Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: June 2015

Discarding Papers with KonMari: Part 1

My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away. My clients are stunned when I say this, but there is nothing more annoying than papers.” – Marie Kondo The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

 In Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, she outlines a simple technique to get organized forever: first discard all items that don’t “spark joy”, then organize completely. A couple weeks ago, I started sorting through my clothes, then books and have been amazed by how effective her methods are.

However, getting rid of clothes and books was EASY compared to my next assignment: discarding papers. In Part 1 of this blog, I’ll talk about Kondo’s recommendations and in Part 2, I’ll discuss some of the gaps in her advice and what I did a bit differently.

Kondo’s Thoughts on Paper

Kondo’s advice on paper is very simple: “My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.” She makes me laugh by not hiding her extreme disgust for paper lying around the house.

I laughed right up to the part where I started gathering all of my papers together. It was HORRIBLE! There’s paper everywhere! Receipts, mail, stuff I need to do, kids’ art, coupons, random garbage: WHY IS THERE SO MUCH PAPER?!

What’s so great about Kondo’s advice is that I finally feel like I have permission to pitch the vast majority of my records. There is really very, very little that I need keep.

Three Categories of Paper to Keep

According to Kondo there are three types of paper to keep:

  1. Paper you’re currently using. These should all be kept in only ONE place in the house. Kondo recommends a vertical file folder.
  2. Paper needed for a limited time. Records or contracts you don’t have to keep forever.
  3. Must be kept indefinitely: birth certificates and other important papers.

Discarding Paper Instructions

Most paper doesn’t “spark joy”, so when sorting through them, the technique is very different from when I searched through my books and clothes.

  1. Gather all the paper in the house together.
  2. Create three files:
    1. A vertical file for papers in use, or that you need to process.
    2. A clear, accordion folder for documents you need to access frequently.
    3. A clear, single folder for documents you don’t need to access frequently.

While organizing the items in the “access frequently” category above is important, all documents in the “don’t need to access frequently” category should be lumped together. Why waste your time organizing them, when you never look at them?

Special Instructions

There are a few items that Kondo goes into in depth.

Item What To Do
Warranties Keep them in a single folder, since you don’t have to access them frequently.
Instruction Manuals Throw them out. They’re all online, and we rarely look at them anyway.
Lecture Materials Put the ideas to use and then get rid of your notes.
Credit Card Statements After you’ve ensured they’re correct, they’ve fulfilled their usefulness. Throw them out.
Old Checkbooks No one uses these again. Throw them out.
Greeting Cards Get rid of them, except for the ones that spark joy.
Pay Slips Use them to figure out how much you earned and then throw them out.
Sentimental Papers (cards, certificates, etc) Set them aside until you deal with mementos. Eventually you’ll break them into two piles: “keep” and “deal with”.

How Well Does This Work?

Unlike when I went through my files the first time, I am REALLY cleaning house this time.

Discarding Papers

I guess I was originally afraid that I would need all these records for some sort of mythical tax purpose or lawsuit. What Kondo helped me realize is that, hey, I’m 32, if I haven’t had to use these documents yet, after years and years of taxes and no lawsuits, I don’t need to keep them!

There are a few categories that I came across and some things that I changed about how I store my papers. That’s what I’ll talk about in Part 2.

Discard Books with KonMari

I love the KonMari Method, which Japanese cleaning guru, Marie Kondo, outlines in her very popular book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I’m following her technique as closely as possible and that means starting with a giant pass through all of my belongings, category by category, to discard items that don’t “spark joy”.

Last week, I started with my clothing. Even though I’d been discarding items as part of my minimalist project for months, I found the KonMari Method to be, by far, the most effective way to shrink my wardrobe. Not only that, but I’m incredibly happy with what I have left: just the essentials, but the essentials I love. The next step after clothes is books.

Steps to Discard Books

  1. Gather all of your books from every corner of your house.
  2. Handle each book, one-by-one, and decide whether it sparks joy.
  3. Discard those books that don’t spark joy.

