Clutter, paper, pill bottles, clothes, blankets and more characterize many homes where a person is living with a chronic condition. In fact, it can be so disorganized and messy that it’s not a relaxing place to be. Cleaning, sorting and discarding are often the last thing on anyone’s mind, if for no other reason, who has the energy for it?
Currently de cluttering is a hot topic thanks to Japanese author and master tidier Marie Kondo. Her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has a simple method, known as KonMari, Only keep things around you that “spark joy” when you hold them, and say “Thank you,” as you discard everything else. Clearly there are items, like prescriptions, that don’t necessarily “spark joy” but they are an absolute necessity, so don’t discard.
The idea is by only having things around you that bring joy and benefit, your space will be cleaner and you will feel happier in it. This can than flow into other parts of your life. Think of it as creating your home as a healing and inspiring space. Very appealing ideas for any one, but even more so for those affected by a chronic condition, where life can feel incredibly out of control a considerable amount of time.
The KonMari Method
1. Tidy in one shot, as quickly and completely as possible: Set a deadline, such as sort clothes on Saturday morning. It’s a special event, not something to do everyday. However, given energy levels, as well as ability to move things, you may have to readjust by doing categories a room at a time. While that may not be the strict KonMari way, it is sufficient to become inspired and keep you motivated to continue to “tidy.” Don’t hesitate to ask a friend to help with the hauling and the moving, so you can save your energy for the sort.
2. Sort by category, not by location: Having everything in one place makes you not only aware of how much you have, including duplications, but how much of it you don’t use and even if it’s weighing you down. As noted above, it may not work for you to move everything into one space, so again category by room may have to do.
3. Is this necessary for me? Does it “spark joy?”: If it’s necessary, such as tax returns for the last seven years or medications, it’s a keep. For everything else, hold it and ask yourself if it sparks joy? Does it make you happy? If it elicits a response somewhere between feeling nothing to “hate it”, thank it and let it go. For those necessary items, they benefit you in some way and in time can generate more positive feelings.
"Never decide to keep something because it 'might come in handy.' An item may be good, useful, and even beautiful, however if it only seems like it should make you happy, but it really doesn’t, then it’s time to thank it and say goodbye. That’s right, say 'thank you' to the item... It will help you feel better about the decision you’ve made, and it will help you feel more gratitude towards the stuff you keep."
4. Order of Tidying: Clothes, Books, Documents, miscellaneous items, and mementos. The last one, mementos, is often the hardest so by doing the others first, you’ll have sufficient practice in realizing what sparks joy in you and can make the sort easier.
Does it Work?
I started in August using this method and I have to say it’s not only the most effective de cluttering tool I’ve ever used, it’s helping me keep things much tidier. Asking myself whether something “sparks joy” has been really key to the process, and the ritual of thanking items, that may have meant something at one time or were gifted to me, is strangely freeing. I’ve found the folding technique is key to keeping my clothes in order. Further, grocery shopping has gotten a lot easier, since I know exactly what I’m running low on. I should note, however, that I keep my kitchen appliances readily available on the counter as I cook a lot. Also, because I do a lot of art projects, fabric and art supplies are harder to sort but I do like the idea of only working with supplies that spark joy. This is my last area to tackle.
You might find it useful to read Kondo’s book (most libraries have a wait list for it) or watch one of her videos Marie Kondo and New York Magazine’s Wendy Goodman or her talk at Google. While the talks are similar, the question and answers differ. Join Marie Kondo’s Facebook page for lots of tips and ideas. It's also a way to keep you inspired.
• Use the handy KonMari Method Worksheet to help you decide which categories to work on.
• Discard than organize: If you start worrying about how you are going to organize the items you are keeping while trying to discard, you will derail the process. Besides Mari has excellent ways to fold clothes and store items so you don’t need to go out and purchase anything.
• Don’t let guilt be your guide: Holding onto items that you don’t use, let alone bring joy, no matter who gave them to you, isn’t useful. Thank them for being a reminder of someone’s generosity towards you and then pass them on.
• Pass on the Sentiment: While a family heirloom may not spark joy in you, it may be very appreciated by another member of the family. Pass it on.
• Use Recycling Centers, Fiber Barns, Thrift Stores etc: Once you have done your sort, make good use of your local recycling center for things like paper, plastic, cans etc. Libraries, prisons and some hospitals will take books in good shape, and thrift stores count on a wide variety of donations to help them fund their respective community based organizations. If you have the time and energy, selling can be done on-line (E-Bay, Craig’s List, community garage sale Facebook etc.) through a consignment shop, or at a yard sale. Don’t forget that you can donate items for tag sales and other venues that can benefit your condition specific organization such as the local chapter of the Lung Association.
• Don’t show your family what you’re discarding: If you do, they’ll start taking things out.
• Everything needs a home: Once you have finished discarding, you can start the process of organizing. The best way to maintain a sense of minimalism is to have a dedicated spot for everything. It makes both tidying and finding things a breeze (reduces stress) and also makes it easy to see when you are starting to amass again.
• Use the videos to Learn to Fold Clothes: There are good videos to watch in order to learn how to fold and store clothing, which are easier than reading about them. Check out Illustrated Guide to the KonMari Method of folding clothes.
• Don’t bulk up: In general buying in bulk isn’t a great savings for many –it goes bad before getting to use it and/or it can be a major source of clutter.
• Paperless is good, but careful with health related items: Thanks to computers, you only need to keep taxes and other necessary documents and papers that require action. Place any sentimental items you come across in the sentimental box to be dealt with last so that you can move through the papers swiftly. Also place any paperwork pertaining to your health situation in one pile. Watch KonMari Method: Paper
• Manage Your Health Information: You are in charge of making health care decisions for yourself and those in your charge. This can be an overwhelming task as multiple health providers are involved and the variety of paper and information being generated from tests, treatments, to say nothing of health insurance, is mind-boggling. The more organized you can be, keeping information centralized, the easier some decisions will be to make. Be sure to check out Managing Health Information: Yours/Theirs
• Getting Kids to Tidy: If you have kids, download Marie Kondo on the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — With Kids There are so many great and helpful suggestions from how to get kids to clean up after themselves to what to keep of the mountain of paper that comes home from school each day.