A true account of the life-changing magic of tidying up

A photo essay about how the Konmari method is more than an organizational strategy that encourages you to come face to face with your own things, but a philosophy that can truly cure what ails you.

Marie Kondo says that when you get home, greet your house itself. Say hello and give thanks. You will feel the home respond and it will feel like a breeze passing through. When we walk through our home, now, we do feel this way. We love our home and our home loves us. I think we were destined for each other. I have set myself on the task of clearing out the back reaches of the attic, that were filled with things of the past, the past owners and past lives of this home. Our homes should be a power spot. Our homes should feel like sacred places, not storage facilities.

Original — April 27, 2015

What follows is the journey of Sarah Fought–lovable, thoughtful, former borderline-hoarder–as she discovered how to change her life through the KonMari method. If you’re unfamiliar, take a second to read up on it–or don’t. Sarah will explain the principles. And trust us, here at RVANews, we are believers. KonMari forever!

Do you remember how Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood started each episode?

“It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood,” Fred Rogers would sing as he walked through the door. He followed the most predictable yet delightful routine. First, he would swap his dress coat for a cardigan that he zipped up over his tie, all the while, still singing. Then, he would sit on a bench and playfully swap his work shoes for his sneaks as he ended his song with, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” He smiled at us through that TV, and we knew that he meant it. He was a happy man.

Without fail and, I believe, intentionally on his part, he modeled these joyful rituals over and over again for children of my generation because ultimately, living within the repeating rhythms of the natural world allows children and all human beings to thrive.

KonMari feels like the intro to Mister Rogers.

KonMari also feels like gardening, I imagine.

KonMari is the taking care of beloved things.

To me, KonMari feels like summer camp. There are still the necessary routines, responsibilities and expectations of life but most of the time is time to play.

KonMari is where you get to be yourself.

KonMari is Cheers.

KonMari is the good life.

KonMari is vacation mode.

KonMari is letting go.

KonMari is breathing easy.

KonMari is becoming present.

KonMari is a meditation.

KonMari is forgiveness.

KonMari is bonsai.

If these don’t sound like things that you want in your life, you probably don’t need to keep reading. But, if your heart is telling you that your day-to-day craves simplicity and honesty, trust me when I say that just a few months ago, never in my wildest of wild dreams would I have imagined anyone asking me to share advice about tidying, except for maybe contribution to an article about what not to do. But, here I am, able to share my story of spending time over the last three months of my life, coming face to face with every single thing that I owned.

The first day of KonMari is for the clothing, shoes and bags category. Take everything out and put it all in a pile on the ground. This visual information is daunting. Coming face to face with my own excess was in moments troubling. It made letting things go easier, though. To begin, give a shout out to the house itself and start deciding if things spark joy, or not.

The first day of KonMari is for the clothing, shoes, and bags category. Take everything out and put it all in a pile on the ground. This visual information is daunting. Coming face to face with my own excess was in moments troubling. It made letting things go easier, though. To begin, give a shout out to the house itself and start deciding if things spark joy, or not.

My own little life museum

One of my favorite childhood books, Mooch the Messy, was about a rat who loved his messy life. All my life I have been labeled, rightly so, as the messy one. Chores were such a bore and a waste of time to me–I would rather be doing a million other, more awesome things. I liked my messy ways just fine.

Since moving to our little brick rancher on the South Side of Richmond in a sleepy old neighborhood tucked between a golf course and the James River Park System, I have viewed my home as a constant work in progress. There was too much stuff for our space and the storage areas were filled up so much so that it was difficult to walk into them. There were stashes of clothes that didn’t fit, food we wouldn’t eat, teenage photos of myself that I felt ashamed of sharing, random wires without homes, art supplies I hadn’t touched since college, bins, boxes and trunks full of tax files, journals of angst with lots of childhood ephemera thrown in.

I had compiled my own little life museum. But, why? Why move these things from city to city, boyfriend to boyfriend to husband, job to job, and life to life?

In the words of Sturgill Simpson, “Just let go.”

My husband, Rickey, has been helping me with these memory-hoarding tendencies for a while now, since we first met, really. We have moved together three times, and he’s cleverly treated each move as a strategic time to talk me out of some of my attachments. He’s good at leaving the past in the past and he already knew just how great it feels when you discard something that no longer serves a purpose. He has been on this path for many years. He is one of the great teachers of my life.

