Everything Must Go Part 3: Clothing

buck clothes

Cats love the chaos of cleaning

In this post we continue the tale of our tidying up using the KonMari Method discussed in this post.

Clothing is the first category Marie Kondo (KonMari) recommends for sorting, presumably because her clients find it least confusing category to tackle–and also, I suspect, because it is the most immediately rewarding as well. It’s really pleasing to see your shirts hanging in a tidy row, your drawers brought to order, and it can happen fairly quickly.

To begin, she asks that you empty your closets and all of your drawers all at once, and search around the house and root out clothing that might be hiding elsewhere, like the laundry room or your gym bag, and dump them into a huge sorting pile. (In her method you also tackle coats and shoes and handbags at this point.) I put all my things on our bed. It’s sobering to see how much you have, all in one place. My mound filled our entire queen-sized bed, even though I believe my wardrobe was fairly small, relatively speaking.

The premise behind all sorting in the KonMari method is to only keep things with give you joy, things which feel good when you hold them in your hands, things with which you feel a rapport. If you don’t feel this connection, you thank the item for its service to you and “release it” to the thrift store.

For KonMari, it all comes down to your emotional relationship with the item–your positive relationship, that is. Nothing is kept through guilt or false nostalgia. She doesn’t believe in following the more usual sorting advice, such as discarding anything you haven’t worn for a year, or  doesn’t fit your current body shape, etc.,  but I also kept those ideas in my mind as well as I sorted through my clothes.

In the end, I kept very little. My new wardrobe is a little austere, I have to admit. I could probably fit all of it in a large suitcase. But I also have to say that I would pare it down more if I could, because I don’t love any of it all that much–I kept the best of it and what I knew I needed. Ever since I thought of the uniform idea, I see all of my current clothing as something I will soon be rid of. So I suppose I’m not the best role model for someone who genuinely likes her clothes and is struggling to pare down her wardrobe.

But anyway, here are some things to think about when sorting through your own closets. This is more me than KonMari, but the sternness is entirely KonMari inspired. Everything must go!

  • That stain won’t come out, and no, you will not eventually dye over it or  sew a patch over the stain or upcycle it in any other way
  • You probably won’t repair it, but if you insist, set aside things which need mending/hemming/buttons etc. and give yourself a strict deadline for repairing them or taking them to a tailor/seamstress-and a near deadline too, like 48 hours. If you haven’t bestirred yourself to fix the problems, it’s time for the clothes to go. I fixed the buttons on one blouse, and made a failed attempt to upcycle a t-shirt. Having made these gestures, I feel okay about sending the rest of it off.
  • You don’t need so many t-shirts. Seriously, how many do you have?
  • Related: You don’t need so many work clothes. Yes, you need some grubbies, but not drawers full of worn out shirts, disreputable shorts, raggedy jeans and stretched out yoga pants. Remember, today’s clothing is tomorrow’s work wear. There will always be more. The same goes for “comfort wear,” which in our house is fairly indistinguishable from work clothes. I’d like to sturdy functional, pocket-rich work clothing and clean, comfortable, attractive lounge wear. Somehow this will all work with the uniform idea.
  • You don’t have to keep it because it was a gift, or because it was expensive, or because you wore it on a special occasion. The memories are in your head, not in the garment.
  • Take an honest look at your underwear. Treat yourself to some new underwear for the new year.
  • Some items of clothing are perfectly lovely and have fond memories attached but just are not you anymore. They relate more to the person you used to be, and we are always changing, after all. Better to let them go free, and find someone else who can love them now, than to doom them to sit in the back of your closet. (This was the most difficult one for me. This round, I finally gave away some of my more fanciful clothing, stuff which related more to my younger self. I gave away my  silly hats and opera gloves and silk scarves and even the black shearling coat I wore at our wedding. I simply don’t wear these things anymore. The coat was the hardest of all. I loved that coat back in the day, but now I only love the memory of loving it. To comfort myself, I try to think of some Young Thing shopping in the thrift store, thrilled to find my rock star coat, as I was thrilled to find it in my day.)
  • On the other hand, it is okay to keep some things simply because they make you feel good when you see them and touch them. KonMari tells the tale of some hideous old t-shirt she’s had since she was a teenager which she won’t wear in public but loves, and won’t give up. The key is that the thing should earn its space in your closet. If it gives you joy in the present, it should stay. If it gives you only memories of joy, it should probably go.
  • Don’t get too hung up on the item’s destination. You may intend to sell some of your things, or give them to someone in particular, but don’t let them malinger, waiting for you to deal with them. That’s the path to renewing the clutter in your home. Imagine bags of things marked “to sell” hunkering in some corner, gathering dust – don’t do that to yourself. Don’t undermine your tidying. As with mending, give yourself an action deadline, and if you don’t meet it, accept that it’s okay to give these things away.
  • Finally, a cheat of sorts, one which KonMari would not like. If you have an out-of-sight space, like a garage,  you can, for a short period, put aside a sack of clothing which you are unsure about giving away. Think of it as a trial separation. Honestly, as in most relationships, that “not sure” feeling usually translates to “no.” But sometimes we need a little help letting go. Enjoy your spacious new closet. Don’t look at these items for a month.  Then open up the sack. If you feel a sense of “Oh, I missed you so!” then maybe that piece of clothing should stay. This is rare. I’ve done this many times, and I’ve only reclaimed clothing once or twice.

