turning and soon enough, I will be on my way!

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The first article I wrote was received by so many with love and compassion but sometimes people question this process. I have some friends that jokingly have been calling it “Calamari.” I have learned in my thirty-five years that “haters gonna hate” and that haters aren’t truly happy people. Let’s not judge each other. Let’s choose words of encouragement.

In fact, let’s only speak happiness. This process is a metamorphosis. It is a softening within the cocoon that is our homes. We are vulnerable during this event.

Brene Brown, another person I am so inspired by, writes and researches vulnerability. In her research she has learned that vulnerability is actually a way to become powerful beyond measure. Through speaking truth to power, I am stronger because I write of my weaknesses.

“Nobody’s perfect.” – The Felice Brothers

I sing and play a little guitar and sometimes I write songs. About ten years ago I wrote a song with the line, “All my life, I’ve looked for somewhere to call my own, felt so homesick for a place I’ve never known.”

I don’t feel that now. I haven’t felt it in a long time, in fact but all the stuff I lugged with me tried to tell me that I was still seeking something outside of myself and that I was not whole and that I was broken.

“I went looking for my ideals outside of myself. I discovered that it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it. The dreams dearest to my heart are right here.” – Anne Shirley from Anne of Avonlea

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is not blatantly spiritual but I think both Kondo’s Japanese cultural experience including working at a Shinto shrine give the writing and the message of the book an insanely soulful voice. I’ve most definitely searched my soul though KonMari.

I had become so ambivalent to my spiritual self, an area where I once floundered in and later lost through my refusal to think about it. I was happy enough in my life. I had a great little family, a house I liked, a cool neighborhood, great city, time outside, awesome friends, etc. I was living the dream, or so I thought.

Socrates does not mince words–“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

So, I let myself go there. I let myself ask the big questions of this life.

I don’t know the answers. We are all still learning who we are.

I am just fine with the not knowing because sooner than I probably will want, I’ll find out what happens to us. I know that its OK because all around us is beauty, if that is what we look for and ask for. There is beauty in this life and I choose to believe that there is beauty in the next one too. The human experience is a learning time for us. I am going to reach as far as I can for my soul’s sake. Enlightenment is non-attachment.

I will seek this goal. I have no choice. Death awaits us all, so does life.

“Am I dreaming, or am I dying? Either way, I don’t mind at all.” – Sturgill Simpson

My son is two, and for his birthday he got a bug carrier and a magnifying glass. About a month ago, he found a caterpillar. It was a big one, not one of the tiny green spring time canker worm varieties, a big one. We typically keep a bug for a night and then find a new one the next day. So, the next morning, a Saturday, there was no caterpillar in the carrier, there was a cocoon. I did not ignore this metaphor.

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This virtual through-hike of the Appalachian Trail and this cocooning time at home has taken less time than it took to grow my child inside my own body. In the grand scheme of one person’s life, six months can fly by. I’ve been nesting. Soon I will fly.

“Go all the way”- Charles Bukowski

On my journey through my stuff and myself, I found some good stuff. I found summer camp. I found painting. I found teaching. I found love through friendship. I watched friendships grow. I nurtured them. I planted them. I brought people together for meals. I played music. I sang. I danced. I made things with my hands. I took classes. I went outside a lot. I found kayaking. I learned hard lessons. I gave up drinking for a good while. I gave up some people, too. I found a love like I’d never known. I found a true soul mate. I found a best friend, a partner, a confidant, a dreamer and most importantly, a teacher. I found motherhood. I found Sturgill Simpson. I found KonMari. I found mindfulness. I found myself.

I liked who I found.

You are goodness and light. You shine from within. You are a messenger of love. You are love. You are a teacher.

Everyone is a teacher.

I feel like I have learned some very valuable things recently. I feel as though it is the teacher in me reaching outward with this information, writing it, photographing it, preaching it, testifying.

I found my religion.

“My religion is kindness.” – Dalai Lama

Most of what I had stored in my attic, I held on to because of an attachment to the past. Most of what I had stored in my art studio were stockpiles of supplies because of a fear for the future.

I have burned the journals and childhood things. I have thrown away countless photos. I said goodbye to my whole CD and record collection and I am doing the same to my itunes catalog. Those songs are a part of me that will never leave me. The precious ones stand out. I can find any song I want online at any time. So, I don’t need to stockpile music as proof of how cool I am. I am cool because I’m a human being. We are given this life. All of our lives are valuable.

The stockpiles have to go, too. I said goodbye to knitting and crocheting. I realized that I can’t stand painting small surfaces so I gifted them to local artist and resident artist at my school, Chris Milk Hulburt. I have been on a painting bender.

