Everything Must Go Part 4: How to Fold Your Clothes

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Welcome back to the continuing saga of our de-cluttering initiative, inspired by The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by the tidying consultant Marie Kondo (aka KonMari–her method is called the KonMari Method). Today I’m just going to focus on folding clothes.

This may seem a little extreme, but this simple change in behavior seems to be making all the difference in our dresser drawers. Very simply, KonMari politely insists (while flicking her pink glitter cat o’ nine tails) that we shape our all of our foldables into neat rectangular packets and stand them cheek-by-jowl in our drawers, rather like file folders in a standing file.

As someone who has always folded clothes into squarish shapes and stacked these squares vertically in drawers, this small change has made a lot of difference for me. You can fit more stuff in a drawer by stacking vertically, certainly, but it’s hard to keep the drawers tidy, because you’re always rooting through the stacks looking for things. You can try to be careful– heaven knows I’ve tried–but eventually the stacks topple and chaos ensues. This is especially true when your drawers are overcrowded to begin with.

When clothes are lined up vertically, like file folders, you can find what you’re looking for at a glance, and remove it without disturbing the other garments. Your drawers remain tidy.

For a simpleminded soul like me, who never thought of this before, it’s a miracle.  Drawer tidying–reasserting the stacks–was always one of my least favorite household chores. I’d let it go for a long time, and live by shamefully rooting through my tangled clothing each day, searching for a certain camisole like a truffle pig rooting through oak leaves.

However, unless you have a vast plentitude of drawer space you will need to thin down your wardrobe before doing this, because you can’t cram the drawers full anymore.

I’ve discovered that this technique applies to panties and bras and socks, too. All my small things are now folded into squarish packets and arranged in two shoe boxes. It works amazingly well. My underwear drawer used to be the most chaotic of all drawers, and now everything exists  in sushi-like tidyness.  I am not sharing an image of this with the Internet. You will just have to imagine it.  It’s pretty simple. Two shoe boxes, one holding socks, the other holding bras, panties and hankies. Two rows in each box.

Let me stop here and talk about the folding itself. When I first read about the folding in Tidying Up, it sounded complicated, in fact, it sounded suspiciously like origami, which I was always bad at. Then I looked at YouTube and found videos of KonMari and similar ones by other neatnicks, who can fold like precision assembly machines, some of whom seem to enjoy arranging t-shirts compulsively by color gradient. And KonMari’s discussion of socks just plain confused me.

But here’s the deal. It’s not hard. Don’t be intimidated by the precision folding. All your foldables, from jeans to underwear, just need to be folded into vaguely rectangular packets by whatever method you think best. Fatter shapes are better, because fat bundles stand up better on their own. KonMari is big into the standing up thing, but since clothes rarely have to stand on their own (say, if you empty your drawer of all but one shirt) it really doesn’t matter.

All you have to think about is the width of the drawer or the shoe box or whatever space you are using. It makes sense to maximize this space by determining how many rows you can best fit in the drawer and how wide each rectangle should be to make that happen. Does that make sense? Our drawers are quite narrow, so they hold two rows of t-shirts. I fold accordingly.

Here’s a short, straightforward video showing KonMari folding a shirt. Her creases are scarily precise–just ignore that–but the overall technique is understandable, even for the slobby. That shape she ends up with is the kind of shape you’re going for. That’s all you really have to know. Peruse YouTube at your own risk for folding fetish videos:

One helpful refinement I’ve discovered is to fold as to make the item more identifiable in the drawer. You can fold t-shirts so their design ends up on the upper edge of the rectangle, for instance, so you can tell one shirt from another. Or you can fold a garment so the neck hole or waist band is facing up, so you can see the tags or logos inside.

My underwear is folded into rough squares, as I said above. That just worked better with their shape and the dimensions of the shoe box. Erik’s boxers and boxer briefs, being more substantial than my panties, are folded into rectangles and live in rows in a drawer, like his t-shirts, unconfined by a shoe box.

