The KonMari Method: Let it go

A way to declutter lives so we can focus on what's really important.


Do you have a catchall room where you stash piles of belongings? Maybe your entire house has become a catchall. If so, the Netflix reality series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” might appeal to you. The show follows Japanese organizing consultant and creator of the KonMari Method Marie Kondo, as she visits families and helps them organize their homes. It’s fascinating to watch the relationship between people and their belongings. It makes you think.

I grew up with a unique perspective on “stuff.” My mother was an antiques dealer, owning antique stores and running estate sales. In our house, items would disappear regularly, most often when the rent was due. Suddenly the tiger maple cabinet would be missing, and there’d be nothing but a lonely dust bunny and a single dime in the empty space. Working the estate sales showed me just how attached people can be to items — customers arguing over a lamp, boxes of antique buttons mysteriously disappearing, and oriental rug dealers falling down a flight of stairs while fighting over a carpet.

What I remember most vividly about the sales, though, were the conversations my mother had with clients regarding their belongings. She’d gently explain why the vase in the dining room wasn’t worth $10,000, like they saw on “Antiques Roadshow,” or that the clothes they’ve had since high school probably aren’t going to make a comeback. Our trepidation in releasing things is understandable. Our belongings can sometimes become part of our identity, and if we release them, then who will we be? Possessions are like ghosts, reminding us of meaningful times in our lives. No wonder it’s challenging to let them go.

Luckily, there are people like Kerry Adams, a KonMari certified consultant, who help people let go. She understands how hard it can be, and went into KonMari Method organizing work because of it. “Often it takes a scare or a big change to motivate people to declutter,” Adams said. “I had pneumonia, and an x-ray showed three nodules in my lungs. I was told I potentially had lung cancer, so I started clearing out. I just didn’t want to leave my family with 40 years of accumulated product.”

Luckily, Adams is healthy. After three years of ultrasounds, doctors determined she is cancer-free. “I’d been trying to organize for 20 years. I was just so busy,” she said. “I kept getting things in perfect order, but then I’d accumulate more things. The kids would have birthday parties with 30 kids invited, and then we’d have 30 gifts. As they grew, they got into hobbies and sports, and we’d accumulate more.”

One day, as Adams was organizing things in her house, a friend told her about the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. She bought the book that day, and read it cover to cover. The following Sunday she KonMari’d her clothing. It took 12 hours from start to finish, and she was hooked.

In August 2016, Adams attended her first KonMari Consultant Training Course in New York City, and in 2017 became the first certified consultant in Massachusetts, and the 12th consultant in the world. Using the KonMari Method, Adams freed herself and her family from decades of accumulated clutter. In the end, she disposed of about 75 percent of her unwanted possessions. The result of this purge led to a simpler, more mindful lifestyle, with deeper connections, relationships, and experiences.

Based on her years of experience, Adams says that most people are able to simplify their lives enough to get closer to their ideal lifestyle. “Through talking and creating vision boards, I help people get closer to the life they want,” she explained. “It’s a gradual process that gets people closer to feeling joy, and unburdened by constantly trying to manage and organize their life.”

Often there is a catalyst that ignites the desire to clear out and organize — the birth of a child, selling the family home, a death, or becoming empty nesters. “Sometimes it’s just being tired of your existing life, and wanting a change,” Adams said. “I work with a lot of widows and widowers. I also work with a lot of high-profile clients who are movers and shakers, but are in the midst of a career change, and 20-somethings who have graduated from college and are heading out into the workforce.”

Recently I attended a Zoom workshop led by Adams, hosted by the Vineyard Haven library. Adams gave an overview on how to KonMari the house. There are six rules to follow: Imagine your ideal lifestyle; commit yourself to tidy in one go; tidy by category, not by location; follow the right order (clothes, books, then papers, to start); finish discarding first; and finally ask yourself, Does this spark joy? Or, as Marie Kondo says on her website, “Choose to keep only the items that speak to your heart.”

Adams couldn’t agree more. “If you’re showing me a scarf and I ask how it makes you feel, and you tell me you don’t like it, but you spent $200 on it, that’s not telling me how you feel. So I’ll ask again, ‘How does it make you feel?’ If you say you don’t like it, that’s your answer,” Adams said.

There are a number of categories to use while you’re following the KonMari Method, including health and beauty, pets, tools, toys, papers, and much more. “If you’re going to work in the health and beauty category, for example, this includes everything in this category, not just what’s in your bathroom. Tidy all health and beauty products before moving on,” Adam shared.

If you feel overwhelmed at the prospect of tidying and clearing out on your own, Adams is available for hire. The length of time and number of visits it takes Adams to help someone are dependent on the situation. “Each client has different needs. I’m working with someone right now who is so ready to declutter that I can tell she’s going to work very fast. Others are extremely slow, and labor over every item,” Adams said. “On average, it takes a five-hour session to complete 200 to 300 square feet of space with an average volume of possessions.”

Getting started is pretty straightforward. The first step begins with a phone conversation to explore your needs and what you hope to achieve. Next, Adams discusses the size of your home or office, what issues and obstacles you face, and sets up your first session. From there she helps you through a visualization exercise where you create a Vision Plan, imaging your ideal lifestyle. Lastly, Adams comes to your home, teaches you the method, and begins the process of navigating through your belongings with you.

Whether you tackle organizing and releasing yourself, or hire a KonMari consultant, the main takeaway is to make decisions based on what kind of lifestyle you want. “Clearing out isn’t just about having cleaner surfaces. When you dramatically reorganize your home, it’s life-transforming,” Adams said. “You aren’t just changing your house, but your life. As soon as you help someone through this process, they start to look at their life dramatically differently. It’s very satisfying for me to watch the transformation.”

Being part of the Zoom session with Adams inspired me. Yesterday, I KonMari’d my clothes. Two bags worth are on their way to Chicken Alley. Next up, my art studio.

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