Originally published on Urban Affairs Magazine on December 7, 2017

Winter has arrived in Bangkok with cool mornings and breezy evenings. It’s that time of year when you reunite with good friends and things at the office hopefully start to run at a slightly slower pace. It is also a time for reflection and for setting goals. One of my goals is to live more with less. The other day, my husband picked up something of mine, and asked me, “When are you going to use this?” Although I’ve been decluttering regularly for the past few years, I realize I’ve fallen off the decluttering bandwagon and need to get back on.

I first started decluttering a few years ago after I read an article in The New York Times about the Kon Mari craze grappling the US. I was curious and went out to buy Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I immediately saw why it was a hit. The book was both humorous and eye-opening. After reading it, I looked around the house and started seeing things I hadn’t used in years. Ever since, I have been working on minimizing the amount of “things” in my life.

Marie outlines her Kon Mari Method which is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person. Purging and throwing away things takes a lot of mental power as it is all about making decisions. I find myself asking a myriad of questions: Should I keep this or that? What if I would later need to refer to these old lecture notes? This was a gift or this was once my favorite bag/shoe/dress. Should I save this for when I lose weight?…And it goes on and on. The reasons as to why I should keep something are endless and mentally exhausting. Looking back, some of them are quite funny. My husband solves this by suggesting I take photos of things I’d miss.

Marie Kondo’s method is simple. You keep the things that “spark joy” when you touch it. That is her sole criteria for whether you keep or throw something out. If you decide to throw something out, she says you should also thank it for the joy it gave you when you bought it, and for letting it teach you that it doesn’t suit you and to let go. This part reminds me a bit of Buddhism.

Following the Kon Mari method does not mean you tidy by room or area as we often do, but by following a systematic Kon Mari approach. We start with clothes, then books, papers and miscellaneous items. This is to prepare our minds for decluttering more difficult categories. Each category is subdivided. For example, under clothes you start with tops (shirts, sweaters, jackets, etc.). You take all the tops you have, wherever they may be in the house, and pile them altogether. The size of the pile gives you a sense of how much you have. The first time I did this I was shocked. I was never much of a shopper, but I certainly had more than I needed and there were certainly a few I hadn’t touched or thought of in years. It was a bit overwhelming. I had to take a deep breath and go for it and I’m glad I did. The outcome is cathartic. A house clear of unwanted and unloved goods feels amazingly good.

A wonderful side effect of decluttering is that you save money on buying storage and you save time because it becomes much easier to find anything you need. Money and time for you to live your life and accumulate more experiences. Isn’t that wonderful? Marie Kondo sums this up well in her book: “when you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too… You become surrounded by only the things you love… pour your time and passion into what brings you most joy, your mission in life.” Life begins when your house is in order. Now let’s get on the decluttering bandwagon!

Book Review: “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo

It’s May and it’s hot in Bangkok.  Thailand broke an all new record for electricity use the other day.  My thermometer reads 36 degrees celsius but yahoo weather says it feels like 45 degrees.  I agree.  There’s not much I feel like doing in this heat except stay indoors, out of the heat and with a good book.

The other day I picked up “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo and it has gotten me on a purging spree.   For the last few years I’ve been trying to clean up my stuff, donate things to charity, but still there seems to be a never ending pile of clutter around the house.  I dream that my house would be minimal like that of a hotel room with only the bare necessities. When I travel, I seem to be able to cope well with just the stuff I have in my suitcase, but when I’m home it seems to be another matter.  Sometimes I feel like I want to just throw everything away, but in the end, I never can.

I succumb to thoughts of guilt and talk myself out of throwing away things in perfectly good condition and function.  I downgrade old t-shirts and pants to “stay at home” clothes and end up with a large pile of stay at home clothes which are not comfortable.  My shelves are filled with books both at my house and at my parent’s house. I have almost all the books I’ve bought since I can remember, even those penguin classics since first grade.  I have handwritten letters in shoeboxes from years ago when we didn’t have email and the only way we kept touch with friends was by writing letters.  With books, I’ve been getting better and sharing the joy of reading with friends, but still, I feel overwhelmed with all the clutter.

Then I picked up this book and she makes you feel better about purging things.

Kondo as a whole “Kon Mari” method to throwing things away by categories and concept on how to fold clothes, but what I love most about the book is the psychology behind it.  She eases your guilt about throwing things away.

She says to keep only the things that “spark joy.”  If it no longer sparks joy, then it no longer needs to be with you.  For things that once gave you happiness and now have passed their use, you can thank them for the pleasure it once gave you.   If you have books and things you saved up to one day  read and use, but have not yet gotten to them, then you most likely will not have the time to get to it. Out it goes. If you have folders and folders of old seminar notes that you hardly refer to anymore, toss it out.  Everything you learnt, should be in your head already.

Decluttering your environment also declutters your mind and soul.  I haven’t done the entire house in one go yet as she suggests, as I may need a whole week off (or maybe two if you count my stuff at my parents house)  but just two days and I am already seeing results.  I have more closet space and my study feels lighter.  I need less furniture. I don’t need to buy anymore storage.  I feel great.  I could keep doing this all day.  Alex has to tell me to stop and rest.

I wonder why I keep so much junk. I  tell myself,  “Live simply. Accumulate experiences, don’t accumulate ‘things.’

Happy cleaning my dear friends.   Oh, the book is pretty light reading and can be finished in one afternoon., But if you don’t want to read, she’s on youtube too.