Storage is a huge part of the KonMari method. There are instructions for how to fold and hang clothing as well as store in dressers and closets. My clothes have stayed pretty much just like this since mid-January. Every single item must have a place to live. The shoes live in their apartments. Some have roommates, some live alone.

Storage is a huge part of the KonMari method. There are instructions for how to fold and hang clothing as well as store in dressers and closets. My clothes have stayed pretty much just like this since mid-January. Every single item must have a place to live. The shoes live in their apartments. Some have roommates, some live alone.

He urged me to allow empty space when we first bought our home but instead, I did the opposite. I took over closets, sheds, dressers, cars, porches and utility rooms. There was no hideaway from Mooch the Messy. If there was space, I was likely to fill it.

I’ve apologized a trillion times since I started the KonMari method. He, of course, always accepted and loved me just as I am, anyhow.

“I’m gonna love you til the wheels come off.” –Tom Waits

Everybody needs a hideaway. Everyone needs to spend some time with themselves, breathing, and just being surrounded by the beauty they love.

I can tell that Rickey is amazed, relieved, and happy that I have turned this new leaf over. I’m still Mooch the Messy deep down but with far less things to manage, even Mooch can find her keys, these days.

Three months later, things are still leaving our home.

Cleaning and maintaining my house used to feel arduous and I often left tasks unfinished. Dishes would stay piled on counters for days. I would spread projects across the dining room table all week long. We lived like nomads in our own space. I have moved my messes from room to room and from house to house since I can remember.

My filing cabinet, pre-KonMari. After clothing comes books and then papers. Papers never really spark joy, so Kondo says throw them away. You can always look things up online later. Keep only the absolute necessary documents and store those in plastic sheets in a binder. So, this is what I did. Finally, permission to remove papers from my life. I am not an admin person and I have struggled so much to keep my documents organized, as you can see.

My filing cabinet, pre-KonMari. After clothing comes books and then papers. Papers never really spark joy, so Kondo says throw them away. You can always look things up online later. Keep only the absolute necessary documents and store those in plastic sheets in a binder. So, this is what I did. Finally, permission to remove papers from my life. I am not an admin person and I have struggled so much to keep my documents organized, as you can see.

Now I can clearly see that mine was, in many ways, a life out of balance, and I had no idea how to ever actually make a change. I didn’t believe that it was in my nature. I had resigned myself to a life of clutter and disarray. I was Mooch the Messy, incarnate.

Enter Marie Kondo and the KonMari method

Little did I know, one Saturday morning lounging with coffee on the couch in my pajamas looking at my social media stuff that my life was about to change, forever. I clicked a link to an excerpt on Slate from Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Immediately after reading, I downloaded the book to my kindle and devoured it by late afternoon. I was so moved by the KonMari way that I resolved to begin my first category bright and early that next morning and get er’ done.

I don't even miss any of these things. I do not feel regret at letting these things go on to their next lives. They want to spark joy, elsewhere. They do not want to gather dust in the attic or become a burden. The lightness that I experienced after dropping off that post-yard-sale load of stuff is hard to recount in words. When I arrived home, I knew that my real task wasn't only to let go of things but to allow the people of my past to go as well.

I don’t even miss any of these things. I do not feel regret at letting these things go on to their next lives. They want to spark joy, elsewhere. They do not want to gather dust in the attic or become a burden. The lightness that I experienced after dropping off that post-yard-sale load of stuff is hard to recount in words. When I arrived home, I knew that my real task wasn’t only to let go of things but to allow the people of my past to go as well.

I felt compelled to start the process as soon as I understood the method and have continued to feel compelled all along, as though I am participating in a sacred rite of passage, being moved by unseen forces. There is a spirituality present during the KonMari experience, if you want there to be.

Somehow, I know that I will find homes for each and every thing that I own, and I always knew that I would from the start. The things themselves will tell me where they want and need to go. It’s sort of like going into labor and knowing that the best way to get there is to accept it and go through it. Once the baby is born, the real fun can begin!

KonMari is a birthing.

The den is not a disaster, these days. This room is the coziest one. Flags live in here, together. Family photos go in here. Owls, fish, patterns on fabric, fires and lamplight are here. Another amazing concept that I discovered during this KonMari phase of life is that of Hygge. The Scandinavian people use this word to describe the feeling of watching the snow fall out the windows, snuggled in warm blankets, drinking a hot chocolate. I am a summer girl, and so Hygge is helping me to understand that there is a season for all things. Winter is a time for writing, reflection, for family and coziness. Making the everyday, special, even if that day is freezing cold.

