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The Life-Changing Magic of Cleaning Your Closet

A personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s once told me your closet should be "like the walls of an art gallery: with lots of empty white space."

I’ve always longed for that kind of order, but instead my closets are a jam-packed jumble: shoes piled on top of purses, garment bar sagging under the weight of hundreds of overloaded hangers.

Trying to extract my black silk pumps is like attempting to get to the veggie burgers in an overpacked freezer—one wrong move, and you’re pummeled with falling objects (yes, those of us who have messy closets tend to have chaotic freezers, too).

Happiness is a clean closet

A slim new best-selling volume offers hope. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was written by Marie Kondo, a 30-year-old organizational guru who’s a superstar in Japan, with a three-month waiting list for her services. Her book has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide with a promise that goes far beyond well-spaced hangers.

Get your house in order, Marie says, and you will be free to “pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.”

Here, in six steps, is what Marie and her followers call the “KonMari method" to decluttering your closet:  

1.  Empty your wardrobe—every dresser drawer and closet—in one place.

That massive pile on your bed or floor will give you a clear-eyed view of just how much you own.

2.  Pick up each piece of clothing and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If it doesn’t, put it in the discard pile.

This simple criterion doesn’t allow for the guilt of having overpaid for a garment, the excuse that you’ve never worn it or pondering whether it might come back into style.  That’s why handling each dress, handbag and sweater is necessary. “When you touch a piece of clothing, your body reacts,” Marie writes.

3.  Do your clutter clearing in solitude and in silence.

“Tidying is a dialog with oneself,” Marie writes. “The work of carefully considering each object I own to see whether it sparks joy inside me is like conversing with myself through the medium of my possessions.” Noise makes it harder to hear this internal dialog; if you feel you need some background music to relax, choose the kind of ambient music you’d hear in a spa.

4.  Express gratitude for their service to the items that are getting tossed.

This is especially important with pieces you’re finding difficult to place in the discard pile even though they don’t spark joy. Ask yourself why you have the item in the first place. Maybe it’s the cashmere tunic you’ve never worn that you thought looked great when you tried it on in Macy’s. If that’s the case, “it has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it,” Marie says. Then, consider why you’ve never worn the tunic. Is it because at home you realized the style isn’t flattering, after all? Now you’re free to say, “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me” as you let it go.

5.  Resist the temptation to downgrade items to something you’ll just wear around the house.

Pilled cardigans, stained T-shirts, out-of-date jeans—it’s easy to demote these items to loungewear. But, Marie says, that merely delays parting with clothes that don’t resonate with joy. “To me,” she says, “it doesn’t seem right to keep clothes we don’t enjoy for relaxing around the house. This time at home is still a precious part of living. Its value should not change just because nobody sees us.” 

Marie says when she completes a consultation, her client’s wardrobe has been reduced by at least half. I can’t claim that kind of success, yet—I’m still making my way through my piles (itself a violation of the KonMari method, which advocates doing all your tidying at once).

But I’ve taken a half-dozen shopping bags filled with dormant and, for me, “unjoyful,” clothing to a thrift shop that supports a local relief agency. I’m committed, at my own pace, to tidying up. The payoff is huge because, as Marie writes, “being surrounded only by things that spark joy makes us happy.”

Shelley Levitt is an Editor-at-Large for Live Happy magazine.

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