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
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

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.


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.



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.


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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