Learning to Fold: Storing Clothes the Konmari Way

Once the task of classifying all my clothes had been completed I was left with two towering piles occupying opposing corners of my room. These towers represented the beautiful and the dammed of my sartorial choices. Just this categorisation had taken much longer than anticipated and my expectation that I would have everything put away spic and span by nightfall was a long way from fruition. Thus I went to bed on that Sunday night overlooked by the piles. And I awoke the next morning pleased with my prudent foresight to leave a work outfit at the top of the keep pile meaning I didn’t have to rummage too deeply to find something appropriate to wear. Storing the clothes that had survived the cull seemed a more pressing task than discarding the rest so, for the time being, I ignored the reject pile, giving its contents and myself a breathing space – nothing was set in stone yet, nothing had officially left the building. Leaving it resting in the corner was like a decompression chamber for all the strong emotions that had been invoked.

The Keep Pile

Like the task of categorising, the task of storing also took an unexpectedly long time taking up the next few evenings after work. One of Kondo’s strict instructions is to not even think about putting any items away before the discarding is fully completed. So all my wardrobes and drawers lay empty and barren, a post-apocalyptic landscape waiting to be repopulated by the survivors of this once sprawling but now decimated civilisation.

Kondo has strong feelings about how we store our clothes: apparently we’ve been doing it completely wrong all this time. The key is to fold clothes rather than hang them. Most people are labouring under the illusion that hanging is the superior method of storing. After all, it intuitively seems like the clothes would get less crumpled and be easier to see hanging in a wardrobe. And something about having clothes on hangers seems infinitely more mature than having them stuffed into drawers. But this is where we’ve been going wrong. It’s how we’ve been putting them in drawers that is the problem. The secret to success – and this really has been a secret – is to store clothes vertically. The idea is that, rather than folding clothes flat one on top of the other in piles in our drawers, we should be standing them vertically on their ends so that when we open a drawer it’s like opening a filing cabinet – there are our clothes in neat lines, standing up like documents. And this folding and vertical storage method needs to go beyond just the usual t-shirts that get relegated to drawer life. We must fold as many items as possible. Only items that would clearly be happier being hung should go in the wardrobe. This will include coats, suits, skirts, dresses and things made of light, floaty material. Everything else needs to be folded to perfection and re-homed in drawers.

This seems like a tall order. One instinctively doubts such a neoteric approach, an approach that is the complete antithesis to how every single person has been utilising their drawers. It seems like maybe it would take up a lot of space. But no, Kondo reassures readers that this is by far the most space-efficient method. She says that by folding properly you can solve almost every storage related problem you have. It also seems like a lot more work. But there are benefits here, she says. By folding, you actually have to interact more fully with each item of clothing and have a “dialogue” with it. Communing with the clothes gives you the opportunity to check in with them, see how they’re faring. We can more easily notice when they are wearing out, if they’re fraying a little in places, or if a button is coming loose. She goes further by saying that this laying on of hands as we fold, transmits energy to the clothes which positively affects them, affording them a vitality and lustre that distinguishes them from items that have been hastily shoved in a drawer. This outré claim is not the only one she makes on the subject of storage. She adds that, once mastered, this folding technique will prove to be both fun and an epiphany, revealing with unexpected acuity of insight that this is how the clothes have “always wanted to be folded”.

Although the thought that my clothes had been silently yearning for me to fold them more effectively had me doing sceptical eyebrows, I found myself nodding in agreement at the ineffectiveness of the usual method of storing clothes in drawers. Before the cull I had had several piles of t-shirts that I had ardently tried to keep neat. At regular intervals I would remove them all, and neatly refold and stack them, determined that this time they would remain orderly. But Kondo was right, this method is deeply flawed. No matter how hard I tried to curate my piles, eventually the stack would buckle and warp. As I tried to pull a t-shirt, smooth and Jenga-like, from the pile, its neighbouring companions would become furrowed and rumpled. Eventually, the whole lot would degenerate into a disordered mess, with some bedraggled specimens being forced out of the stack and left crumpled at the back of the drawer, only later rediscovered with the exclamation of “Oh I wondered where this had gone!” or “Oh, I forgot I had this!” What’s been missing this whole time, Kondo says, is the secret art of folding.

The clothes to be hung are also expected to adhere to a new regime because, apparently, we’ve been hanging things in the wardrobe incorrectly too. Here the secret to “energising” your wardrobe is to arrange the clothes so they “rise to the right”. To do this you hang heavier, longer, darker clothes on the left and lighter, shorter, thinner clothes on the right. And the clothes should be hung in categories – there should be a jacket section, a trouser section, a blouse section etc. Apparently the clothes can relax and feel more comfortable and secure if they’re in the company of others who are like them. Bit racist of them, I thought. But I decided to overlook their xenophobic tendencies and duly categorised them with their compatriots. Within each category the clothes should rise to the right, getting shorter and lighter, both in colour and fabric. And within the wardrobe as a whole there should be this sense of rising to the right.

