The Japanese Art of Decluttering

Did you guys read the recent NYTimes article Kissing Your Socks Goodbye? Japanese tidiness consultant Marie Kondo believes that decluttering your home will change your life. She’s a celebrity in Japan, and there’s currently a three-month waiting list for her services. Her approach is a little wacky, but she has some great pointers, too.

Here are seven of her tips…

1. Throw away anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” “’Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill…You must take each outfit in your hand.’ “

2. Skip the Container Store. “Do not buy organizing equipment—your home already has all the storage you need.”

3. Fold your clothes like sushi. “Fold everything into a long rectangle, then fold that in upon itself to make a smaller rectangle, and then roll that up into a tube, like a sushi roll. Set these upright in your drawers.”

4. Hang clothes in rainbow order. “Hang up anything that looks happier hung up, and arrange like with like, working from left to right, with dark, heavy clothing on the left…’Organizing them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure.’ “

5. Thank your clothes. “Thank your stuff, it’s been working hard for you.”

6. Let your socks rest. “Socks bust their chops for you, and if you ball them up, they don’t get a chance to rest…’The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday.’ “

7. Get rid of papers. “’There is nothing more annoying than papers…After all, they will never spark joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.’ “

What do you think? Do her tips sound nutty or brilliant? (Or both?) Kondo also just wrote a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, if you’re curious to hear more. Do you ever declutter your home? We did it before we moved and it felt so freeing!

This is part of a series called “What We’re Reading“—featuring interesting articles on different topics we find during the week. I know most of you are big readers. Hope you like it!

(Photo by Natsuno Ichigo, via the NYTimes)

  1. These sites are simply superb

  2. I like the respect she gives to objects and space..but I’m confused about the socks – I relate rolling them into a ball as sleeping, like all cuddly and everything, wrapped in doona. Also they are a PAIR – they’ve spent a whole day apart, and scattered around in the washing machine, wouldn’t they want to come home to each other? lol

  3. maggie says...

    Everyone says group clothes of same type and color……what do you think of actually putting clothes as outfits? Wouldn’t we save money and space by not buying 20 white tops and actually see that we have outfits and know when we need to update a outfit….thoughts????

  4. I just ran across this post and it has made me so happy! I am always going through and getting rid of things — there is some kind of joy to it. I love her quirky tips and can’t wait to get my hands on her book!

  5. I like the respect she gives to objects and space..but I’m confused about the socks – I relate rolling them into a ball as sleeping, like all cuddly and everything, wrapped in doona. Also they are a PAIR – they’ve spent a whole day apart, and scattered around in the washing machine, wouldn’t they want to come home to each other? lol

  6. My only problem with the book is it doesn’t give specifics as to how you accomplish “perfection.” The list of seven things in this blog are the core of the book; otherwise she tells you over and over again about how tidying is magical, and how you have to do it all at once, not piecemeal. A few guidelines would be helpful.

    My recommendation is to read reviews and blogs, look at YouTube for how to roll socks, and skip the book. Save yourself $17!

  7. I read her book last week after my aunt (who lived in Japan for many years) recommended it, it was transformational! I have embarked on The Great Purge of 2014 as I am calling it and have managed to get rid of things I have been tied emotionally to for years. It feels so liberating and the joy it has sparked is contagious, everyone in my circle has been touched and are in the process of tidying up as well. Buying this lovely, tiny book as a stocking stuffer for lots of people this year.

  8. Haha, this was a bit nutty! I’m afraid that I’m a bit of a hoarder, but I tend to use my stuff. I’m also big on organisation and categorisation, and store everything by type and colour, especially my large wardrobe, so I can easily find things when I need them. the more things you have, the better you have to be in organising them, so you can make use of it all. I have long since realised that I will never be a minimalist and this is OK.

  9. i like it! recently I got rid many of my items that i *loved* in my twenties. well guess what I like my 30s even more, yes different ways, but more decisive to say goodbye. 4inch high heels, go party else where.
    mini skirts, go home – someone else’s home.

    never been the type to fold sox and underwear, such a waste of time!