I’m still not sure what KonMari is on about with the socks, but I get that it’s not good to stretch the cuff of one sock over the top of another–it stretches the elastic over time, leading to a bad case of floppy sock. So no sock balls. But as far as folding socks, I just sort of roll/fold them up like cinnamon rolls and tuck them into the shoe box in rows. It works in the shoe box.

Our cat, Phoebe (PhoebeKatz), especially approves of this new arrangement. You see, our drawers are not in a standard chest of drawers, but are part of some arcane Ikea organizing system that we repurposed and installed in the closet. There’s head space between each drawer. When we had more clothing, this head space was stacked full of clothes. Now, that space is free. This means that the cats can get into the drawers. Phoebe has made the lowest drawer, where I keep my pants, her new nest, and defends it against all comers. I see her eyes gleaming balefully in there as I write. She just drove off Trout with some truly threatening growls and one good swipe from the depths. I tried to take a picture for you all, but it’s impossible to photograph a black cat sleeping on black pants in a dark hole.

Good thing I don’t have any white pants, eh? (White pants! Can you imagine??? They’d have to be made out of paper so I could burn them at the end of each day.)

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24 Comments

  1. I have been folding our knit tops and underthings like this for years, long before I ever heard of her system! It does make the dresser drawers easy to keep tidy, and I like seeing the different designs along the top of the folded edges. I am going to work on doing the same thing with my fabric stash, for on the shelves in my workroom. Unfortunately this is probably the best organised part of my still very cluttered/disorganised house, but that is something I have been chipping away at for the last year. My areas of clutter are not clothing related, but are the supplies and materials for the various creative endeavors that happen in our home

    • Yes, I’m sure organized people all over look at this system and say “well…duh!” I just this moment remembered a book called “File, Don’t Pile!” which floated around a hopelessly disorganized office I used to work in. As the title suggests, papers should never be stacked but immediately filed. We never quite took the advice. Yet the principle is the same for papers, t-shirts or fabric stashes.

  2. I like the organization, etc., but what do the t-shirts look like when you unfold them? I picture them needing a fluff in the dryer to eliminate all the creases.

    • Ours don’t hold creases because we don’t fold them nearly as tightly (sharply?) as she does–and yet the system works anyway.

  3. Cats love all sorts of chaos; it uncovers piles of toys, including the real cat toys they’ve managed to lose underneath some piece of furniture.

    I have a regular dresser which I bought at a yard sale and refinished. I prefer older furniture because it is more often solid wood and can be repaired or refinished. Anyway, our little cat, Charlotte, can squeeze under the dresser and crawl up through the narrow space between the back of the drawers and the back of the dresser, then settles into one of my drawers for a nap. I often open a drawer to find her sleeping on my clothes.

    I have been folding my underwear and socks this way for years, but had never thought of using the same system for other clothing. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me this weekend.

  4. Interesting post.
    My wife shares your feelings about socks:
    “… it’s not good to stretch the cuff of one sock over the top of another–it stretches the elastic over time, leading to a bad case of floppy sock. ..”

    Most everyone’s calf/leg has larger diameter, and is warmer, than cuff of one sock. Joining socks by folding cuff-onto-cuff does not lead to floppy sock, in my experience.
    Sock “balls”? Outside my experience.

    • True–I doubt a gentle linking of cuff to cuff will distort the socks. Sock balls will, though–I’ve seen it happen. A sock ball is when you roll up a pair of socks, starting at the toe, and stretch one cuff over the entire bundle.

  5. “…like a truffle pig rooting through oak leaves.” That is a perfect description of my t-shirt finding process. Thanks to your post, I’m going to re-organize my dresser this weekend. KonMari would be so proud!

    • Yep, that one description had me nearly spurting out my mouthful of coffee! Thanks for the “file, don’t pile” idea and the morning guffaw.

