The Beautifying Effects of Ditching Cosmetic Komono

Marie Kondo claims that decluttering one’s life can have a demonstrable effect on our bodies. From observing her clients, she has noted that once their houses are tidy, “their figures are more streamlined, their skin is more radiant and their eyes shine brighter”. She adds that the categories seem to have a corresponding effect on certain parts of the body – discarding clothes leads to slimmer tummies, jettisoning books and documents leads to a clearer mind, and chucking out cosmetics leads to a smooth and clear complexion. I’m not sure I can lay claim to any of these bodily benefits but once I’d discarded the ton of cosmetic and beauty products from my life, there was something else that reaped the rewards: the flat itself. Suddenly I became interested and invested in improving the aesthetic of the flat; I wanted to beautify my living space. Cosmetic improvements to the look of my living space had not been something I’d cared much about in the past. Having lived in a series of rented properties, I’d never had the inclination to do much with them – there never seemed much point as I wasn’t staying longterm. Consequently, it was like I was living on the surface of these properties, never investing much more effort than merely stringing up some buddhist prayer flags in the window. I’d always thought that once I got settled somewhere properly, then I’d make an effort with interior design. But this just meant that with my forties creeping ever closer, I was still living like a student. Seeing snaps of other people’s homes on Facebook, I was struck by how grownup they looked – they had pictures hanging on the walls, nice furniture, ornaments, soft furnishings, there was a sense of an overall aesthetic and, most importantly, they looked lived in, like a home should. Whereas my flat had the random, eclectic, no effort involved, mishmash look of a student house. An extremely clean and tidy student house for sure, but the house of someone just starting out on the road to adulthood, not the house of a woman in her late thirties. The trouble had always been, as well as not wanting to invest in a place I wasn’t going to stay, I also had no idea how to make a house look good because, fundamentally, I had no idea what I actually liked. But, with my commitment to lifestyle design and trying to create my ideal life in the present moment, along with moving into the back bedroom and throughly clearing out my cosmetics, I was suddenly imbued with the impetus I needed to spruce the place up.

The importance of imagining one’s ideal lifestyle is a cornerstone of Kondo’s philosophy. Without it, one will end up discarding but with no sense of direction and purpose. One risks being left with a barren house, devoid of not only objects but personality too. She warns that “the act of discarding things on its own will never bring joy to your life”. This is why it’s crucial to be clear about your end goal with a detailed, preferably pictorial representation, of your own personal ideal lifestyle. She urges one to think and dream big when imagining this ideal lifestyle. With Pinterest to aid my inspiration, I spent time looking at bedrooms. I had already discerned that I liked a “cosy minimalist” look. Purely minimalist bedrooms seemed too stark and cold but by adding adjectives such as “cosy” or “feminine” I discovered images that appealed to me. And upon gazing at these pictures I began to see qualities they shared. Notably, a predominance of white. Ah, a white room – the ultimate minimalist cliche! But I was no stranger to embracing cliche, I did come back from India with those prayer flags, after all.

The defining features in these pictures were white walls, white furniture and white bedlinen. I would never in a million years have bought white furniture. I always thought it was…I don’t know…twee, naff, cheap looking? I wasn’t even entirely sure why I was prejudiced against it. Yet here it was, time and time again, in these pictures that called to me and that seemed so calm, peaceful and relaxing. And then there was the “feminine” or “cosy” touches, often rendered in accents of pink. Pink! So twee, so naff, so pathetically girly! Yet…these rooms sure did look nice. And the pink wasn’t over the top, it wasn’t seven year old girl with aspirations of being a princess, it was just touches to bring a bit of warmth to the place. And I had to be honest with myself: I had actually always liked pink. Years of arguing against the pinkification of little girls with their limiting range of clothes and toys had made it seem traitorous to admit that I liked it but like it I did. And it had even featured heavily in my tomboy clothes – often as a stripe running through a polo shirt. And having discovered, from my House of Colour consultation, that strong, bright pinks were actually one of my best colours, I felt emboldened to come out as a card carrying lover of pink. Before I began this process I would have vehemently denied that I would have wanted a white room with accents of pink. I didn’t know what I wanted but I would have sworn blind that it certainly wasn’t white and pink! But if I wanted a bedroom that looked like these lovely peaceful rooms on Pinterest, I was going to have to go against my preconceptions and actually buy things in these colours. Kondo says that by tidying you can come to know yourself better; it seemed I still had a lot to learn about what I truly wanted as opposed to what I thought I wanted.

