I’m doing a series of posts this month documenting my journey to start exploring a minimalist lifestyle. MinimalisMay will explore what minimalism means to me and how I’m incorporating it into my life. And it’s all from a novice’s perspective, so there will be a lot of learning as I go!
This weekend I officially began my Marie Kondo-inspired “tidy marathon” by weeding out and purging my workout/around-the-house clothing wardrobe.
One of the revolutionary things about Kondo’s method is that she insists on tidying by category, NOT room by room. This was hard for me to wrap my mind around at first, because I was raised with the idea that cleaning and, thus, de-cluttering are to be done by room. I still clean by room (although I think cleaning is different).
Kondo insists on categories because until you gather everything in a particular category together (e.g. all of your clothes), you cannot know how much of that thing you truly own. Having it all together and going through it as a category allows you to take stock of what you own, decide what to keep, and then not have to worry about it anymore. It’s really about having more control over your things by having more awareness of them.
Kondo suggests always doing the clothes category first, because it’s typically the easiest. Articles of clothing tend not to have as much sentimental value and, unlike other categories (“papers”, for example), it is a lot easier to round up everything in this category. She then suggests an order of subcategories for clothing based on what has worked best for her clients. Workout/leisure clothes doesn’t come first, but I just knew I had to tackle this category first. That particular dresser drawer has been calling my name, louder and louder, until I just couldn’t take it anymore. As long as I’ve been a runner, this subcategory has been home to far more excess than any other.
So first thing Saturday morning I dove right in. Just as Kondo suggests, I made sure I gathered together every item in this category, even ones that were in the laundry. Then I laid them all out on my bed, making sure that each one was visible so I could actually see how much I own.
Then I got started, doing as the method says and actually taking each item in my hands to see how I felt about it. The idea is to keep only those items which spark joy in your heart. Anything else is clutter (for items that you keep because you need them, Kondo suggests using that thing’s usefulness as its source of joy – being thankful that it allows you to do X activity, etc.).
I found myself instinctively reaching for things that were easy to make a decision about either way – the K-DEER pants that sparked joy just looking at them; the ratty uncomfortable sports bra begging to be thrown in the garbage. But once I was done with the obvious ones, things got harder. I would avoid picking up certain pieces, or pick them up and put them down and pick up something different. Obviously I was trying to put off making decisions because I didn’t want to face what I knew the right answer was. At one point I even decided to amass everything left in a pile, put a blanket over it, and then pull things out at random so I couldn’t purposely avoid anything. It worked for a while, but then I just started putting things back under the blanket and drawing again!
I finally came up with a good litmus test to make the decisions easier, and I want to suggest this same method for any of you who are cleaning out your own workout wardrobes.
For each item, I would imagine this scenario (which always assumes the item in question is seasonably appropriate, btw): I’m getting ready to go out for a run and need to get dressed. I open my drawer and this is the thing sitting on top. What is my reaction? Do I immediately grab it to put on, or do I brush it aside and keep rifling for something better?
Therein lies the answer. If something truly sparks joy, you find yourself always wanting to wear it when it’s available. If it doesn’t, you find yourself making excuses not to wear it or it is your 2nd, 3rd, 18th choice.
One thing that was particularly hard to make a decision about was a t-shirt from my Guatemala trip. But it’s from my trip, it has personal meaning!, I thought. Plus, that design is so cool! But…I never wear it. And I felt like the t-shirts I had already decided to keep were enough, and each of them sparked more joy than this particular t-shirt. Finally, I realized that if I kept this t-shirt, I would be keeping it out of guilt, and so it would always remain a source of tension. That would then defeat the purpose of this whole exercise. So I took it in my hands, and said my goodbyes. It still felt a little sad to see it in the discard pile, but I ultimately felt better. After all, it is just a shirt. My Guatemala shirt is not Guatemala.
So, admittedly, the “spark joy” method isn’t always easy. I think it just takes practice. It’s hard with this category because there are very few items of clothing that we truly love. Most clothes are inherently impersonal. They are mass-produced and replaceable. I just can’t expect to pick up a pair of shorts or a tech tee and feel the same type of joy I’d feel looking at photos of loved ones, rare souvenirs from a life-changing vacation abroad, school mementos, or race medals. To get through this phase of decluttering, I had to accept that I am rarely going to feel very deeply looking at any piece of clothing, and I have to get to that spark of joy in more roundabout ways (aka the going for a run litmus test).
One powerful moment in this process was that I happened to glance at my growing pile of discards, and it struck me that most of the items in it were dull, dingy, and rarely worn. So…, I couldn’t help thinking, why have I kept them all this time?!
After I was done, I took a delightful moment to gather the things I’d decided to keep and savor my new wardrobe. I looked at the pieces spread out before me, each of them with more room to breathe, and it struck me how my wardrobe seemed to have this new energy now that it was distilled down to only the things that really needed to be there. I had done it, I had created a new wardrobe with no more than I really needed.
But the joy was just beginning. I then took time to neatly and tightly fold up each thing and put them back into the drawer in rows, instead of folding them and stacking them on top of each other. When all was said and done and folded, I could actually see everything in my collection there in the drawer, and it was just enough space to snugly hold everything.
Opening that drawer and seeing everything in there like that was love. This was a drawer that I used to struggle to open and close because there were heaps of clothes just thrown in there. I would then have to rifle around to find what I needed. Now, I open the drawer and I can locate and pluck out what I want in less than two seconds. This is how life is meant to be lived, people. It’s a beautiful, wonderful thing.
I’m now working on other clothing subcategories, and then I’ll move onto other categories (books, then papers, then miscellany, then mementos). So far, I’ve completed the jackets and shoes subcategories (although I might need to go through and re-do shoes. It was harder than I thought!).
It’s not always fun. It’s gotten frustrating and, in the midst of purging, my room actually got messier for a while. I have moments of doubt that the tidy, clutter-free life of my dreams is really possible for me. But that difficulty is what ultimately gives me hope. If this process were constantly fun and simple and effortless, then I’d worry I wasn’t doing it thoroughly. Nothing good comes easy and anything worth doing is worth doing well, as they say. The difficulty and occasional feeling that I’m spinning my wheels and going backward all tell me that this is worth doing.
Well, folks, that also concludes my MinimalisMay series! I really enjoyed this project. It made me excited and motivated for my minimalism journey. It made me think in ways I hadn’t expected. I tackled everything from social media to making the bed to managing waste, and I got a lot of good feedback in the process. I hope you all enjoyed reading this series and feel like you took something from it. While the series can’t continue because, well, May is over, I will definitely keep you updated on my minimalism adventures and write more extensively on this topic. Thank you so much for tuning in!