The Beautifying Effects of Ditching Cosmetic Komono

Marie Kondo claims that decluttering one’s life can have a demonstrable effect on our bodies. From observing her clients, she has noted that once their houses are tidy, “their figures are more streamlined, their skin is more radiant and their eyes shine brighter”. She adds that the categories seem to have a corresponding effect on certain parts of the body – discarding clothes leads to slimmer tummies, jettisoning books and documents leads to a clearer mind, and chucking out cosmetics leads to a smooth and clear complexion. I’m not sure I can lay claim to any of these bodily benefits but once I’d discarded the ton of cosmetic and beauty products from my life, there was something else that reaped the rewards: the flat itself. Suddenly I became interested and invested in improving the aesthetic of the flat; I wanted to beautify my living space. Cosmetic improvements to the look of my living space had not been something I’d cared much about in the past. Having lived in a series of rented properties, I’d never had the inclination to do much with them – there never seemed much point as I wasn’t staying longterm. Consequently, it was like I was living on the surface of these properties, never investing much more effort than merely stringing up some buddhist prayer flags in the window. I’d always thought that once I got settled somewhere properly, then I’d make an effort with interior design. But this just meant that with my forties creeping ever closer, I was still living like a student. Seeing snaps of other people’s homes on Facebook, I was struck by how grownup they looked – they had pictures hanging on the walls, nice furniture, ornaments, soft furnishings, there was a sense of an overall aesthetic and, most importantly, they looked lived in, like a home should. Whereas my flat had the random, eclectic, no effort involved, mishmash look of a student house. An extremely clean and tidy student house for sure, but the house of someone just starting out on the road to adulthood, not the house of a woman in her late thirties. The trouble had always been, as well as not wanting to invest in a place I wasn’t going to stay, I also had no idea how to make a house look good because, fundamentally, I had no idea what I actually liked. But, with my commitment to lifestyle design and trying to create my ideal life in the present moment, along with moving into the back bedroom and throughly clearing out my cosmetics, I was suddenly imbued with the impetus I needed to spruce the place up.

The importance of imagining one’s ideal lifestyle is a cornerstone of Kondo’s philosophy. Without it, one will end up discarding but with no sense of direction and purpose. One risks being left with a barren house, devoid of not only objects but personality too. She warns that “the act of discarding things on its own will never bring joy to your life”. This is why it’s crucial to be clear about your end goal with a detailed, preferably pictorial representation, of your own personal ideal lifestyle. She urges one to think and dream big when imagining this ideal lifestyle. With Pinterest to aid my inspiration, I spent time looking at bedrooms. I had already discerned that I liked a “cosy minimalist” look. Purely minimalist bedrooms seemed too stark and cold but by adding adjectives such as “cosy” or “feminine” I discovered images that appealed to me. And upon gazing at these pictures I began to see qualities they shared. Notably, a predominance of white. Ah, a white room – the ultimate minimalist cliche! But I was no stranger to embracing cliche, I did come back from India with those prayer flags, after all.

The defining features in these pictures were white walls, white furniture and white bedlinen. I would never in a million years have bought white furniture. I always thought it was…I don’t know…twee, naff, cheap looking? I wasn’t even entirely sure why I was prejudiced against it. Yet here it was, time and time again, in these pictures that called to me and that seemed so calm, peaceful and relaxing. And then there was the “feminine” or “cosy” touches, often rendered in accents of pink. Pink! So twee, so naff, so pathetically girly! Yet…these rooms sure did look nice. And the pink wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t seven year old girl with aspirations of being a princess, it was just touches to bring a bit of warmth to the place. And I had to be honest with myself: I had actually always liked pink. Years of arguing against the pinkification of little girls with their limiting range of clothes and toys had made it seem traitorous to admit that I liked it but like it I did. And it had even featured heavily in my tomboy clothes – often as a stripe running through a polo shirt. And having discovered, from my House of Colour consultation, that strong, bright pinks were actually one of my best colours, I felt emboldened to come out as a card carrying lover of pink. Before I began this process I would have vehemently denied that I would have wanted a white room with accents of pink. I didn’t know what I wanted but I would have sworn blind that it certainly wasn’t white and pink! But if I wanted a bedroom that looked like these lovely peaceful rooms on Pinterest, I was going to have to go against my preconceptions and actually buy things in these colours. Kondo says that by tidying you can come to know yourself better; it seemed I still had a lot to learn about what I truly wanted as opposed to what I thought I wanted.

So I set about prettifying the house. Beginning with the bathroom, I discarded the shower curtain that was in a bright pattern of purple and green. I had always thought I liked things with patterns, I thought they were more interesting than something plain, and purple and green had always been colours I liked. But I replaced it with a white shower curtain with little flecks of a more shimmery white and suddenly the room seemed brighter and lighter. I also replaced the old green bath mat with a dark grey one that matched the dark grey of the lino and hand towel. My time spent on Pinterest had revealed to me that plants were of great importance to my idea of an ideal living space. But the bathroom, in the basement of the flat, lacked any natural light. Fearing that a plant would live a sad and depressing life down here, I instead bought a little fake one in a copper coloured pot. And, discarding the old plastic bin, I bought a new copper coloured metal bin. And suddenly I had a bathroom that all came together! It’s never going to be the nicest bathroom in the world, there wasn’t much I could do about the lack of natural light and its persistent dampness, but now, at least, it had a consistent colour scheme of white, grey and copper and it seemed more cohesive, stylish and grownup. Was it really this easy, I thought to myself? All you had to do was decide on some colours and buy that stuff? I had always just bought things on an individual basis, whether I happened to like that one particular thing, I had never had an overall look in mind. It’s no wonder everything about my clothes and house had been a disparate, random collection of things! Previously, I never would have bought a white shower curtain or a grey bathmat, thinking both would look terribly boring. But, in fact, they looked smart and I now saw the importance of keeping the overall look in mind and buying things that fitted that aesthetic.

Kondo warns that the bathroom can be one of the hardest areas of the house to keep tidy what with its propensity to get wet and slimy, the number of different products and supplies it holds, and that, commonly, there are multiple users of the space. Having discarded all the bath related products that were going unused and were out of date, and with my already ingrained predilection towards completely finishing a product before beginning a new one, I was left with just a small collection of items that needed storing in the bathroom. The usual suspects of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel and a razor had previously lived around the edge of the bath. Kondo says that storing items around the edge of the bath or on the floor of the shower cubicle is a recipe for slime. And it’s true – the bottoms of the bottles did get slimy and gross and the can of shaving gel always left a little ring of rust wherever it sat. And my razor! Literal grimness! The rubber handle, with its ridges and grooves that are obviously meant to aid grip when using it in the shower, was colonised by black mould! But Kondo offers a solution to this ecosystem of mould and slime that we allow to set up residence in our bathrooms: keep everything away from the bath and shower and put items away when you’re not using them. She instructs that, after use, items should be dried off with your bath towel and put away. In my bathroom, there is a slim chest of drawers between the sink and bath. It has four drawers which makes two each for me and my new housemate, my sister. So I bought a new razor (a Gillette Venus Swirl Flexiball which is actually really good!) and I added it, along with the shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel, and a Tangle Teezer to the top drawer. Actually now I think about it, that Tangle Teezer is a relatively new purchase – the last one went mouldy, sitting round the bath, and it had been impossible to clean in between those tiny little rubber spines. It might seem like more work and hassle to dry everything off and put it away when you get out of the bath or shower but in reality it only takes a few seconds to wipe the bottles down with the towel, that is already at hand, and stow them back in the drawer. The bottles no longer get slimy, the shaving gel no longer leaves rust rings and the items with rubber components no longer get mouldy. And the area around the bath is now clear, clean and tidy. Also in that top drawer, I store eye makeup remover and nail polish remover. I call it the “wet drawer” because it houses liquid type products and things for use in the shower. My other designated drawer is the “dry drawer”; it houses cotton wool, toothpaste, dental floss, interdental brushes and spare toothbrush heads. Now the only things I have out in the bathroom are hand wash and my toothbrush by the sink. It’s unfortunate that the drawers in the bathroom are not high enough to apply Kondo’s strict maxim to store everything upright, so most products need to be stored lying flat. But with the products streamlined and no unnecessary extras to clutter up the space, it still looks neat and tidy and everything has its spot to slot back into after use. With the newly implemented colour scheme and with the bath and sink areas now clean and clear, the bathroom looked a whole lot better than before.

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The Wet Drawer

 

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The Dry Drawer

We have a separate toilet in the flat and that too was subject to some cosmetic and beautifying improvements. Kondo points out that the toilet is the most public space in a person’s home and, therefore, appearance is important in this area. But beyond merely tidying and decluttering the space, she recommends increasing the joy factor with items that appeal to the senses, such as aroma oils, flowers, pictures and ornaments. Although clean and tidy, with the minimum of items (a bin, toilet brush, bleach and a Febreze), there was certainly room for aesthetic and sensory improvement. On the wall behind the toilet, I had a picture that brings me much joy (a framed Nintendo promotional poster from the late 1980s) but when sitting on the toilet, the only nod to aesthetics one could see was a cheap picture of Hindu Gods in a garish gold plastic frame which was perpetually slightly wonky due to an uneven bit on the back of it. While sitting there, one could either gaze upon it or the badly painted, empty corners of the room. The cheap, garish Hindu Gods picture didn’t bring me joy but I had two white tiles with Hindu Gods on that did. Previously, these had been propped up on a bookcase in my old bedroom but now I got them professionally framed and hung them in the toilet instead. I had kept my personal touch of traveller cliche but had upgraded it to something more pleasing. Kondo says toilet paper is best stored in a basket or box and, while browsing round John Lewis, I happened upon the toilet roll holders. Here was one, a cylindrical white woven basket thing, that would be perfect for the ugly corner of the toilet. So I bought the toilet roll holder. What had I become?! The sort of person who buys toilet roll holders?! Who even am I?! And it felt extremely un-minimalist to buy a toilet roll holder, a completely unnecessary item. But it sure did look better than the empty corner with its paint smeared lino. Turning my attention to the other ugly corner of the toilet, I bought a large white vase, satisfying in its size and shape, and put some pussy willow branches in it. I’ve always liked pussy willows and would stop to stroke their tiny softness whenever they were being sold in the supermarkets. Despite liking them, however, I’d never bought any, nor had anything to put them in, nor had a place to put them. But now I saw how it was possible, and indeed important, to put the effort in to create space in your life for the things you love.

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Since moving into the flat, finding a lamp for the living room had been a perennial problem. But with slowly increasing confidence in identifying what I like, I finally bought one and its soft light brings a cosy touch to the high-ceilinged room come evening time. The living room, kitchen and garden also got a few cosmetic retouches in the form of a host of plants – Theo, Ken and Jeff for the living room, Brenda and Janet for the kitchen, and Brian, Sheila, Eric and Susan for the patio. I’m not sure why but when naming plants my main inspiration seems to be the guest-list of a dinner party from the 1970s.

While I smartened up the living room, bathroom and toilet, I also made inroads to creating my ideal bedroom. Upon moving into the back bedroom, I quickly realised that the mattress was a pathetic and uncomfortable specimen who, like a passive aggressive friend, had long since given up being supportive. Luckily the landlord was amenable to a bit of bedroom beautifying and agreed to pay for a new mattress, curtains, and a white chest of drawers & bedside cabinet – both of which almost killed me to put together. I don’t whether it was the fact they were from Argos, my rubbish screwdriver or my lack of DIY ability (I suspect a combination of all three) but, dear god, they were horrifically hard to screw together. And I managed to cock it up. I nailed the backboard of the bedside cabinet to the front of it. I had to stand on it to prise it apart and there are now nail holes running down the front of it. I almost cried. But when I spoke to others, everyone seemed to have a tale of cocking up self assembly furniture which made me feel slightly better. And nail holes aside (which you can only really see if you know they’re there), it looked so good when it was all finished! The white meant both the chest of drawers and bedside cabinet blended in with the walls and didn’t overwhelm the small dimensions of the room. With the chest of drawers built, I could now store my remaining skincare and makeup komono. I headed Kondo’s advice to keep makeup and skincare products separate. She says the moist, watery nature of skincare products can compromise the quality of powder based makeup and the two should therefore be segregated. My new chest of drawers has two small drawers at the top so one became the skincare drawer housing moisturiser, eye-cream, suncream, deodorant and the like, and the other drawer became the makeup drawer. In both drawers, I stored what I could upright and the rest was laid flat.

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The skincare drawer

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The makeup drawer

I made sure my love of houseplants extended to the bedroom and bought a pink orchid (which I named Daphne) to go on top of the chest of drawers and a leafy green plant (which I named Howard) to sit on the floor by the bedside cabinet. These joined Larry the peace lily who was stationed on top of the wardrobe. I bought a little vase, a miniature version of the one I got for the toilet, to go next to Daphne and put up some pictures. I hung a carved wood picture above my bed, the white and brown of the exposed wood going perfectly with the white walls and wooden bed frame. And I ordered three digital pictures from the internet which I got printed and put in rose gold frames. The frames, along with the blush and rose gold tones in the pictures constituted my nod towards the more feminine touches I’d been coveting. They also represented a DIY milestone as I had to purchase a tape measure and carefully work out, pencil behind ear and tongue slightly protruding in concentration, exactly how high and far apart to hang them.

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The last picture for my bedroom was of a dragon intricately and vividly embroidered in sequins and beads on a red velvet background. It was certainly not in keeping with the minimalist aesthetic of the other pictures. I’d bought it in the night bazaar in Chiang Mai in the year 2000. Even then I’d thought it was a bit much and possibly a bit tacky and I’d initially spurned the stall holder’s attempts to sell it to me. Yet something had kept drawing me back to the picture. And every time I returned to look at it, the stall holder would incrementally drop his price until it became churlish to refuse to buy it. How on earth will I get it in my backpack, I implored as my last crumbling defence. But I managed and the dragon spent a couple of years hanging from a plastic clip in the living room of one shared house I lived in. But upon moving from there, it’d been put in a bag and relegated to items to go into storage. Whenever I’d stumbled across the dragon since then, I’d gazed fondly at his bright cheery expression and lavish colourful beadwork but I’d been unsure how to properly frame his velvet backing and while living a transient life in rented house after rented house, sometimes staying no more than a couple of months, I’d never thought to ask landlords to do something as permanent as nail pictures to their walls. So the dragon hadn’t seen the light of day for over 10 years. But when I recently unearthed it from things that had been kept in storage, there was his cheerful face which had attracted me all those years before. A few beads had been lost in the intervening years but he still seemed to be smiling. This dragon undeniably brought me joy even though its over the top styling wasn’t something I normally liked. With the Konmari mindset of cherishing and displaying things that bring joy, I went to a framers to get the picture properly displayed. The framer recommended a flecked matte silver coloured wood that perfectly matched the dragon’s sequins. He now hangs opposite my bed, resplendent in his bespoke frame, and his cheerful smiling face never ceases to make me smile too.

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Dragon picture, Larry the peace lily and a wire cat sculpture I made for GCSE Art.

For a long time, I’d been thinking of getting a new duvet. Every time I changed the cover, I’d be slightly perturbed by it. It was old, heavy and a tad grim. I couldn’t actually recall how long I’d had it or even where it had come from. I held out for the Special Buy sale in John Lewis and bought a new (ethically sourced) down duvet. I marvelled at its light softness – it felt so luxurious! Then I finally bought white bedlinen, the staple feature of any minimalist bedroom. I’d always thought white bedlinen was an unwise move (because periods) but having purchased a menstrual cup (a move so life-changing and revolutionary that it deserves its own blog post) I no longer needed to worry about accidental leakage. Waking up each morning under the luxurious duvet in the white bedlinen was like waking up in a smart hotel room! Slowly, over many months it had all came together. By copying elements from pictures I liked, I had created a room that I couldn’t quite believe was mine. Before my bedrooms had always just been a collection of random stuff, most of which I hadn’t really cared for but I’d accumulated it throughout my life and therefore kept it. There had never been any overall look and I’d never considered colours or actively trying to create a space I loved. I hadn’t known how to choose things. I hadn’t even known what I liked. But now I would stand in the doorway of my bedroom as I cleaned my teeth, thinking “Crikey! Look at my bedroom! It looks so nice!” And not only does it look nice, it has a wonderful calm, relaxing and peaceful feel to it which others comment on.

 

So the decluttering of my skincare and cosmetics had the knock on effect of beautifying the house but there was also one change to my appearance – I took my last piercing out. Previously, I’d had two piercings in my forward helix and one in my tragus. But one in my forward helix had never quite healed properly and, in the end, it annoyed me so much I’d given up and taken it out. The second piecing in the forward helix had looked lonely by itself, I’d liked the look of two but not one solitary one, so I’d removed that as well. Which left only my tragus piercing which I’d had for almost 10 years. But it just seemed that maybe I didn’t need it anymore. I spent loads of time looking at it in the mirror before I managed to pluck up the courage to get it removed. I went to the piercers in Topshop Oxford Circus to get it taken out as I was far too squeamish to attempt it myself. There’s something very final and quite emotional about taking your last piercing out. It’s a final goodbye to youth and rebellion. I was getting rid of that last little vestige that said hey, I’m not a square, check out my piercing, I’m edgy and cool! But I felt like maybe it had said what it needed to and was now superfluous to requirements. I was a little trepidatious to look at myself afterwards. Would my face seem naked, like it was lacking something? But it looked good, it looked right. It looked neater, simpler and fresher. Hello new me! And now I can fully relax at the hairdressers without that little nagging fear that they’ll accidentally catch the comb on a piercing, the mere thought of which always filled me with a gagging, retching horror. I then bought a new grownup handbag to match my new grownup face. It was the first expensive handbag I’d ever owned. But now was the time. It seemed fitting.

My piercing wasn’t the only long-standing friend to go during this time of change. After an overwatering incident, my beloved silver torch cactus, Spike, passed away. I’d had him since I was 10 years old. You’d have thought that my 29 years worth of experience looking after him would have served me better. This was actually the second overwatering accident I’d subjected him to. A couple of years ago, he began rotting when I overwatered him before going on a month-long holiday. But after amputating the affected part and applying rooting powder, I managed to revive a foot-long section of him. But this time, even with a couple of emergency amputations that saw him reduced to a tiny fraction of his former glory, I couldn’t escape the creeping rot of the Grim Reaper’s touch. I thanked him for being such a loyal friend, apologised for having failed him by giving him too much water, and buried what was left of him in the garden. Before embarking on this minimalist journey, the loss of Spike and the fact his death was entirely my fault would have hit me hard. I know he was only a plant but when you’ve nurtured something since you were 10, and if you’re a sentimental and anthropomorphic fool, you do get very attached. Maybe it was because it was touch and go for a good few months as to whether he’d make it so I was already prepared for the worst or maybe because I’m now getting better at letting go of the attachments to the past but I was more sanguine than I expected. Maybe it’s what Kondo identifies as mono no aware, or the “pathos of things”, which describes the deep emotion that is evoked when we are touched by nature, art or the lives of others with an awareness of their transience. It also refers to the essence of things and our ability to feel that essence. She says that the tidying process heightens our ability to feel this essence, allowing us to be kinder to ourselves and others. And it’s important to always be kind to yourself. Even when you’ve just killed your favourite cactus by loving it too much.

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Spike. He was a great cactus.

