Thoughts on Decluttering and Organizing: What Do I Want to Keep?

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By now you’ve probably heard of the new book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by organization expert Marie Kondo. It’s gotten a lot of attention and coverage due to Marie’s unconventional and slightly wacky, yet apparently eye-opening and yes, life-changing, approach to decluttering. I haven’t read it yet, but my Mom recently did, and the other night we got to talking about it. I recalled her showing me the NYT article about the book a while back since she knows I’ve always had a thing for decluttering and organizing. At the time I thought it seemed interesting, but because I’ve always been really good at decluttering, organizing, and getting rid of things, I didn’t feel like the book was something I would need to read. I guess I figured I had nothing left to learn, but after talking to my Mom about the book, I think I may have been mistaken…

After reading the book, my Mom was really impressed with Marie’s unique approach and many of the techniques involved. One philosophy that the author uses really struck us both. It’s more of a thought process than an action – and that, of course, makes perfect sense, because the things we buy, the things we have a hard time getting rid of, and our possessions in general – they’re so psychological. It all has to do with our emotions and the meaning we attach to possessions.

So, as my Mom described it to me, Marie says you must use a certain phrase when going through your belongings. Instead of saying “what do I want to get rid of?” which is the approach that most organizational philosophies use, Marie says you must think: “What do I want to keep?”

That simple phrase struck me so much! What a mindset shift. First of all, it turns the process from a negative one to a positive, and makes it feel more like a fun undertaking: what do I get to keep? What wonderful collection of items that I LOVE am I going to wind up with? It makes it feel like you’re weeding, and at the end will be left with a beautiful bunch of flowers – or, lovely possessions. It also places the emphasis on keeping a small, carefully selected number of things (because how much can you really LOVE), and getting rid of the vast majority of, basically, crap that we all cling to.

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Talking to my Mom made me realize that I definitely need to read this book and implement some of the strategies in my apartment. Not to toot my own horn, but I really am good at getting rid of things that I don’t love or use. I’m definitely not a minimalist but I hate clutter and I just love to get rid of things that I consider to be “stagnant” – i.e., things that just sit there, not being utilized. However, I have an Achilles heel: my books. And I know why. It’s not only because I love reading, but I also love books as a design element. I love them as a personal collection that says something about who you are and what you’re interested in. Whenever I walk into someone’s home, the first thing I tend to gravitate toward is their bookshelf. Somehow you can always strike up a conversation about the books they have that you’ve both read, or the books they have that you want to read, or whatever. When looking at Pinterest or any room, nothing draws me in more than an absolutely huge, stuffed bookshelf. I mean, wall to wall, library ladder and all (like this). I feel like you can never have enough books…but there is a caveat. You have to have the ROOM for all of those books!

Because of all of this, I’ve held onto books that I thought were just so-so (and that I won’t read again), because they were okay, and I feel like one day I’m going to have a giant bookshelf to fill with all of these books….therefore, I didn’t see the point in getting rid of them. Whereas with my closet, I dream of a relatively sparse wardrobe, only populated by a small number of items that fit perfectly and which I love, with books, I just envision having the big, eclectic bookshelf.

But, after talking to my Mom and thinking about Marie’s philosophy, I’ve realized two things. The first is that I don’t live in a space currently that can accommodate a giant, wall to wall bookshelf. I do not have a library in my home. I kept telling myself “but one day I might!” And yes, one day I might. And if I ever do, I’m sure at that point I’ll have no problem buying tons of books and and I’ll have a blast filling my brand new bookshelves. But I need to live within the parameters of the space that I currently inhabit, and my possessions need to fit within that space. It’s like people who hold onto clothes that are two sizes too small because they’re planning to lose weight and wear them. You can’t live for future, might-happen-someday goals like that. You need to live in the present within the parameters of your present situation. The second thing I’ve realized is I need to let go of things that I don’t love! With a lot of my books, I kept thinking to myself “I might reread that!” But really? Is that true? My to-read list is a mile long, so why would I ever spend time re-reading a book that I only felt lukewarm about the first time around? Oh, the ways we delude ourselves into keeping stuff.

Truthfully, this is still a work in progress. I’m currently weeding through my book collection, and even with those ones that I didn’t love, when I pick them up, I think of something that I liked about them, and feel compelled to put them back on the shelf. It’s just really interesting, because with literally everything else in my possession, I truly have no problem tossing things in the give-away pile – and indeed, derive real enjoyment and satisfaction from doing so. But, we all have our weak spots! In the interest of being real, here’s a perfectly unstyled, poorly lit picture of some of the books I’ve culled from my collection (this is the corner where I keep things that are going to make their way out of my apartment, to the thrift store or Goodwill or whatnot):

Keepin’ it real, folks. The thing is, I just shouldn’t even look through the pile again, because if I do I’m sure I’ll find some justification for putting many of them back onto my shelves.