  10. I haven’t read the book, but from the article, much of it sounds like a new presentation of old ideas.

    Someone already mentioned the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

    I love Bertrand Russell. He stated, “To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness.”

    Clutter actually comes from the word clot, so freeing up energy by decluttering surely can be life changing. I also love the saying that sometimes you have to prune to grow – make room for new things to come into your life.

    For me, a NYC apartment dweller, it is an ongoing process for sure. I also run into clutter in my work as an interior designer. Sometimes I recommend a great little book… Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui by Karen Kingston. It is a quick easy read that I found useful with a more practical than New Age in tone.

  11. My husband and I moved 5 times in one year and it made us realize how important it was to declutter. People are always afraid to start- I say start with the pens… collect all the pens and pencils in the house and only keep enough to store in a sandwich bag. Donate the rest to a waitress. You will be shocked at the amount of pens and inspired to find what else is excess in your home. :)

  12. Out of frustration, my husband and I started decluttering at the beginning of this year. The abundant stuff given from other people and family was out of control and made us VERY miserable! Then I made a rule: 1 in, 4 MUST out–no compromise. But stuff still overflowing our little apartment–not by our choice. So every 1-2 weeks, I filled 2-3 garbage bags with our stuff to donate or giveaway. So far, have got rid of 59 bags (each 13 gallons) full of clothes, toys, and other stuff, and lots of furniture. We are happier than ever. Our apartment is only 800 sq, with a 5 y/o daughter and a dog, we still have soooo much space, we have a lot more time on the weekends to relax and have family outings. Minimalist brings so much joy in my family. We do buy stuff when we really need to, but the rule now is: Quality VS quantity.

  13. Funny! I already do 3 and 4 as it turns out, but I totally disagree with 7. Some papers bring me immense joy. :)

  14. I like her style! The no buying organizers thing seems hard, and I seem to find joy in random things. Like, I took the zucchini plastic container from Trader Joe’s and made it part of my drawer for organizing batteries. Is that just as nutty as no container store?

  15. what a poetic approach to ‘stuff.’ a bit nutty but i like it. after all, i’m always telling my 4 year old to respect his possessions and treat them with care – i guess i should do the same with my socks ;)

    i especially love the advice about paper bringing no joy. i loath paper some days! 4 year old bills, catalogues, magazine i swear i’ll read again but never do etc etc take up way too much valuable real estate in our home.

  16. I love that she’s enjoying success & that it’s appeared in the NY Times. A lot of what she does is very similar to what Nat & I teach at Apartment Diet so we get it. I do suspect that some things have been lost in translation from the Japanese, as they’d make total armament if phrased a little differently. The sock thing is a bit kooky but balling them up is not good for the sock wrt the stretching anyway so flat is better. I’ve always colour coordinated my wardrobe from dark to light in different sections for skirts, trousers, shirts etc – it makes getting dressed so much easier! Also, gratitude and appreciation of our things mean we treat them better. So yeah, more fab than mad, in my book!

  17. I’m sure when she refers to papers she means bills, junk mail, etc. But I love to keep and look at my daughter and son’s drawings. I will hang them on the fridge (is this clutter?) or in my office and it’s a sweet reminder that they think of us and we think of them even when we’re not together.

  18. I like her tips! I recently bought my first hoise and purged a lot of junk that I didn’t need or really care about. Did I really need 4 shoe bixes full of photos I never looked at? Nope. Kepts about 20 and tossed the rest. Did i need all the little nick nacks I had? The plastic santa head plates that I had never used? Nope nipe nope!

    At first I thought purging would be difficult. But it feels so good to open my kitchen cabinets and not have a bunch of random stuff falling out! Now to maintain we keep a donation box by the door and add to it throughout the month.

    506 Miles: from Detroit to Nashville

  19. Beautiful! My eyes were tearing up by the time I got to the Oprah quote :)

    Thanks for sharing your story, Caroline. It takes strength to live through a tough time, and even more strength to share it with others!

  20. I’m in need of some serious decluttering. I used to never stay in an apartment for more than a year (and sometimes less) so I was never able to accumulate too much, but now I’ve been in the same place for 3 years and I’m bursting at the seams!