 

 

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Komono: The Kings of Clutter

Finally! Finally, I had made it to the komono category! Embarking on my minimalist journey had opened my eyes to how we live surrounded by so much we don’t need and the odds & sods and bits & bobs of komono seemed emblematic of the unnecessary clutter that adheres itself to our lives. “Komono” is a Japanese word defined as “small articles; miscellaneous items; accessories; gadgets or small tools; parts or attachments; an insignificant person; small fry”, and Kondo uses this apt description to encompass all the general miscellany that accumulates in our homes. This diverse and daunting category includes all the random things one keeps “just because” – from hair ties, to buttons, to batteries, to paperclips, to lotions & potions and free novelty goods. In one particular shared house I lived in, we had a specific drawer (as many people do) dedicated to komono. We imbued it with a sense of reverence and called it “The Mythical Third Drawer Down”. Unsure where to put something? Why, just add it to The Mythical Third Drawer Down! My collection of komono had grown over the years and I now nurtured several drawers and large bags of the stuff. With it, I felt prepared, ready for whatever life should throw at me. It was almost like the komono were a security blanket woven of trinkets and oddments. At one point I think I viewed my harbouring of komono with a sense of pride, a reflection of adulthood: “Behold all the random things I have collected in my life! If I should ever need a random thing I will be able to sate that need with something from my extensive collection!”

But now I viewed its ramshackle existence not with satisfaction but with disquiet. I saw how it took up space – the drawers in the bathroom, the drawers in the kitchen, the many drawers in my bedroom, the bags in the cupboard under the stairs and the bags in the cupboard in the hallway. I saw how, despite giving off an air of necessity and usefulness, I never actually used 98% of the komono I diligently stored and carried with me whenever I moved house. And I saw how quickly the komono could slip into chaos and disarray. I always seemed to be organising the drawers in my bedside cabinet but one hastily shoved back in packet of painkillers could set off a domino-like chain reaction that quickly saw my medicines drawer reduced to a higgledy piggledy heap of boxes. It was time to shed myself of this komono security blanket, time to say goodbye to these omnipresent Just in Case items.

After my last epic and totalitarian clothing revisit, I had intended to do a quick sweep back through paperwork and books, but I put that on hold in order to begin komono. The specific reason I wanted to make headway with komono was that my housemate was moving out and I wanted to swap into her old bedroom, a quieter room at the back of the house. However it was also smaller and had considerably less storage space. This downsizing of rooms seemed the perfect time to ditch the komono from my bedroom.

The basic komono categories are:
CDs & DVDs
Skincare products
Makeup
Accessories
Valuables (passports, credit cards etc)
Electrical equipment and appliances (digital cameras, electric cords, anything that seems vaguely ‘electric’)
Household equipment (stationary and writing materials, sewing kits, etc)
Household supplies (expendables like medicine, detergents, tissues, etc)
Kitchen goods/food supplies
Other

I had already decided to skip over the CDs and DVDs category at this point. Firstly, I don’t own any DVDs. Rather like my lack of an extensive book collection, I had previously wondered if not having a DVD collection was a bit of a failing on my part. How would visitors to my home know about me as a person and make a judgement about my values and taste if there wasn’t a DVD collection on the shelves for them to peruse while I was out of the room? But the truth is, I rarely watch films and in this digital age of streaming on demand, I don’t see the point of keeping the physical copies that just sit taking up space. My feeling that physical DVDs are an unnecessary burden has hardened after observing a number of different housemates – they basically never actually watched any of the DVDs they owned. The DVDs sat resolutely untouched year upon year. Physical books seem a different kettle of fish to DVDs. I still enjoy the physicality of books – after all, a book you carry with you, you sit with it for hours on end, you hold it in your hands, feel its weight and turn its pages. But a DVD is something you touch only for a few seconds as you transfer it to the DVD player and it’s not like you sit holding its plastic case as you watch the film.

But somewhat hypocritically, tapes and CDs, I think, are a different matter. One look at my old Britpop tapes and CDs and the CDs from the clubbing years gave me the familiar nauseous feeling at the thought of discarding them which indicated these would fall into the sentimental category. Marie Kondo can’t love music, I thought, if she considered it komono rather than sentimental! Music is representative of a time and a place, of those friends and experiences, of the hopes and dreams of that time in your life in a way that DVDs just aren’t, in my opinion. And if I’m looking for further justification of why I would treat films so differently to music, I just need to think of the time and effort invested in making my Britpop mix tapes off the radio and the hours spent sat on my beanbag in my teenage bedroom with my Britpop CDs, pouring over their inlay cards, learning the lyrics and starring longingly at pictures of Damon and Jarvis. The tapes and CDs had definitely earned a reprieve for now, a get out of jail free card to elevate them out of komono and into the hallowed halls of the sentimental category.

Kondo says that if you live without a family, the particular order you deal with Komono is not important, so, for the purposes of swapping bedrooms, I concentrated my efforts on medicines, skincare products, makeup, and beauty accessories. The same premise applies when sorting komono as any other category – all items from a category should be collected together and you choose which items to keep based on whether you love them and they bring you joy, not just because you think you might potentially need them one day. And they too deserve the time and attention to be individually handled, properly sorted and considered with gratitude.

I began with my medicines drawer. The striking thing here was that medicines really don’t last that long! With the contents of the drawer having been a jumbled mess for so long, it felt good to do a thorough purge and only keep the few things that were still in date. As well as expired items, there was also a small collection of miscellaneous pills, including a collection given to me at an army base in India when I broke my foot. I couldn’t remember what any of them were for, so out they all went. Also into the discard pile went a bunch of out of date condoms. There’s few things more disappointing in life than expired condoms. Still, Kondo espouses the philosophy that by getting rid of things you can invite more into your life and offers an example of a client who discarded her collection of business cards and then suddenly started making the business connections she’d been desiring. So, by that token, if I get rid of all the old condoms then I’ll surely be fending off suitors in no time! Also discarded from the medicines drawer was an impressive number of ear plug cases. I’m a pathetically light sleeper – if a moth sneezes three miles away I’m like “Who woke me up?! Damn your eyes!” – so I rely heavily on ear plugs. Every time you buy new ones, you get a new case so I had amassed quite the collection. But suspecting that a collection of plastic ear plug cases was not exactly Antiques Roadshow material I added them all to the recycling bin.

Then it was time to hit up the cosmetics. Kondo urges one to be strict with deciding what to keep, saying now is the time to say goodbye to any old cosmetics or ones that no longer suit your taste. Since discarding the annoyingly wobbly cloth drawers from my bedroom, I’d had a huge bag of cosmetics sitting in the bottom of my wardrobe. I tipped it all out and rounded up every other piece of makeup and beauty accessory I had. It was a lot. I tended to hang on to makeup products. Whether they had been perennial favourites finally ousted by a newer product, free samples that came with another purchase, misguided purchases in themselves, or gifts, hand-me-downs and leftovers from friends – they all seemed to implore “But what if one day you need me? What if one day you’re getting ready to go to a sexy party and you want to look sexy and I am the only thing that can bestow sexiness upon you?!” Better keep them, just in case, I’d always thought. And then there’s the problem that I seem immune to the idea of use by dates on cosmetics. Which is strange as I live by the idea of sell by dates on food. Objectively, I know that sell by dates on food don’t really count for anything and you’re supposed to look at and smell the food itself. But screw that, I don’t care for elderly food and mould is one of my biggest fears. I am a supermarket shelf-stacker’s nightmare as I burrow my way to the back of their neatly arranged displays on my quest to find the bag of salad with the expiration date furthest in the future. But when it comes to makeup, I just really don’t care about that tiny little, barely legible symbol that tells you how long it keeps after opening. And consequently, I own makeup from when dinosaurs roamed the earth. It’s fine, it’s not like you eat it! Well, maybe you kind of do if it’s lipstick but whatever.

So having always been of the opinion that old products were still eminently usable, it was a surprise to see that, once decanted from the plastic bag they’d been languishing in, they were, in fact, gross. The packaging was grimy and everything looked old and battered with fading labels. Some of the liquid products had separated and one splattered all over my leg when I opened it. I had so many not quite finished things – it seemed wasteful to discard them when the last mere drop had not been used up but here they still were, burdening my life years later. Maybe once something slips out of regular use it’s best to get rid of it even if it’s not finished yet. Or I could just stick to the use by dates from now on – that would be a good way to keep things in check. One thing was for sure, all this mangey makeup was certainly not going to bring me closer to my ideal lifestyle. It was time to get ruthless on this plethora of partially used products.

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Ready for decluttering

So it was goodbye to the concealer, a relic left over from when I’d had spots. I’d held on to it not quite daring to believe that the Roaccutane prescription had actually worked. But a few years down the line, I’d had no reason to reach for that concealer again. Also into the discard pile went some old mascaras. When does mascara even run out? I like the finality of properly finishing something but mascara just seems to limp on and on. I chucked all the various products friends had given me because they hadn’t wanted them. Sure, I’d said, I’ll take ‘em, who turns down a freebie? I might totally use these! But I hadn’t. So out they went. On the subject of freebies, I also binned the free samples that had come as gifts with larger purchases. I remembered eagerly taking any freebie offered to me – free cosmetics being second only to free food in the hierarchy of happily received free goods. But so many of the free make up products I’d only used a few times or not at all. I’d often been uncertain whether those lipsticks, eyeshadows and blushers had even suited me. Having had my colours done with House of Colour and having purchased quite a few of their makeup products for the certainty that they matched my complexion, I now felt emboldened to discard anything not in my colours. That meant culling a host of eyeliners in shades of green and brown. Like mascaras, it’s hard to finish eyeliners so I had many that had hung around my life for an exceptionally long time. The oldest two, both from Urban Decay, dated from about 2001! Sixteen year old make up! A little past their use by dates, I’d imagine. Both were the chubby style of eyeliner, good for creating a smokey look – one was black and the other was black with silver flecks in it. Due to being a massive tomboy, I’d been a late starter with makeup, only really embracing it in my early 20s. These two eyeliners came from the early days of learning how to do my eye makeup and realising I was actually quite good at it. They’d been my staple look from the clubbing years. Those clubbing CDs I mentioned earlier, they’d be playing at loud volume as I’d stood before my mirror getting ready to go out, building up my eye makeup into something dramatic, and finishing off with a generous cloud of Hugo Deep Red perfume – a scent that now takes me straight back to that bedroom, that mirror, that music and that makeup. But now that black eyeliner had gone a little white and dried up so completely that I couldn’t even draw a last farewell line on the back of my hand.

I had so many old lipsticks, lip glosses and lip liners! I had always felt I should make more effort with lip products but had never managed to successfully assimilate them into my makeup arsenal. It was only now, armed with my new House of Colour lipsticks, that I actually wear something more than just tinted lip balm. These new lipsticks work cohesively with my face and the rest of my makeup rather than being an awkward and garish addition that’s there for the sake of it. It was with relief that I added all the lip products to the discard pile – especially the sticky lip glosses which I’d never liked as my hair gets stuck in them. Amongst the lip products, I excavated two more ancient relics – two Clinique lipsticks that had come as part of the Bonus Time free gifts that I’d once been fond of. I tried to carbon date them by searching back through my memory archives to remember when I might have used them. I settled on the time period 2002-04. Yuck. Whenever I’d tidied up my makeup previously, I’d always resolved to make a real effort to use the various lip products, vowing that this time I would truly embrace them and wear them on a daily basis. But it just never happened. The two Clinique lipsticks were, in a way, opposite to the two Urban Decay eyeliners – the eyeliners had been kept for so long because I’d loved them, loved how they looked and loved the time in my life they represented, whereas the lipsticks had never been loved and hardly ever worn; they’d been kept out of a sense of duty, a feeling that it would be a waste to get rid of them. But with the Konmari mindset, neither clinging to the past nor a sense of guilt were reasons to keep the products. And they were probably all a biohazard by now anyway.

I also discarded some sparkly body lotion which I’d been meaning to use when going out but it had never seemed quite the right occasion – probably because my sparkly body lotion days are behind me. Out went various eyebrow products and I kept only the one product I use on a daily basis. I marvelled at how beauty fashions change. As a child, I’d had impressively bushy eyebrows but they’d been beaten into submission and never quite recovered from the 1990s when we’d over-pluck them into dubious little lines. Everyday as I try to fill in the sparse and scrawny bits, I think that if only I’d known that 20 years down the line my hirsute brows would have been the height of fashion!

Not only had I tried to beat my eyebrows into submission but I’d also spent many years trying to force my hair to be straight. My hair, voluminous and curly, would have been so rad in the 1980s but, coming of age, in the 90s, when I desperately wanted to look like Louise Wener from Sleeper, it was a distinct hinderance. I spent many years and much time and money trying to turn my curls into smooth, flickable, straightness – all with limited success. I binned the various heat-protection sprays and curl relaxing potions I’d accumulated before I’d decided to embrace my curly hair. The only time I have it straight now is when I’ve let the hairdresser do the donkey work of wrestling it into sleekness.

I had many a pair of false eyelashes which I’d worn when going out to swing dance social events. But swing dancing had slipped from being a full-on passion to an occasional occurrence and it had been a long time since I’d needed any of the eyelashes or their accompanying little pots of glue which I’d always had knocking around in my makeup bag in case my eyelashes suffered a malfunction while out. I balanced a set of eyelashes on my eyes for old times sake. They were a full glam set. Holy hell, they were huge! I looked like a cartoon character! I collected up all the other swing dance paraphernalia – hair clips & adornments, bright red lipstick, and the body spray I’d used before classes – it all went in the discard pile along with the eyelashes and glue. Getting rid of it all was to say goodbye to those few years, that fun and exciting time, when I’d got really into swing dancing and I’d attended numerous classes, socials and camps. But I had to accept that it wasn’t a big part of my life at the moment. I’d slowly but surely swapped it for yoga, which was less conducive to full-glam makeup but more beneficial for the ability to touch my toes.

Another collection, added to the discard pile in its entirety, was nail polish. They were all either garish, girlish, ancient (the oldest dated back 10 years to 2007), or simply not in my colours. The only one I kept was a clear polish but I resolved to buy more, as need arose, in my colours and preferably in smaller bottles as finishing a full size bottle of nail polish seemed an impossibility for me. And here was another collection all bound for the discard pile – hair scrunchies! Since growing my hair long, I’d had to stop using regular elastic hair bands as they get tangled in my curly hair. The last time I tried, I actually had to cut the hair band out of my hair with scissors! So I’d adopted the use of scrunchies, which didn’t get stuck in my hair, and I’d loved their ironic retro throwback vibe. Until one day, suddenly, I just didn’t anymore. I saw someone else, sporting a scrunchie around their wrist like I always did, and I just didn’t like how it looked. Luckily, current trends offered me an alternative which also doesn’t get stuck in my hair – the plastic spiral style ones that look like telephone wires used to.

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Scrunchies!

The bag of items to discard was beginning to bulge as I added all sorts of beauty & cosmetics paraphernalia: in went all manner of hair bands and clips, a bag of hair rollers (the kind you imagine grannies using), old kirby grips that were obsolete now I’d discovered the existence of strong kirby grips which were so much better suited to taming my hair, two little manicure kits which I just never used, two little mirrors which didn’t quite close properly and, although pretty, sparked no actual joy, some elderly bottles of suncream, an ancient pot of Tiger Balm, two hair brushes which I’d had for years but were never used now that I didn’t straighten my hair, old make up brushes (including a set I’d got when I was at university), bath oils, bath foams and bath bombs – having a bath in my flat is just too depressing, it’s dim, a little mouldy and, even though the water is hot in the shower, for some reason it’s never hot enough when you run a bath. I’d been keeping all the bath products for an unspecified time in the future when I may live somewhere where I could have a nice relaxing bath. But with my new adherence to use by dates on cosmetics and mindful not to keep things for imaginary future events, I binned them all. There was also so many toothbrush head covers and the electric flosser from when I broke my wrist and couldn’t use two hands to floss! I guess that could have been dealt with in the electrical items section of komono but it had always lived with my beauty and cosmetics paraphernalia so I considered it such. And I had so many little pouches, all which had come free with cosmetic purchases and none of which sparked joy. I kept finding more – there were pouches within pouches. I used to think it was great to get a free bag – so handy for organising and storing all my things! But now I just wonder if the charity shop will take them or if they’ll add to the destruction of the planet in landfill.

I had two bottles of Benefit High Beam highlighter – one big and one small. I looked at the back – they only last 6 months! How long had I had these? Contouring is currently the makeup look du jour and I used these bottles of High Beam in conjunction with a bronzer to create a contoured look. But the bronzer was part of a much larger box and couldn’t be separated. It seemed annoying to keep the whole box for just that. Maybe I should invest in an actual contouring kit and get rid of the High Beam and bronzer? Kondo says that it is important to get joy from cosmetic products as they are “part of the ritual that prepares you of your day”. Your morning routine sets the tone for the kind of day you’ll have so it’s important to start off on the right foot. Both the bronzer and High Beam were clearly out of date so I decided to be ruthless in the pursuit of joy sparking makeup. The bronzer went straight in the discard bag while the High Beam bottles were put to the side to join the small collection of makeup that I was having trouble saying a cheery goodbye to.

I’d been using Benefit High Beam since the earliest of my clubbing days back in 2001. Luckily these bottles were definitely newer than that but it was tugging on my sentimental heart strings to say a final goodbye to that look, that version of me that this makeup helped to create. I hadn’t counted on the fact that tackling the makeup category might be sentimental but getting rid of some of this stuff was harder than I thought. Joining this difficult to discard selection was another highlighter, an FCUK one that I’d bought in 2004, and a little set of four eyeshadows that I’d taken travelling to India in 2006. This little set had been a firm favourite since then and I’d been perturbed to discover that it wasn’t even in my colours! Damn khaki green, tricking me for all these years! These, along with the two eyeliners from the clubbing years, were left out of the discard bag until the very end. These particularly sentimental pieces were given their own separate emotional goodbyes and heartfelt thanks. Apart from these special items, I felt a bit bad that I didn’t thank all the cosmetics and accessories individually but there was just so many of them. I settled on a group goodbye as I held the bag and I thanked the products for their support and their role in my life. I thanked them for the fun we’d had on nights out. And I thanked them for the time we’d spent getting ready together, often one of the best parts of the whole night. I always love getting ready to go out and seeing the transformation from plain to pretty, it was like artistry and it was the makeup that made it possible. Me and this makeup had spent many, many happy hours together – listening to music, sipping on gin and tonic, and enjoying the anticipation of the night ahead.

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Survivors of the cosmetics cull

I divided up the discard pile into three: things for the charity shop (this was a small pile, consisting of things they might take e.g the many pouches), things for the bin (it seemed wasteful to be throwing so much out, especially things like makeup brushes and hair clips but I don’t think they can be recycled or that the charity shop would take them), and things to be taken to the chemist for safe disposal e.g. the old medicines and nail polish as I don’t think you’re supposed to put them in the bin. I’d previously taken three bottles of old mosquito repellant there for disposal and they’d seemed quite pleased that I hadn’t just chucked them away. I added all the old makeup and cosmetics into this bag for the chemist just in case it counted as hazardous waste that shouldn’t end up in landfill. The man in the chemist’s that I handed the bulging bag to seemed a little perplexed but took it nonetheless. On the way back home, I felt much lighter. Although all small items, their combined weight, the space they had occupied, and the attachments to the past they represented had been considerable. I was already looking forward to a more streamlined approach of only keeping products that supported my life in the here and now.