In my small wardrobe I stored jackets – heavier winter ones on the left and lighter summer ones on the right, and next to the jackets came the cardigan section – heavier, darker ones on the left, smaller, lighter ones on the right. In my double wardrobe, from left to right, I placed the categories of dresses, work trousers, skirts, and tops & blouses that needed hanging. You have to use your judgment a bit in order to create the balance needed so the overall effect is to rise to the right. If there were items that I was unsure of where to hang (hmmm, dark in colour but light of fabric…tricksy thing, where in your category should you go?), I found that once the clothes were preliminarily placed in an order that adhered to these “energising” rules, it was easy to see if items should be switched around to achieve the desired effect.

When the clothes to be hung had all been carefully placed on hangers which all faced the same way (a proclivity of mine since long before I begin this tidying odyssey), I stood back to admire my handiwork. And yes, it was pleasing! I’m not sure my “heart beat faster and the cells in my body buzz[ed] with energy” but my wardrobes now looked neat and tidy and I was happy with them. It was a great improvement on how it had been before the cull when they were oppressively full and clothes had to be prised out from their rushhour-like crush. It was marvelous to have so much more space and be able to easily swish the hangers along the rail, the movement no longer stifled by all the joyless clothes crowded in there. Everything was now harmoniously categorised by type, fabric, colour and length, and there was indeed a gratifying and uplifting rising to the right effect.

I had rehoused the hanging items before embarking on folding the rest for two reasons: all my work clothes required hanging and they were the clothes I had the most pressing need for and, quite frankly, it seemed easier. Folding all that remained took an inordinately long time. Firstly, I had to learn the technique. Here’s where youtube, that bountiful provider of instructional videos came in. I found these videos on folding t-shirtstrousers, and jumpers which provided a good visual interpretation of the written instructions which I’d been struggling to properly conceptualise. If Kondo is taking recommendations for later editions of the book, a few diagrams wouldn’t go amiss.

The goal is to fold items adhering to the technique and then make little adjustments to the placement of the folds, depending on the type of material and size of the garment. Do this and you will find the “sweet spot”. The sweet spot is exactly the right placement of folds to ensure the garment is neat, flat and taut enough to stand upright. And by jove, she’s right! It really is a revelation! There is something incredibly satisfying about folding an item so it will stand up, supporting its own weight. I conceded, crazy as it sounds, that this is how the clothes want to be folded.

Done correctly, items such as t-shirts will all stand, individually and unaided, in a drawer, their logos or patterns visible along the top edge meaning you can see at a glance what is there – like perusing the spines of books on a bookshelf. Having selected which one you want, you then easily pull it out and, because the adjacent t-shirts are all supporting their own weight, they don’t collapse in. Every item of clothing has its own sweet spot but it’s surprisingly quick and easy to find it; it’s a brilliant and edifying method of storing clothes. And all this folding doesn’t mean more creases – wrinkles occur when there is pressure put on the clothes, like when they are stored in a pile in a drawer with the weight from the items on top pressing on the lower ones. When stored vertically, there is no pressure so creases and wrinkles don’t get squashed in.

As I diligently worked through my clothes, folding and storing, I held onto Kondo’s assertion that the amount of storage space we have is, in fact, always just the right amount. Follow her method of only keeping what brings you joy and speaks to your heart and you be left with exactly the right amount of belongings to fit perfectly into your dwelling. And all those possessions can be neatly organised and arranged using only what storage solutions you already have. This, apparently, is “the true magic of tidying”.

Shoeboxes are the number one storage solution, she says. They are the perfect height to fit into drawers to create dividers. If you want, once you’ve finished the entire marathon of putting your house in order, you can then spend time seeking out and buying storage solutions you really like, but for now it is most important to just use what you’ve already got and finish the job in hand. My thoughts mused upon the stylish looking boxes and dividers I’d seen in places like Habitat, Paperchase and Muji but for now I went to our back storage room and dug out all the shoeboxes I could find. I used these to store and divide my t-shirts and vest tops. I heeded the advice not to underestimate the “noise” of written information, which can clamour for attention in our brain, by duly removing whatever labels I could from the boxes or by storing them so information written on them (brand names, size guides etc) faced the back of the room rather than occupying my field of vision. The idea is that if you remove any visual information that doesn’t inspire joy, you can eliminate its subconscious chatter in your brain, creating a calmer, more peaceful environment.

The shoeboxes were extremely handy when it came to organising my underwear and sock drawers. Luckily Kondo actually has her own video to demonstrate how to fold and store one’s smalls (why she hasn’t made videos of how to fold other items perplexes me.) The folding of socks and pants was slow going. I still seemed to have tonnes of the buggers. I wouldn’t exactly say a lot of these items bought me joy, the vast majority of my knickers and socks are M&S staples, the reliable workhorses of the underwear world. But there was technically nothing wrong with them so it hadn’t seemed wise to discard them. Plus, I’d already got rid of an alarming amount of underwear. I resolved to run the collection down – I don’t need this many so as items are to wear out in future and need throwing away, I won’t replace them thus eventually ending up with a more streamlined selection.