Creative moments comes in waves for me. This wave was a huge one. I painted over every single surface left in the house from before KonMari. I painted only listening to the music of Sturgill Simpson.

I must mention this person. His music has been the soundtrack to this year, of loss, of self-discovery, of healing, of growth. This has been a banner year of my life. I will never be the same. His music is one of those reasons.

“My actions are my only true belongings.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

So, I listened, on repeat, and I painted. I suppose this is a sort of one-sided collaboration, but to me, listening in this way and responding in one of my modes of expression, I am making this music so much of a part of me that it will always be there, sending these messages of love all the way to the fiber of me. Taking action in response to the good that has come my way is what I will do.

I am bringing in the good. I have started to read a book called Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. His main message is that our brains evolved to think of things in a negative way so that we could survive. In this new world, we can bypass this bias and instead train our brains to bring in the good and to hold on to it. We can change our minds. We can change our world.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” – John Lennon

This will be my next journey: training the mind. Through meditation, through life hacks, through poetry and paint through yoga and through daily meditations of keeping house. We are only victims if we decide to be. The mind is powerful. It can change. You can change your mind. I have changed mine.

The message I must convey to anyone out there with a little bluebird singing in their heart too, keep going. Go all the way.

Do it for your soul. Do it for all of us.

“Woke up today and decided to kill my ego.” – Sturgill Simpson

A KonMaried world sounds like a much better world, to me. Our planet is seeking balance. We must train our minds and meet our true, radiant selves, in order to put it back in a natural state.

Kondo describes a natural state for a home as one that does not have more than it needs. In other words, a life that carries only what it can carry.

“Take what you need and you leave the rest.” – The Band

Everything you release will come back to you in a new way, when it is ready to return. Letting go isn’t losing something, it’s gaining something else. Letting go is the happiest of events. Letting go is like flying.

My best friend, Erin, was here in Richmond for work last week and stayed with us. She is my hero. She is walking through the pain of losing her husband at age 30. They had just moved to Oregon six months before he lost his life in a kayaking accident. She is seeking wisdom as well and she is held up through her faith, her friends, her family, and the love in her heart for her husband.

She shared with me a link to a post that Lean In author, Sheryl Sandberg, shared on her Facebook page this past week. I had tears streaming down my face reading her words and I was finding it hard to breathe, knowing that she was speaking straight from her broken heart to help all of us. Her husband also died. Just over 30 days ago. She shared a quote from a Rabbi friend of hers that has been rolling around in my mind for a few days.

“Let me not die while I am still alive.”

My heart breaks sometimes for the human experience and my heart sings, too. We have this beautiful life to live out. Attachment holds us back from the life that we are meant to be living. Even in the midst of sorrow and heartbreak, we can be mindful. We can see that the present moment is the only true thing.

“The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.” – Herbert Spencer

Dr. Daniel Perdue, my husband’s old professor of Tibetan Buddhism and all around amazing human being, left this planet in November of 2013. I am so grateful that I got to meet this man and that my son got to meet this man, this friend to so many with a compassionate heart. I have been holding on to some of his written words, shared near the end of his life, as he swallowed his diagnosis of impending death. Truly, we all have this diagnosis. We don’t know the time, the place, the circumstances. It does us good to think on this, every so often. My husband told me that at the start of each class, as everyone was seated in a circle, Dr. Daniel Perdue would say, “Having been born as we have, we now face death.”

In a letter he wrote before he died, he said this:

“Now I have demonstrated the truth of what I told you that day. In a room at a Greek Orthodox Christian monastery where they keep the bones of the deceased monks, there is a sign that reads: ‘As you are now, so I once was. As I am now, so you will be.’ It is barely sensible to fear what is inevitable, so take heart. What seems more sensible is to make preparations for what is inevitable, insofar as possible. We cannot all agree on what, if anything, may come after this life, but we must all agree that this life will last only as long as it lasts, and then it will be no more. And, in every moment of this life we long to have happiness and avoid suffering. Thus, what seems most sensible is to use every day, use every hour of your treasure of life to move toward your happiness. Be diligent in your search to find a true path. It may be true that in the end it is only wisdom that will free us, but the best path in that direction is compassion. Please hear me.”

This life sometimes brings suffering and sorrow. What we can do to balance this is that we can seek awe, seek beauty, seek good and surround our lives with only the things that spark joy.

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Sarah Fought

Sarah Fought was born in the same state as Bruce Springsteen but has spent all but the first two years of her life living south of the Mason-Dixon line. She practices being in each moment, fully present.

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