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My Mom also came up with a great strategy. As she goes through her things and finds stuff to get rid of, she’s making collections to give to people in her life that she thinks may enjoy them. Her thought is to give them to her loved ones and friends by simply saying “I’m paring down my belongings, and I thought you might like this.” She’s found that she’s gaining more pleasure from the idea of gifting these nice items to people who may enjoy them than she does from having the items just stagnating on her shelf. Isn’t that nice?

As I mentioned, I haven’t read the book yet but as soon as I do, I’ll definitely post a review and let everyone know what I thought. Have any of you read it? I’d be so curious to hear anyone’s thoughts on it!

Leave a Comment

  1. designchic wrote:

    I haven't read it yet either, but it's definitely on my list. Organization is always on my mind, especially in the new year!

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
  2. Marine wrote:

    Books! I love them too. It brings colors, love, life… It's like having new or old friends waiting for your in their pages. And the smell!!
    I always feel sad or disappointed when I get into a friend's apartment and I can see no books. I feel that they hide their dreams…
    Same with music. I love having an old-fashioned CD player, I actually love to buy CD and listen to them: for me albums are essential, not a song picked up from the album.
    About books, a few months ago I did made a selection and the one I decided to give away are… still in my basement. Such a shame, I know. But the pack is s heavy!!!

    have a great day!

    Marine (your faithful follower from Brussels)

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
  3. I have the same problem as you. Many books, limited space. Before moving back to my hometown and to our new apartment, I took the bullet sat down, went through my book collection and kept only the books I loved. I donated around 250 books in my local library and I am happy with the thought that they will serve the reading needs of other people. Also, I started reading books through my tablet, aka e-books because I can't buy any more books without considering buying a new bookcase first.

    Good luck with dicluttering your apartment!!!

    Have a lovely day!!!

    xoxo Violeta, your Shoegal Out In The World

    http://www.shoegaloutintheworld.com

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
  4. As you go through your books, any that you want to toss my way to fill my book shelf, just let me know 🙂

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
    • Haha, that made me laugh. If you'll come here and pick 'em up, they're all yours! 🙂

      Published 2.8.15 · Reply
  5. Nnenna wrote:

    Oh my goodness, I have the same weakness with books! I have the hardest time getting rid of books. In addition to that, since I work in publishing, I get a lot of books that I might someday read and I can't get rid of these either. Like you, I dream of having a huge library one day, but my current NYC apartment certainly can't accommodate that. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this book, but I haven't read it. While I haven't heard a lot of good things about the way it was written, I think the underlying premise is a good one- keeping only the things you truly love and that bring you joy.

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
  6. Nnenna wrote:

    Oh my goodness, I have the same weakness with books! I have the hardest time getting rid of books. In addition to that, since I work in publishing, I get a lot of books that I might someday read and I can't get rid of these either. Like you, I dream of having a huge library one day, but my current NYC apartment certainly can't accommodate that. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this book, but I haven't read it. While I haven't heard a lot of good things about the way it was written, I think the underlying premise is a good one- keeping only the things you truly love and that bring you joy.

    Published 2.5.15 · Reply
  7. D angela wrote:

    BOY! Do I need this!

    Published 2.6.15 · Reply
  8. Leslie wrote:

    What a great mindset! I think I'm pretty good at clearing out clutter, but I get stuck with books too. I read an interesting article on Apartment Therapy about living within your means space wise, and now that is a new goal for this year!

    Published 2.6.15 · Reply
  9. I loved reading this post, Jackie! I haven't read this book yet either, but I've been having a huge paring down phase these past few months since I moved from a huge apartment in Jersey to a teensy one in Brooklyn. Your mom has such a sweet philosophy and I love that she looks to give special pieces to the people she thinks might enjoy them. What a wonderful idea!

    Melanie
    Lace and Combat Boots | a life + style blog

    Published 2.7.15 · Reply
    • Aw thanks Melanie! Hope you're enjoying your new place! Brooklyn has so many wonderful things I'm sure you're loving it 🙂

      Published 2.8.15 · Reply
  10. Holly wrote:

    I love this! I really enjoy getting rid of things… The only problem? When you live with someone else, you can't get rid of their things! 😉

    Published 2.7.15 · Reply
    • Haha Holly! That made me crack up. I fear for the day I ever live with someone for exactly that reason! So much easier to get rid of someone else's stuff than deal with our own.

      Published 2.8.15 · Reply
  11. I love this! Only keep things that bring joy and happiness to your life! I definitely am a big organizer and it's great to go through and purge a bunch of things you just don't really need. Organization is definitely a process though and you have to continue to keep it tidy. I have a blog on organization – you should check it out! I work at a hospital on the UES too as an L&D RN 🙂

    XO,
    katie

    a.k.a tidy tinkerbell http://www.tidytinkerbell.com

    Published 2.8.15 · Reply
  12. I can't wait to give her book a try! Her approach sound so unqiue and refreshing. Like you, I usually don't have a problem getting rid of things that no longer serve a purpose to me, however, I have a weakness when it comes to clothes! There are memories and emotions attached to every piece, which makes getting rid of things difficult at times. It feels really refreshing though after I do, as my closet reflects who am I and where I am right now in my life.

    Published 2.11.15 · Reply

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