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A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 2

When I had worked my way through the entire pile of clothes and had amassed another impressive discard pile, it was time to turn to storage. At this point, Kondo urges you to think back to your vision of your ideal lifestyle. She postulates that this vision is likely to be much more spacious than the current reality of your living situation. And what’s the easiest way to create space? Remove furniture used for storage. The aesthetic I sought, the visual representation of my ideal lifestyle, a lifestyle that encapsulated a sense of calmness, spaciousness and abundant time, seemed to have settled on that of “cosy minimalism”, for it was these words that garnered the sorts of google and Pinterest images that my eyes wanted to savour. In order to achieve a greater sense of spaciousness, Kondo recommends using the built-in storage that comes with the house before anything else. Although not “built-in”, the furniture that had come with my room was a chest of drawers, a double wardrobe and a single wardrobe. In addition to this, I had a free-standing shelving unit made of cloth over a metal frame. I looked at this afresh. There was no joy there. It was wobbly and annoying. If I arranged it so everything fitted into the storage that came with the house then I could feasibly get rid of it. I did use the top of it as the designated place for my make-up and cosmetics. But this had the unwanted side-effect of it becoming a dumping ground for all sorts of odds and sods, plus the material on the top was pretty grubby by now. With so many clothes in the new discard pile, I could now make space in the chest of drawers for my makeup and cosmetics so I removed the cloth storage unit completely. Initially, my room looked rather bare but I quickly got used to it and, without the additional clutter, it seemed to make my room look a lot more grown up.

One of the key principles of the KonMari method is that you shouldn’t scatter items of the same category throughout the house. I had been guilty of this in that I had a separate box that contained my travelling gear (clothes and accessories) in the cupboard in the hallway. I had thought this to be fine as I had considered “Travelling Gear” to be a discrete category within itself. But as I began putting all my clothes away it became clear that the travelling clothes just simply didn’t want to go back in the box. Kondo says similar items should be kept together in one place and she advocates asking your possessions where they want to stored or how they want to be folded. If you do this, she says, the answer will appear. And what do you know, she’s right! It’s weird but it works. Whenever I came upon an item that initially appeared tricky to fold or I was unsure where to put it, I just asked it and the solution presented itself. So I asked my travelling hat where it wanted to go. And instead of back in the box, which just seemed to have an air of sadness about it, it seemed happier when placed in the top of the wardrobe neatly folded beneath the only other hat I own – a recently purchased baseball cap. The second I placed the travelling hat with the baseball cap, the word that sprang to my mind was “Brothers!” And indeed the two hats did seem like brothers and appeared much happier to be stored together. My travelling trousers showed a similar aversion to going back in the box so into the wardrobe they went, stored behind my normal trousers. “If your intuition tells you that this might be the place, then, for now at least, it is most certainly right,” says Kondo.

Although this was the third time I’d attempted to declutter my clothes, this time it felt like my tidying was imbued with the true spirit of KonMari. Everything seemed to be clicking into place in terms of storage, what goes where and how it all fits together. I was even managing to employ some of the latter stage principles such as making the storage space itself look attractive. This was something I hadn’t necessarily been planning to do. Making the boxes look pretty had seemed a bit twee. But this time round it was something that just happened organically. I had a number of scarves and bandanas that either weren’t in my colours or hadn’t been worn for years. These included a pink and brown scarf in a natty pattern that I’d bought in New York and had always really liked but just never really worn and two long-serving bandanas that I’d bought on my first backpacking trip in 2000 and which I’d got tonnes of wear out of. But my days of wearing headscarves had receded into the mists of time and they had hung, desolately unworn, for a number of years now. With nerves of steel, I’d placed the scarves in the discard pile along with a generous dollop of lament and regret. Subsequently, I was neatly folding things into shoe boxes and had a Clarks shoebox lid that was made of really nice cardboard, had a great feel to it, and was eminently suitable as a receptacle for my bras. The only problem was it had writing on the inside of the lid which I would see every time I opened the drawer. Kondo warns to heed the impact of written noise that can hang in the air and silently clamour for attention in your brain. By eliminating excess visual information you can, she says, make your space much more peaceful. Suddenly it occurred to me to use the pink and brown scarf to cover the bottom of the lid! I plucked the scarf from the discard pile, ran the iron over it and neatly folded it into the lid. It was perfect! Resting on the pretty material, in a neat colour gradient, my bras looked like a display in a posh shop. I rescued the other scarves and bandanas from the discard pile and put them to work as box liners. This was a most pleasing alternative to getting rid of them! “Don’t throw away things that bring you joy simply because you aren’t using them. You could end up taking all the joy out of your home. Instead, get creative and find ways to utilise those seemingly useless things”, Kondo recommends. She adds that once you have upped the joy factor of your storage solutions, “you will experience benefits that you could never have achieved by merely getting rid of things”.

 

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Using scarves to decorate the boxes

 

With everything neatly stored and my clothing now a mere fraction of what it had been before I embarked on this minimalist journey, I just needed to dispose of the last mammoth discard pile. The previous discard piles had gone to either The British Heart Foundation or H&M’s recycling scheme but this time a new alternative presented itself. A Facebook friend was going to The Jungle refugee camp in Calais and had put out a call for things he could take over there (this was at the end of August before the camp was dismantled. These blog posts always lag far behind real time!). Although a Facebook friend, this was someone I had only met on a ski holiday once and had had no actual contact with since that holiday in 2013. I hesitated over whether to contact him. Would it be a bit weird to just email him out of the blue? And I cringed slightly remembering some of the drunken escapades that had occurred on that particular holiday. I had almost talked myself out of emailing him, deciding that going to the British Heart Foundation was a perfectly noble destination for my clothes. But then he posted another status asking for general women’s clothing and also for warm practical clothing that the refugees would need this winter. I looked at the pile in the corner of my room which consisted of assorted women’s clothes and also warm woollen gloves, big thick socks, the rain macs, a fleece, and the insanely cosy North Face jacket. I thought about what it would be like to be a refugee in the cold winter months and I thought about my grandparents who had been refugees themselves. And then I emailed my Facebook friend and we arranged a time when he would come to my house to collect my things.

He had also asked for old mobile phones which could be given to unaccompanied children in the camp so I dug out my old Sony Ericsson W800. My hand had retained the memory of what it was like to hold it and it felt so reassuringly familiar yet also so small and light compared to my iPhone. I charged it, turned it on and deleted some old photos from the memory card. I also dug out the little portable speakers that went with the phone. There was still some music on the memory card, relics of my listening habits from 2005. Maybe the refugees would also enjoy a bit of Snow Patrol and Basement Jaxx. I had one other phone knocking around too – a Nokia 5210, the rubber exterior of which was starting to disintegrate and was actually sticky to the touch. It was seriously gross. Surely they wouldn’t want this phone? But maybe they would. I didn’t have a charger for it so I didn’t know if it still worked but if it did and it could provide a means of communication maybe others would overlook its icky exterior.

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Rummaging for the mobile phones triggered an impromptu delve into the realms of the komono categories. Although deviating from Kondo’s strict regime, this seemed like a perfect opportunity to ensure some komono went to a worthy destination. I sifted and trawled my way through, setting aside an assortment of oddments which I thought could potentially be useful to people living in a refugee camp, such as inflatable neck pillows, small padlocks, miniature sewing kits, medical supplies, a universal bath plug, old sunglasses, and a magnetic travel games compendium.

I laid everything out on the living room carpet, all in neat piles and categories, and surveyed my handiwork. There were piles of jeans, piles of trousers, piles of vest tops, piles of leggings, piles of cardigans, piles of jumpers, piles of normal socks, piles of warm socks, piles of shirts, piles of t-shirts, piles of jackets, a couple of bras, and a collection of shoes and boots. This had indeed been a most thorough cull. My friend was running late and in that quiet space as I waited for his arrival something was gnawing at my mind. My travelling clothes. I’d kept them all because they had been expensive, were still perfectly practical and I loved them all very much. But what was I saving them for? It was all “serious” gear and not the sort of things I’d wear on a normal holiday. Should I keep them just in case I decided to go on an adventurous holiday? Or just in case friends asked if I wanted to go on a random hike? Or just in case there was a snowy day in Camden and those high top walking boots that were oh so comfortable could justifiably be worn on my way to work? But there hadn’t been a snowy day in Camden for about six years, my friends never go on random hikes, and I had no grand travel plans on the horizon. Not only were these “just in case” events merely figments of my imagination but it was entirely likely that if those days ever dawned, I’d pull the gear from the back of the wardrobe to find it looking elderly, wilted, with drooping elastic, and not matching anything else I own because I would have slowly curated the rest of my clothes to be winter season colours, and thus, knowing me, I would be prone to deciding to treat myself to brand new gear. Did I really want all my beloved travel clothes to languish unused, for potentially years, in the depths of my wardrobes, waiting for imaginary excursions that may never come, when a very real winter would soon be upon us and all these things could be helping to keep female refugees warm? There would be women far from home having left a life destroyed and not knowing what the future held. Just like my grandmother had had to do. I pulled out every piece of travel clothing I owned and added it to the piles to be given away. I also added my money belt, day sack and silk sleeping bag liner. It seemed mental to get rid of all my travel gear, a collection I’d nurtured for 16 years, but knowing that all these things, things that I’d shared so many exciting times with, would be going somewhere where they could actually be truly useful made it easier to say goodbye to them.

 

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Things to potentially go to Calais

 

My friend arrived and we went through all the piles so he could say a yay or a nay to whether he thought the things would be useful to take. It was a yes to most things although we decided against the t-shirts emblazoned with Hindu gods on potential political incorrectness grounds and he rejected the random door stops I’d included on the grounds that the refugees were a bit short on doors what with them living in tents and all. Strong point, well made. We transferred the multitude of things to the estate car he’d come in. I carried them out of the house, said a heartfelt thank you and goodbye to each item, and passed them to him to pack into the boot, ready to be driven to Calais to begin a new life. A thread that runs through minimalism is that of making connections, for example reaching out to someone to borrow an item that you may no longer own. I was pleased to have reached out and contacted my friend. It had been nice to catch up with him, find out how he was doing, and help provide him with things to take to The Jungle. And it had made parting with all my things so much easier. If, like me, you struggle with sentimental attachments to things, then finding a meaningful destination for your possessions really helps to unpick the emotional knots of attachment. After all, a worthy destination where you know your possessions will be of real use and value is always going to be better than a life lived in the shadows in the dark, forlorn, recesses of your wardrobes.

I took the small amount of clothes not bound for Calais to The British Heart Foundation and then it was all done! Now that this third and final clothing cull was complete, my room felt much calmer and more spacious. It felt like I had reached the baseline for my clothes – I had only what was necessary or what brought me joy. Out of the necessary things, there were plenty that did not bring me joy and would eventually be replaced (work clothes, I’m looking at most of you here) but what I had done was eliminate all the superfluous items. I had just enough to get by in both work and casual clothing. In fact, casual clothing was now so minimal I was cutting it rather fine for managing to get by. I would definitely need to invest in some new clothes when I managed to find items in my colours and style.

As one of my first baby steps towards designing my lifestyle and space as I wished it to be, I went to the garden centre and bought a peace lily. I’d been meaning to get a plant for my bedroom for ages but now I was resolved to putting the effort in when it comes to achieving my ideal lifestyle. I named the peace lily Larry and was most pleased with the splash of colour he brought to the room. One of the things I’ve realised, as I begin to think more critically about what occupies my living space, is how much I actually really like houseplants. I hadn’t even known this about myself before. In fact, I was as clueless about what household accoutrements I wanted in my life as I had been about what clothes suited me. However, slowly but surely I was honing my ability to ascertain what things I actually want to share my life with. And houseplants, it transpires, bring me much joy! Which is more than can be said for outside plants. Since my previous housemate moved out, the garden was slowly being reclaimed by nature. Every time I gazed upon it from behind the kitchen window, I felt a twinge of guilt. I resented the guilt it induced in me. Stupid garden. And then came the realisation that if something made me feel guilty I should probably just do something about it and that feeling would disappear. Plus, how was I going to curry favour with the house network and create an ideal lifestyle if I was purposefully living in denial about the fact the back garden could be used to stage a remake of The Day of the Triffids. So I purchased a garden broom and a pair of gardening gloves (there was no way I was going to touch nature with my bare hands) and I set about sweeping and tidying. And just like that the feeling of guilt was replaced with a sense of pride! Would you just look at how neat and tidy the garden looks now! I did that! Admittedly, the flower beds have been left to a bit of a survival of the fittest style regime but at least the patio was now free of weeds and leaves and was looking perfectly respectable.

“The tidying process represents a huge turning point in a person’s life. So seriously consider the ideal lifestyle to which you aspire,” advises Kondo. I was now making headway and taking decisive steps towards creating and curating my ideal lifestyle. My clothes were stripped back to basics, there was less clutter and more space in my room, and I was being proactive about looking after my possessions and designing my living space. I was ready for the bright and joyful future that the magic of tidying could help manifest! I squinted into the distance. How long, I wondered, before the house network got the memo that I was now a fine and upstanding member of society? And what sort of time frame were we talking between no longer being encumbered by accumulated clothes and one’s love life being set to rights? Does Cupid regularly audit our wardrobe contents? Does he have push notifications set up for when someone is no longer shielded from his arrows by mounds of old clothes? Is he chronically overworked at the moment, given the global popularity of the minimalist movement? I checked my watch. No sign of Cupid yet. I tapped my foot, shuffled a little in my seat, and recrossed my arms. Then I checked my watch again. Still no sign of him. But I’m sure he’ll be along any minute now….

A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 1

“To put your house in order is to put your life in order and prepare for the next step. Once you have dealt properly with the current phase of your life, the next will come to you naturally”. With the desire to actively forge and fashion my ideal lifestyle, based on Kondo’s declaration that tidying can help “create a bright and joyful future”, I once again turned my attention to my clothes.

I began, as previously, by pulling everything out of my wardrobes and drawers as per Kondo’s instructions. I was feeling very motivated and buoyed by the confidence of having a new litmus test with which to judge my clothes. Not only would I question whether they sparked joy but also whether they were in my colours and style. And having first decluttered my clothes over a year ago, I had the added barometer of whether I had worn the item in the past year. Even my booklet of information from House of Colour urges one to be merciless, saying that if you haven’t worn something in a year, you won’t wear it again now you know the colour doesn’t suit you. I also had less fear of being left with too little. Inspired by capsule wardrobe ideas such as Project 333 and even The 10 Item Wardrobe, I knew it was possible to look perfectly good with fewer clothes (not that I was intending to implement such a hardcore regime!). Plus, from the last two clothes decluttering sessions, I didn’t regret discarding a single thing. The one thing I had initially lamented the loss of – a brown cardigan that matched my green trousers – I now knew wasn’t even in my colours. My initial feeling that I should get rid of it had been the true feeling. The later regret that it was the only thing that matched the green trousers had been masking the fact that the trousers weren’t in my colours either!

I piled all my clothes onto the bed. Well, this was insane! How on earth did I still have so much stuff?! I stared in disbelief at the mountain of clothes. I had thought this would be a quick process but I hadn’t reckoned on the fact I still owned so many things. I began a new discard pile with the easy pickings of a collection of cardigans that weren’t in my colours. Then I picked up my green hoody. This hoody had been with me through thick and thin over the last few years. But it wasn’t in my colours and one of my most fashionable friends had been trying to prise me away from it for as long as I’d owned it. It now represented the me that I’m trying to move away from – the default casual, tomboy who only makes an effort if there’s a good reason to. If I’m going to buy into the idea of lifestyle design, of actively living on a daily basis the way I want my life to be, of living it now rather than only on special occasions or in some mythical distant future, then I was going to need to cut the umbilical cord that kept me tied to these types of clothes. Kondo says that if you let things go they will come back to you “as the thing that will be most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness. A piece of clothing might come back as a new beautiful outfit, or it may reappear as information or a new connection”. And how was creativity, inspiration, a new house and even Cupid going to find me if I persistently looked like a slob who didn’t want to be found? So goodbye green hoody, emblematic of the skin I’m trying to shed. It was quite emotional to add it to the discard pile but maybe in getting rid of it I could indeed make space in my life for something new to come along. Maybe something (like a new house or even a man!) that will represent and provide me with the warmth and security that my hoody has given me. Maybe someone who will look after me and be there for me through thick and thin, someone to rely on, just like my trusty hoody. If one is seeking a romantic connection, Kondo assures readers that tidying can “help us set our love life in order”. She says her years of work as a consultant have made it clear to her “that people who haven’t yet met someone they really like tend to have accumulated a lot of old clothes and papers”. With love and romance having been distinctly lacking in my life for a pitiably long time and with this towering pile of clothes blighting my room, I knew it was time to get ruthless.

In the same vein as the green hoody, I added both my pairs of tracksuit bottoms to the discard pile. They too had been constant companions over the past few years. But without the tracksuit bottoms, I would be forced to make more of an effort. I wouldn’t be able to regress to slobbiness with no slobby clothes to wear. It seemed like a bold move to rid myself of all tracksuit bottoms but if I was trying to create my ideal lifestyle then these two pairs were definitely not part of that vision. And there was no way Cupid was ever going to find me while I was wearing either of these baggy shapeless things. He would skip right on over me, his marksman’s eye caught by the beguiling livery of someone who actually looked like they were trying to attract a mate. I told myself that once I’d experimented with making an effort on a daily basis then I could potentially buy a new pair of tracksuit bottoms that fitted me nicely and looked good if I decided that hangover Sundays just weren’t complete without a comfy pair of trackies to lounge around in.

When it came to my t-shirts, my newly acquired ruthless credentials got another workout. I had too many that I’d teamed with my tracksuit bottoms i.e. slobbing around, unflattering ones, the type I wouldn’t wear if I intended to meet anyone, yet I’d been more than happy to wear them on a regular basis when I didn’t plan to see anyone. Some were not in my colours nor style but most were just so far removed from being even remotely cute or stylish. Ideal lifestyle? These t-shirts were doing nothing to make that a reality. Off they went, leaving me with just a few remaining t-shirts and the resolution to keep my eyes open for tops that could straddle the spheres of being comfortable and relaxing but also worthy of being worn when interacting with other humans. On top of that, I added a whole host of insipid jumpers, mostly grey in colour, none of which sparked joy and most of which didn’t even fit me well. I also discarded the grey work trousers that had been critiqued during the style consultation. Why do I own so many unflattering grey things?! Slipping the trousers on one last time, I now couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought they looked good. How quickly I’ve got used to my new eyes that can now see what works and what doesn’t! Similarly, I could now see the problem with a red dress, the existence of which made me feel guilty as I’d only worn it once and it hadn’t exactly been cheap. But now I could see that it clearly wasn’t in my style. Its large full skirt just didn’t look that good on me. If I pulled it tight into a pencil skirt shape it was much more flattering, then it had the neat, tailored lines of my gamine style. As I put the red dress in the discard pile, I bid thanks to it for helping me to see how the style principles work in practice.

There was an extensive cull of my jackets as I rooted out ones that weren’t in my colours, style nor aspirational lifestyle. These included an ancient denim jacket that was too wide, a big, bulky North Face jacket that I’d bought in New York in 2005 and was actually meant for 12-year-old boys, and both my rain macs. One of these I’d bought in Vietnam and, as well as not being in colours, its waterproof qualities (quite fundamental to its purpose as a rain mac) had never really filled me with confidence. With the Vietnamese rain mac in the discard pile, I slipped on my other rain mac, a green one that was in my colours. This I had been expecting to keep but I stared with incredulity at my reflection. This mac was absolutely huge. How had I not noticed this before? I looked at the label. Men’s size medium. It swamped me. Why on earth had I bought it?! I suspected I may well have been pushed for time in the purchasing of items for my first backpacking trip in the year 2000. And only being a couple of years past my heydey of wearing ridiculously huge men’s t-shirts in the mid-90s, I think maybe it hadn’t looked that big to me at the time. But a giant unflattering rain mac did not fit with my idea of a curated life so I added it to the discard pile with much heartfelt thanks. This rain mac had been with me from the start of my adventures. It had looked after me in the inclement climes of far off lands and had come with me every time I’d been to Glastonbury. It was a sad farewell but my hope was that it could go on to live a happy life with a medium sized man who would get much joy from its superior waterproof qualities and handy stuff sack.

