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I’m a huge fan of Mari Kondo and other big experts and their mission to help families everywhere declutter their homes and create open, welcoming and spacious spaces to live in. But I always feel that we need decluttering for busy moms because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to decluttering. When my home was filled with children (before Mari Kondo made her appearance on the Declutter world stage), I felt lucky if I could just end the day with things relatively tidy.
You know what I mean.
A path cleared between the wall to wall toys so that you didn’t risk a sprained ankle in the dark hours of the morning on your way to the kitchen for that first cup of coffee.
Counters washed and completed school projects moved to backpacks so they didn’t become a midnight snack for the dog.
With all our kids, it was exhausting to keep things clean, much less tidy. If half the master bedroom was taken up with laundry baskets full of washed clothes, at least they were clean, right?
The kids grew up and it became easier to keep things neat as they left to start their adult lives.
On the surface, our home seemed perfect. When I put a book down on the table, it was in exactly the same place when I came back to the room. And when I put away the dinner dishes, the table stayed clean until the next morning. No more midnight raids on the fridge and evidence in the sink and on every surface that a starving teenager had been there.
Our house was also bloated with too much of everything. I couldn’t see the things that “sparked joy” because they were hiding in plain sight, obscured by a lifetime accumulation of things. Ours and the kids, who thought our house was the perfect free storage facility.
Closets, kitchen cabinets, and bookshelves were bulging from an accumulation of years of memories. But at least the mess stayed where it was all supposed to be. Boxed in plastic bins or shrinkwrap travel bags, stowed under beds or high up on shelves.
Frankly, the Kondo method was intimidating to begin. We have a large house and her method was a HUGE time investment. We weren’t ready for a full-scale downsizing yet but we really needed a big declutter.
So I did it.
I spent two weeks doing nothing but following her method to go through all of my clothes, books, papers and miscellaneous items, and hauling garbage bag after garbage bag to the curb. When it was all done … I could breathe!
It was a joy to go from room to room and see neat, organized and curated collections of all the things I loved. It was a visceral reaction to less.
Less things that really weren’t important to me.
Less objects that my eyes saw and passed by because they didn’t spark joy in owning them.
Less of everything and more space!
And that’s the genius of Mari Kondo. Her method isn’t about turning you into a cleaning fanatic and keeping your house meticulous at all times. It’s about getting rid of everything that’s unimportant, useless, or unloved, leaving you surrounded with only the things you care about.
My house is rarely perfect. The dogs strew their toys all over the house while they play, there might be a basket of laundry on the sofa, waiting to be folded while watching TV in the evening, and I make no apologies for the creative mess that I call my desk during working hours. But everything is either necessary, beautiful or loved and it all has a designated home.
So it goes without saying that I’m a big fan of the Marie Kondo philosophy.
Flash forward a few years and kids are coming back.
When they come home during college breaks and for holidays, it can get pretty chaotic.
They throw pot lucks and invite their high school buddies (you don’t want to know what the kitchen looks like after!); wrapping paper disappears from its designated area and somehow never comes back or replaced; my grocery bill goes through the roof and food intended for meals gets consumed as midnight snacks; the washing machine is going 24/7; their rooms look like a bomb exploded in them; and everyone wants to talk to me just as I’m sitting down to work.
Then two weeks later, they all leave and I’m crying as I pick up the house.
Which actually doesn’t take that long because I’ve already Kondo-ed every single room.
But you know the saying about God having a sense of humor?
I’m here every Tuesday night, Lord. Hope you enjoy the show.
Our youngest daughter moved home. She’s having a baby (our first grandson) and we had to reconfigure rooms for two additional people. Children are getting married and starting their own families and they love to come home to visit. One of them lives in Spain but has his family’s entire belongings stored in our house. Another daughter graduated from college and came home to live while looking for a job and getting her career off the ground. Everything she owned now moved into the house. Very quickly, the house began to fill up with … things. We had a baby shower and quadrupled the baby items overnight!
Our personal belongings needed a second look too. After a few years, interests and hobbies change. Many of the things that were useful and sparked joy when I did my initial Kondo clean up no longer did.
I knew what I had to do, but my life had changed in those few years.
My business, helping to care for my elderly parents, dealing with all the medical appointments with my daughter (I’m her birth coach), and a new puppy has me hopping all day.
I just could not invest the hours involved in Mari Kondo’s approach of dealing with one category of items at the same time. ALL the clothes! ALL the books!
I couldn’t begin to spend hours sorting clothing when I had hours of work to do in my business! How could I put all my books on the living room floor to go through without the puppy ingesting one or two? It’s not possible to decide what “sparks joy” with baby items you haven’t even used yet? Especially the huge accumulation of clothing we were gifted with?
But the most important thing was that I could NOT take the time to do the categories in the way Mari Kondo recommends.
I love Mari Kondo and I believe her system has helped countless women declutter successfully. But I also feel that any system can, and should be, tailored to fit your life, your home, and your time.
