I recently discovered the KonMari Method of decluttering and organizing, and I’m using it to go through my whole house, discarding everything I don’t want or need (read my introduction here.) Three things set KonMari apart from other methods:
- sorting by category instead of location
- keeping only the things that bring you joy
- discarding everything before you organize
In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie explains why traditional organization methods fail and how you can avoid rebounding after decluttering. She recommends a specific order for tidying: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany,) and mementos. After sorting my clothes, shoes and accessories, and books, I’m completely devoted to Marie’s way of thinking about clutter. There is something exhilarating about letting go of things that do not bring you joy. Not only do your rid your house of clutter, but you also free your mind from things that make you feel sad or guilty.
The third category on Marie’s list is papers. Papers don’t bring me joy, but I can’t just throw out everything I have! One of my problems with paper is that I don’t have a system for dealing with mail, bills, letters, business expenses, etc., so I shuffle papers from pile to pile, losing important documents in the process. I also have a lot of paperwork from my mom’s estate. I put it in boxes in my attic last summer because I didn’t know what to do with it; now I know: shred early and often!
The section in the book about papers is a scant ten pages long. Marie recommends discarding anything that does not fall into one of three categories: what you’re currently using/needs attention, what you need to keep for a short period of time, and what you must keep indefinitely. Papers you’re currently using might be invitations to which you must reply, forms to fill out, and bills to pay (although electronic billing and banking can significantly reduce this paperwork.) Once you’ve attended to these, you can throw them away. Short-term papers might be school calendars and sports schedules. Once the school year or season is over, you can dispose of these, too.
Marie says you should store frequently used papers in one place, within easy reach. She recommends vertical storage, with labels for each category (bills, invitations, forms, etc.) The key is to discard the papers as soon as you no longer need them, which is where most of us fail, I think. The Container Store has many options for organizing papers; these are my favorites:
Papers you have to keep indefinitely include home and car loans, insurance policies, tax returns, and contracts. Marie suggests putting everything in one clear plastic folder without sorting them into categories, but I didn’t follow her advice on this one. I like to keep these papers in folders with labels. It’s visually appealing and helps me remember where things are. To maintain this category, you should discard things like bank statements, credit card statements, old checkbook registers, pay stubs, etc. We used to need paper records; now we can look up everything online, so it doesn’t make sense to keep them. Since they have identifying information on them, it’s best to shred these papers when disposing of them.
I set aside an afternoon to tackle papers. I started by putting everything but the boxes in the attic on the floor in my second bedroom/office, which is really a sitting room. You can’t see them, but there are three containers to the right of the etagere with really old documents like my maternal grandmother’s will and my dad’s continuing education certificates.
This closet is a great example of the pitfalls of other organizing methods. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken everything out of it, discarded some things, corralled what was left into baskets and containers, and put everything back on the shelves neatly. There are several baskets of miscellaneous items – a white noise machine from Bed, Bath, and Beyond; a picture frame I got on a trip; random cords and household supplies – things I mean to use or should store elsewhere. I have a feeling their days are limited.
After I put all the papers on the floor, I went through them, container by container. I set up a basket of active files, my version of Marie’s “needs attention” category and decluttered my permanent filing container. (I’m not using all the hanging files and folders in the tote – everything from the second set of red ones is empty.) I don’t have a designated office or command center; horizontal filing systems work for me because I can move them around when I’m doing paperwork. I whittled my mom’s papers (recent tax returns, her will, and other estate documents) down to two small containers, and got rid of paperwork from my dad and grandmother that spanned from the 1940s to the 1980s. It felt so good to put it in bags for shredding! This is what I have left:
I got the tote with the colored hanging files and folders from The Container Store many years ago. I actually had four of them – one for each color folder. I set up the folders according to the FileSolutions Home Filing System, which I also got from The Container Store. I got the brown basket at The Container Store, too. They don’t carry it anymore, but these are similar. (I ♥ The Container Store!) When I quit teaching four years ago, I got rid of decades of files – oh, so many files – and culled the colored file system down to one box. It’s even leaner now that I’m not keeping years of financial statements in it.
This is going to the shredder, along with all the papers in my attic:
The closet looks like this now:
I can access the files easily – the brown basket with the handles is tucked between the hanging file container and the wall – and the shredder is ready for action.
I cleared everything from the sitting room except bags for sorting. I’m going to use this room as a staging area for komono. I really love this room but haven’t used it much because it was a catch-all for clutter. No more!
In case you can’t tell, I’ve embraced KonMari. It’s the right thing at the right time for me. Clothes, books, and papers make up about 15% of what I own, and it’s been pretty easy to go through them. The next categories, komono and mementos, will be harder. In addition to the sitting room closet, I have closets and cabinets in two bathrooms, a utility closet, a coat closet, a kitchen, and a garage full of stuff to sort through before this is all over. Oh, and the attic! There is stuff in the attic that I haven’t touched since I moved into my condo seven years ago. I am determined to go through all of it. I think I will end up donating, selling, or throwing away about 40% of my belongings. That sounds crazy, but it’s possible.
I feel like I should make this disclaimer: results may vary! I am single, and I don’t have kids. All the stuff in the house is mine. I get to make all the decisions about what to keep and what to discard. If it doesn’t bring me joy, it’s not staying. I don’t have to negotiate with anyone. I am also self-employed and have a flexible schedule, so I can designate a lot of time to this task. If you live with other people and have a full-time job, KonMari-ing your whole house might take longer, and you might have to keep things that make other people happy. Don’t let that sway you from doing it; just know that your process and results will look different from mine.
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