My last pairs of harem trousers were also unexpected casualties of this final clothes cull. I hadn’t necessarily expected to get rid of them but trying them on, I suddenly knew it was time. Harem trousers are only really happy in their natural habitat of India and with no plans to return anytime soon and their elastic beginning to wilt I decided to set them free.

I undertook a totalitarian purge of my knicker drawer, a place that had already seen its population decimated in the last culls but still seemed to be teeming with unnecessary members. I mean how many pairs of knickers did I really need when I do a wash on average of once a week? I seemed to have so many bog standard black pairs from Marks & Spencer’s. They were my uninspiring but reliable daily staples while nicer ones waited patiently in the wings for their moment in the spotlight which never came. In a decisive move, I took all the bog standard black pairs from my drawer. No longer would there be the segregation of best and bog standard – in the socialist utopia of my underwear drawer, all knickers would now be for wearing daily. Rather than add all the bog standard blacks to the discard pile, I initially put them in a corner of my wardrobe. I decided to see if I could get by with just the knickers that I had been saving for best. If it turned out I didn’t have enough, I could then reinstate a few bog standards.

In the time between doing that and writing this blog post, I’ve not once had to resort to putting on a bog standard black pair. I have enough nice pairs to see me through to each wash and now I get to wear nice knickers every day. Kondo says your joy sensor should be set to maximum when it comes to underwear as, although it goes unseen by others (for the most part), it is in direct contact with your body. The same goes for socks. The socks you wear at home are important, she says, because they are the contact point between you and your home and you should, therefore, choose ones to make your time at home more enjoyable. I, however, had been guilty of wearing “make do” socks around the home. Although I’ve never been one for wearing socks with holes, I would often choose to wear less pleasing socks around the house on the grounds that I would save nicer ones for going out. Yet again I purged the socks, keeping only a small number and getting rid of any that weren’t comfortable, made my feet too hot or had patterns I no longer liked. Creating and curating my ideal lifestyle would be built from the socks up!

Leggings were another category that I unexpectedly annihilated. I had amassed an extensive collection from when I did a lot of dance classes and had found they were handy to wear under skirts. But leggings under little skirts was a girlish look that wasn’t really my style. The amount of leggings I had took up a lot of space in my drawers so I decided to reduce the ranks to only two pairs – one knee-length pair and one full-length pair. I ummed and ahhed for ages, going back and forth between the many pairs, trying to decide which two should be the chosen ones. Then I just thought fuck it and threw the entire lot in the discard pile. I had only worn one pair once in recent memory and that was at the style consultation when we had been specifically told to wear something like that. Without direct instruction to do so, I couldn’t envisage actually choosing to wear a pair of leggings. My leggings for yoga were a separate matter, those being sports leggings made of a different material, but these “fashion” ones? Nope, I just never actually wear them. Was it foolish and wasteful to throw out every pair of leggings I owned? It seemed an audacious and radical move as a woman to not own a single pair of leggings. But I couldn’t see how cheap leggings which I never actively choose to wear would constitute part of my ideal lifestyle. And, in adherence with The Minimalists 20/20 Rule, and with all the high street shops only five minutes walk away, it would be no hardship to source another pair if the need suddenly manifested itself.

As I worked my way through the pile of clothes, it was interesting to see that I had quite a physical reaction to some of the items – some were too itchy, or too tight, or too hot. Hurriedly and breathlessly pulling them off again was a sheer relief. Regardless of my reasons for saving them in the last two culls, this time the bell tolled for them.

I paused over some of my travel clothes. A green pair of North Face trousers and a beige pair of walking shorts – neither in my colours. Then there was a grey pair of North Face trousers, in my colours but the elastic on the belt loops was sagging and curled and they were really quite wide-legged, more so than I’d remembered. And a pair of walking boots, not in my colours, which looked a little battered but when I slipped them on they still felt great – so comfortable and supportive. However, these were ankle length walking boots and on my last trip I’d swapped their weight and bulk for a lower rise walking trainer. But ultimately, I decided to keep all the travelling things given that they had all been very expensive and were still eminently practical. To discard them because they weren’t in my colours or were a little old seemed incredibly wasteful.

One thing I realised, as I assessed all I owned, was that I had been a bit neglectful with my clothes. There were things that needed repairing and shoes that needed reheeling and polishing. I certainly wasn’t going impress the house network like this. I dutifully polished all my remaining shoes and took other items to the cobblers and dry cleaners for repair. I resolved to take better care of my things in future and not let little jobs fall by the wayside meaning my possessions languished in an unloved state. Through the process of decluttering, you inevitably foster a greater appreciation for and desire to take better care of the things in your life, Kondo says. By living mindfully in a carefully curated space it then also leads to taking better care of yourself and helps you recognise and do something about habits that have not been serving you well.

Now that my clothes had been thoroughly and comprehensively KonMaried, all that was left to do was store and discard…

KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design: Creating and curating your ideal lifestyle​

I’d had such grand plans over the summer to really make headway through the KonMari process. Surely the halcyon days of the lengthy summer holiday would mean I would finally reach the milestone of tackling the komono category. Yet, somehow the weeks had slipped away through a wormhole of odd jobs, business about town, and the heady thrill of saying yes to all sorts of social engagements usually turned down due to the general workload and exhaustion of teaching. And suddenly here I was, staring at the dying embers of the last days of the summer holidays. And what was reflected in the glow of these embers? Not the sleek, tidy, minimalist abode of my dreams, but clutter here, there and everywhere.

Kondo warns that temporary clutter may well appear during the tidying process and, sure enough, things were piling up on the various surfaces in my room. Feeling the effects of not having finished the other categories yet, clusters of badly organised, ramshackle komono had taken up squatters rights in various places, giving my room a disordered, messy feeling and making it hard to store things that should have had a designated home. Not only was there komono clutter but I was starting to spot items from the categories I’d already tackled that now seemed ripe for decluttering themselves. A good example of this were the scarves that hung from the hooks on the back of my bedroom door. Although I’d already weeded out a fair number in the first two clothes decluttering sessions, as I gazed upon them hanging there I felt, instead of joy, the prick of annoyance. I realised that not only do I hardly wear any of them but that the door area would seem a lot more peaceful and calm without their gaudy presence drawing the eye.

Added to this was the fact that having had the colour and style classes with House of Colour, I could now spot newly unmasked traitors nestled amongst my clothes – items that were neither my colours nor style and were thus unlikely to be worn again with anything approaching enthusiasm and joy. Writing up the blog post on the style class had focused my thoughts on the importance of wearing clothes that make you feel good. As I mentioned then, my default home-wear was the slobbiness maximus combo of a hoody, t-shirt and tracksuit bottoms (often worn in a mix of colours that would have made Fiona, my House of Colour guru, bite her knuckles in horror). But inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s assertion that making an effort to look and feel good can do wonders for the propagation of your creativity and Kondo’s manifesto on creating your ideal lifestyle, I had decided to make a concerted effort with both my attire and my living environment.

At first this was hard to remember. I would sit down to start writing or be about to head out to the shops when I’d suddenly remember I had no makeup on. In some of the empty days of the summer holidays, with no plans to meet anyone, it seemed a waste of makeup to be putting it on for no particular reason. But, with a grudging sense of duty, I’d apply the basics of Touche Eclat, powder, blusher and mascara. I’d also try to put on clothes that I’d actually be happy to meet friends wearing rather than the sorts of clothes that might encourage security guards to follow me around Marks & Spencer’s. Again, this felt like a waste. Wouldn’t it be best to save my nicer clothes so they’re lovely and clean for when I do go out to meet people? And rather like a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it, if I wear my nice jeans around the house with no one there to see me, does it actually make a difference?

It didn’t take long to realise that making an effort with my clothes and makeup really did make a perceptible difference to how I was feeling both about myself and the day itself. I’d catch glimpses of myself in a mirror and be surprised by the pleasant looking reflection staring back. “Gosh, you look nice!” I’d think to myself. I also felt more ready for the day, more prepared, more like I was actively participating in it rather than skirting around the edges hoping not to be noticed on account of looking a bit scruffy. This video is a nice summary of the difference that making an effort can make. I particularly like the part about how you feel much more ready, willing and able to do something social when there’s no effort involved in saying yes because you’re already all ready to go. And there’s even science to back up the idea that clothing has more of an effect on us than we might like to admit. As explained in this episode of Invisibilia (from 31 minutes in), what we wear can affect not only how we feel about ourselves but even our intellectual abilities. Professor Adam Galinsky, from Columbia Business School, has shown that wearing a doctor’s white coat can make people perform better on attention tests. In fact, the participants wearing the coat made about half as many errors as the participants in regular clothes. And when they were told that the exact same coat was a painter’s coat, its magical test-acing properties evaporated. Just looking at the coat had no effect but there was something about putting it on that imbues the person with all the beliefs associated with that particular piece of clothing. Ergo, if you want to feel good about yourself and on top of your game, dress in your finery, and if you want to feel professional and confident, dress for success. They’ve even coined a term for this powerful symbolic association that clothes afford the wearer: enclothed cognition. With scientific fact supporting the idea that what you wear matters, I realised it was time to up my game in the daily fashion department.

Wearing my nicer clothes on a daily basis with no intention to see anyone initially seemed like it would be subjecting them to needless wear that might hasten their degeneration. But having decluttered my closets already, I was aware that clothes don’t last forever anyway. I need only think back to my collection of sexy knickers patiently waiting for their Prince Charming to come. Their hibernation had not been the cryogenically frozen state of stasis I had imaged it would be and, when unearthed, I had discovered time had taken its toll. In their drooping, wilted elastic was the lament to wear nice clothes on a daily basis. The special occasions you save things for are few and far between (and possibly never arrive). Best to make the most of your nice things and enjoy them while you can.

Thus it is important to enjoy your things in the here and now, enjoy their physical presence while they can give you their best and also reap the psychological benefits of feeling good about yourself and engaged with the day. But Kondo goes further than just urging you to appreciate your possessions in the present moment. She asserts that how you live on a day to day basis can help you create your ideal lifestyle for the future. A thorough declutter and tidy up can, she says, forge new paths and connections in your life, creating a vibrant and happy life, a life that seems as if it’s “been touched by magic”.  Tidying is, she says, the tool rather than the final destination. By undertaking it, you press the reset button on your life bringing about “dramatic changes” and making it possible to “achieve the lifestyle to which you aspire”.

One passage in Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy, seemed to hold particular relevance. She addresses the question of whether to undertake your tidying marathon before or after moving house. The answer is a resounding “before”. If you are looking to move house and haven’t yet found one, she urges you to begin tidying right away. By tidying up your current house and treating it and the things within it with the proper respect they are due, it sends a message to the “house network” that you are a worthy house dweller and this attracts another house to make itself known and available to you. Kondo says that many of her clients have found perfect and beautiful homes that are just right for them once they’ve tidied up and taken good care of the one they currently reside in. Now I’m currently in the market for a new house. I seek a reasonably priced one bedroom flat – a distinct rarity in London Town. Twenty years of living communally in a rotation of houses and housemates has finally grown wearisome. Which serves as a reminder of how one changes as they age. Once I remember declaring that I would always want to live communally with housemates because it was just so much fun. Just like I also remember swearing that I would only ever listen to Radio 1. Yet now I find the DJs silly, shouty and jarringly ebullient and as for the music…well, it seems entirely forgettable, jejune and, boy, they sure don’t make it like they used to, huh? Now I crave the peace, solitude and space of my own one bedroom flat where I can relax, undisturbed by others, listening to 6Music and Radio 2. If push comes to shove, then no, of course, I don’t really believe in a “house network” that gossips like ladies of a certain age about how clean and tidy you keep your house and serves as arbiter of whether you’ve proved yourself worthy of a prime piece of real estate. But rather like the atheist who sends a prayer to god as their plane falters in the sky, I figure I’ve got nothing to lose by believing in my time of need. Kondo claims that the “god of tidying is sure to reward us” when we tidy up thoroughly and decisively. Anyone who has ever tried to find a reasonably priced one bedroom flat for single occupancy in London will attest that only an act of divine intervention will achieve this feat. Thus, rather like Fox Mulder: I want to believe.

This seems to be one of the main differences between being a minimalist in America compared to one living in London. A lot of the reading from America extols the virtues of eschewing the American Dream of owning a large house in favour of a smaller dwelling. If only that was an option for me! What I want more than anything is just a little flat of my own. I would be perfectly happy in a tiny place. But my regular google searches of “micro-apartments London” yields only Pocket Homes as a viable result and there I languish on their waiting list. Not having a significant other to share the millstone of London rents severely limits your options. It’s like a tax on being a single person. Can’t get a boyfriend? Well, you can’t have a nice flat either! London, you’re such a bully. But you’re so cool that I want to be your friend anyway.

“Only when you know how to choose things that spark joy can you attain your ideal lifestyle”, says Kondo. So with the desire of currying favour with the house network combined with the active pursuit of designing and curating my ideal lifestyle, I set about decluttering again. Despite yearning to get to komono, I knew I had to revisit and audit the categories I had previously tackled: clothes, books and paperwork…

KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: The Je Ne Sais Quoi of Style

Having just about got my eye in with the colours, it was time for the next stage of my quest to discover some sort of style and fashion know-how. I’d been so impressed with the colour consultation from House of Colour, that I’d booked in for their style class which promised to help me understand the language of clothes. Like with all foreign languages, I didn’t appear to be a natural with it. In fact, I’d say my understanding of the language of clothes was about on a par with my French: extremely basic but able to get by while being expressed with faint embarrassment. My clothing comprehension was the equivalent of being able to awkwardly order a ham and cheese baguette at a service station somewhere in France. I don’t particularly like ham and cheese baguettes but when hungry it would suffice. That’s basically how I felt about all the clothes in my wardrobe.

I had been keen to go shopping straight after getting my colours done but I had held off, knowing I needed to wait for the style class. Without this key part of my education, there was every chance I might end up buying things in the right colours but in an unflattering style.

Decluttering my wardrobes with the KonMari method had shown me I was a bit lost with knowing what suited me. Historically, I’d favoured a tomboy approach to fashion but I had also attempted to experiment with more feminine looks. However, whether tomboyish or not, everything I owned seemed a bit too youthful. I needed something to reflect my age, I needed to know what would be stylish and flattering as I approached my 40s.

Before the class, I tried to muster some thoughts about style and what suited me. I considered that showing off my slim waist was a good idea. However, slowly but surely I’d slipped past the age for crop tops (plus, it’s not the 90s anymore). I also couldn’t do things that required much cleavage as I am not asset-rich in that department. Possibly due to my lack of womanly curves, I have to be careful not to end up looking like an awkward teenager when wearing dresses. Although I sometimes try to wear skirts, in general, I’m just not a massive fan of them and much prefer trousers. This is mainly because I like to sit like a man. It’s comfortable and I’m pretty sure I read somewhere that crossing your legs gives you varicose veins. I’d always thought that trousers that were fitted around the bottom and with a bootcut were flattering on me (again, though, it’s not the 90s, love.) Recently I’d gone for mum-style jeans, which are much roomier around the bottom and hips, as they’re in fashion. But as a work colleague said to me, “You’re almost 40, you’re much too old to be trying to follow fashion. Go for style instead, good style never goes out of fashion”. She speaks the truth.

Should I be going for girlier shoes, I have often pondered. My more feminine friends tend to disapprove of my sensible footwear. But I have a lot of dedication to flats and have never managed to cultivate that cliched love of shoes that so many women seem to be afflicted with. I love to both walk and dance so comfort is my number one priority.

And I actually have really no idea about what tops look good. For work, I tend to favour a vest top with a looser chiffon type blouse over the top. But for casual or going out tops I have no clue. I don’t really have anything I’m happy with or that I would consider stylish. Help was needed!

Before the session I was a tad worried about my fellow consultees. I knew there would be about three other people there and I was concerned they’d be a group of friends who would whisper behind their hands, scornful that I was there. Two decades of being dismissively told “You’re so lucky, you can wear anything because you’re a skinny bitch!” does make one a little wary of conversations surrounding clothes. It’s also really hard to know how to respond to that statement. I normally just favour a weak, nervous laugh.

On the day of the consultation, I arrived back at Fiona’s abode and was introduced to the other women. I needn’t have worried, rather than a close-knit group of friends they had also all come as individuals and were a range of shapes and sizes. They were all remarkably similar to me in that we were all professionals in our mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. And each said they felt quite lost and clueless about clothes, stuck in a rut and unsure how to dress for their shape and age. Phew, not just me then!

We all sat down and were handed our work booklets. The first pages required us to discuss our objectives for the day and describe how we want to be perceived. I explained how my journey through minimalism had brought me here and how my realisation that I needed some education about style dovetails with the minimalist ideas about owning fewer, better quality clothes that you love. As for how I want to be perceived, I decided upon cute, stylish and nothing that requires too much effort! I also need to adhere to the dress code at school and take heed of the fact that I teach a lot of teenage boys. Interestingly, everyone else also mentioned their need to dress in relation to men. They worried about trying to make sure tops weren’t too tight or revealing and that skirts were appropriate for work. And they spoke of trying to get the tone of professionalism right when they might be the only woman at meetings, of trying to walk that fine line between not being too casual and not being perceived as too stuffy and buttoned up. How interesting, I commented, from a feminist perspective that we should all reference our need to dress in relation to men’s perceptions, whether that’s the teenage boys in my classroom or all the men in the boardroom. Everyone looked faintly like they agreed but clearly no one else wanted to discuss feminism and the sisterhood and would all rather be talking about clothes. Which was fair enough really considering that’s what we were there for.

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We perused the lifestyle pie chart which was next in our workbooks. The idea here is that you shade in sections of the pie chart according to where you spend your time – be that work, home, social activities, hobbies or holidays. The areas where you spend most of your time should have the most money channelled towards them. After all, there’s no point buying loads of party dresses if you actually very rarely go to parties. Luckily there is some clothing crossover for my pie chart – most of my time is spent at work (boo) but those clothes can be shared with my hobby of swing dancing. The fact that there was a segment of the pie chart dedicated to home reminded me that I needed to get something comfortable but not too slobby to wear around the house. My default home-wear is to languish in tracksuit bottoms and a hoody. However, Marie Kondo says this is to be avoided if you are trying to create your ideal lifestyle. She says that what you wear in the house impacts on your self-image and the fact there is no one there to see you makes it all the more important to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love. The importance of not going to seed when home alone is echoed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book on creativity “Big Magic”. In order to entice creativity and inspiration to come to you, you should seduce it by presenting your best self, she says. Take a shower, put on some nice clean clothes, do your hair, makeup and accessories and you will draw creativity to your side. Sprucing up my loungewear could help me feel good about myself and my appearance on a daily basis rather than just when I dress up for going out (I’m always quite surprised at how well I manage to scrub up once I actually put some effort in!) Plus, it would remove the embarrassment I feel when I’ve popped out to the shops looking scraggly and then bump into someone I know.

Skim reading over the page in the booklet about capsule wardrobes made me realise that I had a lot of shopping to do. A capsule wardrobe was one of the minimalist ideas I had wanted to embrace but looking at House of Colour’s list of recommended items I saw that I didn’t really have any of these basic staples. Nothing about my mishmash wardrobe, that at best could be described as eclectic and at worst schizophrenic, said chic mix and match style. There was even a handy grid in the booklet so you can create a visual checklist of what items match each other. It was all so formalised and logical – something I find very appealing!

Fiona then led a discussion about the importance of budgeting and buying investment pieces and gave us tips on the various ways we could tell if a garment is actually good quality. She encouraged us to move away from the habit of buying lots of cheap clothes and move towards a more intentional mindset of buying good quality clothes that will last and will work cohesively with the rest of our wardrobe. She also gave us tips on how to get the most out of the shopping experience, such as to go round the shops about once every six weeks, to wear appropriate clothes and makeup so you can properly assess if things match, and to buy items when you see them rather than panic buying in the run up to a job interview or party – something I’m definitely guilty of!

We also discussed wardrobe management which included the advice to file your clothes into categories, just as Kondo recommends. There was also the good suggestion of creating a pending section to hold clothes that need something doing to them. This would alleviate the severe vexation of hurriedly pulling out a blouse only to discover that you never did get round to sewing that button back on.

Apparently, 55% of the first impression you make comes from your appearance, with what you say actually counting for very little, so it’s easy to see why clothing matters and, especially in a professional context, why it’s important to strike the right note with your attire. Fiona explained how items like shoes help connote status, authority and attention to detail. Some of the advice had quite a psychological basis. For example, the idea of neck adornments such as necklaces and scarves conveying a sense of jugular protection and authority. Continuing the idea of symbolic protection, apparently, your bag represents your shield so you should make sure it’s up to the job. Using a variety of different bags, Fiona demonstrated how different ones can create different perceptions about you. And apparently what comes out of your handbag is your entrails! Previously my entrails had been a scrumpled mass of receipts, semi-used tissues and rewrapped used chewing gum. However, since reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I’d tried to implement Kondo’s rule on emptying your handbag every night which means I have a chance to process the day’s detritus.

Then we looked at a checklist for creating an interesting appearance. You basically get points for how many interesting features you combine in your look. I scored a paltry three for wearing make-up, rings and a watch. It would appear that I counted as “underdressed”. Foul! I called when one of my fellow consultees got a point for her curly hair. I have curly hair too!, I objected. I have big curly hair, it’s a thing! I took it down and shook it out. I was then granted an extra point. This gave me pause for thought – considering I count my hair as a feature it would seem that I need to be making more of it. I conceded that having it pulled up in a scrunchy isn’t exactly showing it off. Unsurprisingly, I received no points for my battered Keds sneakers or denim rucksack. I watched as one of the other women harvested points for her nice bag and cute little ballet pumps. It made me see how the little things can make a difference to your overall look. The fewer points you have accumulated for your appearance, the less ready or authoritative you seem. Fiona demonstrated this by removing points from herself. She removed her lipstick and jewellery, swapped her stylish jacket for a drab cardigan, and changed from smart, cool shoes to older, dowdier ones. It made such a difference to her appearance. She went from put-together, professional and stylish to looking like someone’s ordinary mum. If she’d looked like that to conduct the class, there’s no way I would have put faith in what she said which goes to show the difference your appearance can make to your authority.

After much discussion and expounding of theories and principles, we were ready to start identifying our own personal styles. I was raring to get going – enough chit-chat, tell me more about me! We had been instructed to wear something that showed our body shapes so, one by one, wearing leggings and vest tops, we all took our places in front of the full-length mirror. In our booklets, there were diagrams of five different body shapes. These weren’t the usual pear, apple etc but had names such as “sharp straight” and “soft curved”. Fiona talked us through her assessment of each of us. Pointing out my angular shoulders, Fiona deemed me to be sharp straight. Within sharp straight, there were the subcategories of rectangle or triangle, with my small waist putting me within triangle. Then it got even more technical and specific. Fiona pulled out a tape measure and began measuring different segments of our bodies – from head to bust, bust to leg break, leg break to knee, and knee to toe. With all the information collated, Fiona described, with an impressive and reassuringly thorough level of detail, what we should embrace and what we should avoid in order to create balance for our proportions. The analysis covered everything from where detailing on clothes should go, where belts should be worn, what sort of necklines worked best (I should go for high & tight or angular necklines and avoid curves or drapes), flattering coat, skirt and dress lengths, right down to what length of boots should be worn. Just like with the colour consultation, it was this sort of precise in-depth analysis that I was after. We all had different body shapes which were useful for seeing and understanding why some things worked for some people and not for others.

Fiona also scrutinised our faces to determine their shape. Despite poring over countless articles in magazines over the years to ascertain my face shape and its corresponding flattering hairstyles, I’d never been entirely sure what I counted as. The choice of ten different face shapes in our booklets was much more nuanced than those I’d seen before and I was declared to have a diamond face with an angular jaw and average to long neck.

Included in our booklets was a quiz to determine if we were yin or yang personalities. Who doesn’t love a good personality quiz?! There were 20 sets of binary opposites and we had to say which side of the opposition we fell under. We discussed each one which was useful as some of the questions weren’t what I’d thought they’d be. One opposition asked if we were formal or informal. I had been all ready to put a tick in “informal” assuming my preference for informal casual clothes would yield this result but, in fact, it was nothing to do with that. Fiona posed the question “Would you like it if someone dropped round your house unexpectedly?” Nope, not at all – which thus put me in the “formal” category. One of the oppositions was “mature and sophisticated” vs “natural and youthful”. Fiona proposed that I would fall under the “natural and youthful” category and hesitated to see whether I would agree with this assessment. No one has ever accused me of being mature, I assured her. One I was thoroughly stuck on was “risk taker/rule maker” vs “plays safe/follows instructions”. Now I’m a big believer in following instructions. Instructions are there for a reason, people. They’re so informative, so helpful! Yet on the other hand, I have been known to take some astounding risks. Like the time I taught myself to ride a motorbike, a ridiculously huge Royal Enfield Bullet which I couldn’t even lift off the ground, and then drove it over the third highest motorable road in the world (the scar on my ankle is a testament to how that adventure ended). I recounted the motorbike story and everyone decided that my smug adherence to instructions was definitely trumped by the undertaking of such activities and I was placed squarely in the risk-taking category.

The “chucks out” vs “hoards” opposition was interesting. I used to be a hoarder (not in a getting suffocated to death by piles of newspapers way, more in a “I should probably keep this because one day it might be useful” way) but now, as a minimalist, I’m definitely more in the chucking out category. Should I choose what I was for three and a half decades or what I’ve been in just the last 12 months? Fiona suggested I should go for “chucks out” as, after all, something must have drawn me to the minimalist lifestyle. Then there was the opposition of “decisive” vs “indecisive”. Well, sometimes I can be decisive – if I weigh up all the options and there is a logical conclusion then I am very decisive, for logic and reason has spoken. But if there’s no obvious answer, well then yes, I can be terribly indecisive….as I continued to mull upon this out loud, one of the other women turned to me and pointed out that if one can’t decide whether they’re decisive or indecisive then that’s pretty damning evidence for being indecisive. Ok, yes, strong point, I’ll give you that. I glanced over her shoulder at her booklet – she’d already given herself a firm and resolute tick in “decisive”. We finished the quiz and added up all the points. I was a definite yang personality, the most so out of all those there.

With our personality scores added into the mix with our body shapes, it was time for the big reveal: what style category we would be. The different categories were: Dramatic, Classic, Natural, Gamine, Ingenue, and Romantic. There were mood boards for each of these styles depicting clothes that exemplify and flatter each one and also pictures of famous people who match them. My fellow consultees and I had already scrutinised these mood boards while Fiona had been upstairs making tea. Just like with the colour consultation, I had no idea which I would be. As we listened with bated breath, Fiona told us the category she’d placed us in and the reasons why.

I was “dramatic gamine”. This meant I was predominantly gamine but with some dramatic in me. We were handed information sheets about our styles. I was pleased with mine – the words to describe gamine included quirky, neat, impish, boyish, youthful, witty & fun – I could definitely work with this! Like everything in the consultation, it was unexpectedly and impressively thorough giving specific advice for ensuring a gamine look in everything from fabrics, patterns, shoes, accessories and more. But here was an anomaly! Hairstyle: “Short, neat and snappy”. My hair, long and curly, was definitely not this. Fiona reassured me that my hair could count as a dramatic element of my look. Other elements of dramatic that I could consider adding included sharp angles, contrasting colours and “zany” fabrics and details. Once again, I realised I was going to have to be braver. Never quite knowing what suited me meant I had tended to shy away from anything too outré for fear that I would draw attention to myself for the wrong reasons. A useful section on the sheet was what to avoid – for gamines that’s anything too loose or baggy, anything that would swamp our neat, fitted look. I was relieved to see that trousers are a particularly good look for gamines and that we’re advised to stay away from shoes with very high heels. Finally, a bona fide get out clause for my aversion to high heels! Although, it also stated gamines should avoid shoes that are too clumpy and I thought guiltily of my Dr Martens.

As part of the consultation we had been told to bring three items of clothing for review – one item that we thought looked good, one item we were unsure about and, if possible, something we didn’t think worked well for us. I had settled upon three different pairs of work trousers and had thrown a shirt in too. We changed into our different items and all discussed what worked, what didn’t and why. I started with the pair of trousers I didn’t particularly like. However, my reservations about them turned out to be unfounded – everyone agreed that the slim-fitting, tapering legs matched my gamine style, was flattering for my figure and the turn-up detail on the bottom counted as cute styling. I had clearly judged these trousers much too harshly! Then I swapped to the pair I thought looked ok – a pair of bootcut trousers. But oh no! Everyone said these were much less flattering. I had thought the bootcut looked good and provided more balance than the slim-legged ones but apparently I was mistaken! There was too much fabric at the bottom and it was too loose, they looked all flappy and had too much movement, they said. Oh dear! Clearly I had no idea what suited me! But hence the reason for doing this consultation. Then I put on the trousers that I was pretty certain looked good and added the shirt too. This combination of shirt and trousers had drawn many compliments at school. The trousers were khaki green and the pattern on the shirt also contained this colour. This was the colour I had been baffled about after the colour consultation for this green was not a winter season green yet people had said it looked good on me. The collective complimented the look – the styling was perfect for dramatic gamine. The neat tailoring of the trousers and the shirt buttoned right up provided the boyish gamine while the geometric pattern on the shirt added a touch of dramatic. This was a winning combo. But what about the colour, I enquired, don’t you think it matches my eyes? Fiona pulled out the fabric bibs used in the colour consultation and draped me in the allegedly wrong and allegedly right greens. The difference was clear. The right green, the winter season green, was met with oohs of appreciation whereas the the wrong green, the khaki green, elicited hmmms of disappointment. The right green complimented my pale skin, they said, made it look striking whereas the wrong one washed me out. So it might match my eyes but apparently, it did nothing for my skin! I slipped out of the clothes and back into the trousers I’d arrived in. These were also given a critique for good measure – too shapeless round the bottom was the conclusion, not tailored enough, and should be made of stiffer material. Jeez, I’d thought these ones were ok!

The last thing we looked at was jewellery. Fiona adorned us in a variety of different necklaces so we could see how the same necklace could look completely different on different people. What looked interesting and fun on one person looked cheap and trashy on someone else and something that looked delicate and pretty on one looked lost and insipid on another. I discovered I needed necklaces that would sit quite flat against me and would hang around the clavicle. Also, jewellery that was too sparkly and feminine didn’t work that well with my gamine aesthetic.

With the session drawing to a close, we were given extra handouts on jacket, trouser, skirt and dress styles and final instruction on detailing and accessories – the shape of lapels, types of patterns to go for or avoid, and what style of handbags and belts would compliment our looks. Fiona also noted down which specific shops we should aim for to provide clothes for our style categories. This was useful as I find the sheer amount of shops to choose from quite overwhelming.

Then it was time to go. I emerged back onto the street at the tail end of the day. There was a beautiful light and the crisp, clean air seemed to heighten my senses as my head reeled, filled to bursting with all the new information I’d acquired. I’d learned so much I almost couldn’t process it all. I would need time to revisit my notes and let it all sink in.

When I got home I threw open my wardrobe and surveyed my clothes. I could see the problem – hardly anything was in my gamine style. Most things were too baggy and not fitted, tailored or neat enough. Of the few clothes that were in my style, most were not in my colours. I could count the items that matched both my style and colours on one hand. But this was great! I could now actually see and understand the problem!

The whole consultation exceeded my expectations, even more so than the colour consultation. The level of detail and analysis was such that I now have guidance and certainty in my styling from head to toe. Now when I go shopping I know what to look for. I can skim around a shop thinking, nope, nope, nope, oh yes – that would work! The time I can save now I don’t have to dither! The confidence I’ve gained! It’s a revelation! Now when I look at my clothes I look at them with newly literate eyes. Instead of a vague dissatisfaction, a nameless, formless malaise and ennui, it’s a specific, targeted, semantic understanding. I can look at an individual item and see the exact reasons why it works or doesn’t work. Clothing no longer speaks to me in tongues. I can now read and articulate the language of clothes and, with this new lexis, I feel as liberated as someone who has finally mastered the local lingo and gets a thrill from communicating and being understood.

KonMari Inspired Wardrobe Revamp: Brought to you in glorious technicolour

Early on in my journey into minimalism I became aware of one particular facet of the movement – that of clothing and its surrounding ideologies.

And is it any wonder minimalists are concerned with the question of clothes? It’s an area where consumption has spiralled out of control. The fashion industry manufactures new trends at a dizzying rate, advertisers seduce us with images of the lifestyle that could be ours if only we bought the right things (and when we do buy the right things and we grasp at that lifestyle it becomes smoke between our fingers only to reform again just out of our reach, beckoning to us beguilingly from behind a different purchase), and the fast-fashion outlets of Primark, H&M, Forever 21 et al feed our orgy of consumption that goes forever unsatiated. And all this intersects with our lives lived permanently performed before the looking glass of social media. We see our image refracted, multiplied and shared in the camera flashes of numerous smart phones. When once a single dress could be recycled for a number of occasions, we now baulk at wearing it again. After all, everyone saw us wearing it at that wedding – not only the wedding guests, but all our friends on social media, and all the friends of those friends too. But why wear the same thing again when you can pick up something new so cheaply? Youtubers speak to the youth of their clothing hauls – surely the bulimic binges of a society struggling with disordered consumption. And what are we left with? Wardrobes full to bursting with cheap, badly made clothes we don’t really care for and a nagging sense of guilt when we accidentally let ourselves think too long about how those clothes were actually made.

It’s no surprise that Marie Kondo recommends beginning the process of decluttering one’s life by tackling clothing first. And upon confronting my wardrobes and drawers, I had realised I had a problem. I had so many clothes. But more to the point, I had so many clothes I didn’t even like. With clothes so readily and cheaply available, I’d slipped into the gravitational pull of the fast-fashion black hole.

To start with it had been quite fun to dabble in fast-fashion – there were so many things to choose from, so many things to try! It was all so cheap that I didn’t have to worry about buying something that wasn’t going to be a perennial staple. I could experiment with trends at no great financial loss. I knew it was unethical. I’d read the articles about what the pay and conditions were like for the people who actually make the clothes. But I’d told myself two things, firstly it doesn’t mean that conditions are any better in places where clothes cost more, it probably just means mark ups are higher. And secondly, there was so much coverage of poor working conditions that companies had to be more careful these days so conditions were probably better now.

However, the fun waned and fast-fashion fatigue set in. I could tell myself glib things but underneath, I knew I could be making better choices. I started reading things about the other end of the clothing lifecycle too and the burden being placed on the planet from the excess waste caused by all the discarded clothes. Also the fashion treadmill became tiring – fashions changed constantly meaning my fun new outfit was decidedly less on-trend in the blink of an eye. And the shopping experience itself was an ordeal. There’s nothing enjoyable about shopping in Primark – its daunting size, the rummaging through racks of clothes having to look at each individual label to find your size because invariably everything is on the wrong hanger, the changing rooms, the queues, the hordes of people everywhere all single-mindedly scurrying, delving, foraging for a bargain, leaving disarrangement and disarray in their wake. If the brightly-lit dystopia of a normal Saturday at Primark was filmed and put in a sci-fi movie we’d all be shaking our heads at the folly of the mindless masses.

But shopping experience and ethical considerations aside, as I followed the KonMari method and filtered and processed my clothes, I knew there was a fundamental problem underlying my haphazard procurement of cheap garments.  When it came down to it, I just wasn’t sure what clothes suited me. I didn’t know which styles to go for and which to avoid. And I didn’t know what colours flattered me and which made me look peaky. No wonder I found shopping an overwhelming experience – when you’re not sure what suits you it leaves everything on offer as an option and that’s a lot to choose from. It’s not uncommon for me to spend an inordinately long time in a changing room swapping repeatedly between outfits thinking to myself “I just don’t know which one suits me more”. Thus, the fast-fashion ethos had been a less daunting way to shop. Don’t know which looks best? Buy both! It was all so cheap I didn’t have to worry about spending money on something that wasn’t quite right. Get a few wears out of it and it’s justified the meagre amount I spent on it. Fundamentally, I was fearful of spending a lot of money on something when I wasn’t sure what would be a wise buy and what would be a fashion faux pas. As I had stood surrounded by piles of clothes in my bedroom I had vowed to educate myself about fashion so I could make more informed choices.

As I continued my journey exploring the minimalist landscape, I signed up to various email feeds and soon discovered that the question of what a minimalist wears gets a lot of online air time. Only a few weeks after I stood despairing at the dismal state of my clothing this article arrived in my inbox and opened the door to a new approach to clothes. Clicking through the various links in the article was revelatory. I particularly liked the idea of a capsule wardrobe – how appealing to have a select few items of good-quality clothing that you really, genuinely liked and could mix and match with ease and confidence. It all seemed to be suggesting a more put together, stylish approach rather than the eclectic mishmash I had that left me feeling vaguely disgruntled. I resolved to look into these ideas when the time was right. And until then I put myself on a clothes buying embargo until I had things more figured out (an embargo that ended up lasting eight months!) And, I have to say, it felt really good to step off the treadmill of consumption. Previously, if it had been a while since I’d bought anything I’d start to get the nagging feeling that I should buy something new, just because…just because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You’re a woman – isn’t it about time you bought yourself some new clothes? Keep consuming and everything will be alright. It felt freeing to take a break, to have given myself a reason to not even bother trying to find something to buy. Obviously I’d need to buy new things at some point but I was going to wait until I’d looked into different approaches and ideas.

Initial direction and guidance came from a friend’s recommendation. She had had a colour analysis from House of Colour and was eagerly explaining the process and results to us over some drinks in the pub. She talked us through her colours, explaining which looked good on her and why, and showed us the little leather wallet of fabric swatches that matched her “season”. This was exactly what I needed! Someone to tell me what colours suited me! And the little wallet of swatches was just the sort of thing I love – cute, compact and containing wisdom. Knowing that this was definitely the first step I needed to take on the path to fashion enlightenment, I signed up for a class.

This was a divisive move. When I told friends I was planning on having a colour consultation the responses fell into three camps. Some thought it sounded a great idea and would consider doing it themselves, others thought it sounded good but recoiled from the consultation price of £130, and others thought it sounded a thoroughly ridiculous endeavour and told me I was a fool with more money than sense. Fool I may be but I was a fool with no idea what colours suited me. Somehow along the path to adulthood I seemed to have missed the life lesson where you discover what suits you. Maybe I was off sick that day. The amount of times I’ve stood in front of a mirror, with two tops in different colours, stuck in an endless feedback loop of repeatedly holding one then the other in front of me, just not knowing which looks best. I had a friend who would always ask me if what she was wearing matched or which colour shoes suited her outfit better. I don’t know why she insisted on always asking me because my response was always the same – I’d freeze, look slightly scared and confused at the same time, and admit, with a hint of embarrassment, that I had no idea which ones matched. She would then look aggrieved at my lack of helpful advice and also concerned about this peculiar form of colour blindness I seemed to suffer from. If only I’d spent less time skateboarding during my formative years and more time pouring over Just 17 then maybe I could have overcome this affliction.

Several friends who thought I was fully bonkers to spend £130 to have someone tell me what colours to wear offered to take me shopping themselves. They would happily point out what suited me free of charge, they said. These were kind offers but ones I was never going to take up. The fact is I very much enjoy proper instruction in an official learning environment. It’s geeky but I like it. That’s why I paid for ukulele lessons and pay an insane amount of money to go to a posh yoga studio despite the fact I could learn both of these from youtube videos. I like the ritual of going somewhere to learn something, the anticipation of receiving new knowledge, I like the space where the learning is done, I like the presence of the teacher and the way they impart their ideas, and I like the close proximity of other humans who also want to learn. (In case you’re wondering, the foray into ukulele playing was short-lived. But for those couple of months I really enjoyed being the sort of person who carries a musical instrument on the tube.) So rather than wafting round H&M with a friend pointing out stuff that might suit me, I wanted the full experience, I wanted the full weight of expertise and knowledge from someone whose job this was. If I was going to tackle my clothing quandary, I was going to do it properly. Then, with a full arsenal of information, it would be up to me whether I took the advice on board or not (I was always going to take it on board; I have a lot of respect for authority. Probably because I’m a first born child).

Before I had the consultation, I mused upon my current thoughts on colour so I could compare these ideas with what I would later learn. Here were my thoughts:

  • Pale colours make me look washed out
  • I’ve always stayed away from white
  • Yellow is not my friend
  • I’ve always liked green for it matches my eyes.
  • Grey and pink have featured heavily. I don’t know if pink actually suits me but I like it.
  • Purple eyeshadow is supposed to bring out green eyes.
  • I like the Clinique True Khaki eyeliner
  • I have no idea if red suits me.
  • And that’s about it!

The day of my colour consultation dawned. I was excited to be going. I was looking forward to having a new experience and learning new things. Fresh-faced with no makeup on as instructed, I set out through the streets of north London and arrived at a house on an elegant street in Primrose Hill. Fiona, the House of Colour representative, ushered me to a room on the lower ground floor which had been turned into a consultation room. One other person was also there and she too was a teacher taking the opportunity to have the consultation during the half term break. Fiona began by talking through a bit of colour theory and showing us the colour wheel where the spectrum of colours were divided up into four parts, each labeled with a different season. This was it! This was the life lesson I’d missed somewhere along the way! Actual proper instruction underpinned by actual theory! The main premise came down to the fact there are warm colours and cool colours; the seasons autumn and spring were ascribed to the two categories of warm colours and winter and summer denoted the two sets of cool colours. The idea of the consultation was to ascertain whether you suited warm or cool colours, then narrow it down to which season worked best, and within that season work out the quantities of each colour that would specifically suit your skin tone. I had heard talk of the idea of warm and cool colours before but I had no idea what colours counted as which. Indeed it was interesting to see that most colours occupied space in all the four seasons, but whether a colour would suit you or not depended on the shade and tone. Fiona demonstrated the warm and cool colours on herself, saying it’s often easier to see the difference the colours could make on someone else rather than ourselves. She said one’s own judgment can be clouded by personal preferences for certain colours or influenced by previously held assumptions. She held an array of bib-like drapes of fabric around her neck for us to see the contrast. And yes, held against her I could see how the warmer tones were much more flattering. She pointed out how the wrong colours made the fabric seem cheap and garish whereas the right colours seemed more balanced and sophisticated.

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The colour wheel

Then it was our turn. Katerina, my fellow consultee, went first. Apparently, she would be more straight forward as her hair wasn’t coloured – my dyed hair would skew the results and thus need covering. Katerina already thought that her season was autumn but she was hoping for confirmation and to better understand the full range of colours that she could wear. And as Fiona began draping the different coloured fabrics around her neck it became obvious that she was indeed autumn. I could see how those colours had a better effect on her skin. Draped in the wrong colours, the cool colours, she looked more washed out and the shadows under her eyes were more pronounced. Once she had been confirmed as autumn, Fiona took each individual autumn colour and, with an expert’s eye, declared which colours she could wear in which quantities. I was charged with being the scribe at this point; in the little booklet pertaining to autumn colours there was a table detailing each colour and columns denoting 25%, 50%, 75% and 100%. Regarding Katerina’s reflection while she was draped in a certain colour, Fiona would make proclamations such as “50% – would be lovely as a camisole under a jacket” and I, using a key of ticks and stars, would record this on the table. The colours recorded in the 100% column are one’s “star colours”. These colours can be worn top to toe, such as a high-necked dress, and are said to have ability to create radiance and garner compliments. The 75% column is for the colours that look good but maybe not for an entire block colour outfit, 50% colours would be good for a top or bottom half, and 25% colours are best for accessories and accents. There was further categorisation such as colours that would be best for casual wear or colours that should only really be worn below the waist. This level of detail and analysis was what Katerina had been after. Despite knowing she was autumn she hadn’t realised quite how many colours were included in this category or how she could combine different colours in different quantities. Makeup analysis was also included – Fiona selected a shade of foundation and blusher and applied a couple of different lipstick shades too. All of them suited Katerina and gave her features a little more life and sparkle. She regarded herself in the mirror, unaccustomed to wearing any makeup at all, she was quite mesmerised by the bold-looking reflection staring back at her.

After a quick loo and biscuit break, it was my turn. All throughout Katerina’s consultation I’d been glancing at the colour wheel trying to decide what my season would be. I still didn’t know. Would the more yellow tones of autumn and spring make me appear a little jaundiced or would the bluer tones of winter and summer make me look pale and washed out? Katerina said she thought I would be winter. Why did I have no idea? I must be seriously colour blind to my own style. But this was, after all, the reason I was doing this – to understand some principles of colour theory, learn some basic guidelines and foundations which I could take away and build upon, and have some much-needed practice getting my eye in. I sat in the chair in front of the large full length mirror and a white headscarf was tied over my hair making me look a little like a maid from times of yore. Fiona began tying the fabric bibs around my neck, one on top of the other, alternating between warm and cool shades. I squinted hard at my reflection trying to ascertain which suited me more. Fiona and Katerina murmured their approval at the cooler tones. By the time I had been draped in a multitude of fabrics I was beginning to see that the warmer colours made me look more sallow. Fiona then removed each scarf from around my neck in quick succession to give a rapid flickering good/bad effect. Declaring I was definitely in the cool camp, Fiona then alternated between the colours for winter and summer. It was decided that the brighter, stronger colours of winter suited me more.

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My colours!

Fiona then went through each of the 36 colours of winter, draping me in the fabric bibs and deciding which quantities I could wear them in. Katerina, who continued to steal looks at her made up face in the mirror, duly noted down the results. The bold, strong colours of royal purple, royal blue, dark emerald, lobelia (which I’d never even heard of before), fuchsia, raspberry and carmine were my star colours. These were not the sorts of colours I would naturally gravitate towards. I realised I was going to have to be braver to override my natural inclination towards less bright, less attention-grabbing colours. Greys were confirmed to be a good choice which was a relief considering my life-long commitment to grey clothes. It was also a relief to hear that I could wear black (apparently winters are the only season that can) which is convenient as it’s a good staple. Although I did find this surprising as I’d always assumed black would wash me out. It was the same with white, another colour I’d assumed my pale skin would need to avoid, the soft whites of linen and lambs wool are apparently fine for me in smaller quantities. It was also interesting to see that I could wear very pale, ice colours. There’s no way I would have thought those suited me but, again, in smaller quantities, maybe as a top to wear under a jacket or as an accessory, these would provide a good contrast to the strong colours that I could wear in larger quantities. It was somewhat unfortunate to discover that I’ve been dying my hair the wrong colour for approximately the last 15 years. Warm red tones are out, cool brown shades are in. Ah well, you live and learn!

Then it was time for my makeup. We’d been told to come to the session bare-faced so an accurate assessment of our skin tone could be made. First primer and foundation were applied. The name of the foundation Fiona selected for me, China White, gives you some idea as to my lack of swarthiness. Fiona added some flattering blusher and suggested I was the sort of person who needed to wear blusher in order to lift my complexion out of the realms of the undead (she didn’t word it quite like that but that’s what I inferred). Then it was lipstick time. I’ve never been very good with lipsticks. Eye makeup has always been my forte; I have an extensive collection and am confident with its application. So I’d always sort of avoided lipsticks assuming that in combination with strong eye makeup it would be a bit much. But also when standing in front of row upon row of lipsticks in a department store display I’ve just never known what colour to go for. Safest to stick to some faintly tinted lip balm, I’ve always thought. But with Fiona matching the lipsticks to my complexion suddenly I had the gift of certainty and confidence. I bought two lipsticks, a lipliner and a blusher. House of Colour have their own makeup range and although it’s not the cheapest in town, I decided it was just easiest to buy these precisely matched shades that I knew flattered me rather than later dithering in Boots wondering if the cheap makeup I was clutching really did match the colours in my little booklet.

With the makeup purchased and my little wallet of winter season colour swatches and the booklet containing the colour ratings, I finally had the knowledge I needed to start making more informed choices about clothes. I now knew what colours suited me and what to avoid. I knew which colours I should wear in which quantities and how to combine different colours. I knew the full spectrum of colours that were available to me and it was so much more varied than I’d expected. And, most importantly, I understood the principles and theory behind it all. So impressed was I with the service and all that I had learnt, that I signed up for the style consultation class there and then. After all, I was as clueless about what styles of clothes suited me as I had been about what colours suited me. I didn’t want half measures, if there was more information and knowledge to be gleaned then I wanted it.

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When I got home I compared various items of clothing to the swatches in my wallet. I was interested to see that actually more clothes than I might have expected did in fact match my season. Maybe I’d had more of an idea than I’d thought I did. Although there were a few notable exceptions – I’d always thought browns were pretty good on me but they’re a no no for winters and the green I’d always favoured, khaki green, was also not in my season. This was causing a serious malfunction in my logic circuits – on the one hand, for my sense of order and equilibrium, I needed to be able to trust Fiona’s authority on this matter but on the other hand lots of people had always told me that that particular green looks good on me. I resolved to ask her about it when I went back for the style consultation.

My homework from the colour consultation was to wear the lipsticks every day for three weeks. They looked disconcertingly bright in the familiar environment of my bedroom but, being a goody two shoes, I would dutifully fulfil this homework assignment. I guess after wearing them for three weeks you get used to looking more vibrant and become more comfortable with the more colourful you.

Overall, the colour consultation was great fun and so informative. I felt like I came away from it with a new found sense of clarity and understanding. I now had some guiding principles to go forward with. There’d be no more standing in a changing room confusedly flitting between different coloured tops with simply no idea which to buy. Instead I’d just compare them to the colours in my little wallet and viola! Decision made! Rather than the haphazard array of mismatched clothes I currently owned I could slowly, as finances allowed, work towards building a wardrobe with a sense of cohesion and harmony where clothes complimented each other rather than bristled acrimoniously and refused to get along. Finally the clothing cold war, the unspoken hostilities between me and my garments, was coming to an end; we were entering a new and hopeful period of rapprochement.

The KonMari Method: Decluttering Paperwork

Now here was a category I felt confident about tackling. I took pride in the fact my paperwork was well-organised, neat and tidy, categorised and sub-divided. Sometimes I fantasised that someone would enquire as to the whereabouts of a particular document so I could impress them with the speed and ease with which I could locate it within my efficient filing systems. Alas, no one ever did but I harboured the belief that my filing was superior to that of the average lay-person’s. But sure, I conceded, my files could do with a little streamlining. Efficient they may be, but they didn’t adhere to Marie Kondo’s decree for decluttering paperwork: namely, discard everything.

I had four main folders for my paperwork; three for personal papers and one ring binder, in the kitchen, for flat related documents. My personal folders consisted of an accordion file containing all documents relating to money and banking, an accordion file containing all documents for non-banking concerns (eg employment, payslips, medical, union, charity, warranties and instructions), and an accordion file with more elderly paperwork relating to anything pre-December 2009. December 2009 had been somewhat of a demarcation in my life. Before that I had spent a good number of years in a transient state, not stopping long in any abode, job or country before the winds of opportunity and discovery blew me towards a new adventure. But come December 2009 I was settled into a new job, which I loved, and had just moved into a flat that I was happy to call home for awhile. At that point I sifted and trawled through my paperwork – keeping any that I thought may be significant in one file and starting a new file afresh with paperwork pertaining to this new life of a permanent base and a meaningful career. These four files were the official homes for my paperwork – one in the kitchen, one under the stairs and two in my bedroom – but there were a couple of other random folders of miscellany and also the little eddies of paperwork that tend to collect in certain spots – in my case, on top of the microwave or on the corner of my chest of drawers. These were papers yet to be processed, yet to be re-homed in the correct file or in the recycling bin.

Although I was pretty smug about the categorisation of my paperwork, it was clear that Marie Kondo would not be impressed. I imagined her surveying my rigorously sub-divided folders with a look that said “this just won’t do” before she set about joyfully discarding documents. In my head, Marie Kondo is sort of like a Japanese Mary Poppins. I pulled my files and folders from their respective drawers and cupboards. While rummaging under the stairs for the folder that contained pre-2009 paperwork I came across some work from my PGCE and decided to add that to the paperwork ripe for decluttering. I left the rest of my educational paperwork (things relating to my A-Levels and degree) where it was, for the intervening decades had manoeuvred these into the category of sentimental items rather than functional documents. Looking at those essays and notes was like looking at an aged photograph – the weight of the passing years had infused them with meaning and melancholy. Kondo says all sentimental paperwork should be left till the end when you’ve become deft, decisive and dispassionate – like a discarding ninja. She more had in mind old love letters and diaries for sentimental paperwork, rather than academic essays, but each to their own when it comes to minimalism.

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Files and folders ready to be decluttered

I leafed through the folder of PGCE work – it was a scheme of work with lesson plans and resources. And, boy, was it rubbish! There was the odd piece that I still used today but for the most part, I would have been embarrassed to offer any of it up as work to judge the calibre of my teaching on. I guess I’ve grown a lot as a teacher since that first tentative, exploratory year. I dumped all the paper into a bin bag for recycling and kept the folder and plastic wallets to be repurposed at school.

Onto the accordion file of elderly documents. Here I found the paperwork equivalent of an archeological dig into my past. There was so many old and unnecessary things: old mobile phone agreements, old CRB checks, old NUT things, a Sony Ericsson W800 user guide (great phone! Very robust. But not used since 2009 when I’d eagerly stepped into the cult-like embrace of the Apple family). Here was the receipt from Snow and Rock for the shopping trip I’d made with a then-boyfriend before we embarked on working a ski season in France. The receipt told me we’d spent almost £800 on clothing to kit us out. I remembered that shopping trip well – such joie de vivre at the imminent taste of new adventure and such heady excitement at being able to spend freely and exuberantly. No point scrimping, may as well buy what we liked, after all these were the clothes we’d be living in for the next five months. I took a photo of the receipt because it made me smile and then added it to the recycling. And on the theme of adventure, here were my old passports – their corners clipped like the wings of birds; their flights of fancy had long since expired. The passports, filled with stamps and visas representing a myriad of memories, were put to one side. Obviously they were staying.

Here was a tome of old payslips, all chronologically ordered – into the bin bag they went with the exception of the first payslip I ever received from a salaried teaching job and the first payslip from the school I’m currently working at, the one I started at in 2009. Those I kept for sentimental reasons and to marvel at inflation – I imagined being elderly and saying to some young whippersnapper, “Look, when I first started teaching I was paid £1,300 a month!” and them replying “Wow, that’s nothing! How on earth did you afford to live?!” Kondo’s rule for payslips is to throw them out as soon as you’ve checked you’ve been paid the correct amount. I went with the compromise of keeping just the ones for this tax year. Once my P60 arrives each April I’ll discard the ones for the previous year.

Other old paperwork included documents showing the calculation of my redundancy payout when the company I was a journalist for folded in the dot-com boom and bust days of the early noughties. When I first joined the company there had been heady talk of receiving £8000 in share money. By the end, there was no money left and men came to take all the computers. During that time I’d found that the best thing about being a journalist was telling people I was a journalist (it sounded so glamorous and important) while the work itself had consisted of monotonous days of rewriting press releases. Thus being made redundant was the kick up the arse I had needed to retrain as a teacher. There was also paperwork showing the calculations of the tax rebates I had received. I’d never got round to claiming any tax back for the years when my employment had been interrupted by frequent periods of travelling but luckily the tax office had been on it and had duly refunded me over £3000 in overpaid tax. Thanks for being efficient, tax people!

Then there was paperwork reflecting less solvent times – such as documents from the brief periods when I’d claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance. I shuddered just looking at it – I’d found the whole process and rigmarole of going to the dole office so depressing. I even still had the Jobseeker’s Allowance booklet that you have to complete to show you’re looking for jobs. There it was, diligently filled in and culminating in getting my current teaching position – those entries were finished off with the exclamation marks of success. More depressing documents – paperwork relating to the worst flat I’ve ever lived in; not only was it cold, dingy, damp and noisy but I’d had to remain living there with a boyfriend I’d split up with as we waited out the end of the contract. That was officially bad times. Oh look, here was the court summons we’d received when he’d failed to set up the direct debit to pay the council tax bill! I’d ended up having to pay the entire year’s council tax in one go to rectify the situation. That was one of the items listed on the accompanying piece of paper where I’d carefully totted up all the money that ex-boyfriend owed me. Debts he’d never repaid. I’d kept that piece of paper in case I ever needed to prove his feckless ways. It was time to let that go – the money he owed me (and it came to several thousand pounds) was long gone. It was time to accept that and free myself from the feelings associated with it. These weren’t for the most part negative feelings, sure if I thought about it too much there was annoyance about the money but mainly I felt incredulity that someone would not do the right thing and square their karmic debt. And there was feelings of relief that I’d not spent any longer with someone who wasn’t right for me. In my mind, it was a bullet dodged. But holding onto this piece of paper detailing all the debts was like holding onto the negativity of that difficult break-up. In order to release everything associated with it, melodramatic tv shows led me to believe that the most fitting thing to do would be to burn the paper. But it was raining outside and I certainly wasn’t going to set something on fire inside the house so I settled for ripping it up into very small pieces instead.

Onto more recent documents from my folders containing current paperwork and despite believing that my filing system was a pinnacle of order and categorisation, when looking at it though newly minted minimalist eyes I saw I had so much that I just didn’t need – receipts, mobile phone bumf, bumf sent by the charities I give to, old gas and electricity bills, old letters regarding job roles and pay rises from school, reams of things from the NUT (what even are all these offers they always send? I’ve never once used any of these associated benefits), years worth of pensions paperwork, so much banking fine print (kept out of obligation but, of course, never read), P45s and P60s (chucked the P45s, kept the P60s for now) and all the paperwork relating to my student loans. I’d only just finished paying my student loans off this year having deferred the repayments for 10 years. I was pleased to see that in all that time I’d only accrued roughly £1,700 worth of interest – definitely worth it for all those years of travelling. When I began paying the loans back I had a balance of £6,387 – a pittance compared with the debt today’s students will need to repay. Also off to the recycling pile went pamphlets and paperwork for various medical ailments from over the years – the doctors would have all my medical records and reputable sources on the internet would provide me with any info I needed in future. The only medical documents I kept were my NHS card, the record of my childhood immunisations and current concerns e.g. teeth-whitening instructions and ongoing orthodontic work.

Thumbing through old credit card statements I marvelled at the ebbs and flows, peaks and troughs of my finances. As I transferred these for recycling, I noticed with surprise that I’d been paying PPI – why that’s what you can claim back for, I realised! I’d been hearing all about this PPI stuff for so long and had assumed it hadn’t applied to me. But now seeing it on these old statements, I remembered I had had a policy but had cancelled it back in 2009. I remembered that phone call now, it had been a peevish conversation, as the man I spoke to did everything in his power to persuade me to keep the policy while I explained over and over that as a teacher I just didn’t need it. I wondered if I could be due any recompense for a clear case of mis-selling. I filled out the forms, provided by Lloyds, and waited for my windfall. As I waited, I was regaled with stories from friends who’d claimed and had received thousands in return. I managed to convince myself that I was probably due enough money that it would cover the debts I’d been left with by that ex-boyfriend. That would be karma working its magic, I decided. With several thousand pounds in repaid PPI money, all would be right with the world and karmic balance would be restored. But karma works in mysterious ways and it clearly didn’t want to get involved with PPI repayments. I received a letter saying I would receive £149. Apparently this small sum is due to the fact I tend to pay my credit card bills on time meaning I wasn’t accruing the interest payments. Although disappointing, after hearing how much money other people had received, I had a grudging respect for past me who had been diligent and responsible with her credit card.

As I was tidying all this paperwork I came to the folder containing my old A-Level Media Studies and English Language coursework. This coursework had been kept separate to my general A-Level and Degree work (ear-marked to be tackled later) due to the high regard I held it in. To this day I’m ridiculously proud of my A-Level work. I loved doing it at the time and I now marvel at my youthful creativity, the diligence with which I undertook it and its resulting quality. I teach A-Level students now so I have a good idea of the standard of A-Level work and mine’s actually really good, you know. Looking at what I created twenty years ago brings me much joy. But there’s also fear in case something were to happen to it. As the process of becoming a minimalist is, in part, about releasing the hold that material items have on you, I decided to remove this fear from my life. I took the coursework to school, scanned it and emailed it to myself. Now I’ll always have a record of it even if something should happen to the original paper copies. Although that was clearly sentimental paperwork and thus technically should have been sorted out at a later date, I figured it was fine to process it now as no discarding decisions needed to be made as it was all to be kept. And if the house burns down tomorrow I’ll be glad I scanned it when I did!

One other place sort of related to paperwork that I tidied was my wallet. Out went the old receipts and I did a serious cull of my loyalty cards. Any that I don’t use on a regular basis went in the bin. Ones that bombard you with emails are the worst. I’m even thinking of cancelling my M&S sparks card – all they do is send me tedious emails and their promise to send me personalised deals has yet to offer me anything I actually care for. Mostly they just try to tempt me with small discounts to buy things I don’t want or need. But my loyalty to M&S runs deep so I’ll give them a little longer to see if their algorithm can ascertain my desires.

In the end I was left with two piles of paperwork to discard – one to go in the recycling bin and one to be taken to school for shredding. I wondered if I’d been paranoid enough with what I’d decided should be shredded…would an enterprising con-artist be able to steal my identity from what I’d left in the recycling pile? I decided to be vigilant and keep an eye on my finances in the coming months in case I spotted some fraudulent activity. There has been nothing to report so far. I suspect all that paper went merrily off to the recycling centre and no ne’er-do-well even came near it despite my mother’s worst fears.

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Recycling pile

And how does my paperwork look now all that discarding is complete? Amazing, streamlined and simplified. It feels really good not to have inconsequential papers cluttering up the folders. The ring binder with documents relating to the flat is now much reduced and contains only current, necessary papers. Instead of three files, I now have only one half empty accordion file with personal paperwork. And, again, it only has current or important documents…well, actually I did keep the instruction manuals for my electrical items – Kondo says there’s no need to keep these as they can all be found online but in her new book Spark Joy (which I’ve just purchased) she says that if you’re the sort of person who loves manuals you should feel free to keep them. That’s me. I like the reassurance of knowing I can reach for the manual if necessity or curiosity steps in. Then I have one slim folder of older, miscellaneous or sentimental documents – this is where I’ve kept those first payslips I ever got, the lesson plan and notes for the interview that got me my current job, old versions of my CV which document the evolution of my working life (kept out of pure sentimentality), and paperwork with ideas for personal statements and covering letters – if/when I apply for a new job I know I’ll be glad to have this to kick start my thought process for trying to appear like a glowing and highly employable person. I also have all important certificates (birth certificate, degree, teaching certificate etc) collected into one folder so I can easily locate them if necessary. Every time I now access any of this paperwork I give a little snort of pleasure at how minimal and organised it is. I still fantasise that someone will ask me to find a specific document but now, not only are they deeply impressed with the speed and ease with which I can locate it, they are also dazzled by my slick, sexy, living life on the edge, minimalist approach to paperwork. And then they fall in love with me and we live happily ever after. The end.

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Streamlined paperwork.

The Konmari Method: Decluttering Books

Having decluttered my clothes and basked in the glory of my newly tidied wardrobes and drawers, I was keen to tackle the next category in the Konmari Method: Books.

I grew up in a house filled with books. My dad owned a vast number and always had several on the go at once. Without fail, come 4pm – afternoon tea time – he would settle down with a cup of coffee and a coupe of biscuits, remove the fringed leather bookmark, purchased at a National Trust property, from one of the books in the small pile by the sofa and indulge in some designated reading time. Frequent trips to bookshops and the local library were a feature of my childhood and I would read every night before bed. I grew up with the mentality that you read a book and then it was added to the collection on your shelves, becoming part of the tapestry of your life, a tapestry that said “I read this, this is me”.

Nothing seems to declare to the world what sort of person you are like your book collection. It speaks of your likes and dislikes but more than that, we equate a person’s choice in literature with their intelligence and core personality traits. When we moved into our flat and it became apparent that my housemate had so many books that some would have to sit behind others on the book shelves, it was a natural move to display the most impressive ones at the front – the classics, the ones by highly regarded authors, good quality contemporary fiction, and any with the words “Shortlisted for the Man Booker prize” printed on the front cover. While less impressive offerings – trashier scifi, the odd piece of chic-lit – were shuffled to the back, out of sight. We wanted the world (ie any visitors to our flat) to know that we were the sort of people who read Good Books.

Books have been the one category that a lot of my friends have said they just couldn’t part with and Kondo echoes this saying she has found that people often find it incredibly hard to declutter their books. We seem to feel particularly attached to books – possibly because, while we were reading them, we went on a journey with those characters. We lived through their trials and tribulations, we feel connected to them, invested in them. We spent quality time together, the book and I. Getting rid of it would almost be like getting rid of a friend.

But, according to minimalists, these reasons for keeping books – as a display of one’s ego in literary form and an interwoven attachment to a physical object – are not good reasons at all. It is an axiom, part of the dominant ideology of how we live, that people keep books, display books, and lug these books around with them when they move house. These books help form part of a representation of self. And when an object is used to anchor our identity and project this identity to others, it can be very hard to get rid of it. To part with it is like we are erasing a little bit of ourselves. Who will we be without our possessions to mirror one’s self back at ourselves? But you don’t need to pin your sense of identity on material possessions. If you want to declutter your life, feel empowered to do so – you will still be interesting, engaging and knowledgeable (assuming you do possess these qualities!) without a large collection of books gathering dust on your shelves. You will still be the person who read all those books without having to prove it by continuing to own the physical copy.

As for the feeling of sentimental attachment or nostalgia for the time spent with the book – whether it’s fiction or non fiction, the book led you, the reader, on a path through new information, ideas and discovery – but now it’s time for you to allow yourself to release the bonds you’ve created with these weighty piles of paper and printing. The purpose of a book, Kondo says, is to be read and to convey the information within it. Once it has been read its purpose has been fulfilled. The words within it contained meaning and when you read it, you absorbed that meaning. The act of reading that book has been experienced and thus the book’s work is now done – it has no additional meaning just sitting forever on your shelves.

The first stage of decluttering books, just like clothes, is to get them all out and put them on the floor. This may seem like a lot of effort and heavy lifting when you are able to see them quite clearly on the shelves. But again, Kondo stresses that this is an essential move as it is only when they are removed from the shelves and awakened from their dormant state that we can properly tell if they bring joy. While on the bookshelves they remain part of the backdrop, part of the wallpaper, making it difficult to tell if the book itself truly deserves to stay. She warns not to start reading the books – the thrill it brings that indicates it deserves a place in your life should be evident from just holding it in your hands. Kondo includes her own book in her discarding policy and urges readers to get rid of it if it brings no joy.

Despite a love of reading, my book collection was exceptionally small. Most of the books from my youth had been shed, like a snakeskin, along the way and in adulthood I hadn’t seemed to have amassed very many. My early to mid 20s had been spent clubbing and enjoying the various diversions London had to offer, activities that never seemed to leave much time for reading. And once I became a teacher, that took up all my time instead. It was one of the ironies of being an English teach that I never actually had time to read books. The only times in my adult life that I have done any concerted reading is when I’ve been travelling. Then it has been such a pleasure to luxuriate in a book – to have its reassuring weight on hand in my day sack whenever there was time to kill – waiting for a bus, waiting for a meal to arrive, that time spent resting in the hostel between the afternoon’s activities and going out for the evening, that time spent waiting for travelling companions to finish their washing or other chores before heading out to explore a new place, that time spent on long train rides in India feeling the breeze in my hair from the open windows in sleeper class, occasionally looking out through the metal bars at the passing landscape while I let the latest narrative developments sink in.

These books had been transient – it is the very nature of books read when travelling to be passed on once they’re finished. At first I remember this felt a little jarring. It felt strange to immediately dispose of a book once it had been read rather than adding it to the mise en scene of my life – adding its physicality to my possessions, my identity, the things that made me “me”. But I quickly learnt to revel in the process – the time spent in traveller’s bookshops or perusing the book collections in hostels, browsing the well-thumbed volumes or swapping with other travellers. A book that I had finished reading, rather than becoming dead weight in my life, became a thing of worth, a thing of promise and potential. It became the currency with which to acquire something new and exciting. It was a good feeling to know that the book would go on to entertain another person and that in return I would also get a new book, a new adventure to fill the idle hours. I think this approach to books has stayed with me – it seems infinitely more rewarding to pass a book on so it can continue with its purpose to be read and enjoyed rather than carrying it with you forevermore and have it sit in a state of eternal stasis on your bookshelf.

Despite all this, before I discovered minimalism, part of me had worried a little about what my diminutive collection of books said about me. Was it a failing on my part that I hadn’t nurtured a more impressive collection? As a grown woman, a teacher no less, shouldn’t I have a collection the calibre of which spoke of my passions, my wit, my intellect? Did my meagre collection make me look like someone who (gasp!) doesn’t really like to read?! For I know I have been guilty of judging such people. Oh, you don’t read books? Oh. Right.

And now I was about to make my small collection even smaller. But rather than worry about how it would make me appear to others (a poor reason to keep unnecessary possessions), I was looking forward to feeling unburdened, to having a little more breathing space in my life. I pulled my books from the shelves and spread them on the floor. At least this wasn’t going to take as long as the clothes! How funny that I hadn’t really been into clothes yet owned a mountain of them and that I loved books but owned hardly any. If you have a lot of books, Kondo recommends dealing with them in the following categories:

General (books you read for pleasure)

Practical (references, cookbooks etc)

Visual (photography books etc)

Magazines

As I had so few books, it was no trouble for me to deal with them all in one go and it didn’t take long to sift them into two piles: The keepers and the discarders.

The majority of the books in my discard pile were, interestingly, books I had not yet read. They were books collected along the way, most I wasn’t even sure of their origins. Somehow they had come into my life and I’d intended to read them but had never quite got round to it. Some of these unread books I had been carrying with me from house to house for 10 years or more! For some reason, whenever I was on the lookout for a new book to read, these unread books had never piqued my interest enough to be plucked from the shelves. A different book had always managed to wend its way into my hands instead.

This is precisely the reason why these unread books should be discarded, Kondo says. You tell yourself you’ll definitely get round to reading them one day – but “one day” never comes. Timing is crucial: there’s a window of opportunity to read a book when it comes into your life and if you miss that opportunity the chances of the book being read after that are greatly diminished. Maybe they were books that you definitely intended to read when you got them, maybe they came highly recommended by others, maybe some were gifts – whatever your reasons for having them, their main purpose has actually been to teach you that you didn’t really need them after all. It’s time to let all these books go. And don’t feel guilty about the ones that were given to you as presents – acknowledge with gratitude the good intentions they were given with and let them be free. And the same applies to books that you only got half way through. It’s best not to kid yourself that one day you’ll pick it up and finish it. The purpose of these books was only ever to be read halfway.

If you get rid of a book and you are suddenly gripped by a desire to read it, then just get another copy and this time actually read it, Kondo says. This thought offered a lot of comfort as I stacked up all the unread and half read books. If I ever really wanted to read any of these books with their unrequited literary offerings, I would easily be able to find another copy – after all, my school has a well-stocked library, there is a local library just round the corner from my house, all my friends have impressive book collections (and considering their eyes grow wide with fear when I mention my discarding endeavours, I doubt they’ll be decluttering those collections any time soon), there is a Waterstone’s five minutes away on the high street, I live walking distance from all the bookshops in the west end, and, of course, pretty much anything I could possibly want is a mere Amazon click away. I had nothing to fear from getting rid of these books. And I had much to gain as, rather than gazing upon them and feeling joy, I would gaze upon them and feel slightly guilty that my good intentions to read them had never come to fruition. Far better to be free of them and instead read books that have come into my life and grabbed me in the moment.

And what about the books that you have already read? Think you might reread them some day? Think honestly about the number of books you reread – it’s probably not that many. Don’t hang onto a book that doesn’t truly inspire joy just because you think you might want to read it again sometime in the future. If it turns out you actually do, then just find another copy when the time comes. And anyway, the funny thing is that, sometimes, when you reread a book, its beguiling lustre seems to have dimmed a little. You remember ardently loving it at the time but second time round, having already trod that path, it doesn’t grab you in quite the same way. Of course, this doesn’t hold for all books – maybe there are some that you might love with a great passion and you find new ways to enjoy swimming in those words each time you read it. Those would be keepers. But apart from those few that inspire such joy,  it’s best to let the rest go and fill any reading time with new books. With so many great books out there it seems a waste not to experience them – why cling to old books when you can go on new reading journeys and make new memories and connections?

But before I said a final goodbye to my books, there was one subsection that I did reread: Books from my childhood. I still owned a small number of books that I had loved as a child – some of my old favourites that had managed to cling to me while others fell by the wayside. I intended to give these to my sister (as she had made me swear not to discard anything from our childhood without first checking with her) and if she didn’t want them, I would give them to the charity shop so other children may get some of the same enjoyment they gave me when I was young. But before that, I plunged myself back into the past – into the world of Judy Blume, Paula Danziger, the Anastasia books and more. Being a teacher has taught me not to care too much about what others think (you’ve got to have a thick skin as a teacher otherwise you’ll spend far too much time doubting yourself and crying in the toilets) but despite this, I did feel a twinge of awkwardness to be pulling out a Judy Blume to read on the tube. And what did I find from rereading these much loved books from childhood? Well, I found they really are books for children! I didn’t particularly enjoy rereading them. Sure I enjoyed the nostalgia, the trip down memory lane but they didn’t grab me, I wasn’t excited and eager to pull them out of my bag whenever I had spare time. The purpose of these books was to be enjoyed when young and they had fulfilled that purpose admirably. Sometimes, when reading these books, I would get to the end of a chapter and go to turn down the corner of the page only to find a crease already there – sometime in the distant past, child me had also paused there. It was poignant to think of little me, with my unruly bushy hair, stopping at that point, folding the corner down and then turning off my bedside lamp as I lay under my pink duvet in the bed with its frame decorated with scratch and sniff stickers.

Some of my old books from childhood.

Some of my old books from childhood.

Here are two things I noticed from rereading these books – 1) I am now the age that the mothers in the books are (that weirded me out) and 2) a lot of the representations of the mothers were quite negative. They were pushy, demanding, emotional, vain and materialistic. The dads were represented in a much more positive way tending to be that sort of idealised father figure – kind, rational and comforting. I sort of wished I was at university and could write a dissertation on the representations of parents in books for teenagers from the 1980s and early 1990s.

First stop for the books in the discard pile was school. What better place to start off-loading my joyless books than with the English Department, a bunch of certified book lovers! I had hoped they would eagerly fall upon my collection and engage in some sort of Hunger Games like behaviour to decide who got what but they seemed entirely uninspired by them (they were decent books, I swear!). The ones that remained after the English teachers had listlessly picked through them were given to the school library, who were having a fortuitously timed book sale, or I took them to the charity shop if they were unsuitable for the school book sale (eg “Quit Smoking Today” by Paul McKenna…although maybe I should have just handed that to some of the kids who smoke at the bus stop).

I was pleased with some of the homes that my books found at school – a collection of reference dictionaries was taken by one of the English teachers for use in her classroom, a couple of books on art were eagerly received by the art department, and my old thesaurus was taken by a teacher who intended to have children in detention copy from it. He promised to frame this task positively by saying to the children that if they were going to spend time in detention they should use this time productively to improve their vocabulary. I would say that decluttering that thesaurus was actually one of the more emotional books to get rid of. I had been given it by my uncle for one of my teenage birthdays and I had loved looking through it and marvelling at the richness of language. It had helped me through my A-levels and my degree. But of course in this digital age it had become obsolete. thesaurus.com is now my writing companion, offering an unparalleled quantity of synonyms and such ease of hyperlinked cross referencing. It was sad to say goodbye to my trusty old thesaurus but I was glad it was going to a home where it had the potential to captivate other young people with its words – in my head, disaffected detention kids are now being inspired to turn their lives around thanks to the salvational properties of synonyms. And nobody is drawing penises in the margins.

There was one particular book that was claimed by one of the English teachers which I was very relieved that I didn’t have to take to the charity shop. It was a book given to me by an ex-boyfriend and in the front of it he’d written an inscription. These were the sorts of words that a girl dreams will one day be written to her. It was a declaration of love and heartfelt intent – sweet, personal and touching. But the relationship hadn’t lasted and now these words served only to remind me of what it felt like to break someone’s heart. And I hadn’t even read the book. Maybe that was a sign that it was never going to work. But the thought that this book, with its attestation of undying love, would end up on the shelf of a charity shop had been too terribly sad to imagine. That it would sit there on that shelf, speaking those words to whoever happened to pick it up, to have them pause and wonder what had happened to the man who had written with such feeling and to the woman he wrote to, for them to wonder at the twists and turns of fate that had rendered those words a snapshot of sparkling hope and belief now seen through the streaked grime of recriminations and regret…for the book to end up there, well, to me that just seemed so sad. The shelves of charity shops must be an elephants’ grave yard for the tokens and keepsakes of failed relationships.

So what was I left with once the discarding was complete? Currently I have 30 books. A few pertaining to my interests in minimalism, positive psychology, productivity and creativity, a couple relating to my hobby of swing dancing, a couple that I recently received and haven’t read yet but which are still in the window of opportunity whereby I’m eager to do so, and a little collection of books from my past. Just like with my clothes, I seem to have been drawn to keep one book from different stages in my life. So I have kept: The Ultimate Cat Book, a book about cat behaviour and breeds which I had loved when I was little, one book from my teenage years (a perennial favourite that I had still enjoyed upon rereading it), a book that I based one of my A-Level English Language coursework pieces on, a book called Representing Women that I’d read at uni and had fuelled my lasting interest in gender politics and media representations, and a little book containing a collection of postcards of the work of Christo and Jean Claude which I’d bought when I was living in New York and they had exhibited The Gates in Central Park. I also kept a book called Social Networks in Youth and Adolescence which had used a picture of me and my friends on the front cover. And I kept The Pocket Guide to Manwatching by Desmond Morris which I’ve only read half of but for some reason I really like it and it brings me joy. It certainly doesn’t bring my friends joy – it was one of the books I’d taken on my first backpacking trip and, as soon as we were through security, my travelling companions and I had eagerly rummaged through each other’s books to see what would be our entertainment in the coming months. Their faces fell when they saw The Pocket Guide to Manwatching. They couldn’t quite believe I’d used up one of our precious book allocations with a serious book about anthropology. I only read part of it after finding contemporary fiction more fun to read on the road, but I’d liked the book so much that I must have sent it home… unless I carried it with me the whole way round the world. I can’t actually remember but surely I wouldn’t have done that? But whether I carried it with me or paid the postage to send it home, clearly my love for that book was strong. And it still is – even though I’m not exactly sure why.

