5 Ways to Declutter (The Japanese Way)

A few months ago, I decided to be a minimalist. It started as a fashion statement. I woke up one morning and felt like I wanted a makeover of the prints explosion that was my closet: animal, stripes, checkers, and strange geometric shapes of every color. I wanted a pared-down approach with only the basics. As I read more about a minimalist wardrobe, I wanted to apply it to my life. I suddenly  grew tired of being bogged down with items, thoughts, and feelings I felt I didn’t need. I noticed I was carrying a heavy burden, both physically and emotionally, and I wanted out.

I discovered Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and boy did it change my life. I realized that minimalism is not about living with next to nothing, but being surrounded by only things I love. I started disposing items I no longer needed. Soon enough, I became happier. By living with less, I get to pursue my passions because I am not tied down by my things.

Thinking of doing the same? Here are 5 simple ways to  tidying up, Japanese style (or the KonMari method):

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5. Figure out why you’re doing it

The first and most important step in decluttering is figuring out why you’re doing it. What made you decide to start decluttering? Is it to own less items? Or to lead a simpler life?  Imagine the kind of lifestyle you want to lead, and this will help you decide what items to keep and what items to throw away. By clearly identifying your goal, you will be motivated to see it through and finish it.

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4. Do everything at once

Most people encourage that you declutter slowly. They say that you should do it a little per day. But Kondo advises that you tidy the whole house in one go. If you declutter one room or area at a time, you’ll just get tired because you won’t see results. If you declutter this way, you’ll never see the end of it. According to Kondo, getting rid of unnecessary things in one go means you see instantaneous results, which will affect the way you think, and will make you never want to hoard again.

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3. Do it by category, not room

Another misconception about living more with less is cleaning by room. People would start with the living room, then move to the dining room, then the kitchen, bathrooms, and bedroom.

Decluttering by room may seem like a good idea, but you won’t realize just how much stuff you have if you use this method. For example, if you have books all around the house, you won’t realize how much you have and you won’t know how badly you need to discard. Kondo suggests doing it by category: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and then personal mementos.

To do this, gather all your clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and personal mementos in one area. You’ll see just how much you have by piling all your clothes together, and will inspire you to get rid of the ones you don’t really like. Get rid of clothes you don’t like anymore, the ones that don’t fit, and the ones that you haven’t used for a long time. Don’t worry about discarding a lot. This will mean you will be left with your favorite clothes. For books, discard the ones you that have been on your to-read list for a while (Kondo says that it’s better to read the book that grabs your attention right now). Personally, I have switched to digital, which saves a lot of space. You can also discard books you didn’t enjoy that much.

For papers, throw away expired warranties, old receipts, and instruction booklets. You’ll never use them, and you can find instructions and tutorials online. Save your mementos for last because if you start with your memorabilia, you will never end.

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2. Keep a home for every thing

After you discard all of your unnecessary items, have a designated spot for every thing. By having a “home” for each item, it will reduce the chances of you cluttering your space again. For example, you don’t have a spot for your magazines. You buy one, and you put it on your desk. Soon, you’ll be putting more magazines there. Worse, you’ll end up putting it everywhere. By giving each a home, you can keep your space in order – forever.

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1. Throw away everything that does not spark joy

The most important question is, how can you tell if you should keep an item or discard it? Simple. Ask yourself: does it spark joy? Kondo calls it ‘tokimeki.’ Instead of focusing on what to get rid of, focus on what you want to keep. Take each item, hold it in your hand, and ask yourself, ‘does this item bring me joy?’ If it does, keep it. My first goal of decluttering is to lead a minimalist lifestyle. I want to be more with less items. But I realized that doing this will make my life cold and boring. Yes, my space is far from minimalist, but I have all the items I love. Hold each item and see how you’ll react. If you react with a ‘meh,’ that’s a sign for you to get rid of it.

Kondo asks, “Now imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy. Isn’t this the lifestyle you dream of?” It’s certainly what I dream of.

Do you have other tips for decluttering? Share them below!