When KonMari doesn’t spark joy: Five lessons learnt through decluttering with KonMari

KonMari and decluttering in general seems to be the latest fad.  Fueled by the current show on Netflix people are lining up to throw out their possessions.  There something oddly liberating about getting rid of things, perhaps only matched by the joy of purchasing them in the first place.  When we release this clutter, along with them we release years of frustration.  The frustration of not being able to find objects,  seemingly forever lost in a sea of clutter. The frustration of not knowing where and how to store excess goods, moving them in desperation from one place to another, unable to find them permanent homes.  And finally, but perhaps most significantly the frustration of not being able to keep our homes tidy.  In this way throwing things become therapeutic, and indeed makes us less anxious and stressed.

I first came across the KonMari three years ago. I had a clutter problem and wanted to use the extra time I had in the school holidays to tackle it. Through my attempts of using KonMari on and off for the past three years this is what I have discovered:

1) It’s not always wise to throw everything out that doesn’t spark joy:  My toilet brush, for example, doesn’t particularly spark joy, but it’s not something I necessarily want to let go of.  On a more serious note, even if we’re dealing with clothing, for example, I don’t recommend throwing out everything that doesn’t spark joy, at least not initially.  There are some things in my wardrobe that I don’t really love, but they do fulfil a function. If my budget had no limit I would consider replacing them, but even beyond money, it would also take valuable time to find something that fulfils that same function that I really love.  Truth be told, I’m so fussy that it’s possible that it does not even exist.  So I recommend that unless you have unlimited time and money, maybe hold onto those practical things, and consider replacing them when your circumstances permit or as you find a replacement that you love.

2) Take what she says about books with a grain of salt:  Marie Kondo recommends limiting yourself to 30 books. This one area that has been widely criticised recently and rightfully so.  Reading and books should be central to every home.  Ideally, children should grow up surrounded by books.  Being read to and seeing their parents reading is invaluable, as a former English teacher I can’t stress this enough!  Even just having books around for little ones to flip through and ‘read’ before they are able to, is something you can’t put a price on.  My oldest daughter, now an avid reader, at the age of three, carried approximately five books around the house with her at a time.  She would pile books up so high on her bedside table that I was afraid that they’d fall and crush her when she slept.  Was it annoying? Yes.  Did I love having books scattered throughout the house? Not at all.  But I was raising a reader, and that was more important to me than aesthetics, so I encouraged it and quietly placed piles of books on the floor beside her after she fell asleep.

If however, you have a ridiculous number of books, no children, and you don’t even read, then yes, its probably a good idea to get rid of most of them.  If you are not a book person, as I suspect is the case with Marie Kondo, then keep what serves a function, or what will fit in your bookshelf.  There is probably no need to keep your university textbooks from decades ago, or the highly outdated book on how to make a website.  Be realistic and practical; if you don’t love it, will never use it, ditch it.

3) The KonMari method of folding is not as great as it seems:  Don’t get me wrong, I do really like her folding.  But its not the magical solution she makes it out to be. Suffering from a severe lack of drawers I was unable to utilise this method for my own clothing, but I did trial it for two of my children.  While I loved it to begin with it was more time-consuming.  Furthermore, I found that when in a rush or one of the kids got something out of the drawer, it quickly got messed up and had to be tidied up fairly regularly.  This tidying process was also more difficult and time-consuming than usual.  So although it may work well for an adult, it does take a little longer and it needs some regular maintenance when it comes to children’s clothing.

4) Don’t feel the need to talk to your possessions:  In her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, Marie Kondo suggests communicating with your possessions.  I can love some of my objects, I can appreciate them, but I’m not about to talk to them because somebody says I should.  It might work for some, but I’m just not a talking-to-things kind of person, and that’s ok, I don’t have to be.  As with everything in life, I adapt things to suit my personality.  I don’t believe in trying to be something that I’m not and I don’t believe it will make me more productive. On the contrary, I feel that it’s so much more difficult to do things when you are not being genuine, you’re much less likely to persevere.

5) Don’t insist on doing it all in one lot if you feel it’s not possible:  One of the first things I knew when I started reading Kon Mari’s book is that I wasn’t going to be able to do it in one go.  Despite being on holidays, I still had kids that I had to care for.  I had to feed them, deal with their toileting and break up fights.  I also had to do some basic housework (dishes, washing and general tidying).  With 7 members in my household at the time, just the clothing category in and of itself would take me a week.

I understand her reasoning for trying to do it in one go.  It’s a great idea to ride that initial wave of excitement, to put in the hard yards early on and then enjoy the fruits of your labour.   However, for me, this all or nothing mentality was damaging. It was damaging because from day dot it set me up as a failure.  This is not only the case for mothers, but anybody trying to fit in KonMari with a full-time job, or other major time constraints will face the same dilemma.

In a response to this problem some, such as members in this FaceBook group, have generally adhered to the KonMari method but developed a program that can be done over an extended period of time.  This is very useful for those of us who can not spare so much time in the initial decluttering phase or those who have an overwhelming amount of clutter.