So I set about prettifying the house. Beginning with the bathroom, I discarded the shower curtain that was in a bright pattern of purple and green. I had always thought I liked things with patterns, I thought they were more interesting than something plain, and purple and green had always been colours I liked. But I replaced it with a white shower curtain with little flecks of a more shimmery white and suddenly the room seemed brighter and lighter. I also replaced the old green bath mat with a dark grey one that matched the dark grey of the lino and hand towel. My time spent on Pinterest had revealed to me that plants were of great importance to my idea of an ideal living space. But the bathroom, in the basement of the flat, lacked any natural light. Fearing that a plant would live a sad and depressing life down here, I instead bought a little fake one in a copper coloured pot. And, discarding the old plastic bin, I bought a new copper coloured metal bin. And suddenly I had a bathroom that all came together! It’s never going to be the nicest bathroom in the world, there wasn’t much I could do about the lack of natural light and its persistent dampness, but now, at least, it had a consistent colour scheme of white, grey and copper and it seemed more cohesive, stylish and grownup. Was it really this easy, I thought to myself? All you had to do was decide on some colours and buy that stuff? I had always just bought things on an individual basis, whether I happened to like that one particular thing, I had never had an overall look in mind. It’s no wonder everything about my clothes and house had been a disparate, random collection of things! Previously, I never would have bought a white shower curtain or a grey bathmat, thinking both would look terribly boring. But, in fact, they looked smart and I now saw the importance of keeping the overall look in mind and buying things that fitted that aesthetic.

Kondo warns that the bathroom can be one of the hardest areas of the house to keep tidy what with its propensity to get wet and slimy, the number of different products and supplies it holds, and that, commonly, there are multiple users of the space. Having discarded all the bath related products that were going unused and were out of date, and with my already ingrained predilection towards completely finishing a product before beginning a new one, I was left with just a small collection of items that needed storing in the bathroom. The usual suspects of shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel and a razor had previously lived around the edge of the bath. Kondo says that storing items around the edge of the bath or on the floor of the shower cubicle is a recipe for slime. And it’s true – the bottoms of the bottles did get slimy and gross and the can of shaving gel always left a little ring of rust wherever it sat. And my razor! Literal grimness! The rubber handle, with its ridges and grooves that are obviously meant to aid grip when using it in the shower, was colonised by black mould! But Kondo offers a solution to this ecosystem of mould and slime that we allow to set up residence in our bathrooms: keep everything away from the bath and shower and put items away when you’re not using them. She instructs that, after use, items should be dried off with your bath towel and put away. In my bathroom, there is a slim chest of drawers between the sink and bath. It has four drawers which makes two each for me and my new housemate, my sister. So I bought a new razor (a Gillette Venus Swirl Flexiball which is actually really good!) and I added it, along with the shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, face wash, shaving gel, and a Tangle Teezer to the top drawer. Actually now I think about it, that Tangle Teezer is a relatively new purchase – the last one went mouldy, sitting round the bath, and it had been impossible to clean in between those tiny little rubber spines. It might seem like more work and hassle to dry everything off and put it away when you get out of the bath or shower but in reality it only takes a few seconds to wipe the bottles down with the towel, that is already at hand, and stow them back in the drawer. The bottles no longer get slimy, the shaving gel no longer leaves rust rings and the items with rubber components no longer get mouldy. And the area around the bath is now clear, clean and tidy. Also in that top drawer, I store eye makeup remover and nail polish remover. I call it the “wet drawer” because it houses liquid type products and things for use in the shower. My other designated drawer is the “dry drawer”; it houses cotton wool, toothpaste, dental floss, interdental brushes and spare toothbrush heads. Now the only things I have out in the bathroom are hand wash and my toothbrush by the sink. It’s unfortunate that the drawers in the bathroom are not high enough to apply Kondo’s strict maxim to store everything upright, so most products need to be stored lying flat. But with the products streamlined and no unnecessary extras to clutter up the space, it still looks neat and tidy and everything has its spot to slot back into after use. With the newly implemented colour scheme and with the bath and sink areas now clean and clear, the bathroom looked a whole lot better than before.