The den is not a disaster, these days. This room is the coziest one. Flags live in here, together. Family photos go in here. Owls, fish, patterns on fabric, fires and lamplight are here. Another amazing concept that I discovered during this KonMari phase of life is that of Hygge. The Scandinavian people use this word to describe the feeling of watching the snow fall out the windows, snuggled in warm blankets, drinking a hot chocolate. I am a summer girl, and so Hygge is helping me to understand that there is a season for all things. Winter is a time for writing, reflection, for family and coziness. Making the everyday, special, even if that day is freezing cold.

Marie Kondo claims that if you feel that this book was written just for you, then you are correct and that fate has brought you to this book. I believe that remarkable statement to be absolutely true.

Loose change is gathered in one place and then it needs to be spent or it needs to head to the bank. KonMari initially made me some money between my yard sale and my coin collection.

Loose change is gathered in one place and then it needs to be spent or it needs to head to the bank. KonMari initially made me some money between my yard sale and my coin collection.

I needed a reminder that I am already the person I was hoping to become. If we focus on joy, we keep the best of ourselves and let the other parts go. We forgive ourselves and we forgive others. We edit our past by the gentle carving away of the hurt parts and leaving only the happy memories to be what we think upon and nurture.

“It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” – Tom Robbins

Kondo guides us through our attachments to the objects of our lives and her path is absolute perfection. It is simple, healing and empowering. It promotes self-efficacy and mindfulness. It relies on gut feeling rather than arbitrary rules. Her method stays the same for everyone but the results vary greatly from person to person.

To each his own.

I have had a postcard collection since I was two years old. As I started entering the sentimental categories, I realized that some things still sparked joy and some things sparked sadness and regret and had to leave my life as soon as possible. The postcards get to stay. I love them still. I store them in two wooden wine boxes and visiting friends help me to curate shows for the postcard gallery I added to my house. Just this morning, a friend and fellow KonMarier, sent me a message that she found a postcard rack at a rummage sale. This is KonMari magic. The answers will present themselves at the right time. All that was released, comes back in a new way.

I have had a postcard collection since I was two years old. As I started entering the sentimental categories, I realized that some things still sparked joy and some things sparked sadness and regret and had to leave my life as soon as possible. The postcards get to stay. I love them still. I store them in two wooden wine boxes and visiting friends help me to curate shows for the postcard gallery I added to my house. Just this morning, a friend and fellow KonMarier, sent me a message that she found a postcard rack at a rummage sale. This is KonMari magic. The answers will present themselves at the right time. All that was released, comes back in a new way.

— ∮∮∮ —

Release me, past. I release you.

KonMari is super simple. Focus only on what to keep rather than what to discard. Ask yourself the same question for every single thing that you own as you hold each item in your hands. Sort through things by specific categories following a very specific order.

Does this spark joy?

Ask that very same question over and over and over again. Then, feel the magic unfurl. Let the healing begin and let every other non-joy-sparking thing go away.

Give gratitude for the purpose served and the time spent together. Wish them each well on their journey to the next person and/or place and remove them from your home as soon as possible.

I literally hugged a sweatshirt goodbye that first day. I hugged my sweatshirt because I needed to hug my past self and finally say goodbye to her. She is already long gone. Let her go. She grew up. She found true love. She found motherhood, she found mindfulness. She is me, now.

I have made mistakes. I have hurt people. I am asking for forgiveness. There have been times that I was terribly careless with the hearts of people that I used to know. I am sorry, friends and lovers. I loved you so imperfectly.

After the yard sale, I had a completely empty room. This room is the breathing room now. It is a place for dancing, singing, reading, rolling, meditating, looking at art, listening to the birds sing in the morning and for plants to live. It feels like a sacred room. I burn candles and I hang art here. I give myself time to just breathe, here.

After the yard sale, I had a completely empty room. This room is the breathing room now. It is a place for dancing, singing, reading, rolling, meditating, looking at art, listening to the birds sing in the morning and for plants to live. It feels like a sacred room. I burn candles and I hang art here. I give myself time to just breathe, here.

The second stage is to store things together by categories and give every single joy-sparking thing that you love a special place to call home. But, finish discarding first.

It’s easier than you may think.

It feels so good to do it. I felt as if I could breathe easier. I felt like a weight was lifted off of me.

KonMari feels like a ceremony and a celebration.

KonMari is an act of love.

It does take lots of time and patience and gumption, like most good things.

