“Only keep items that spark joy” is the basic tenet of Marie Kondo, the Japanese decluttering guru whose first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold more than 2.2 million copies. Last May, I wrote about applying the “KonMari Method” to my closet. All these months later, I’m still finding it a lot easier to get dressed. Every garment on my hangers—facing the same direction of course—is something that I enjoy wearing, and is free of wrinkles, moth holes and stains.
The life-changing magic of origami underwear
Now Marie has a second book out: Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up is a detailed dive into her techniques. Here, she provides diagrams of her edict to “fold clothes like origami.” The method begins with gazing intently at your T-shirt, undies or socks to “find the rectangular shape within it” and then taking the pieces on the outside of that rectangle and folding them inside it.
Done properly you end up with perfectly smooth compact rectangles that you can stand upright in your drawers. Before you store the garments, Kondo advises performing a test. Place each garment upright on the floor. If it doesn’t fall over when you remove your hand, it’s ready to be stored. If it collapses—a likely outcome for the first few hundred tries—the folds need readjusting. (Between you and me, the underwear in my lingerie drawers look nothing like macaroons standing upright in a French pastry shop, as Marie describes.)
Unclog the chi (energy) in your entire house
In Spark Joy, Marie also offers guidance on tidying up other areas of your home and office, including kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities, children’s toys, laundry supplies, books, paper and what she calls sentimental items. She can be a stern taskmaster. If you’re holding on to a school uniform from your blissful academy days, she suggests you try wearing it and “lose yourself in memories of your youth.” (It doesn’t seem to occur to the lithe Marie that you might not actually be able to fit into the decades-old uniform.) “Most of my clients who do this come to their senses and discard it,” she says.
And she likewise suggests getting rid of mementos from past loves—gifts, letters, photo-booth strips—especially if you’re hoping to develop a relationship with someone new. Thank these items for the wonderful memories, she suggests, “and part with them with gratitude.”
Tidying up, Marie says, is more than surface deep. It can be transformative. And you begin to really enjoy your life. Want to get started?
Here are the six basic steps:
1. Commit to tidying up
Marie doesn’t underestimate the amount of effort her program requires. She says it will take six hours to tidy up your desk alone. But, as she points out, the average person spends about 30 minutes a day searching for things, while the chronically messy can waste as much as two hours a day.
2. Visualize your ideal home
Find a photo in a magazine that captures the kind of house you want to live in. “When you imagine your ideal lifestyle,” Marie writes, “you are actually clarifying why you want to tidy,” and it can represent a huge turning point in your life.
3. Discard first
Before you begin to store anything, decide what you’re going to toss out or give away to clear out the space.
4. Tidy by category, not location
Don’t think of tidying up your bedroom or office. When people work room by room, all we end up doing is shuffling stuff from one area of the home to another. Instead, gather all your clothes, books or papers from all areas of your home; discard what you don’t need, then reorganize and store the rest.
5. Go in order
Go category by category in this sequence: clothes, books, paper, miscellany and, finally, sentimental items. (You don’t want to touch those old love letters and other nostalgic trinkets until you’ve perfected the art of discarding clothes, books and papers first.)
6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy
This is the key to Marie’s method. Hold each item firmly in both hands and ask yourself if it sparks joy. “When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising,” she says. “When you hold something that doesn’t bring you joy, however, you will notice that your body feels heavier.” And, remember, you’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep.
Shelley Levitt is an editor at large for Live Happy.