  21. Wow I could really use this woman’s help. The sushi roll clothes thing is a little nutty but some of her other ideas do make perfect sense!
    In Dramatic Fashion

  22. I’ve always organized by sleeve length in rainbow order. It’s so easy to find things that way. I think her tips are spot on (otherwise I’m nutty, too).

  23. I strive to be a minimalist but don’t always succeed, haha. Actually I call my home style “Vintamalist” (Vintage + Minimalist). I can’t wait to read this book, and I just placed a hold on it from my local library (why clutter my house with another book, lol).

  24. HAHAHA! I thought I was the only crazy in the world kissing her old clothes and saying “thank you for your services, you did it very well, bye!”
    I would like to have that job “decluttering”!

  25. I think a bit of both! Hehe! I used to collect nonsense and fill my home with stuff. Then we moved to our current home and I decided enough of that — nothing comes in the house unless it serves a purpose or we actually need it. I took so many bags of clothing and miscellaneous items to Goodwill when we were moving… I’m glad they gained something from it but it was an incredible amount of waste on my part!

  26. Lovely article and the art of minimalism is a wonderful way of life. Less truly is more! Thank you for sharing this piece.

  27. I’m a minimalist and I live in a tiny Korean apartment with my husband. We are together in a one room apartment that is half the size of a standard living room. It’s incredibly frustrating and we have to constantly go through our things and declutter. But if it’s taught me anything it’s that we don’t need much and having extra things is nothing but extra weight in life. There is definitely pleasure in knowing when we decide to move on to the next country, all that we own can be squeezed into two suitcases.

  28. great post! i just went through the decluttering phase with my stuff. We renovated this summer so that was a great excuse to go through all my stuff and really get rid of things that I hadn’t even looked at for years!

  29. I think papers CAN spark joy! It depends what’s written on them! :) Bank statements on the other hand…

  30. They sound both! #3 really amuses me. #2 is going to be hard for me! The Container Store in Seattle is heaven to me. -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  31. I LOVE this. When my husband and I found out we were having a baby we were living in a small one-bedroom apartment and decided not to move to a bigger space when we had our baby. It was one of the best, most transformative decisions we couldn’t made. It forced me every month to look around and get rid of stuff we hadn’t used or needed. Every. Month. It was amazing to live more simply like that and see that even with a baby we didn’t need as much space as we thought, especially as Americans. And keeping things tidy was a must since it was a small space. Any mess or excess feels so much bigger in a tiny space. Her tips may seem a little wacky to some but I think they’re all wonderful. Even the whole “letting your socks rest” bit…What a beautiful way to shift your mindset and appreciate what you have. Definitely getting her book! Thank you for sharing this, Joanna!


  32. I’m afraid I can’t arrange my clothes in rainbow colours. Perhaps the colour of gloomy clouds to clear sky.

  33. my house is small and we have a baby, so even though i purge and declutter several times a year, it seems like i can’t keep up! my closet needs a MAJOR declutter. interesting she doesn’t think you need any storage organization from a store – i semi agree with that, but it depends on your furniture situation – sometimes you need a little basket to hide things.

  34. I’m totally a minimalist and I don’t even have all my stuff in my apartment. I’m a firm believer in only having useful items. Even though I’m a book lover and an author, I don’t even keep books anymore (except for special favorites and writing related resources). I read them and pass them on.

  35. Li says...

    I just read her book over the weekend, and while I’ll admit that her approach to some things is a bit unconventional…it works, y’all. After 3 days of following her guidance to the T (I’m on vacation this week), I am seeing DRASTICALLY better results than any other time I’ve tried to clear the clutter in my house.

    I think the order she has you tackle possessions in, along with the idea of tackling only one TYPE of item at a time is key–it’s keeping me from getting overwhelmed. The room by room approach I’ve used for years always left me frazzled and exhausted, with no good progress. I’d basically just put like with like, without really considering whether it was benefiting me, whether I liked the items, or whether these items were duplicated in other rooms.

