Beginner's Guide to the KonMari Method

If you haven't read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (the namesake behind KonMari), I highly recommend reading it through first before trying to tackle a tidying session!

“Now imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy. Isn’t this the lifestyle you dream of?” ― Marie Kondō

“Now imagine yourself living in a space that contains only things that spark joy. Isn’t this the lifestyle you dream of?” ― Marie Kondō

Anyone can read and follow the basic steps below, but I think reading the book cover to cover will offer additional benefits that a list of steps won't. Just having enough quiet time to read is a luxury for some of us (I am totally in that boat), but I promise it's a quick read. Thinking about how each chapter applied to my life and imagining what my world could look like before diving in was helpful for me. Giving myself some time to read the book and let it soak in allowed it to really affect change, and this was important for my tiny tidying successes (it's still a work in progress, though), and I want to pass the suggestion on to do the same because I want you to be successful, too!

But having the time to read a whole book is sometimes just not an option. So here's a quick and dirty beginner's guide to the KonMari Method:

I have more details to add below, but before we dive in just take a moment to accept the fact that if you do this correctly, it may be intense. There should be many positive feelings after the process is over (and even during!) but the process itself can be tedious and tough. But did I mention so very worth it?

What's intense about it for some people (myself included) is working through all items of one type at one time. That's right. With this method, you don't go organizing room by room. No, no. Instead, you tackle all items of a particular kind at one time. For example, you'll start with clothes. This means you will empty your drawers, closets, under-bed-storage-thingies, boxes in the basement, etc. and go through all of your clothing items at one time.

This sounds crazy -- and it is -- but this is the key to your success. This allows you to get an accurate understanding of what all you have so that you can make truly educated decisions about what “brings you joy” and what doesn't.

It also may shine a bright and unflattering light on, for example,  the completely insane amount of throw pillows you own (looking at you, mom!). If this happens, it can be jarring or disturbing… but most importantly, eye opening. This gives you the opportunity to ask yourself What's going on here? and figure out how to move forward. Speaking from personal experience, both my mom and I needed to be snapped out of our shopping habits and seeing everything in one space at one time really put things in perspective.

“Success is 90 percent dependent on our mind-set.” ― Marie Kondō

“Success is 90 percent dependent on our mind-set.” ― Marie Kondō

Okay, ready? Here we go:

Step 1: Commit to tidying all at once

“Tidy a little a day and you’ll be tidying forever.”
― Marie Kondō

If you're like me, you will not be able to finish tidying your whole home in just one weekend, or even a couple! How much time you have to dedicate to this cause will directly affect how long this process takes. For some, it may take only a handful of weeks; for others, it might be months or even more. The important part here, I think, is to commit to the process and work through it in a diligent manner in whatever time you do have.

Step 2: Tidy by category, not by room

“The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go much more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about. As you gradually work toward the harder categories, you will be honing your decision-making skills.”
― Marie Kondō

Kondo has outlined several categories, and has even placed them in order to ease you into and through the process of decluttering.

Step 3: Tidy in order

In the book, Kondo talks about the order in which to process items that has proven to be most successful for her and her clients:

“The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.”
― Marie Kondō

I've made this handy, printable list:

Step 4: Put all items of one category on the floor in one room

This is a big one. I don't know about anyone else, but prior to reading this book, I would instinctively attempt to tidy room by room. No wonder I felt like I never got anywhere!

“Before choosing what to keep, collect everything that falls within the same category at one time. Take every last item out and lay everything in one spot.”
― Marie Kondō

I mean, I never once had tidied in a way even remotely close to what Kondo describes. Once I started doing it her way, though, it became obvious why it's an important decision-making tool:

“Gathering every item in one place is essential to this process because it gives you an accurate grasp of how much you have.”
― Marie Kondō

I'm still blown away by how ingenious this is. If you have doubts about doing it this way, I urge you to trust the process and give it a shot. I have some examples of why it's important to actually do it this way instead of room by room... just wait until I share the story about when I helped my mom KonMari her house! She was such a trooper. Here's a teaser:

Her face says it all! These are the aforementioned throw pillows.

Her face says it all! These are the aforementioned throw pillows.

Step 5: Hold up each item individually and ask yourself if it sparks joy 

“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
― Marie Kondō

In addition to tidying every item from one category all at once, this was the other major adjustment I had to make to my normal tidying process. It seems so obvious now, but never once did I ask myself what I should keep instead of what I should toss before I discovered the KonMari Method. This small reframing of the question makes a world of difference!

Step 6: If the answer is "no", put the item in the discard pile

“Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.”
― Marie Kondō

When I went through my clothes, there were a lot of items that I liked. I mean, hey, at one point I felt like purchasing those items, so it makes sense that I'd at least like most of them, right? But did I love them? Did they spark joy? After my experience with using a capsule wardrobe, I knew what really needed to own. It made it easier to say goodbye to even the pieces I liked (but didn't love).

When discarding items, you have options! Sell, donate, or toss. For selling, you can sell online (eBay), at a consignment shop, or even have a garage or yard sale. For tips on sales, see my Yard Sale Series!

Step 7: If the answer is "yes", put the item in the keep pile

“My criterion for deciding to keep an item is that we should feel a thrill of joy when we touch it.”
― Marie Kondō

One thing in the book I really struggled with was the concept of experiencing joy from a physical item. I'm still not sure if I actually do. Joy, to me, is such an intense emotion that it feels appropriate for people or animals, and not inanimate objects. If you've also encountered this, try replacing "joy" with another strong positive feeling or word that feels more appropriate. I still use the word "joy" when I talk or write about KonMari, though the feeling I actually experience when encountering a joy-sparking item is more of a combo of happiness and usefulness.

Step 8: Once the entire category has been sorted, designate a spot for everything from the keep pile.

We need to exercise self-control and resist storing our belongings until we have finished identifying what we really want and need to keep.”
― Marie Kondō

It's worth it to wait until the entire category is sorted until attempting to find permanent homes for the items you wish to keep. Once you see what's left, finding permanent homes will be that much easier. And with permanent homes, items practically tidy themselves! 

“The essence of effective storage is this: designate a spot for every last thing you own.”
― Marie Kondō

If you are having trouble finding homes for your items, keep this in mind:

“When you are choosing what to keep, ask your heart; when you are choosing where to store something, ask your house.” 
― Marie Kondō

And there you have it! I hope this quick guide is helpful. Let me know in the comments if I've missed anything or you have additional tips!