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The Wet Drawer

 

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The Dry Drawer

We have a separate toilet in the flat and that too was subject to some cosmetic and beautifying improvements. Kondo points out that the toilet is the most public space in a person’s home and, therefore, appearance is important in this area. But beyond merely tidying and decluttering the space, she recommends increasing the joy factor with items that appeal to the senses, such as aroma oils, flowers, pictures and ornaments. Although clean and tidy, with the minimum of items (a bin, toilet brush, bleach and a Febreze), there was certainly room for aesthetic and sensory improvement. On the wall behind the toilet, I had a picture that brings me much joy (a framed Nintendo promotional poster from the late 1980s) but when sitting on the toilet, the only nod to aesthetics one could see was a cheap picture of Hindu Gods in a garish gold plastic frame which was perpetually slightly wonky due to an uneven bit on the back of it. While sitting there, one could either gaze upon it or the badly painted, empty corners of the room. The cheap, garish Hindu Gods picture didn’t bring me joy but I had two white tiles with Hindu Gods on that did. Previously, these had been propped up on a bookcase in my old bedroom but now I got them professionally framed and hung them in the toilet instead. I had kept my personal touch of traveller cliche but had upgraded it to something more pleasing. Kondo says toilet paper is best stored in a basket or box and, while browsing round John Lewis, I happened upon the toilet roll holders. Here was one, a cylindrical white woven basket thing, that would be perfect for the ugly corner of the toilet. So I bought the toilet roll holder. What had I become?! The sort of person who buys toilet roll holders?! Who even am I?! And it felt extremely un-minimalist to buy a toilet roll holder, a completely unnecessary item. But it sure did look better than the empty corner with its paint smeared lino. Turning my attention to the other ugly corner of the toilet, I bought a large white vase, satisfying in its size and shape, and put some pussy willow branches in it. I’ve always liked pussy willows and would stop to stroke their tiny softness whenever they were being sold in the supermarkets. Despite liking them, however, I’d never bought any, nor had anything to put them in, nor had a place to put them. But now I saw how it was possible, and indeed important, to put the effort in to create space in your life for the things you love.

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Since moving into the flat, finding a lamp for the living room had been a perennial problem. But with slowly increasing confidence in identifying what I like, I finally bought one and its soft light brings a cosy touch to the high-ceilinged room come evening time. The living room, kitchen and garden also got a few cosmetic retouches in the form of a host of plants – Theo, Ken and Jeff for the living room, Brenda and Janet for the kitchen, and Brian, Sheila, Eric and Susan for the patio. I’m not sure why but when naming plants my main inspiration seems to be the guest-list of a dinner party from the 1970s.

While I smartened up the living room, bathroom and toilet, I also made inroads to creating my ideal bedroom. Upon moving into the back bedroom, I quickly realised that the mattress was a pathetic and uncomfortable specimen who, like a passive aggressive friend, had long since given up being supportive. Luckily the landlord was amenable to a bit of bedroom beautifying and agreed to pay for a new mattress, curtains, and a white chest of drawers & bedside cabinet – both of which almost killed me to put together. I don’t whether it was the fact they were from Argos, my rubbish screwdriver or my lack of DIY ability (I suspect a combination of all three) but, dear god, they were horrifically hard to screw together. And I managed to cock it up. I nailed the backboard of the bedside cabinet to the front of it. I had to stand on it to prise it apart and there are now nail holes running down the front of it. I almost cried. But when I spoke to others, everyone seemed to have a tale of cocking up self assembly furniture which made me feel slightly better. And nail holes aside (which you can only really see if you know they’re there), it looked so good when it was all finished! The white meant both the chest of drawers and bedside cabinet blended in with the walls and didn’t overwhelm the small dimensions of the room. With the chest of drawers built, I could now store my remaining skincare and makeup komono. I headed Kondo’s advice to keep makeup and skincare products separate. She says the moist, watery nature of skincare products can compromise the quality of powder based makeup and the two should therefore be segregated. My new chest of drawers has two small drawers at the top so one became the skincare drawer housing moisturiser, eye-cream, suncream, deodorant and the like, and the other drawer became the makeup drawer. In both drawers, I stored what I could upright and the rest was laid flat.