It’s so simple. Don’t try to tackle photo albums or other mementos yet. Leave those for after you’ve gone through every other category.

Reasons to Keep Books

Unlike many other techniques that urge you to discard books you won’t ever read again, Kondo recognizes that books can bring you joy even if you never intend to read them again. It’s OK to keep them if you look at your shelf and are happy to see them. In fact, she lists out the following two reasons to keep a book:

  1. It belongs in the hall of fame. These are the books you truly love. Books that you read over and over.
  2. It inspires pleasure. This list of books might change over time, but keep the books that spark joy now.

Books to Throw Out

  1. Books you haven’t read. “The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it.” Otherwise, you likely never will, so toss it.
  2. Books that inspire “moderate pleasure”. While only you can decide what to keep and toss, Kondo has noticed that she doesn’t need books that only inspire “moderate pleasure”. She never looks at them and they don’t spark enough joy to justify a space on her shelf.

How To Get Rid of Books

 Once you’ve figured out which books to keep and which to pitch, you have a couple of options for disposal.

  1. Sell them using Bookscouter or Amazon.
  2. Donate them to a local library or a non-profit.
  3. Give them out to friends.
  4. Throw them out. Kondo doesn’t outright tell you to just pitch everything, but she implies it every time she mentions filling up garbage bags with your discards. Most books can be recycled after you remove the covers and bindings that contain glue, so I urge you to pitch them responsibly.

The whole process, for me, took far less time (around 30 minutes) than my clothing project last weekend. I’d already done a great job getting rid of books, but I still found more to discard!

Discarded Books

Discarded Books

I kept about the same number of books as I threw out. Most notably, I ended up with Spanish reference books (which remind me of my semester in Spain), a couple gardening books, and a few of my favorite books on starting your own business (which I’d like to do someday). If everyone else in the house would do this too, we’d be getting a much smaller bookshelf!

Now it’s your turn! Which books would you keep?

Discard Clothing KonMari Style

Last week, I wrote a review on Marie Kondo’s new book: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I wasn’t kidding when I said I couldn’t wait to try her KonMari Method, in which you first discard all items that don’t “spark joy”, then organize completely. She recommends starting with your clothes, then within that category to evaluate them in this order: tops, then bottoms, things that should hang (like jackets, suits, and dresses), socks/underware, bags, accessories, clothes for specific events, then shoes.

On Sunday morning, I woke up early and pulled every piece of clothing I owned out of my drawers, closets, coat closet, laundry, and other miscellaneous places where clothes inexplicably live. I laid them all out in the living room.

Before KonMari

The “Before KonMari” Pile

I was a bit nervous to get started. What if I threw out something useful and then regretted it next week? What if I accidentally kept something I hated? What if I just couldn’t tell? I finally decided to trust the process and see how it went.

Clothing KonMari Instructions

Kondo recommends the following when discarding:

  1. Start when you’re fresh (early morning is best in her opinion).
  2. Pull ALL of your clothing items out of every place they are kept.
  3. Pick up each item individually and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If it does, you generally know right away. If you have to think about it, it’s likely it doesn’t spark joy.
  4. Thank the items you’re discarding for their service, fold them, and put them in a trash bag.

Wait, what? That’s right. Remember how I mentioned Kondo’s affinity for treating household objects like humans in my book review? Thank your items for their service and send them on their way.

Maybe I’m just drinking the KonMari kool-aid at this point, but that isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Those who are grateful, tend to be happier people. I actually found that thanking my clothes for their service made it easier to part with a few of the items for which I was on the fence. However, I have to admit that after a while, I completely forgot to keep thanking things until hours after I was already done. Hopefully my socks aren’t offended.

Getting Started

I started with a few things that I knew would spark joy to get the ball rolling. My favorite shirt was folded and put in the “keep” pile first. After about 10 items, I could figure out whether something sparked joy rather quickly.


There were a few items that I wasn’t sure about.

Maybe Pile

The “Maybe” Pile

I tried these items on and found it was easier to decide whether they sparked joy when I saw them in the mirror. Over half of them were easily discarded.


