How To Tidy Up Your Life

Now that Fall is here, it’s safe to say that we’re feeling a little overwhelmed. You know the feeling: you come home from work when it’s already dark and it looks slightly like you’ve been robbed. How did that toothpaste get on your bedside table? Why is your favorite bra hanging from the doorknob?

We need to seriously tidy up our lives, so we’re turning to Marie Kondo, our go-to organization guru. She’s helped us clean out closets, organize our living spaces, and value joy in our everyday lives. We now humbly present all her tips in one big bible: This is the ultimate guide for keeping your life in order; you can thank us later…

From Marie Kondo 

Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order. That’s why I’ve devoted most of my life to the study of tidying. I want to help as many people as possible tidy up once and for all.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should just dump anything and everything. Far from it. Only when you know how to choose those things that spark joy can you attain your ideal lifestyle.

If you are confident that something brings you joy, keep it, regardless of what anyone else might say. Even if it isn’t perfect, no matter how mundane it might be, when you use it with care and respect, you transform it into something priceless. As you repeat this selection process, you increase your sensitivity to joy. This not only accelerates your tidying pace but also hones your decision-making capacity in all areas of life. Taking good care of your things leads to taking good care of yourself.

What sparks joy for you personally? And what doesn’t?

The answers to these questions represent a major clue for getting to know yourself as a recipient of the gift of life. And I am convinced that the perspective we gain through this process represents the driving force that can make not only our lifestyle, but our very lives, shine.

Some people have told me that they had almost nothing left after discarding those things that didn’t spark joy and, at first, didn’t know what to do. This reaction seems particularly common when people finish tidying their clothes. If it happens to you, don’t be discouraged. The important thing is that you have noticed. The real tragedy is to live your entire life without anything that brings you joy and never even realize it. From the moment you finish tidying, you can begin to add a new zest to your home and to your life.

Only two skills are necessary to successfully put your house in order: the ability to keep what sparks joy and chuck the rest, and the ability to decide where to keep each thing you choose and always put it back in its place.

The important thing in tidying is not deciding what to discard but rather what you want to keep in your life. It is my hope that the magic of tidying will help you create a bright and joyful future.

How to Decide What Sparks Joy  

If you don’t know what brings you joy, start with things close to your heart

At her first lesson, my client sits frozen before a mountain of clothing. A white T-shirt is clutched in her hand, and a garbage bag lies ready to one side. She puts the T-shirt back on the pile and picks up the gray cardigan beside it. After staring at it for ten seconds, she slowly raises her eyes. “I don’t know what ‘joy’ feels like,” she says finally.

As you know by now, the key to my approach is to keep only those things that spark joy and to discard the rest. Does it spark joy when you touch it? While some people find this criterion easy to grasp, many wonder what it actually means, and my clients are no exception. When that happens, I give them this exercise:

Pick the top three items in this pile that give you joy. You have three minutes to decide.

In the case described above, my client paused for a moment to think. “The top three . . .” she muttered. Then she rummaged through the pile, pulled out five items, and spread them in a row. After rearranging them several times, she returned two of them to the pile, and, just when her time was up, announced firmly, “These are the top three from right to left!” Before her lay a white dress with a green flower print, a beige mohair sweater, and a blue flowered skirt.

“That’s it!” I told her. “That’s joy!”

I was quite serious. The best way to identify what does or doesn’t bring you joy is to compare. In the beginning, unless your feelings are very black-and-white, it’s hard to decide if something brings joy when you look at it by itself. When you compare it with a bunch of other things, however, your feelings become clear. This is why it’s so important to sort only one category at a time, starting with clothing.

Let me share another special trick for identifying what gives you joy when you are just beginning to sort your clothes: start with the ones that you wear close to your heart. Can you guess why? Because that’s where you feel joy—in your heart, not in your head. The closer your clothing is to your heart, the easier it is to choose. For example, bottoms, such as pants and skirts, are easier than socks; tops, such as blouses and shirts, are easier than bottoms. Technically, lingerie, such as brassieres and camisoles, are worn closest to the heart, but most people don’t have enough to make a proper comparison. Therefore, my rule of thumb is to start with your tops.