Systems such as KonMari offer hope.  The hope of a beautiful home, full of only well-loved possessions.  The hope of greater productivity and organisation.  And the hope of a simpler and stress-free life. It does not have to be all or nothing, take what suits your values and lifestyle, and tweak it to suit your circumstances.

KonMari is not the first program I have attempted in my pursuit of organisation.  From Getting Things Done to FlyLady, I have tried a few different programs, but the promise they initially held never came to fruition.  Each system was useful in its own way, but none of them was the perfect fit for me.  They provided inspiration, motivation and the proverbial kick up the backside but little more.  They each included some good ideas, some I have adopted sporadically over the years, but I have yet to find a perfect system, particularly one that would work for everybody.

At the end of the day we all have completely different lifestyles and circumstances, it is not surprising that there is no method of organisation that is suited to everybody.  Is it really that remarkable that I, a homeschooler and mother of 6, will not find success in the same methods as, for example, a single executive?  Naturally, these things will be influenced by the amount of free time one has, their responsibilities and the resources they have available to them, just to name a few.  So instead of getting excited by one particular method, I think a far more useful approach is to ask yourself what you want to achieve, do some thorough research of various methods and techniques, trial different things and incorporate that which best suits both your personality and your circumstances.

 

 

 

Using Screen Time For Good

My 7-year-old is a reluctant reader.  Truth be told, he is a reluctant almost everything good for him.  This has frustrated me to no end and is essentially the reason why I decided to homeschool him.  With most things, he has good and bad days.  Though with reading he hasn’t budged on.

I have never, in his seven years, seen him pick up a book voluntarily and just read.  When I want him to read I have to be there beside him, and even then he refuses. Finally, he succumbs to a compromise of reading a page each, usually insisting on reading the ones with more picture and less text.

This is contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced.  I have always loved reading and can’t imagine a life without books.  I spent countless hours as a child with my head in a book, imagining make-believe places, sharing in the excitement and fears of the characters, and always wishing it was me going on the adventures.

Likewise, his three older siblings have also loved reading. My second, in particular, was practically born obsessed with books.  As a toddler, she would walk about the house carrying books with her everywhere.  At the age of three, she would pile up a stack of books so high on her bedside table that I would have to remove them each night, worried it would collapse and fall on her head as she slept.  Unfortunately, though, my seven-year-old appears to have taken his lead from his older brother, who at some point discovered that reading wasn’t considered cool by his peers and by the time master seven was old enough to notice, his older brother had long given up on books.

I have tried everything to pique his interest. I have started off books with him, hoping once his interest was sparked that he would continue on his own.  The first half of the plan would work, he would become absorbed, asking for more. Unfortunately, however, his laziness would overpower his interest, having to actually read himself was just not worth the effort. I’ve taken him to libraries and tried buying him books on topics or characters he is interested in, he just begs for me to read it for him.  In desperation I even went on a homeschooling page on Facebook asking for advice, I was actually shot down by some who thought I shouldn’t be forcing my values on him and that I should just let him be.  Ummm thanks, but no thanks.

Then the other day when complaining about the situation to my husband, he turned to me and said: “You need to understand that these days books are competing with other things that we didn’t have growing up, they are more interested in their devices.”

Like most children these days, master 7 loves his screen time.  He becomes obsessed, to the point where I have pretty much banned and confiscated everything he had access to.  It was after this remark by my husband that I realised that this technology obsessed boy was never going to willingly chose to read a book over his devices.  And even if he doesn’t have access to them, it’s that kind of stimulation that he is after – the instant gratification, not the long toil.  I realised that the mistake I was making is that I was setting up books against technology and books could never win.   I decided then and there that I had to find a solution that made screen time work for us, not against us.

What I decided to do is set some pretty strict guidelines where he can earn time on the computer.  Firstly, in order to qualify for computer usage, he needs to complete all his homeschooling requirements for the day.  Then once he qualifies he can earn time on the computer by either using educational games (both online or otherwise) and reading.  So far it is working great.  And the beauty of the system is that by the time he finishes all his work and then goes on to earn credit, he really doesn’t have that much time to use his screen time anyhow!

I can’t say it’s not without its hiccups.  Today he tried to blackmail one hour out of me so that he would hold onto his rubbish instead from throwing it on the road like he wanted to.  He is also earning too much credit too quickly so it seems that I may need to tweak the credit system a little. However, on the whole, it’s working like a charm and for somebody who has always avoided work like the plague and refused to read on his own for his entire life, it’s wonderful to see him so motivated.

As an added bonus I have a new discipline strategy under my sleeve.  If he ignores my requests as he has a habit of doing when I’m unable to follow up (eg, annoying his sister in the car when I’m driving) all I have to do is tell him that if he continues I’m taking an hour off his accrued time and its pretty much instant obedience from there.

Will it last? I can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For now, I’m just savouring the simple pleasure of seeing him read in bed before sleep and praying that during this time he finds the magic that can be found in books and he can love reading as much as I did when I was a child – as much as I do now.