Here’s another clothing faux pas we’ve been committing all this time – folding socks over each other. You know that seemingly innocuous and also eminently sensible action of folding the top of one sock over the other to keep them together in the drawer? Yep, that’s wrong. Doing that creates a degree of tension in the elastic and means the socks cannot properly rest. Kondo, who appears to be the union rep for the working conditions of clothes, says socks work extremely hard all day, taking a battering so your feet can be comfortable. That time when they’re hanging out in the drawer is their chill out time. By storing them in a non-relaxing state of tension, you never give them a chance to unwind and take a breather – that’s their holiday time, they need that R&R. And that usual method of just tossing your socks and pants into the drawer leaves conditions ripe for some poor unfortunates to get jostled to the back and forgotten. I thought guiltily of some of the poor specimens I had indeed unearthed during this clothing excavation. Those undies had seemed particularly forlorn, their sagging, sprouting elastic rendering them pityingly misshapen.

The answer to this sad state of affairs is, once again, to fold properly. Socks, like other items, should be folded so they can stand on end. You place one sock neatly on top of the other and then fold into sections. Less folds for little trainer socks, more folds the longer the sock is. These neat little vertical packages can then be placed into a shoe box. And there’s no risk that the socks will get separated from their twin as they’re folded smartly together so won’t intermingle with others. I’ve got to admit – the socks did seem happier like this. I’d never even noticed how the old method creates tension in the elastic but tension there is. Knickers too are folded and placed in rows in shoe boxes. Tights, which had previously been bundled into little bags in my drawers, also get a new storage method. Too flimsy to store vertically, they are folded and then rolled like sushi and stored on their ends so you can see the swirl. Eventually I had folded, rolled, categorised and colour coded all my pants, socks, tights and leggings. I placed the shoeboxes containing them into the drawers. Goddamn, did they look good! Straight up, my underwear and sock drawers had never looked so fine! There they all were – such neat little phalanxes standing to attention. Everything was ordered, everything was visible, everything was happy.

Except my muscles – it was backbreaking work all this folding. I spent hours bending over my bed folding each item one by one. But I knew that in future it wouldn’t be this arduous – if I did it all once and did it properly then in future I would only have to fold the contents of a wash load which would be far less items. Finally all my clothes were stored as per Kondo’s instructions. Items to be hung were happily hanging in the wardrobe, shoes were neatly lined up in the bottom of the wardrobe (and now each pair had their own designated spot, without having to live on top of each other in overcrowded conditions), jeans and casual trousers were folded and standing in drawers, jumpers were folded and standing in drawers, t-shirts and tops were folded and standing in shoe boxes in drawers, and all underwear was neatly folded and stowed away too. Everything was categorised and within each category everything was ordered. Rising to the right in the wardrobes, and drawers demarcated with darker and heavier items at the back, lighter items towards the front. And Kondo was right (again? I’m beginning to think she’s a witch) about the storage. I had just enough boxes to effectively compartmentalise my clothes. Although I did have to get creative at the end – cutting a folding lid off one box and using it to store some three-quarter length trousers. As handbags had also been counted in the clothing purge, they too needed neatly putting away. Finally here was something I’d been doing right all along – storing bags within bags. But I did adopt the new practice of leaving the straps of the inner bags dangling outside so one is always reminded of their existence and knows where to locate them.

Once all the work was done, I could immediately feel the benefits. The room already felt less cluttered. The top of my small wardrobe was now clear of stuff. Previously it had harboured a box of hats (every single one of which was currently residing in the discard pile) and my collection of bags within bags had been on it too. These were now out of sight, stored on one of the shelves in my small wardrobe. There’s something about storing things on top of wardrobes that immediately gives a room a sense of clutter. I eyed the multitude of boxes and bags on top of my big wardrobe and felt a little stab of fear and trepidation. It was all sentimental items from my childhood up there. Considering the nausea inducing emotional roller coaster of decluttering my clothes (supposedly the easiest category!) I was getting heart palpitations just thinking about tackling all that. Another immediate improvement was that the back of my door was now more tranquil. I had a row of hooks there that had been brimming over with coats, different types of scarves, and bandanas. The scarves and bandanas were now much depleted and looked all the better for it. And the coats that had been hanging there jostling for space were now out of sight in the wardrobe. And oh my drawers! Every time I opened them I got a little thrill of excitement at seeing everything so well organised. The aesthetics of the contents and the ease of their use continually surprised and delighted me. It was a novelty that just wouldn’t wear off. At every opportunity in social situations I showed people the photos I had taken of them. The sentence “Would you like to see a photo of my underwear drawer?” is not a common one but also not an offer that people tend to decline. Everyone was duly impressed although most questioned how long such a system would last. Oh but it will last, I ardently assured them. It felt so good to have adopted the Konmari method and to have achieved emancipation from inferior clothing organisation. I preached its merits and potential for storage salvation like an evangelical pastor. I had definitely seen the light – it was such an axiomatic improvement that I knew there was no going back.

Sock Drawer

Sock Drawer

Underwear Drawer

Underwear Drawer

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