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”.
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.
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.
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….