Next up, we’ll continue with clothing and talk about KonMari’s thing about folding clothes and drawer organization.

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  1. I have an added incentive for getting rid of unused clothes – my young adult son loves shopping at consignment shops. I give him what I don’t wear, he gets a store credit, (and buys 80s fashions that make me cringe) and everyone is happy.

    • I wish I had one of those. The snooty kids behind the counter at LA consignment stores are totally intimidating. I can’t deal.

  2. I am on the leading edge of the big purge, too, so appreciate your concurrent discussion of this subject. As an artist/gardener/farmer, who recycles, upcycles an re-creates continually, it is so east to acquire and difficult to get rid of things that are creative resources! But I know I waste a lot of time searching for things in the disorganized storage and clutter, so trying to be ruthless.

  3. “But I also have to say that I would pare it down more if I could, because I don’t love any of it all that much–I kept the best of it and what I knew I needed. Ever since I thought of the uniform idea, I see all of my current clothing as something I will soon be rid of.”

    I have been in the same boat. Can only pare down so much while working on wardrobe transitioning, so that leaves one in the position of keeping some things just for pure “I need to wear SOMEthing while the other clothes are in the wash”, other than true “joy” over them.
    Since I *am* trying to transition my wardrobe, what to keep of the “someday these *will* be my new wardrobe” things has been even harder (eg fabrics, knitting yarn, patterns for either). There’s an acronym in knitting called “SABLE” or, “Stash Accumulation/Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy”. As in – yeah, this *could* be my fabulous new wardrobe, but how much am I *seriously* going to get made in my lifetime, let alone before my current stash of wearables is in rags?
    So the question becomes, do I purge less of my wearables, or more of the stash that is in a looooooooooong queue? I’ve leaned on the side of keeping the stash, but having to buy a few interim pieces of good quality that I like a lot better than what I got rid of (ie the type of things I’d have if I could finish it all NOW). I think KonMari might pixie punish me for that, but I *have* at least pared down other craft stuff that was behind the clothing-to-do portion of the queue. Doing the SABLE math (doing a rough estimate of how long each project takes to do and how many potential projects I have in the queue) does help 😉
    PS regarding finishing projects – it sometimes helps if you’re in a group of folks who craft if you swap each other’s unfinished bugbears – eg you mend this item for me if I finish this sweater for you. It works great when there is a project that’s been giving you grief to the point you don’t want to pick it up, but you’re close enough to finishing/still love many things about it that you don’t want it to languish, and it’s definitely not in donatable condition. The other person doesn’t have the emotional baggage around the item that you did and is happy to have THEIR stuff done in exchange. 🙂

  4. I read the book over the holidays, so I am eager to see how it works for you. I love the basic concept, just not so much all the blather about how she tidied at age 5 (it was a little wired, no?). I can’t do it all at once, so I am adapting her method for my winter-long cleaning binge. I love this: “Take an honest look at your underwear.” ha!

  5. Oh, I like the mend it in x amount of time or it goes. I just did a tasting purge of my homemade wine?(aging it 5 more years is not going to make it any more drinkable!), and gave a deadline for drinking what remains. And I’m okay with that.

  6. I found a system that works to keep the closet clutter from ever developing. After a big purge, years ago, I decided that I had an entirely appropriate amount of clothing, and wanted to break the purge-build up-purge cycle. I hang all of my clothing, except socks and underwear, so it stood to reason that I just needed to lock-in, right then, how many hangers I own, and stick to it. I even bought some nice wooden hangers and got rid of all the mismatched plastic and wire.

    Now, if I pick up a nice looking sweater at the goodwill, something’s gotta go to make room for it. I don’t stick to a strict sweater-for-for-a-sweater policy, I could get rid of a pair of shorts, a tee shirt, anything taking up a hanger; I just can’t add a new hanger. 25 is my magic number. I’ve been keeping steady at 25 hangers for years, and haven’t needed any more purges since.

    • I had a similar system for books – a finite amount of shelving meant that new books had to replace other, less interesting or necessary tomes. My local library and a few local hospitals were the beneficiaries of this system. Things changed with the advent of Kindles and other electronic reading devices, of course; sadly, no such alternative has yet been developed for clothing.

  7. I just want to say how comfy the kitty looks, and don’t forget many items of clothing, sweaters for example, also double as kitty beds.
    I have a brown wool sweater that I share with my lads….though I’d never wear it in public

  8. I am so happy that you’re sharing your results with this method. After you posted about it initially, I read some of the book’s excerpts and found the tone to be kinda-sorta cultish, so I decided to wait and see how you did with it. It seems like it’s going pretty well. What do you think about her thoughts as to why people hold on to things – chained to the past, vs fear of the future?

    • It is definitely a strange, cultish book–and very Japanese, too–and somewhat stiffly translated. It just happened that it was around at the right time for us, and we’re in a place at the moment where we find her style of advice helpful.

      Her sole criteria for keeping things is whether they spark joy–which is very idealistic! I have to make exceptions for our old tax returns and many other more mundane things, like my hairbrush or our kitchen garbage can. I don’t think her logic can be applied to all things in a house, but basically she’s saying that if something doesn’t spark joy in you (or, I’ll add, fill a vital function), and you still want to keep it, it is because you are tied to the past or afraid of the future. And I can see that.

      We put a lot of emotional freight on objects. In terms of nostalgia, there’s a fine line to distinguish between an object which evokes happy feelings in the present and one which merely invokes memories which don’t actually give you present joy. And among DIY/crafty/prepper types there is always this lingering uncertainty that we’re not going to have what we need in the future, so we keep a lot of crap around which never gets used–we keep so much we forget what we have. So another part of it is learning to trust that in the future we will have what we need.

  9. “To comfort myself, I try to think of some Young Thing shopping in the thrift store, thrilled to find my rock star coat, as I was thrilled to find it in my day.”

    I like this sentiment! Easier to part with something knowing it will be loved, while you no longer have to store it.

    • Confession. 5 minutes ago I fished that coat out of the bag. I’m going to follow my own advice and give it a month before I make the decision. Erik responded by fishing out a ratty t-shirt he already missed. Imagine us both clutching our dubious treasures to our chests, defying the Pixie Dominatrix. But still, we’re doing well overall.

  10. Nooo! Not the kitty! Keep it, keep it, definitely in the “joy-bringer” cat-egory!

    Oh wait…

    • lol! We’d never give the kitties away, but if they keep climbing into boxes they might be taken to the thrift store by accident!

    • Oh and incidentally I’ve gotten rid of at least 10 kg of too-small clothes today, too!

      The Cat, however, has stayed.

  11. Am going to have to really really try this for decluttering. You do realize that once upon a time a woman could travel for a week with the clothes and toiletries in a suitcase and a man with even less! I remember how few shoes my Mom and Dad had (and I keep pairing down, but still have oodles). All my mom’s clothes fit easily in a closet, with room to spare, and that included winter coats (we lived in the N.E., we had COATS) and she worked! Finally, let my DH clean out the kitchen, he got rid of stuff I just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of. I’ve tried, yes I’ve tried . . But there are always reasons to keep something . .

  12. Your posts are so timely; maybe it is because winter (in this part of the world) causes us to spend more time indoors, where the clutter irritation can build up to intolerable levels. Last month I did a brief clean-out of my underwear drawer. I was astounded at how many pairs of pantyhose I had. I threw out all the ones whose elastic had given up the ghost. Most of these I had never worn. (Apparently, pantyhose elastic has a very short lifespan.) Then I had to ask myself how I, whose criteria for pulling them on are marrying, burying, and very formal religious occasions, had a whole drawer full of the things. I realized that most of them were gifts from my parents, who kept hoping that I would develop into the type of person who wore them on a regular basis. I think it was/is their way of keeping a dream alive. The same with the pair of velvet pants and dry clean-only red dress my sister-in-law gave me for Christmas one year. I was working in a greenhouse, so the gift was totally inappropriate, but it allowed her to hold onto the illusion that I would shortly be living a lifestyle for which these clothing would be a natural fit. In these cases, the emotion attached to the items is guilt for being such a disappointment to family. Getting rid of the items doesn’t really lessen the emotion of knowing you are not what people wanted/expected, but at least you have a tidier drawer 🙂

  13. All through high school and college, my daughter and her friends had quarterly Naked Lady parties where they brought clothes, handbags, scarves and shoes they’d tired of, dumped them into a big pile, then spent the evening trying on others discards. Leftovers were taken to charity the next morning. If two vied for the same item, the group decided who looked best in the outfit. The girls saved huge amounts of money and kept their closets clean as well.

  14. Am I the only person who thinks she is more than a little neurotic? What she describes as her early childhood seems like a very grim detailing of a strange type of household anorexia. And really – what does she have against THINGS? She wants us to float around in homes empty of anything except the things that bring us joy – but how much joy does the average person get out of the thing their tv sits on? It doesn’t even have a name! She doesn’t want us to have an extra set of sheets for guests because in her world, guests never come. You know why? Because there is probably no where to SIT in her house! Because there are no extra towels or cups or dishes! I think the life she describes seems a bot joyless – but I am an unabashed lover of THINGS. I get joy out of having extra hand towels and another set of dishes and brightly colored cookware that I rarely use. Even so, I fell prey to this book – mostly because all of the instagramming of the oddly filed drawers of clothing. I started purging and started feeling a strange joy at purging – and that is when the anorexia analogy kicked in. Joy at having little, being neat, at not taking up too much space and being tidy is very valued in this world. Being loud, joyful, wanting things, having a lot – all of these things are usually seen as pejorative. So I don’t know. As much as I love my environment clean and “tidy”, I’m not sure I like the logical conclusion of the purging and tidying. But I will probably learn to do the weird folding. Against my better judgement! Eager to read about how you two fare in this!

    • Hey Ivette!

      First, yes, clearly she’s a nut. But she’s a useful nut. I don’t think many of us would want to live exactly like her, but her advice can help us find some happy middle ground of our own.

      Also, there’s some cultural stuff going on with her endgame which doesn’t translate as well to us in the US. I’m no expert, but when I look at Japan I see a constant tension between a kitchy, materialist, modern culture and the very clean, zen spaces of the traditional culture, where the beds get rolled up and put away every day and everything has its place in a little drawer in some fine handcrafted cabinet, and on the wall hangs one single scroll on which you meditate for the length of a season. Clearly she’s got this worldview in mind when she describes her home space. It sounds like a modern apartment, but it also has this very minimalist/everything is worthy of attention- zen quality.

      Also, I’m not sure she’d hassle you about your things. If you really love your extra towels and the bright cookwear you rarely use, if these things spark joy in your heart, she’d say you should keep them. I don’t think she’s anti-thing per se, but she thinks we have more things than we could possibly love.

      I am, like you, confused about mundane but necessary things. Things which don’t spark joy but which we need. What about those? I don’t know that we can love everything in our house. Like, as you say, the thing the TV sits upon. Or the nail clippers.

      I suppose she would say that we could try–try to appreciate the mundane things more, love them and thank them for what they do for us so humbly. Alternatively, we could slowly replace them with things which inspire more passion. For instance I’ve been phasing out plastic for a long time, and when I got some glass storage containers for food to replace our worn out plastic stuff, I was really happy. They’re nothing fancy (not the antique kind which I want) but I still really like those glass containers, and feel happy every time I put leftovers in them. I could not feel that way with the old plastic stuff. This is not to say that we should run out and buy better versions of everything–that would be wasteful–but there can be connection with the most utilitarian objects.

