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…