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The skincare drawer

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The makeup drawer

I made sure my love of houseplants extended to the bedroom and bought a pink orchid (which I named Daphne) to go on top of the chest of drawers and a leafy green plant (which I named Howard) to sit on the floor by the bedside cabinet. These joined Larry the peace lily who was stationed on top of the wardrobe. I bought a little vase, a miniature version of the one I got for the toilet, to go next to Daphne and put up some pictures. I hung a carved wood picture above my bed, the white and brown of the exposed wood going perfectly with the white walls and wooden bed frame. And I ordered three digital pictures from the internet which I got printed and put in rose gold frames. The frames, along with the blush and rose gold tones in the pictures constituted my nod towards the more feminine touches I’d been coveting. They also represented a DIY milestone as I had to purchase a tape measure and carefully work out, pencil behind ear and tongue slightly protruding in concentration, exactly how high and far apart to hang them.

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The last picture for my bedroom was of a dragon intricately and vividly embroidered in sequins and beads on a red velvet background. It was certainly not in keeping with the minimalist aesthetic of the other pictures. I’d bought it in the night bazaar in Chiang Mai in the year 2000. Even then I’d thought it was a bit much and possibly a bit tacky and I’d initially spurned the stall holder’s attempts to sell it to me. Yet something had kept drawing me back to the picture. And every time I returned to look at it, the stall holder would incrementally drop his price until it became churlish to refuse to buy it. How on earth will I get it in my backpack, I implored as my last crumbling defence. But I managed and the dragon spent a couple of years hanging from a plastic clip in the living room of one shared house I lived in. But upon moving from there, it’d been put in a bag and relegated to items to go into storage. Whenever I’d stumbled across the dragon since then, I’d gazed fondly at his bright cheery expression and lavish colourful beadwork but I’d been unsure how to properly frame his velvet backing and while living a transient life in rented house after rented house, sometimes staying no more than a couple of months, I’d never thought to ask landlords to do something as permanent as nail pictures to their walls. So the dragon hadn’t seen the light of day for over 10 years. But when I recently unearthed it from things that had been kept in storage, there was his cheerful face which had attracted me all those years before. A few beads had been lost in the intervening years but he still seemed to be smiling. This dragon undeniably brought me joy even though its over the top styling wasn’t something I normally liked. With the Konmari mindset of cherishing and displaying things that bring joy, I went to a framers to get the picture properly displayed. The framer recommended a flecked matte silver coloured wood that perfectly matched the dragon’s sequins. He now hangs opposite my bed, resplendent in his bespoke frame, and his cheerful smiling face never ceases to make me smile too.

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Dragon picture, Larry the peace lily and a wire cat sculpture I made for GCSE Art.

For a long time, I’d been thinking of getting a new duvet. Every time I changed the cover, I’d be slightly perturbed by it. It was old, heavy and a tad grim. I couldn’t actually recall how long I’d had it or even where it had come from. I held out for the Special Buy sale in John Lewis and bought a new (ethically sourced) down duvet. I marvelled at its light softness – it felt so luxurious! Then I finally bought white bedlinen, the staple feature of any minimalist bedroom. I’d always thought white bedlinen was an unwise move (because periods) but having purchased a menstrual cup (a move so life-changing and revolutionary that it deserves its own blog post) I no longer needed to worry about accidental leakage. Waking up each morning under the luxurious duvet in the white bedlinen was like waking up in a smart hotel room! Slowly, over many months it had all came together. By copying elements from pictures I liked, I had created a room that I couldn’t quite believe was mine. Before my bedrooms had always just been a collection of random stuff, most of which I hadn’t really cared for but I’d accumulated it throughout my life and therefore kept it. There had never been any overall look and I’d never considered colours or actively trying to create a space I loved. I hadn’t known how to choose things. I hadn’t even known what I liked. But now I would stand in the doorway of my bedroom as I cleaned my teeth, thinking “Crikey! Look at my bedroom! It looks so nice!” And not only does it look nice, it has a wonderful calm, relaxing and peaceful feel to it which others comment on.