    Bringing all of my clothes to the floor of my living room was the biggest eye opener ever. I had my clothes spread out across three different rooms (bedroom, spare room, laundry room), and had NO IDEA how much I actually owned until it was all together. I donated 95 shirts on Monday alone (95!! what the hell). If you’d asked me how many I owned TOTAL before this, I would’ve guessed maybe 30-40. That’s about how many I kept, and I think I could whittle it down even further.

    There are definitely some cultural differences in the book–it seems like a straight up translation, not something that was translated and adapted to an American audience. Kitchen items fall under the generic “miscellaneous” category, and sees very little coverage/guidance. I feel like many Americans could use an entire book on how to clear clutter from that room alone….either way, if you’re someone who struggles to reign in household chaos like I have been (hopefully past tense…), I think it’s a worthwhile read.

  36. I love love love decluttering and hate accumulating more stuff just to have it. I find myself in a tough position now having recently cut our household budget: less funds to replace worn out items I would normally toss. It’s easy to empty a closet when you are dreaming of those few signature pieces you’d like to add to your wardrobe next season. Keeping lots of so-so items at least gives you some flexibility when you are tired of wearing the same-old same-old. In the end, I still think decluttering is worthwhile though even for those strapped for cash. It helps you become more content and grateful for what you have. It may requires extra creativity, but it’s possible!

  37. Ha, I like the idea of sorting your clothes by type and color! I’m not on board with not buying any organizing equipment (from The Container Store or not), though. I consider it essential if you’re starting to “build” your home!

  38. Ha!! My husband is Japanese and he’s the biggest hoarder I know LOL!!

  39. I should so do this as a career. I hate CLUTTER! I constantly pack and donate/trash my “hoarder” husband’s useless items like Bad Religion t-shirt from 1980 anyone?

  40. Nutty AND brilliant haha! I really love a good decluttering and I do it twice a year when I change the clothes in my closet, I also do it three our four times a year with my bathroom cabinets and then I do it with papers… ALL THE TIME, and I never ever finish. I don’t understand it, since I’m not studying anymore, but papers keep reproducing themselves in my room.

    Also, I think the key is buying fewer, better things (I loved your Cuyana post and I loved their products, sadly they don’t ship to Europe). Now I’m trying all the time to just buy the things I need (specially clothes and cosmetics) and I’m proud to say I’m starting to succeed. I love the “spark joy” concept, useful!

  41. Oh I love this! And actually already organize my closet (the hanging part) exactly as she recommends- phew. :) I do need to go through it soon and keep only the joy-sparkers…

  42. This reminds me of the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

  43. I love the comment that the things you own should spark joy! While there definitely are some necessary evils that have to be around the home (such as official documents), you work hard for your home and the items in it. Be happy about them!
    I live in a small home of 700sq.ft. with my husband and two children and even manage to have a studio space with two sewing machines (annex half the dining room:). No clutter, lots of joy!

  44. I used to only declutter when moving and then it was usually rushed rather than thorough. My husband and I did a massive declutter in the months before moving overseas and it forced us to change our habits. Now we don’t only ask “do I use and love this?” but also “could I live without it?”. We now declutter the main accumulating points for us (books, clothes, anything sitting out on flat surfaces) much more often. 15 minutes every week or two will keep out the easy-to-let-go-of stuff and means when you have time for a closer look, you’re really focusing on the harder choices that can make a big impact. We are trying to introduce the idea to our 3 year old too so that she grows up with the habit.

  45. I love this! Anything to expose people to the joy of a more minimal life. My husband and I discovered The Minimalists blog a few years ago, and have been trying to keep our lives as free of clutter as possible, and to only purchase things that we need. Of course, then my mom died, and we were thrown off course because we suddenly had to deal with all her things, which was such an emotional, slow process. I had to keep reminding myself that the memories were not in the things themselves. It is definitely not easy, and, in our consumer driven culture, you have to be constantly mindful. Clutter just has a way of growing up around you.

  46. I’m in the midst of reading her book, and it’s definitely an unconventional, strange approach–she “greets” every home she works in by kneeling in the center and introducing herself–but her method is thorough! I’m planning to implement it soon. The requirements for her approach include decluttering different items in a very particular order and focusing on storing what you choose to keep vertically, i.e. nothing stacked. It’s kind of kooky, but interesting and she seems to have great success!