  6. You mention in passing one of KonMari’s admonitions: don’t buy dedicated storage gear for your clothes. Like you, I’ve commandeered shoe boxes, in my case to organize smartly folded items like pillowcases and hand towels. I’ve even used clear spinach clamshells to keep my kitchen washcloths at attention under the sink. Those leftover clementine boxes are sturdy support for “sushi rolls” of socks. I’m stocking up before the season ends.

    Another of KonMari’s seemingly weird tips works for me: organize hanging clothes in the closet from dark to light, long to short, left to right. I don’t understand why it makes me feel calm and content when I walk into my closet, but it does. A feng shui thing, I suppose… Best wishes!

    • Interesting that her closet arrangement theory works for you–it feels so backward to me. In my closet I’ve always arranged from short to long and left to right– moving from sleeveless blouses on the far left to shirts with long sleeves in the middle to dresses on the far right. The idea of putting long things on the left just plain freaks me out. But maybe I should try it??? I mean, if you’re going to be a member of a weird cult, you should be all in.

    • i think it might be the layout or direction of the closet. i do my closet upstairs long to short left to right but downstairs i do them the opposite….and i never thought about it until now so it was all just how things seemed “right” to me when i started doing it. i am so freakin’ in love with the rolling clothes!!! I’ve changed my dresser and i love love love it – i keep opening the drawer to see the pretty design the rolls of different fabric make. I’ve always done my socks folded and vertical like files and I’ve always rolled my clothes for packing so i don’t know why rolling my drawers never occurred to me – thank you thank you 🙂

    • Who knew folding clothes could make us so happy! Even Erik is getting into it, and he was no folder before this, believe you me.

  7. Because my wardrobe is so limited, by choice, I hang my T-shirts, lomg sleeved over shirts and pants – in order of how I wear them so all I have to do is pick the one on the left of that group of clothes. My undies, bras & socks I’ve filed like shown forever using plastic baskets about the size of shoe boxes or even the clear plastic boxes minus the lids made for shoes. A hint I picked up from my first college roommate in 1964 where we each had 2 dresser drawers to use.

  8. I have to post a follow up because I am still giggling.
    Last night I decided to give this folding technique a try on my over-crowded sweater drawer. POOF – I instantly had 1/3 more drawer space, enough to grab eight t-shirts from the closet and add them to the drawer. That instantly gave me more closet space. Now every time I open the drawer I get to see a bit of the art work on the front of the t-shirts and that makes me incredibly happy. That drawer was so much fun I ended up doing three more and tossing at least a dozen items into a donation pile. I can’t believe how much more room each drawer had simply by changing how I folded clothes. It was so much fun, I can’t wait to do my husband’s clothes. Thank you so much for sharing all this.

  9. I still stack my t-shirts vertically, but I have a simple system: I simply wear whatever is on top of the stack, and put laundered items at the bottom of the stack to keep a rotation going. Also, I have one pile for colored t-shirts (or ones with words or images) and one pile for plain white t-shirts. It works for me. I have to admit that there are some ratty t-shirts that really should go, like the threadbare “Les Misérables” shirt from 1989. But poor Cosette looks so sad, how can I relegate her to the bin?

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  11. Here’s an article from NY Magazine. There are 2 embedded videos. Scroll all the way down to the second video and you will see KonMari demonstrate how to fold socks and underwear.

  12. I am a new KonMari Konvert, and just discovered a new use for this folding method: packing a suitcase! I was able to include 1/3 more items than usual, but best of all, when I arrived at my destination, I unpacked my suitcase (a first!) in one smooth move: just picked up the neatly folded articles and placed them in the hotel drawer. When it came to repack the suitcase, I did it in reverse. It was so easy!

  13. Thank you for a video on how KonMari does it. I’ve seen so many that are way different on youtube that getting one by her, even in Japanese, makes it quite clear on how to fold clothes of all shapes! Thank you so MUCH!

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