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Can tidying really change your life?

I felt quite embarrassed buying a book called ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ by Marie Kondo (the old-fashioned way, in person, at the wonderful City Books in Hove). It might sound like an unreconstructed 1950s housewife manual, but I was strangely drawn to it, having noticed recently that with some major life changes underway, I had become unusually fixated with turning out cupboards. I’m still unsure if this is a distraction technique, the first time for 11 years I’ve had a minute to notice the chaos and dirt, or an urge to bring order to my home in line with trying to improve other areas of my life.

But this book isn’t about putting objects away (“daily tidying”), this is literally putting your house in order. It is major league tidying. Otherwise known as the more zeitgeist-like ‘decluttering’. Less often known as ‘giving away half your possessions’. And yet, getting rid of half my possessions is what I have begun to do. Sounds a lot more enlightened and empowering than putting stuff away neatly, doesn’t it?

KonMari is a Japanese tidying guru, with very strict guidelines. You tidy by category, not location - all your clothes together, not one drawer at a time. After heaping every piece of clothing I owned onto the bed, I had to visualise my new life (one where I like most of my clothes and can always find something to wear). Then you keep only the stuff that “sparks joy”. This sounds strange, but after a while it begins to make sense. I said goodbye to my red sequinned wedding shoes, the fake fur coat I’d bought in Selfridges with money left to me by my grandmother, and an interview suit I’d had tailor-made for me in Vietnam. I felt quite emotional and somehow guilty about giving away these garments, but hadn’t worn any of them for over a decade, and two of the three had only been worn once in my life. Meanwhile, there they were moving from house to house with me, and taking up space in my wardrobe. And perhaps not just physically - have they been weighing me down in other ways too? KonMari believes that “the space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past”.

In all, I said goodbye to around half of my clothes and shoes (literally said it, following advice to thank each piece for the good times or lessons they taught me, which was quite amusing). When I proudly showed a friend my half-empty drawers and lines of unused coat-hangers, he was worried I’d regret it after the evangelism had passed. Another wondered if I’d want to fill the space with new clothes. My children got melodramatically sentimental about every item destined for Oxfam.

Initially nervous about the volume of stuff I’d given away (ten big bags, since you asked), one month on I’m loving the new space I’ve created and the fact that I know exactly what I own, and like it all. There does seem to be a freedom in questioning whether objects bring you joy, and letting go of the stuff that doesn’t any more or never really did. Next category is books. I’m steeling myself. Bring it on.

Charlotte Semlyen, October 2014

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