How to Declutter If the KonMari Method Doesn’t Work For You

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From the KonMari Method™ to tiny homes, minimalism has been the new hotness for a while, with new books, blogs, and Netflix specials cropping up all the time. It seems that, as we all spend more and more time at home, we’re taking a closer look at our belongings and how to make our homes — and ourselves — feel better while we stay inside.

Even though I don’t have a ton of stuff, the last few weeks at home have made me feel like the walls were closing in on me, and for the first time since lockdown, I felt like I was losing my marbles. I assumed the feeling stemmed from staying indoors literally all the time. Due to the smoke from the California fires, I couldn’t even go outside for fresh air during my lunchtime walks — but even when the air cleared up, the feeling didn’t subside.  

So I started purging with the KonMari Method just like I did a few years ago. This time, though, nothing sparked joy when I held it, and everything somehow ended up in the donation bin — even things that I’d previously cherished. Naturally, as we grow and change, what sparks joy for us will also change, but, well, I panicked a little.

Was something more nefarious afoot? Was I depressed or having some other sort of shift in my mental state in which I shouldn’t be making decisions? Should I call my therapist? Wait for whatever it was to pass? Or just get rid of everything and risk regretting it later? 

I didn’t think I was depressed, but I’d never experienced such a detachment from possessions that once brought me a lot of joy. Nearly all the items I was evaluating had survived previous purges, including the KonMari-ing of 2017. How could it be possible that this many of my treasures no longer sparked joy? It bummed me out. 

Even after a fair amount of research, I was not able to find a better way to evaluate my belongings. Some minimalist blogs and guides suggested asking questions like the following:

  1. Does this add value to my life?
  2. Is this useful?
  3. Have I used this in the last 6 months?
  4. Can I replace it easily and inexpensively?
  5. Do I need this to live?

These questions are practical and would work for some items, but they didn’t resonate with what I was feeling. I knew I needed something else for my decluttering process this time because I was so confused. The measuring stick that I’d used to evaluate my possessions for years — joy — was no longer an effective gauge to determine what to keep and what to release. I didn’t know how to move forward without a new way to assess my possessions, but I knew assigning some arbitrary number of maximum allowable possessions wouldn’t work nor would the questions above. 

Then I read Fumio Sasaki’s Goodbye, Things, and I was able to come up with my own question:

When I interact with this, what does it say to me?

Once I came up with this question, I didn’t even have to necessarily ask it; I simply paid attention to the thoughts that would naturally spring to mind, both during everyday tasks and when I was intentionally decluttering.

Through this process, I became aware of how much negativity was unknowingly harbored in my belongings. After I started listening to the stories my items told me, my donation pile grew quickly: a painting that resurfaced memories of a fight with a friend, a set of jars that reminded me of my shopping addiction, a wedge cushion that made me think of the 2 years I was sick with GERD. 

With each item removed, I felt the burden lighten and my walls opened up just a little bit more. 

But this system is not without its complications. For example, I came across a necklace that was given to me by a friend who was dear at the time but has since lost touch — and not for lack of trying on my part. This necklace, though it still reminds me of my friend, now also reminds me with a pang that we’re no longer in touch and makes me feel sad. Could I treasure this necklace and use it to remember my friend with fondness or would it always remind me of a chapter that ended before I was ready?

I had a tough time deciding whether or not to keep this necklace, and what I decided to do with it may be different from what you would decide to do in the same situation.

Like many circumstances in decluttering, it’s a personal choice, and you do what works for you. Especially with items that can’t easily be replaced, don’t feel rushed to make a decision. A lot of minimalist blogs recommend taking the things that you can’t quite let go of, putting them in a box and then tucking them away somewhere out of sight. Then if you don’t reach for the box in some amount of time (some recommend 6 months, though I would go with whatever length of time would give you peace of mind), you can probably safely find them a new home. I didn’t use that method, but I did have 3 ways to declutter items when I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

Whatever you decide, I encourage you to tune into the stories your possessions are telling you on repeat. These stories can weigh us down or lift us up. Let’s be intentional about choosing what we bring into our homes and what is allowed to stay.

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Feature photo by Maksim Goncharenok from Pexels