Tidy up once, perfectly and you will never have to do it again, Marie Kondo promised. I started this process three months ago and I am proof that she is the real deal. She is a hero of mine. She freed me from the traveling life museum I had built around me, trapping me in.

Nothing wants to sit in an old box filled to the brim, in a too hot or too cold attic for 20 years and never even be held by a person or used for any intended purpose or even re-purposed. Our things want to be of use to us and if they aren’t useful or at the very least, attractive, they are taking up space and adding untold sums of mental weight. They want to be freed from the life museum prison. They want at least a chance to have another go at making someone happy. Let them go!

Too many coolers. Too many of a lot of things.We saved three of these, small, medium and large.

Too many coolers. Too many of a lot of things.We saved three of these, small, medium and large.

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”- William Morris

The magic is what happens when we trust in this method and really, truly say goodbye for good to physical things as well as emotional things. We have to hug goodbye to our old selves if we want our current selves to be free in each new moment.

I ended up ceremoniously burning most of my journals that had been traveling around with me for a decade or so. Once I sat down to look through them, I realized within a few moments that most of the writing wasn’t happy. I used to write to work out my feelings and I guess I still do, except now, I feel very differently. I feel a lot better. I want to keep it that way.

This is Rickey's bonsai tree. He had been loving on this thing since I've known him. It started as a cutting from a much larger tree that he let go a few years ago. He is a nurturer of life. It lives here, above the fridge.

This is Rickey’s bonsai tree. He had been loving on this thing since I’ve known him. It started as a cutting from a much larger tree that he let go a few years ago. He is a nurturer of life. It lives here, above the fridge.

Once I began to release things, the energy was transformed and renewed. Space was created for other things to come into my life. The me that I have been made a way for the person that I am now. I have learned and grown from those past mistakes and regrets. What more is there to do? This is the human experience. Our failures of the past make us the humans that we are. Live a little and then live some more.

The inside of the closet is a place for the secret treasures of your heart. Things that spark joy, but maybe only for you. I made another collage of some of the paper things I have held onto. Photos, cards, magazine pages and pieces of art live in here. Every time I open my closet, I feel so happy. This will change, too. Every room and space lives in constant flow. Does it spark joy? If it no longer does, it leaves. Things come and other things go. Change is the nature of things.

The inside of the closet is a place for the secret treasures of your heart. Things that spark joy, but maybe only for you. I made another collage of some of the paper things I have held onto. Photos, cards, magazine pages and pieces of art live in here. Every time I open my closet, I feel so happy. This will change, too. Every room and space lives in constant flow. Does it spark joy? If it no longer does, it leaves. Things come and other things go. Change is the nature of things.

I am finding balance and alignment for the first time in my thirty five years and what it took was finally and permanently letting go of a whole lot of my own stuff.

KonMari is like sailing. It feels wild and free yet calm, steady and deliberate. It’s like kayaking, too.

KonMari is like running a river.

This is my memory jar. I tore and cut out things I found in my journals, sketchbooks, old cards, letters and school papers. This is a jar of my happiest documented memories.

This is my memory jar. I tore and cut out things I found in my journals, sketchbooks, old cards, letters and school papers. This is a jar of my happiest documented memories.

KonMari is a joyful path through the layers of living that have built up and obscured the endless possibilities that dwell only in the present moment.

Some of the moments of the past year have brought me to my knees. We lost some of our very dear friends. One of these losses was sudden, unexpected and it still hurts, sometimes. It sent me spinning for a while. I spun out into some unexpected places.

It is fun to place all the things you love together and to find them the perfect places to call home. I made a dream catcher for my earrings and sunglasses to hang from. I let my son choose my earrings each day. It's been a wonderfully fun addition to my morning routine.

It is fun to place all the things you love together and to find them the perfect places to call home. I made a dream catcher for my earrings and sunglasses to hang from. I let my son choose my earrings each day. It’s been a wonderfully fun addition to my morning routine.

The biggest lesson that I have learned is that we are not so much afraid to let the stuff go. We are afraid to let the people go. There is something that causes us suffering in this life and that thing is attachment. The only way to ease suffering is to contemplate impermanence. Change is the nature of things. The only way to end suffering is to be present in the moment.

“Imagine all the people, living for today.”– John Lennon

Bukowski has a poem called "The Laughing Heart" with this line that has been my mantra for many years now. KonMari allowed me to embody this statement by taking responsibility for my choices and by working my way through the remnants of the remnants of the life I've already lived. "The Gods will offer you chances, know them, take them," he says.