 

So the decluttering of my skincare and cosmetics had the knock on effect of beautifying the house but there was also one change to my appearance – I took my last piercing out. Previously, I’d had two piercings in my forward helix and one in my tragus. But one in my forward helix had never quite healed properly and, in the end, it annoyed me so much I’d given up and taken it out. The second piecing in the forward helix had looked lonely by itself, I’d liked the look of two but not one solitary one, so I’d removed that as well. Which left only my tragus piercing which I’d had for almost 10 years. But it just seemed that maybe I didn’t need it anymore. I spent loads of time looking at it in the mirror before I managed to pluck up the courage to get it removed. I went to the piercers in Topshop Oxford Circus to get it taken out as I was far too squeamish to attempt it myself. There’s something very final and quite emotional about taking your last piercing out. It’s a final goodbye to youth and rebellion. I was getting rid of that last little vestige that said hey, I’m not a square, check out my piercing, I’m edgy and cool! But I felt like maybe it had said what it needed to and was now superfluous to requirements. I was a little trepidatious to look at myself afterwards. Would my face seem naked, like it was lacking something? But it looked good, it looked right. It looked neater, simpler and fresher. Hello new me! And now I can fully relax at the hairdressers without that little nagging fear that they’ll accidentally catch the comb on a piercing, the mere thought of which always filled me with a gagging, retching horror. I then bought a new grownup handbag to match my new grownup face. It was the first expensive handbag I’d ever owned. But now was the time. It seemed fitting.

My piercing wasn’t the only long-standing friend to go during this time of change. After an overwatering incident, my beloved silver torch cactus, Spike, passed away. I’d had him since I was 10 years old. You’d have thought that my 29 years worth of experience looking after him would have served me better. This was actually the second overwatering accident I’d subjected him to. A couple of years ago, he began rotting when I overwatered him before going on a month-long holiday. But after amputating the affected part and applying rooting powder, I managed to revive a foot-long section of him. But this time, even with a couple of emergency amputations that saw him reduced to a tiny fraction of his former glory, I couldn’t escape the creeping rot of the Grim Reaper’s touch. I thanked him for being such a loyal friend, apologised for having failed him by giving him too much water, and buried what was left of him in the garden. Before embarking on this minimalist journey, the loss of Spike and the fact his death was entirely my fault would have hit me hard. I know he was only a plant but when you’ve nurtured something since you were 10, and if you’re a sentimental and anthropomorphic fool, you do get very attached. Maybe it was because it was touch and go for a good few months as to whether he’d make it so I was already prepared for the worst or maybe because I’m now getting better at letting go of the attachments to the past but I was more sanguine than I expected. Maybe it’s what Kondo identifies as mono no aware, or the “pathos of things”, which describes the deep emotion that is evoked when we are touched by nature, art or the lives of others with an awareness of their transience. It also refers to the essence of things and our ability to feel that essence. She says that the tidying process heightens our ability to feel this essence, allowing us to be kinder to ourselves and others. And it’s important to always be kind to yourself. Even when you’ve just killed your favourite cactus by loving it too much.

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Spike. He was a great cactus.

 

 

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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
Makeup
Accessories
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
Other

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.

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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.

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Scrunchies!

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.

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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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A Design for Life: KonMari Inspired Lifestyle Design – Clothes Part 2

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”.

 

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Using scarves to decorate the boxes

 

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.

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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.

 

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Things to potentially go to Calais

 

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….

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…

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…