Note: The “Sorting Myself Out” posts is a series exploring and implementing the ideas of Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Peterson on self improvement and living properly.
As someone with ADHD who has trouble being tidy for 2 days and has a load of bad childhood experiences due to being messy, believe me, the prospect of cleaning my room did not excite me. But hey, as JP says, there’s nothing easy about anything worthwhile and if I can’t even clean my damn room, there’s really no hope for me. It’s going to be a Sisyphean effort, I thought, resentfully, with gritted teeth. So being the master procrastinator that I was, I cast about for shortcuts and hacks, and found KonMari. And like most self help books, she promises lasting change (and I’m not saying all of these books are lying. Reading that in every book just makes you a bit cynical, that’s all). Whatever. If there’s some method out there to promises to make tidiness a bit less like pulling teeth, I’m giving it a shot.
The Big Idea
Her basic philosophy goes something like this:
1. We have a lot more than we need and can really stand to get rid of most of our stuff, even if they are unused.
2. To do so, categorize our belongings and sort through them one category at a time. Trust your feelings. Keep only those that you really like (Spark Joy).
3. It’s going to be hard, but it hurts a lot less than we think it’s going to, after it’s done. We won’t miss most of our stuff. Not at all.
4. After you’ve done your merciless culling, it’s time to take whatever’s left and designate a place for each item. With the possible exception of underwear and socks. In the case of these things, just fold them properly in a designated drawer. And each time, after you use an item, try to return it to its proper place.
The above is a very rough summary and I have to admit some parts of it made it sound bad or even unworkable. To remedy that I just direct you to her book. Sorry. I’m awful at this. But if I haven’t put you off the concept entirely, let’s skip to the ending.
Results + A 5 Month Update
So is it all that it’s cracked up to be? Let’s examine this in detail:
Am I still messy? Did it she fulfill her promise that you can do this once and have it be relatively pain free, ever?
This is one of my drawers and it’s been at least this neat for 5 months. I’m not saying this is god-tier neatness, but hey, if someone like me can maintain this, I’m sure you can do even better. So my answer is,
Yes and no. Don’t go around thinking that your troubles are over. That won’t happen. You’ll use your stuff and you won’t always put them back right away. Do you need to regularly put things back? Yes. But is it worthless? Is this a vicious Sisyphean cycle? What’s my take on this, given that I have ADHD, a disorder that’s almost defined by being messy? (Among other things)
A resounding yes. Do it. It’s worth it. It really does help and I can say this because it’s been five months and I used to be a complete basket case when it comes to clean rooms.
It actually does make life easier. For one, you know where everything belongs. But what if you can’t remember? Labeling.
Take removable tape, or blackboard film pieces as I have and plaster them all over your place. I just put my items directly on top of them; you won’t even see them most of the time. Now, I know exactly where each item belongs and putting them away takes seconds. It’s a mechanical, thoughtless process. Everything has been decided, so I don’t need to stand there stressing about where to put what, and whether that will create more clutter. After I declutter, I already know I will have enough space for everything; the whole process even becomes enjoyable. If nothing else, it’s now fast and painless. I think what bogs us down half the time is precisely because we haven’t decided what’s going to happen in advance, and when we’re on the spot trying to clean, we’re stuck over paralyzed over the best way to go. Having a premade plan that you can trust is seriously underrated. This is like automation in a way. The thinking’s been done. Just do it the same way, every time.
I’m not the world’s neatest person still, but I know that if I ever want my room to be neat and pleasant to spend time in, making it happen is almost as easy as snapping a finger. Cleaning my room no longer induces stress and horror, and as a result, I just… do it. Maintenance is, of course, required. Life is suffering and resting on your laurels is asking for trouble, but for the price of less than 15 minutes a day of putting stuff where they belong, your room can be sparkly.
Ok, but still, how?
Yeah. I get it. I just told you a whole lot but I bet the whole process still sounds very abstract. Fortunately, Kondo gets feedback like that too and she came out with a second book, Spark Joy, that is basically an illustrated how-to manual. It includes discussion of how to decide what to throw away, how to fold clothes such that when you remove something, your whole drawer doesn’t become a mess, how to fold socks so that they feel good as new every time, etc. If you feel good about this method, go ahead and get that book. You don’t need the first book I recommended. In fact, I find Spark Joy to be a way more useful book.
How painful is it, after having gotten rid of so much?
Not at all, actually. Your mileage may vary on this one, but after taking the plunge, I don’t even remember what I got rid of. That’s how much I didn’t need them.
How about her kooky bit about thanking the stuff you throw away?
I have no real verdict on that one except, do it if it makes you feel better; it’s not as silly as it seems. I didn’t do it. I don’t believe objects have spirits or feelings. I can see why someone would. One thing I realized during the course of this whole thing is how much guilt we feel vis-a-vis our possessions. Yes, throwing away stuff that really needs to be thrown away, even if we haven’t used them, induces a huge amount of guilt. I’ve had people offer to take things they don’t even need off my hands once they found out I was getting rid of them because there’s something so sinful about letting go of something still useful.
I thought long and hard about why that is. Do we anthropomorphize our objects? I think we do. And when I throw away my stuff, especially if I bought them unthinkingly and they have been left unused for years, I do feel I owe them something. An apology perhaps. Especially if the object I’m getting rid of is a stuffed animal. I actually have this strange feeling that they’re alive somehow, and Kondo gets it. She recommends covering their eyes. That idea still makes me clam up as somebody who is completely defenseless against cute things. So in conclusion, do it if you must. It’s really not as strange as it sounds.
How long did it take? How much effort was it?
I live in a shared flat and only did my room (Kondo advocates against dragging other people along with you unless they’re on the same page as you- I think the same can be said for any self improvement project. Do not evangelize. Sort yourself out, and the world may follow). It took about two weeks to do everything; I didn’t do it everyday. I spared a couple of hours every couple of days, and that’s just my room. She estimates that for a whole house it would be something like six months. I got rid of bags upon bags of stuff.
During the process, my room was occasionally a mess. A real mess. And that’s a downside I just had to live with. But she advocates doing it as fast as possible, whenever you can spare time, and I can see why; you just lose steam if you drag it out. For me, it was relatively easy because I only had to take care of my room. I can’t comment on how it will be for you, but I don’t regret it at all.
I’m quite enthusiastic about the method and can recommend it with a clear conscience. Am I saying you will get the exact same results, or even have the same emotional experience as I will (make no mistakes, it was quite emotional)? Not at all. Your mileage may vary. But for what its worth, I’m recommending it as something that worked for me and I can say without doubt that it’s changed my life in a very positive way.