If you feel unsure about any piece of clothing, don’t just touch it; hug it. The difference in how your body responds when you press it against your heart can help you recognize if it sparks joy. Try touching, hugging, and gazing closely at any items about which you are not certain. As a last resort, you can even try them on. If you have many outfits you want to try on, it’s more effective to put these in a separate pile and try them on in one go when you’ve finished sorting your other clothes.

It can be hard to recognize what brings you joy at first. One of my clients took as long as fifteen minutes to check the first piece of clothing she picked up. Even if you feel like it’s taking you a long time, there’s no need to worry. Differences in speed simply reflect differences in length of experience. If you take sufficient time to explore your own sense of joy at the beginning, the speed with which you make decisions will accelerate rapidly. So don’t give up. If you keep trying, you, too, will soon reach that stage.

How to make the most of “useless” things that still spark joy

“I’m not sure this will be of any use. But just looking at it makes me happy. It’s enough just to have it!” Usually a client will say this while holding up some random item that seems to have no conceivable purpose, such as a scrap of cloth or a broken brooch.

If it makes you happy, then the right choice is to keep it confidently, regardless of what anyone else says. Even
 if you keep it in a box, you’ll still enjoy taking it out to look at it. But if you’re going to keep it anyway, then why not get the most out of it? Things that seem senseless to others, things that only you could ever love—these are precisely the things you should display.

In general, there are four ways to use such items for decorating your home: place them on something (miniatures, stuffed animals, etc.); hang them (keychains, hair ties, etc.); pin or paste them up (postcards, wrapping paper, etc.); or use them as wraps or covers (anything pliable like scraps of cloth, towels, etc.).

Let’s start with the first category—items to place on something. While this is pretty straightforward, it can be applied not only to things like ornaments and figurines, which were meant to be displayed in this way, but also to other items. A heap of them placed directly on top of a shelf can look rather messy, so I suggest “framing” them by placing them together on a plate, a tray, a pretty cloth, or in a basket. This not only looks neater but is also easier to clean. Of course, if you actually prefer the more casual look of piling them directly on a shelf, please go ahead. Or use a display case if you have one.

One of my clients took a large corsage and stuck a rhinestone frog brooch in the center so that the frog’s face poked out. She then put this in a space between her brassieres inside a drawer. I’ll never forget the smile on her face when she told me, “It makes me happy just to see his face peeping out whenever I open this drawer.”

For the second category, items that hang, you can use keychains or hair ties as accents in your clothes closet by slipping them over the crooks of your hangers. You can also wrap the necks of hangers with longer things, such as gift-box ribbons or a necklace that you’re tired of wearing. Or you can hang things from wall hooks, the ends of curtain rails, and anywhere else that looks feasible. If the item is too long and awkward-looking, you can cut it or tie it to adjust the length.

If you have so many things to hang that you run out of places, try stringing them together to make a single ornament. One of my clients made a curtain by stringing together cell phone straps of a local mascot she loved, and hung it across the entranceway. While the sight of the mascots’ faces waving in the air looked rather bizarre, the owner declared that it transformed her doorway into
“the entrance to paradise.”

This brings us to the third category, items for pasting and pinning up. Decorating the inside of your closet with posters you have no other place for is standard practice
 in the KonMari Method. This can inject a thrill into any kind of storage space, including your cupboard walls and closet doors, the back boards of your shelves, and the bottoms of your drawers. You can use cloth, paper, or anything else, as long as it brings you joy.

The final category for decorating your interior with favorite items is things that can be used for wrapping. This includes anything supple, such as leftover scraps
of cloth, hand towels, tote bags, and clothes made with beautiful patterns and fabrics that you love but that don’t fit you anymore. Such items can be used to bundle up low-voltage cables that are long and unsightly or as dust covers for household appliances when they’re not in use, such as electric fans in winter. Down quilts that are stored away for the off-season can be rolled up to expel the air inside and kept in a cloth carrying bag. This works just as well as vacuum-sealed storage bags.

By the time you finish, you’ll see something you love everywhere you look.

Reprinted from SPARK JOY Copyright (c) 2016 by Marie Kondo. Illustrations copyright (c) 2012, 2015 by Masako Inoue. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

For more tips on organization, check out Rebecca Atwood’s guide to organizing your home.  Also see these 10 quick ways to update your apartment.