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…

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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…