Decluttering will free you from wasted time keeping up things that don’t help move your goals forward. Breaking big goals down to small tasks you can achieve in a half hour or less is more successful than being overwhelmed by too much. It’s the same with cluttering.
My method for cluttering marries what I think is the best of the Konmari method while keeping in mind your limited time.
How To Konmari For Busy Moms
1. Don’t gather your decluttering category from all over the house to go through.
Instead, think of each room as its own separate space. Within that space, work on one category but only in an amount you can do rapidly, no more than a half hour at a time. That might be one hanging shelf in the closet, or a single drawer. When you’ve completed that entire category, you can either go on to another in that one room, or you can shift to a category in another room.
You’re not going to tackle the entire house of clothes or the entire house of books. Instead, you’ll look at each room as its own self-contained area. In that area, you’ll deal with each of the elements (clothing, books, papers, komono) until the room is complete.
2. Do use Mari Kondo’s organization plan of what to declutter.
She has you work with items that have less emotional connections first, and leaves the difficult sentimental (photos, letters, mementos) items for last. If you were to begin with those, you might never complete the others because it’s the area most people have difficulty with. So start with clothing and, by the time you get to the sentimental items, you’ll already have decluttered the bulk of your home and will better understand the benefits of decluttering.
3. Don’t deal with the entire category in one day.
Gathering every article of clothing you own into one place, then sorting through every item, will take hours! If you decide to devote a weekend to the task, go for it. But if you’re a busy mom who just wants to make daily progress, tackle each category one drawer, one shelf, or one cabinet at a time. The exception is sorting through photographs. If you know you have multiples, it’s going to be difficult to sort through some of the photos and remember the next day whether or not you’ve seen a particular photo in the previous sorting. In the case of photographs, I recommend using a table (that you won’t need to clear for dinner), or floor space in your bedroom, to organize the photos by year, then deal with only one year at a time.
4. Do take a moment to ask yourself if each item brings you joy.
If you have trouble with that concept, simplify it by asking “Is this something I need or use often, or is it something that I love (to wear, to look at, to come back to over and over again as is sometimes the case with books)?
5. Don’t feel you have to limit your books to 30, as Kondo recommends.
We have cherished children’s books, business books I refer to frequently and several I haven’t had time to read yet, books we love that are out of print, my husband’s extensive technical book collection, and don’t even dare suggest getting rid of the Harry Potter series! Books function both as education, inspiration and are decorative in and of themselves. Get rid of the ones that turned out to be blah, books on topics you’ve lost interest in, and any that duplicate information (keep the best source) but don’t let the number be arbitrary in your choice of what books spark joy.
6. Do use Kondo’s folding technique for clothing.
It’s simple to learn and really makes all the difference in storing things attractively and compactly. You’ll be able to see everything in a drawer without disturbing “piles” to find the shirt you’re looking for. Once you get used to it, it’s a pleasant way to quickly get your laundry drawer-ready. Here’s a video showing how it’s done.
7. Don’t rush the process.
The Konmari method is not about getting rid of as much of your stuff as possible. It’s about only keeping the things you love or that truly serve you. This is really Mari Kondo’s genius approach here. But by taking the time to go through the process slowly, you know you won’t have any regrets when you’re done because you’ll be able to look around your home and feel surrounded by everything you’ve carefully chosen to enhance your life.
8. Do make a decision on every item.
The concept of “spark joy” is specific. It’s not “might I need this in the future?” or “I spent so much money on this and I did love it at the time!” If you haven’t used it in a year, you might not use it for the next 5 years. In the meantime, it’s taking up valuable real estate that belongs to the things that are useful now. No matter how much money you spent on the item or how much you loved it then, what matters is if you still love it. Have you outgrown the feelings you had when you bought it? Sell it or give it to someone who can love it and move on.
9. Don’t empty your purse every day and put the contents in a separate storage area and then place everything back in your purse the next day.
How many times have you thought you were home for the day, only to find that one of your kiddos needed supplies to finish a school project? Or slept-walked your way through your morning and grabbed your purse without thinking as you left? By all means, clean your purse out every evening and restock what you might need (just like restocking your diaper bag every time you get home) but don’t remove the contents entirely unless you enjoy realizing you’re in your rideshare to work, 15 miles from home, and you don’t have your wallet.
10. Don’t keep every sentimental item that sparks joy.
I would recommend you filter it through the Swedish Death Cleaning idea. Imagine your children finding and going through intimate letters and photographs that you are trying to decide on. If you are ok with them reading and seeing these items after you’re gone, then fine. If the thought is horrifying, you might want to consider whether the physical memory is something you want to keep.
By adopting a somewhat kinder and gentler approach to decluttering your house, you’ll still get the job done. You just won’t lose momentum when life intervenes. Konmari for busy moms, adapted to suit your schedule and your priorities, will help you have the home and life you want.
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Check out ALL the posts in the Decluttering For Busy Moms series: