Saturday, February 13, 2016

How to De-Stress Your Socks: The KonMari Method

About a year ago, I first heard of the KonMari Method of home organizing. It's the brainchild of Marie Kondo, a very successful Japanese organizing consultant. Kondo's first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was published in 2014 and has become an international best-seller. Kondo and her method have gotten a lot of press, mostly because Kondo's ideology is.... well, a little different.

You see, the KonMari Method runs pretty contrary to most standard home organizing advice. Rather than tackling your home room-by-room, or chipping away at it little-by-little, Kondo wants you to wage war. Instead of endorsing complicated organizing systems for your stuff, she wants you to start with a purge.

Lots of people suggest you declutter, but Kondo employs a completely revolutionary criterion: joy.

Joy? Seriously? What does joy have to do with my socks? Or my potato peeler? Of course, it's 20 degrees out, so my Smartwool does make me pretty happy, but I still can't say I'm giddy about it. The whole thing just seemed waaaay too touchy-feely. Plus, the method calls for doing everything in one fell swoop. You're supposed to dump all your clothes out on the floor--all at once--and assess whether or not they 'spark joy.' This is not something you can knock out during nap time. (Obviously, Kondo didn't have little kids when she wrote this book.)

Still the most controversial aspect of the book was the talking. Kondo says you should talk to your stuff. Oh my word. Or no words. No words for my stuff.

So I dismissed the KonMari method as 'not for me.'

Fast-forward a year and my recent epiphany that I want to throw out all our stuff and move my family to an ashram, and I decide to give the KonMari method a read. I really shouldn't judge a book by what I read about it on Facebook, after all.

She begins by telling us her recidivism rate is basically zero. Apparently scads of Japanese people have taken her course, but no one needs to take it again. Her approach, which has been cultivated from her earliest OCD life experiences, is that effective. It completely changes your relationship to your stuff. But first, you must purge. Which she calls 'discarding.'

Yes! I'm thinking. I'm in!! Let's discard!! Yay! She encourages us to start with clothing. If that's too overwhelming, she suggests you break it down by category of clothing, starting with tops. Well, that's still too overwhelming, and I don't have a lot of time here, so I figure I'll start with socks. I hadn't gotten to the sock part of the book yet, but there is only one drawer of socks. I should be able to knock that out before Bob the Builder is over. Can we build it? Yes! We can!
The 'before'

The Darling Husband is packing for a business trip. He's watching me dump all the balled-up socks, packaged stockings and other flotsam and jetsam out onto the bed.

Then I start reading to him. About socks. She says, "Let me state here and now: Never, ever tie up your stockings. Never, ever ball up your socks."

She goes on:
"Look at [your socks] carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?
That's right. The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday. They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet. The time they spend in your drawer this their only chance to rest. But if they are folded over, balled up, or tied, they are always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled. They roll about and bump into each other every time the drawer is opened and closed. Any socks and stockings unfortunate enough to get pushed to the back of the drawer are often forgotten for so long that their elastic stretches beyond recovery. When the owner finally discovers them and puts them on, it will be too late and they will be relegated to the garbage. What treatment can be worse than this?"
We felt the socks needed a session... you know, from all the stress

At this point the Darling Husband has picked his chin up off the floor and is now doubled over laughing. He thinks Marie is looney tunes.

As Long as They Don't Talk Back...
The anthropomorphism makes KonMari a tough sell for many, especially considering the socks are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end she has you greeting your house when you come home from work and thanking all your stuff for serving you. She empties her handbag at the end of the day, you know, because it needs a break from schlepping her stuff around. She thanks it for having done such a great job and tells it to have a good rest.

As cuckoo for cocoa puffs as this all sounds, I actually don't mind it. Kondo practices the Shinto religion. In fact, she was an attendant maiden in a Shinto shrine for five years, so 'Shinto' is not just a box she checks on forms. Shintoism teaches that objects have a kama, or spirit. So talking to her things is just taking this belief system to it's logical conclusion. If that sounds off to you, I'd suggest taking it up with Shintoism, not just writing Kondo off as crazy. For her, it's an authentic expression of her beliefs.

For Japanese people, this concept of kama is understood, even if it is not necessarily believed by everyone. Since Shinto has been a dominant religion in Japan, it has influenced the culture and so Kondo's message is not as strange to them as it may be to us. I wondered how much harder it might be for people to 'discard' things they believe to have feelings and a soul. Turns out, anthropomorphizing objects is a common trait among hoarders in the West, but not so much in the East.

For me to talk to my possessions would be inauthentic and a violation of my beliefs. So no chitchat between me and the socks. I do appreciate the idea of gratitude that permeates the KonMari Method, but I'll be thanking the Giver of the things, not the things themselves.

And so, back to the socks.
Which ones spark JOY?! Well, my barre socks. Joy joy joy joy, down to my feet! Smartwool, fer shur. I mean, as joyful as I can get about socks. I kept a few fuzzy ones I wear in the evenings with my Fuzzy Blue Robe, which is the greatest joy sparking item in my wardrobe. Fuzzy Blue Robe means the SMALL PEOPLE ARE IN BED, baby!

However, the sock discarding starts to get hard when I come to the six pairs of stockings I still have in their packages. (Leaving the tags on/stockings in packaging is a big no-no with Kondo. After all, how would YOU feel if you were left in a box??) Stockings do not spark joy. Maybe if I had lived through World War 2 rationing and had to draw a seam up the back of my legs while rolling bandages for the Red Cross I would feel joy at the sight of brand-new stockings in the box, but no, not so much.

In fact, I don't even wear stockings anymore. No one does. That's why I was able to score them dirt-cheap. I figured some day I might use them, but I think I bought them ten years ago and I still haven't. Even so, I'm having trouble putting them in the donation box. Brand new stockings remind me of a time when I was poor, living in New York City making a pittance. I carried a bottle of clear nail polish in my heavily burdened handbag to stop runs because I couldn't afford new ones (cue stirring music.) How could I possibly 'discard' perfectly good stockings?! I got so stressed out over the dumb stockings that I had to take a break and do a Physique 57 video.

Finally I returned to my job and finished my sock drawer. I folded all my socks into little rectangles as Kondo recommends. See?
Ok so it's sideways, but you get the point
Now I can see all my sock options when I open the drawer! They're all just hanging out, chillaxing in there. It's nice.

Later in the week I moved on to the rest of my clothes, and I must say, I'm loving it. I gave away six huge bags of clothes and shoes. I kept only the things I really like and actually wear. I'm not a huge clothing person so I had to branch out a little from outright joy. I mean, I need more than just barre socks, my wedding dress and the Fuzzy Blue Robe, you know?


It is interesting how tied we become to our possessions. I was surprised by how many memories I had attached to my clothes. Some I might have kept, but one of Kondo's directives is to think of the person you are becoming, not the person you were. Clothes that no longer fit or remind me of high school are not going to help with that. Kondo has a very guilt-free way of looking at these things. She says not everything is meant to be worn to the point that it's threadbare. Some things served you for a time, but they don't anymore. Better to let them go than to keep hanging on in your closet.

The delightful part, now that I'm through all the hand-wringing over the stockings, is now I have plenty of space in my closet and drawers. In fact, I was even able to move some things that I had squirreled away in other parts of my house into my closet. And still, I have extra room! Delight!

And so, yes, I'll admit....

I'm a konvert.

(pssst... I kept the stockings.)