Why all the cool kids are tidying up

I recently moved house and realised how much crap I’d accumulated.

In my bedroom alone I found shoes I hadn’t worn since 2008. Tees from 2009. Six scarves for my favourite AFL team. Seven beanies I’d never worn. 14 knits of varying shapes and sizes. 46 loose socks and 3,342 random coins scattered throughout my drawers, shelves and cupboards (which equated to a whopping $15.30, so I’m feeling pretty cashed up).

Sound familiar?

Without realising it, I’d become a Madonna lite accumulating more ‘material’ possessions than I knew what to do with. Given the house I was moving to had less storage space I was forced to do some serious #decluttering. In doing so I borrowed from two schools of thought.

KonMari Method

This badboy I got from a brilliant book by Marie Kondo titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up. I know, I know. I just labelled a book about tidying brilliant. Who even am I?! Truth be told, after going to bed at 8.30pm on Friday night, I don’t even know anymore. All I know is Kondo speaks truths.

The summary of her method is that we should surround ourselves with items that “spark joy” and do away with the rest. It involves picking up each item and asking yourself “does this make me happy?” If the answer is yes, then the item stays. 

The rest? Well, they get the Homer Simpson treatment.

The method isn’t necessarily about culling your items down to one of everything and living out of a shoe box like some hardcore minimalist (although, if that’s what floats your boat then more power to you). Rather, the end result should be a space where everything makes you happy.

As you can imagine, this method gets, er, interesting when you get to the socks and jocks draw. I mean how many ways can underwear spark joy?

Alas, I found it to be a useful way of looking at books, old photos and random other relics I’d accumulated and doing away with anything that added no value to my life. 

Sunk costs

My old friend again. I’m not the first person to harp on about the secret magical power of sunk costs, but I found it particularly relevant when decluttering. Take this example. 

I grabbed a jumper that cost me $80 but have only worn once. It survived the KonMari method not because it sparked joy, but because, well, I couldn’t possibly throw it out, it cost me $80! And it’s basically brand new. Sure I haven’t worn it recently, and probably won’t again in the next 12 months, but I’m not about to throw away an $80 jumper. I’m not a monster.

Then it dawned on me. I was getting hung up on the sunk cost fallacy once again. The $80 is irrelevant. It’s gone and not coming back, no matter how long I keep the jumper for. Instead, I asked myself if someone gave me this jumper for free, would I keep it? More often than not the answer was no and the item would end up at the Op Shop donation bin.

And the result?

I own nothing and have been forced to wear a pillowcase for clothing. I mean, what?

In all seriousness, the results have been surprisingly profound.

Consider that everyone tells us we need more. More money. More gadgets. More clothes. A bigger TV. A bigger car. A bigger house. But why does it matter? What’s it all for? And are there any unintended consequences?

What I hadn’t realised is that more possessions means less room not just physically, but mentally. It’s as if the items that don’t add value subconsciously take up space in your mind. So it follows that decluttering is just as much about clearing your mind as it is about removing the number of physical possessions in any given room.

I can honestly say I’ve had more clarity in the days proceeding my move than I’ve had in months. Kondo really wasn’t exaggerating when she titled her method life changing. Who knew tidying up could be so impactful.