The Power Of A Well-Edited Closet

If you walk into my dream closet, you’ll find something straight out of a Hepburn film: classically tailored pieces, organized by color and occasion, everything in it’s perfect place. Walk into my real closet, and you’ll find…well, picture a department store, post sample sale. Honestly on most days, I’m lucky if I can find a pair of matching shoes without having to dig through a pile of discarded clothes and heels I swear I’m going to wear next season.

Though I might not like to admit it, I have a deep tendency to hoard: It’s part of my potatohead nature. When something catches my eye, I want to keep it forever. Coupled with a contradictory manic need to organize, living in an untidy space truly makes me feel like Joan Crawford. To make sure I don’t go all “no wire hangers” a la Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, we tapped New York Times Best-Selling author Marie Kondo – the tidying guru behind the Kon Mari method – to make a Guest Appearance. Her one golden rule to keeping a cleaner life? Only keep items that spark joy…

From Marie Kondo

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.

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.  The full version of SPARK JOY is now available for purchase here

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