  47. While I definitely think this is a bit nutty, I think there is some strange validity to it. I used to talk to my old car when it was acting up and it would perform for me. So maybe if you treat your other items with respect you will get better results?

    I do find it ironic though that she advocates rolling your clothes up like sushi and sticking them upright in your drawers, but then don’t ball up your socks. My shirts work just as hard as my socks!

    Interesting read for sure. Thanks for sharing!

  48. Lol I agree with some of her tips and the general sentiment. I used to be a huge pack rat. We still live in a small apartment so I’ve had to un-learn that. It definitely is freeing getting rid of stuff you no longer need. I admit I still do keep some stuff that I’m stupidly sentimental about, but at least it’s not everything I used to keep for zero reason… like even stuff I didn’t like. I try to be more mindful of the stuff I buy as well.. I do hate clutter.

  49. I need to do a whole lot of number 1 because the clutter doesn’t end! I organize and organize but I have soo much stuff and have no room for it! Everytime we move I feel like we keep downsizing or the clutter just gets more!

    On a brighter note my closet is in color sequence so that makes me feel better!

    Thank you for the great post!

  50. I’m a huge fan of organisation but this seems a little crazy, even by my standards.

    I’m a huge fan of storage boxes and anything that helps me stay organised – I would never get rid of them!

  51. Nutty *and* brilliant! I’ve been reading this on the subway this week—it’s definitely had me laughing a few times. ~Signed, A Fellow Neatnik

  52. There is definite method in the madness. I think setting any kind of guideline when decluttering will work. For instance, you could throw out things that haven’t been used/touched/thought about in the last 4 years.

  53. My husband believes in letting socks rest, though he’d never call it that. He lays his socks flat and puts them in a drawer. I grew up balling mine up, but I’ve followed in his footsteps. I doubt I’d ever color coordinate my closet. I like my closed organized seasonally, which is tricky living in L.A. The one thing I completely agree with Marie on is paper. I hate cluttered paper with a passion.

  54. I happen to like the idea of letting my socks rest. What a quirky, kooky idea that actually sort of makes sense. I put my socks through the ringer, wash, dry, then roll them up in a tight little ball- why don’t they deserve some R&R, too? I can’t think of why not! :)

    Decluttering is a hard pill to swallow sometimes but definitely worth it in the end. The best “minimalist” advice I ever read was that if you can run to the store and buy that object (that you hardly ever use and have been holding on to “just-in’case”) for $20 or less, it’s not worth the room it’s taking up in your life. This helped me immensely, and I found myself donating a lot of useless items that were cluttering my space. It’s odd, but there’s a great calm, inspired feeling that washes over me when a drawer is emptied…now what will I fill it with next? ;)

    Thanks for sharing!

  55. A little nutty, a little fabulous.

    My apartment has one closet and my kitchen has one drawer. So, container store here I come!

    But I love the idea of sparking joy!

  56. I am a total believer in color coordinating my closet. It really does evoke happiness. We just moved into a new home and everything that has been in storage is getting thrown away. I love the clean slate.

  57. These tips are great, I was planning on tackling my closet this weekend! Although I don’t think I could ever give up the Container Store – that place is amazing.

  58. My husband and I both prefer a minimalist home, though we still accumulate many things (especially with two toddlers). Luckily we are always on board with a big, ruthless purge a couple times a year.

    Something that made a big difference in our lives is the Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner. That thing is a miracle product and let us reduce the amount of paper in our apartment by a hundredfold. It’s so fast and easy to use that we just scan any piece of paper that comes into our lives and contains information we want to save–like the results of medical tests or even particularly sentimental birthday cards.

    It an investment (over $400), but it is one of the best purchases we have ever made and has made such a wonderful difference in the quality of our lives. Paper comes in, gets scanned, and leaves via the shredder.

    It automatically detects the size and orientation of the paper, whether it’s B&W or color, and whether it’s single or double sided, and adjusts accordingly, and we have ours set to do optical character recognition, so the whole process takes almost no involvement from us beyond pressing a button.

    Maybe I should write and scan a love letter so that our ScanSnap knows just how much I love it…

  59. This is nutty haha.