Bukowski has a poem called “The Laughing Heart” with this line that has been my mantra for many years now. KonMari allowed me to embody this statement by taking responsibility for my choices and by working my way through the remnants of the remnants of the life I’ve already lived. “The Gods will offer you chances, know them, take them,” he says.

I held a yard sale at the end of that first week of KonMaring. I discarded at least half of my belongings, maybe more. At the end of the day, once I dropped my second truck load off at the Love of Jesus Thrift on Midlothian Turnpike, I felt euphoric. I did have a fat stack of cash in my pocket but even if I had just held a yard free, I would have still felt this lightness of being.

You have to do this process as quickly as you can. I got lucky and had a string of snow days at home when I was in the thick of discarding. I moved through my home with a swiftness, I built momentum. Each catergory was easier so that by the time I arrived to the final one, sentimental things, I was a graduate of letting go university. I was methodical. I followed the exact path Kondo lead me down. She was my teacher.

KonMari is like pulling off a band aid.

KonMari is a tornado that loves you.

My studio is still a room in progress. I have a writing desk and a wooden drafting table, given to me by one of my life mentors and teachers, Dr. Pam Taylor. I have known some beautiful people in this life and having their things in my day to day life, gives me love. This is my own sacred space to meditate, to read, to write, to paint, to sew, to make things that spark joy for others.

My studio is still a room in progress. I have a writing desk and a wooden drafting table, given to me by one of my life mentors and teachers, Dr. Pam Taylor. I have known some beautiful people in this life and having their things in my day to day life, gives me love. This is my own sacred space to meditate, to read, to write, to paint, to sew, to make things that spark joy for others.

Since that first day in January, I have documented and shared almost every step of my KonMari journey through photos and captions on instagram and through writing on my website.

I could not keep to myself what was happening in my heart and in my home each time I took on another category. With each decision made to keep or discard, I took another step toward embracing the sacred mystery of this life I have been given.

“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.” – Mary Oliver

My KonMari journey is almost complete. Things are still finding their homes. The last few items that can’t find a suitable place to live or a purpose here, are destined for the door. It becomes very clear that if you can’t find a place for something in your life, then you no longer have room for it.

Those things that hold memories of those loved and lost now have a home in a shrine, above the top shelves of the cabinets in our laundry room. Every thing finds it’s way home in KonMari.

Storage is not the answer, letting go is.

I don’t know if this book is for everyone or not but it was meant for me. If life feels out of balance, even a little bit, then this book may be meant for you, too.

This is a collage of all of my collages over the years. My plan is to keep this as a work in progress on my wall. As I find other images that speak to me, I can cover up old ones that are losing their hold on me. I have a tropical dream.

This is a collage of all of my collages over the years. My plan is to keep this as a work in progress on my wall. As I find other images that speak to me, I can cover up old ones that are losing their hold on me. I have a tropical dream.

The daily routines, rhythms, and rituals I am currently building for my life allow time for the freedom to follow some of Thoreau’s advice and “go confidently in the direction of my dreams,” to live a life only I can imagine for myself.

“How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.” – Annie Dillard.

Marie Kondo says that when you get home, greet your house itself. Say hello and give thanks. You will feel the home respond and it will feel like a breeze passing through. When we walk through our home, now, we do feel this way. We love our home and our home loves us. I think we were destined for each other. I have set myself on the task of clearing out the back reaches of the attic, that were filled with things of the past, the past owners and past lives of this home. Our homes should be a power spot. Our homes should feel like sacred places, not storage facilities.

Marie Kondo says that when you get home, greet your house itself. Say hello and give thanks. You will feel the home respond and it will feel like a breeze passing through. When we walk through our home, now, we do feel this way. We love our home and our home loves us. I think we were destined for each other. I have set myself on the task of clearing out the back reaches of the attic, that were filled with things of the past, the past owners and past lives of this home. Our homes should be a power spot. Our homes should feel like sacred places, not storage facilities.

I have embraced the truth that it is within my ability to change my own mind. I can choose a life lived through mindfulness and I can literally change the way my brain works, going forward. I will take time to breathe and be. I will be joyful. I will seek awe. I will be grateful.

“So, please use your life well. It truly is like having a bucket of gold dust with a little hole in the bottom.” – Dr. Dan Perdue

I don’t want to waste the treasure of this life. I want to savor the moments of this gold dust life. I want my life to shine.

The way is compassion, please hear me.

Thank you, Marie Kondo.

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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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