Spring Cleaning (with or without Marie)

Now that the madness around Tidying Up with Marie Kondo has waned, and spring cleaning fever is nearly upon us, it’s time to look at some practical approaches to getting your home a little closer to your ideal. Let’s address the KonMari hype, look into where her approach originated, and finally address the flaws in that method. At the end, we’ll be left with an actionable approach to planning our own home-readiness goals this spring.

The Hype

The show (brilliantly) dropped on January 1, just in time for our collective national conscience to obsess over resolutions. Fortunately, our collective memory is as short as our collective resolve, and we’ve moved on to other obsessions. But what a mountain of hype it was! Everyone was talking about this show, and it seemed to be the source of half the memes I saw, at least. Well, at least it distracted us from the madness of politics for a moment.

With all our failed resolutions behind us and fresh spring breezes ahead, there’s a lot to think about as we shovel away the heavy burdens of the typical March snows. The show was a bit of voyeuristic fun, seeing the lives of others and feeling the gratitude that at least we weren’t that cluttered in one way or another. But what about the 30-books post? Why is extreme minimalism essential to eliminating clutter? Can people really be so stress-free after dumping their precious belongings in the trash?

The Origins

To answer these questions, it helps a lot to have read her best-known book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In it she discusses how there is some magic in the experience of having a tidy home, but the process of tidying is anything but. She also discusses her lifetime of tidying (literally, her singular focus on tidying began when she was a very young child). It also helps a great deal to learn about the time she spent working at a Shinto shrine (and what on earth that even means).

Well, it’s more than we can explore here today, but rest assured it’s all explained in the book. And with that understanding, the focus on what “sparks joy” for you becomes crystal clear. There is no ideal number of books or shirts or spatulas for any person to own. The core of the process is to eliminate joyless things from your life.

But what about beginning the process itself? Isn’t it an incredible undertaking to go through literally everything you own in one fell swoop? Who has that much time?

The Flaws

And herein lies the actual problem. It is a small number of people indeed who will undertake this Herculean task. From what we saw in the show (if it’s to be believed), the results are tremendous. And each step builds momentum for the next step. But how do you get an entire family all on the same page, ready to commit every spare moment to going through absolutely everything in the house?

Alas, dear reader, I wish I had the answer for you. I, myself, am still doing what I call Pre-KonMari, where I try to find everything I own and make sure that the things are at least gathered together enough that I know where to find them. You know in the book, Marie suggests that after a client has completed going through their clothes, any other clothes that turn up later in the process should be automatically thanked and discarded. The thinking is that if you forgot you had them, they can’t bring much joy. It’s probably a fair point, but it’s also terrifying to consider.

I guess it’s as clear to you as it is to me; the only flaw is with me. I’m not willing to commit yet.

Well, that and neither the book nor show address what to do with the things we’re expected to discard. Recycling is a global thing, right?

Action Plan

So what should we do to prepare for spring? Well, I have a few ideas.

First, it’s important to admit to ourselves that we have clutter and that clutter contributes to stress and anxiety. So doing something about it is a noble goal worthy of some priority. We want less clutter, more tidiness, and less stress. And we envy the ease and comfort that we saw at the end of each episode of that show.

Second, we have to acknowledge that a change this big is going to be hard. If we aren’t willing to go all-in and do everything in one fell swoop, it’s going to be difficult to maintain momentum. We need to forgive ourselves for failing (or redefine what success means). Breaking the project into tasks can go a long way to provide clarity and maintain momentum.

Third, we should look for a less dumpster-filling approach to our efforts. What were the three R’s we learned in school on Earth Day? Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle? Well obviously it’s too late to reduce, but the next best thing is finding your less joy-sparking items a new home (whether you sell or donate them). In lieu of that, please at least recycle the things you’re letting go. (Resources for harder-to-recycle items are listed below!)

A Few More Things

In addition to purging the extraneous, there are a few home maintenance items that are great to address as part of your spring routine. Not only will these items improve your health and safety, but they can save you a lot of money in the long run. (A stitch in time saves nine, right?)

  • Replace furnace air filter
  • Clean furnace air ducts (if you didn’t in the fall)
  • Flush and inspect water heater (but skip the insulating jackets – they void warranties!)
  • Clean gutters and make sure they’re moving water away from your home foundation
  • Fill windshield fluid
  • Replace vehicle air filter and cabin air filter
  • Remove and store your snow tires (if they’ve got good tread, anyway).
  • Replace smoke detector batteries (in fact, now that your holiday cooking is over, fish them out of the garage and mount them back up where they belong)

In Summary

Between the delightful show, the terrific book, and the thorough companion book (Spark Joy, which illustrates all the details that couldn’t be covered elsewhere), I am head over heels for the KonMari method. Sure, I’m not ready to commit to going all-in (and dragging my family with me). But I can already see how much simpler things will be on the other side of that effort. So even though I’m crazy about Marie Kondo’s method, it’s easy to understand the resistance to her popularity.

So your most important takeaway from all this?

Set your OWN goals, and smash them!

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