I also kept a couple of glossy books about countries I’ve visited and all my Lonely Planets. The LPs definitely bring me joy. The adventures we’ve shared together! The things we’ve seen and done! They provided me with guidance, information and reassurance. The countless hours I’ve spent pouring over them – reading, learning, planning, tracing routes on maps with my finger, cross referencing different choices, excursions and journeys. They had told me where to go, what to see, where to sleep and what to eat. Of course I’d strayed from their recommendations many a time but they were always there when I needed them – my starting point, my rock. These were my religious texts. I view other guide books like the sacred texts of a different religion. The Rough Guide? Fine if you believe in that sort of thing but it’s not for me. The LPs are my holy books and I worship their scriptures of freedom and exploration.

I nestled my slimline collection of books back onto the bookshelves. These were joined on the shelves by my laptop and headphone cases, as per Kondo’s recommendation to store as many things as possible vertically. I actually love being able to stow my laptop vertically on the shelf – I’d never even considered it before reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying but it’s so much neater than keeping it out lying flat on a table. And considering how much I love my macbook it seems right and proper that it should have its own designated and venerated spot in the bookcase.

Some minimalists suggest a Kindle as a great way to keep the physical clutter of books at bay. Now I love technology – from my laptop to my phone to my camera to my electric toothbrush – I don’t want something basic, I want something good. Yet I’ve never got on board with e-readers. I just prefer real books. I had worried about this little streak of Luddism – was my dislike of e-readers the starting point of a slippery slope to becoming the sort of person who jabs roughly and ineffectually at the screens of smartphones? So I breathed a sigh relief at research that justifies my preference for actual books with a whole raft of reading and comprehension benefits. Sure, the practicality of Kindles is a tough case to argue against but for now I’ll be sticking with real books.

Just like with discarding my clothes, once the joyless books had been removed from my life, I felt a little bit lighter and freer. I do think books look nice in a room and it’s nice to peruse a friend’s bookcase and have conversation sparked by its contents. It’s also nice to borrow and share books with friends although this practice is receding as more people get Kindles. But all I know is that I’m glad I got rid of the books I no longer needed in my life. Whether they’d taken me on magical journeys and the characters had felt like friends or whether they’d made me feel kind of bad that I’d never got round to reading them, it was undeniably nice to set the books free. Their weight, physical and metaphorical, had left me. I wished them well and hoped others would get pleasure from the words between their covers. A lot of minimalist literature says that by adopting the lifestyle and jettisoning your unnecessary possessions, you actually create more time to read, read with more leisurely enjoyment, and absorb more information and meaning from each book – I look forward to seeing if this holds true.

Clothes Revisited

You know in horror films when you think the big baddy has been vanquished but then he reappears and needs tackling one last time? That’s how I feel about decluttering my clothes.

I had performed the initial decluttering, storing and discarding of my clothes before the summer holidays and had then taken an enforced break from my minimalist journey while I was away for the summer. My minimalist sabbatical had then continued while I let writing the blog catch up with where I was at in real life. This obviously took awhile because, let’s face it, those blog posts aren’t exactly short. It’s lucky Marie Kondo doesn’t have anything to say about minimising one’s writing otherwise I’d be in serious trouble.

I was aware that I was breaking two of the cardinal sins of blogging (gleaned from a blogging seminar I’d attended) – only write short posts and update your blog weekly at the very least. I was failing on both these counts. Short has never been in my writing repertoire and the long hours of teaching were severely hampering my ability to rustle up timely posts. But those rules are designed for people who are aiming to grow a readership and hopefully monetise their blogs. As for me, I’m doing it because….well, I’m not entirely sure what my aim is other than to do some writing.

Writing is something I’ve loved to do since childhood but as an adult I’ve never managed to find the time to do it or a topic I wanted to write about. Documenting my journey into minimalism has, at long last, provided a much-needed framework that I can pin my writing to. A friend commented that if I’m not bothered about growing a readership why don’t I just write a personal diary? I guess I like writing in a public space so that my friends can see what I’m up to and maybe someone out there, in the tundra of the internet, might also be inspired to try minimalism on for size.

Trying to get my blog to catch up with where I was in real life reminded me of trying to keep a travel journal in South America. That journal had been three months behind where I was in reality. I hadn’t made things easy for myself by not writing anything for the first week we were there, claiming I was waiting to be visited by the elusive muse, and then, when the elusive muse finally showed up, I insisted on writing 18 A4 pages about the very first day of travelling – a day that could have been summed up with the sentence “We flew to South America at 10pm”. It all went down hill from there and I was left playing journal catch up for the duration of the trip.

Writing a lot has been a predisposition of mine since primary school. Whenever we had to write stories, I never finished mine because, while all the other children were rounding off with the classic narrative device of “And then I woke up and it was all a dream”, I hadn’t even reached the initial disruption to the equilibrium. I doubted the other children’s commitment to nuanced characterisation, an engaging narrative and richly detailed description. This trait of writing a lot is clearly alive and kicking seeing as my last blog post was 4,660 words and could basically be boiled down to “And then I took some clothes to the charity shop”. I think my blog posts should get shorter as I write about some of the other categories. When I get to sentimental items that one will probably be a biggie, but surely I can’t have that much to say about things like electrical items and kitchenware? But I might surprise myself so it’s best I don’t make too many promises on that front.

As I blogged and reflected upon the decluttering process so far it became increasingly obvious that the clothes behemoth had been weakened but not fully slain. Keep reducing until something clicks, Kondo says. Reduce your possessions until you feel like a switch has been flicked and a sense of satisfaction envelopes you. This is when you know you’ve hit your own personal “just right click point” – this is the amount of possessions you need to live happily. This click point differs for everyone and depends on your own personal tastes for what brings you joy – if you love handbags maybe you need 100 whereas someone else will only require two, if you love books maybe you need a whole wall, or even a room, dedicated to them. Whatever your own personal measure, when you reach the click point you will feel it with a visceral, palpable sense of knowing. I wasn’t there yet with my clothes. I still had more work to do. This is fine, says Kondo, if you still need to reduce then do so with confidence.

For a start there were the summer clothes that I had given one last season in which to prove their worth. As autumn became an inescapable reality, I knew it was time to sound the death knell on those items. In addition to these, there were the clothes I’d kept thinking I might take them on my holiday to dance camp but ultimately they hadn’t made the cut. And then there was my sock drawer…it’s neatly folded glory had been short lived. And this was for the simple fact that I still had too many pairs of socks. Everything must have a designated spot, Kondo warns, otherwise rebound clutter will surely follow. This I experienced first hand – without their own space to neatly slip into, the surplus socks had had to sit on top of the others eventually causing a degeneration of the neatly ordered lines. More needed to go.

With these blacklisted items in mind, I took the plunge and tackled my wardrobes and drawers once more. This time I didn’t go through the whole rigmarole of getting every single item of clothing out first and putting it all on the bed. I do think this is a crucial step to do initially but having done it all once, I decided to go for each section of clothes individually this time. First up was my big wardrobe. Out came its contents. I quickly amassed a new discard pile. On it went the summer clothes that had not been worn all summer and the ones that had been kept as potentials for dance camp – these had been clothes that I knew brought me no real joy but I’d thought they might be useful for wearing to the dance classes. Yet their joylessness had been so pervasive that it meant they were overlooked when packing for camp. Apart from these clothes that I’d been eyeing up with my beady discarding eye there was a sizeable number of other items that ended up on the pile that took me somewhat by surprise.

These were clothes that had survived the initial decluttering stage but with everything else gone, suddenly the spotlight was shone upon them and it became clear that this time they wouldn’t be so lucky. Rather than being revered ancient artefacts, these clothes were all from the recent past – mostly from within the last five years. Maybe you wouldn’t count clothes that are five years old as recent but considering I had had some things from twenty years ago, five years is a mere blip in the timeframe of my wardrobes. Being newish had meant they had been given clemency in the initial round of decluttering. The sheer volume of what I had been discarding had been quite overwhelming and guilt inducing. This had combined with the fear of discarding too much and being left with nothing and with the fear that I would discard things and then be racked with crushing regret. Thus I’d erred on the side of caution. But I’d always known I was keeping things that didn’t truly speak to my heart. That first round had been epic, immense and quite traumatic but now, a couple of months down the line, I knew that I had nothing to fear.

Out of the colossal pile I had discarded previously there was only one thing that I regretted getting rid of. A brown woollen cardigan with elbow patches – quintessential teacher-chic. It had not exactly bought me joy (hence it ending up being ferried to The British Heart Foundation) but it had gone with the green trousers I wear to work and now I realised none of my other cardigans really went with them. Kondo says this is par for the course – that you can expect to regret discarding something at least three times during the tidying process. But this is not to be fretted over – Kondo has found that even though people may regret discarding something they never complain or moan about it. This is because they have learnt that all that is needed is action – a lack of something can be resolved through being proactive and seeking a solution.

I had imagined that any regret I would experience at mistakenly discarding something would be felt with such a painful force of lament and woe that I would sink to my knees, shake my fists at the sky and howl “Why, God? Why? Why did I throw that out?!” But Kondo was right. The regret was felt more as an impartial observation. It was more “Oh, I appear to regret the decision to discard that. I will endeavour to find a new cardigan that will go with those green trousers. And maybe I could find a more chic, fashionable one this time.” Knowing that I had nothing to fear from the regret was a massive relief. I have a tendency to torture myself over missed opportunities or unwise decisions, rerunning situations in my head ad nauseam, trying to find the one key moment that triggered my lapse in judgement, obsessively seeking to identify where it all went wrong and then imaging a different response, a different chain of events. It’s as if by conjuring the situation again so vividly, I could almost change the past. But no matter how ardently I replay this new sequence of actions the present always remains steadfastly and perniciously unchanged. In contrast to this it was liberating to be able to give a shrug of my shoulders and say “Oh well”. I hoped this sanguine attitude to regret would continue. Kondo claims that this is an inevitable result of the tidying process – we hone our decision making skills, learn to take responsibility for our actions and discover how to implement proactive responses to problems – thus we experience a lasting change to our mindset.

So apart from the brown cardigan, I did not miss or yearn for any of the items I had discarded. Not only did I not miss them but I barely even remembered what I had disposed of. It was definitely a case of out of sight, out of mind. And as for the items I did remember, I now wondered why I had kept them for so long in the first place and why I had been so upset about getting rid of them. Life was better, more streamlined, without them cluttering up my peripheral vision. With this new “no regrets” attitude, I set about tackling the remaining clothes.

Casting a critical eye over my wardrobe, I realised that there were many of these newish clothes that I just hadn’t worn in a long time. I discarded a couple of skirts that I’d bought because they were on sale but which had never quite fitted right or went with anything else I owned. Adding them to the pile I thanked them for teaching me not to be sucked in by sale items in the future. Also onto the pile went a number of things that had been saved initially because I had thought that I genuinely liked them. But when I tried them on this time, I realised, to my surprise, that they didn’t even look that good. And then there were a number of clothes that had been worn in the recent past but that suddenly struck me as much too girlish.

A slim frame and a youthful appearance (people often think I’m younger than I am) has meant I could get away with wearing outfits commonly worn by younger women. I’ve never felt my age and although I think a lot of people feel younger than they are, I’ve never been what you could call mature. I was a late developer at school and this sense of feeling and looking younger than my peers has never left me. But recently I’ve been starting to feel the weight of my true age. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different. I’ve always felt young and now I don’t. And suddenly so many things in my wardrobe, even things I’d worn eagerly just last year, seemed much too young for my 37 years. The words “you’re almost 40” rang in my head as I observed myself in the mirror in a variety of cute little outfits. The impending milestone of 40 brings me no trepidation (I’ve never minded getting older, possibly because I’ve never felt or looked my age, plus it is undeniably pleasing when people register such surprise at finding out how old I am) but approaching this age does bring an awareness of a shift in one’s being. Forty has been given an inescapable cultural significance in our society. Being slim may have bought me a few more years of wearing short little outfits but I’m well aware that a sell by date is fast approaching. Slim legs or not, no one wants to be mutton dressed as lamb. So I bid farewell to a variety of items (short skirts, little shorts, playsuits and girlish dresses) that created the illusion of a younger woman starring back from the mirror and I contemplated attending some sort of workshop to tell me how a woman in her late thirties should dress.

Also culled from the wardrobe were a few pairs of shoes. One was an expensive pair of high heels that I’d only worn twice, primarily because I hate wearing heels. They had survived the initial cull because I wasn’t quite ready to admit to myself what an expensive mistake they’d been. I was still trying to kid myself that I might get some wear out of them. But every time I saw them I’d feel a twinge of guilt and annoyance that I’d paid so much for such an unwise purchase. It was a relief to just admit my mistake, accept the fact that the money was long gone never to be recouped, and send them on their way, hopefully where they would meet someone who would actually wear and enjoy them rather than resent their existence. Added to these were a pair of boots that I’d absolutely loved and had worn to the point where they needed to be resoled. But the new soles were unnervingly slippery and attaching them had somehow made the boots a little tighter than before. I think I’d only worn them once since having them resoled. It was time to admit that their purpose had been to be worn until their original soles gave out – trying to keep them alive with the life-support of new soles meant they were just clinging on in an unloved limbo at the back of the wardrobe.

Then there were the black sparkly jelly shoes. Discarding these caught me completely off guard. I’d picked them up to stow them safely back in the wardrobe but as I held them I suddenly realised they didn’t bring me any joy. I’d thought they were pretty rad and had got plenty of wear out of them last year but now, suddenly, they seemed emblematic of the youthful clothes that no longer matched my age – the clothes that maybe did me no favours style wise and were reflecting and reinforcing an eternal Peter Pan-like youth. Had I been wearing these clothes because they looked good (had they looked good? I think they did), because they were a way of keeping my youth alive (surely not?!), because I just didn’t know what else to wear or because I genuinely liked them? I had liked those jelly shoes, I reminded myself, I’d thought they looked cool. But why did I think they looked cool? Once again I vowed to educate myself about fashion and clothing once the primary decluttering phase was complete.

With the shoes and clothes in my wardrobe now pruned and neatly categorised again, I turned my attention to the top shelf in the wardrobe which held towels and bedlinen. These hadn’t been included in the initial cull as I had focused it only on clothes but this time I wanted the whole wardrobe to be decluttered. I discarded an unnecessary spare towel, a fitted sheet with such elderly wilted elastic that it had practically turned into a flat sheet, and a green towel that I had bought on my very first backpacking trip fifteen years ago. I remembered standing in a shop in Argentina, holding it round me to see if it would adequately cover my modesty. It was a little threadbare now and certainly no match for my fluffy John Lewis towels when it came to comfort and absorbency. I’d kept it all these years as a form of remembrance and loyalty for the fact it had taken that first seminal journey with me. I gave it heartfelt thanks for all it had done for me at the time and added it to the collection heading to H&M’s recycling scheme. Now that the whole wardrobe had been decluttered and tidied, it felt great. It contained probably less than a third of what had originally been in there but finally every single item within in it was something that I would actually like to wear or use.

I then revisited my drawers and undertook some further decluttering there. I discarded a couple of old pairs of jeans from the days when low rise trousers had been fashionable. I probably should have got rid of them first time round but I had thought that I liked them. However trying them on this time made it abundantly clear that they needed to go. I marvelled at how fashions changed – they were so low rise it looked like half of them was missing and they barely even covered the essentials. Then I got to my underwear drawers again. This included an entire changing of the guard for my bra collection. After the initial cull I had bought a new batch of bras and there’s nothing like wearing a new bra to highlight the sorry state of the old ones. Oh, so this is how supportive the elastic is supposed to feel! It was out with the old and in with the new. Also discarded was a bunch of socks worn thin at the heel – again these should probably have gone in the first cull but I had quailed at the amount of underwear being disposed of. But with these gone now all my remaining socks could easily fit into the shoe boxes, they all had a space to live, meaning it would no longer be difficult to maintain law and order amongst the ranks.

In the last decluttering I had saved a collection of little t-shirts with pictures of Hindu gods on. I had bought these on my first trip to India and had told myself that they definitely brought me joy and I might totally still wear them. But they had not been worn and I had to be honest with myself that they didn’t fit particularly well and that I’d only kept them because I’m deeply attached to anything from that first kaleidoscopic, intoxicating visit to India. Three of the four tops were added to the discard pile (after I’d taken photos of them) and one, the first one I bought, was added to my Special Saved Items collection. Having made peace with the fact I’d chosen to keep the Pulp t-shirt, the Birmingham Uni top, and the clubbing clothes and having justified this with the beautiful symmetry of each item representing a phase of my life, it was no great leap to add the Shiva t-shirt to the collection – it could be the one saved article to represent my travelling years. Whereas there had been much hand wringing and anguish over the decisions to save the other items, having reconciled myself to the fact I hadn’t been able to entirely throw off the sentimental shackles of the past, the t-shirt was cheerfully added to the collection with a shrug and an acquiescent smile at the recognition of my own weaknesses. I wondered whether having this little collection made me a bad minimalist in much the same way as I wonder whether my love of makeup makes me a bad feminist. It was something to ponder even though I know the answer is that everyone chooses their own path through the principles of both minimalism and feminism.

As I was stowing away my Special Saved Items collection I stumbled upon the one non-dorky hat I’d kept. I’d always been going to keep my dorky travelling hat but it had seemed such a bold move to get rid of all the other hats I owned. Sure the novelty ones could go but there had been several that were nice and that I considered I looked quite cute in. So I’d saved one “just in case”. But then, it would seem, I’d promptly forgotten I’d saved it! In my head I remembered getting rid of all my hats except the travelling one. Clearly “looking cute” and “just in case” are poor reasons to keep an item. I had already been informed of this through the writings of Kondo and The Minimalists but I guess sometimes we need to learn from our own experiences. But now it was decision made – it went straight on the discard pile. If I’d thought I’d culled it and not missed it at all then it was time to say a real goodbye this time.

Then I paused over a pretty skirt, twirling in the mirror, thinking to myself it was such a shame to get rid of it as it would be perfect for a garden party. Maybe I should just hold on to it…Then I remembered I’ve never been to a garden party in my life. And suddenly the fantasy in my head where I was wearing the skirt, standing on an immaculate lawn, holding a glass of something sparkling and engaged in witty conversation dissolved before my eyes. It reminded me of the scene in Labyrinth where the junk yard woman tries to distract Sarah from her mission by giving Sarah her toys and possessions. It’s only when Sarah realises they’re meaningless and declares it all to be junk that she manages to break free. I added the skirt to the pile promising myself that if I ever attend a garden party I’ll buy myself something lovely. It’s amazing how one’s brain can concoct all sorts of baseless reasons why we should cling on to things we don’t need. It’s almost like your brain is worried that without all these material things, these accoutrements of life, anchoring you to the earth, you’ll float away as an ephemeral wisp. But, according to minimalists, it is this sense of lightness and freedom that we should be striving for. We can achieve this liberation, we just need to reassure our brains that we will continue to exist and flourish without previous purchases and collected, curated possessions to prop up our sense of self. Freed from the undercurrent of the continuous desire to consume we can focus our time, money and energy on other activities and pursuits. I took the bags containing the second discard pile to The British Heart Foundation and this time I handed them over with a smile.

The second discard pile.

The second discard pile.