      I also didn’t quite get the thing about guest sheets. My liberal interpretation of that is that she’s saying you don’t have to keep special, extra sheets for the guests, but rather have them use your spares. Well, this is my guess. I think the translation of that book is also lacking a bit.

      We’ll see where it all goes. Life and head colds slowed our momentum, but tomorrow we’re back at it.

    • This quote by William Morris is cliched, but perhaps it’s more appropriate for your necessary but not necessary beloved things? “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

  15. The concept of de-cluttering has its benefits and I’m in the habit of regularly re-examining rooms to see if there are opportunities for a clean-up(out).

    BUT it becomes annoying when someone says “treat yourself to some new underwear”. Firstly why do we need to treat our self with further consumerism. Shouldn’t the treat be the reduction in waste by not treating ourselves and secondly Underwear?. Surely unless you are Superman and need to wear them on the outside why would it be so important.

    Possibly if we stop buying clothes (and things) for an extended time we would automatically de-clutter and eventually the stockpile of grubbies will decline as they are cut into suitable cleaning cloths.

    Even those clothes that you wouldn’t want to be seen dead in can be grubbies on those days that no one is about. I have a few of those and look forward to seeing them join the rag box when unwearable.

    I suppose the question is do we really believe in “green living” or do we just pay lip service and cherry pick those things that make us look green while ignoring those that are inconvenient.

    Come on guys we need to get serious and examine our motives and our behaviours.

    • Hey, Len. Re: the underwear: My basic philosophy is that we should have less clothing than we do, that we should have wardrobes more like our grandparents or great-grandparents–just a few things, well made and made to last, and often homemade! People only had a a handful of outfits and a couple of pairs of shoes. That’s why there’s no closet space in old houses like ours.

      I’m working toward having that sort of wardrobe. I want to be free of the factory-made clothes and the culture of over-consumption. This is why I’m learning to sew.

      This is the context of my inducing people to consider their underwear. I’m all for having just three outfits in my closet, but I’m not all for having only 3 pairs of scaggy old panties to go with those outfits. I’m not encouraging folks to buy more underwear than they could ever possibly use, but I don’t think we need to wear stained, decaying underwear to prove we care about the environment. (That said, I am curious about the possibility of sewing my own underwear. But first things first!)

    • I do remember that there used to be advice given when you were going out to make sure you wore clean underwear in case you got run over by a bus. I do adhere to that principle. And we all have to have some perks otherwise life would be pretty miserable.

      On the other hand my wife wears a very tatty and torn brassiere as part of her “at home wear” (aka grubbies) with matching torn undies. Its a bit “Mad Max” like and in fact is very sexy. Maybe there is something to be said for that genre.

  16. I’ve just removed the soapbox from the top of the high horse so that that a complement could be paid to the Root Simple people for putting together a really well presented set of posts on clutter and to KonMarie for attacking the clutter question. Even though all concepts didn’t find my support it doesn’t detract from a well written book.

  17. Kelly, I realized that all I needed was YOUR TRANSLATION of KonMari. You managed to soothe me. Today, I unballed all of my socks! And I’m going to find something awesome to put my tv on! It was just the tone of the book that raised my hackles. When I see it through your lens, I feel very good about it! THANK YOU!

  18. thanks kelly! i’m so fascinated by these posts.

    just yesterday i found myself in a pile of cook-ware having emptied all cabinets onto the kitchen floor for examining. i’m naturally suspicious, and have always suspected the recycling bin is more palliative than anything…so the main clutter culprits in my kitchen are those miscellaneous glass jars and lids i keep around because it seems criminal to ‘waste’ them

    so i settled on a sorting technique: only jars that came with standard canning lids got kept. everything else ‘must go’, i decided. it felt good to be the decider and get out from under the tyranny of all those maddening, miscellaneous lids. i often think when searching for a lid, how when my life is done and tallied, ‘there would be many months dedicated to searching for a lid to that jar’. but i’ve been liberated, thanks to you.

    and i’ve learned a new word too — that is ‘malinger’.

    i assumed it meant maliciously hanging about — but discovered it’s more about playing ill in order to miss work. so thanks, too, for the new word!

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