On The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

Who doesn’t need a little magic in their homeschool? I love Marie Kondo’s ideas in her darling little bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  It’s easy to see why this Tokyo-based organizer has gained a big following in America; her ideas are encouraging, liberating, and accessible. More than just keeping your house organized, her strategy, dubbed the KonMari method, is a lifestyle. She says, “Remember the KonMari Method…is not a mere set of rules on how to sort, organize, and put things away. It is a guide to acquiring the right mind-set for creating order and becoming a tidy person.” Marie believes that by becoming tidy in our homes, we prepare ourselves to meet our best potential.
As I read, I considered how to apply her ideas to my situation. In this article, I describe Marie Kondo’s fundamental technique, then explore how it can be applied to a homeschooling family. Here are the basic principles of the KonMari Method:

We Have Too Much Stuff

Before she ever begins to tell you how to organize, Marie Kondo teaches you “the Art of Discarding.” “The real problem,” she explains, “is that we have far more than we need or want.” As I began to sort, I found she was right; I really was surrounded by unnecessary items. She encourages her readers “…[T]o truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful.” It’s okay to let go! Keep your focus on the things that you know are worth keeping. “You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order.” Marie recommends thanking the objects for their role in your life and then moving forward.

Use the “Joy” Test

When deciding what to keep, Marie keeps it simple. Her test is just this: “Take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.” That’s it. She boldly spurs her readers to free themselves, saying, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” She believes it is very important to individually handle each item as you consider the joy it brings.

Sort by Category, Not Location, and Do it in the Right Order

This ordering of the process is the most important aspect of the KonMari method. “Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value. If you reduce what you own in this order, your work will proceed with surprising ease. By starting with the easy things first and leaving the hardest for last, you can gradually hone your decision-making skills so that, by the end, it seems simple.” I found great success following her suggested order, partially because it helps to know where to start.

Do It All at Once

Marie suggests that by making tidying a major event, you will have better success because the change will be enough to become a dramatic re-start. “If you tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little, you can dramatically change your mindset.” This means you don’t need to consider tidying a daily event; rather, it is a one-time major overhaul. “If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you’ll see instant results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after.” This doesn’t mean that you should procrastinate tidying until you have a large period of time. I found that I was able to tackle major chunks of the process over a two-week period. Even with interruptions from daily responsibilities, I was able to keep chugging forward on the tidying project.

Purging Builds Your Confidence

“One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.” You begin to see that you have control over your environment and that your choices are making you feel good. Even when you make mistakes, Marie says, this can still boost your confidence. Both successful sorting and mistakes in discarding can do so.

Here are a few tips to apply the KonMarie method to homeschooling:

You “Work” at Home

With the number of hours you spend in your home, both living and schooling, you are greatly affected by the weight of untidiness. Being surrounded by piles of items needing your attention can leave you feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. The clutter can crush your enthusiasm. Marie encourages us, “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.”

Simplify: Fewer Books

Keep it really simple. Don’t lug around books. Don’t hang on to curriculum you don’t find helpful. Streamline your shelves by keeping what you and your student really enjoy. Marie teaches, “In the end, you are going to read very few of your books again.” Perhaps a special exception is when you have younger children coming up the ranks.
Marie recommends, “[T]he moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend that you keep your collection small.” This means you purchase, collect, or check out books only when you have time to process them. Use the “novelty” factor to your advantage and read the books right when you get them.

Keep Less Paper

As homeschoolers, we keep track of legal documentation, lesson plans, and portfolio information. Ask yourself, if the paper must be kept, “Can I store it digitally?” Also, keep fewer items; make the portfolio a sampling, not a complete and perfect documentation.
Marie is a minimalist with papers. “My filing method is extremely simple. I divide them into two categories: papers to be saved and papers that need to be dealt with.” When you have only these few papers, you can keep track of their contents more easily. “Refrain from subdividing them any further by content. Don’t forget that the ‘needs attention’ box ought to be empty.”

Tidying Is Contagious!

Don’t worry about compelling anyone to throw things away; they will catch your enthusiasm and begin to want to discard their things, too! Marie advises, “[T]o quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy.” If you have someone who isn’t interested indiscarding, try reading this book aloud together or talking about how refreshed you feel now that you’ve been getting rid of some of your own things.

Don’t Get Too Caught Up With How to Discard

You may find yourself thinking, “I spent good money on this! I don’t want to just throw it out!” Sometimes it is discouraging to realize you have bought so many unnecessary items. You may find you have some items that are worth reselling. Warning: Don’t try so hard to eke a penny out of every extra book that you lose your vision of discarding. Just trying to manage sales on eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon is emotionally expensive. 

Sometimes it is more refreshing to simply let go.

The KonMarie method of tidying can help you improve your homeschooling by empowering you to focus on things that matter most. Think of what it would mean to you to create a refuge and sanctuary for your homeschooling. “Transform your [homeschooling place] into your own private space, one that gives you a thrill of pleasure.” Imagine the benefit of filling your school bookshelf with books that you love, reminders of the pleasure you have with learning. Would that change your daily experience of educating at home?

For more information on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, visit tidyingup.com.

Originally published in the November-December 2015 VaHomeschoolers Voice

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