The whole process took about 2-3 hours, but in the end, I had a LOT fewer clothes. I wasn’t surprised by what was left. These were the things I wear all the time; the things I really love.



I filled an entire garbage bag with everything else.


Lessons Learned

My best advice is to do this somewhere you can be alone. Once my kids woke up, they started asking to help and broke my concentration. Kondo also recommends not letting your family see what you’re discarding because it can be stressful to see you trash a gift or other item they liked.

Also, don’t be afraid to throw away things you think you need. I ended up with a list of four items to replace:

  1. Suit
  2. Rain jacket
  3. Two bras
  4. Running shorts with pockets

I don’t need these items right away, but I will eventually. I practically hated the old versions and now, a week later, I’m really glad they’re out of my life. This serves as a forcing function to replace things I should have replaced long ago. Kondo says if you are using the item right now, hold onto it until you find something you love to replace it.


I enjoyed the process and I REALLY enjoyed the outcome. In fact, this was the most effective way of whittling down my clothing that I’ve tried all year.

Post-KonMari Closet

This side of my closet was filled when I started my minimalist project in September.

Next up: Books!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: A Book Review & Overview of the KonMari Method

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.” – Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

For our 10th Anniversary last week, Nathan and I took a much-needed, child-free vacation to Zion, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef National Parks. They are incredible and inspiring places that everyone should visit at least once. The time together was amazing and I also found time to indulge in an unexpected treat: I read a great book!

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is getting a lot of press right now and is surprisingly high on the best seller list. I didn’t expect it to be life-changing, but within a few pages, I found myself getting really excited. After one chapter, I knew I had to try her technique, which she’s coined the KonMari Method.

The KonMari Method is surprisingly simple.

  1. Discard
  2. Organize Completely

The KonMari Method: Discard

First, discard everything, by category, starting with your clothing and ending with mementos. How do you know what to get rid of? Pull everything out, pick up each item one by one and see if it “sparks joy”. Do you love this item or not? Listen to your gut – you should know immediately. If you don’t, then it’s got to go. The end goal is that you’ll have a house filled with only the things that you love.

While many organizing methods tell you to clean and get rid of things gradually (10 minutes a day, 10 items a day, the minimalist game), Marie Kondo argues that you need to tidy up your whole house all at once (over a period of about 6 months). Once you get to a place where you’ve achieved perfect order and everything you own is something you love, you’ll never want to go back. In fact, she’s rolled out this method with hundreds of clients and, while some never get to a state of perfect order, those that have, never rebound.

As I write this, it sounds too good to be true, but as you read Kondo’s book, she has you bought in from the outset and the farther I got, the more I wanted to try her KonMari Method. She details the order in which you should consider items for discarding and specifically warns you to discard before you start to organize (lest you get side-tracked and never finish). She also stresses the importance of discarding by category. Looking at all of your clothes at once, for example, helps you better figure out what you should keep.

The KonMari Method: Organize Completely

The second step, after you’ve removed all items that don’t “spark joy”, is to organize completely. Using only the storage items (boxes, closets, etc) you have on hand, give every single item a place. Every single one. Once they have a place, you’ll have perfect order.

What’s Not to Love?

There were a few things that were either weird or weren’t covered in this book. What if an item doesn’t “spark joy”, but is something you really need (like a suit that you wear at weddings and funerals)? Clearly you should replace those items with something that you do love, but who has the money to do that for everything you need right away? I guess you could keep a list and slowly replace the items when you can, but I wonder if that lessens the magic of looking around and only seeing items you love?

What if you have kids or a spouse? Kondo specifically says you should not discard/organize for others. Only they can go through this journey for themselves and she says they usually start to do it on their own based on your example. I have a really, really hard time imagining my 4-year-old will spontaneously start throwing out her stuffed animals, but I guess I’m willing to try it just in case it actually works.

The book is also peppered with allusions to inanimate objects having feelings. For instance, “I pointed to the balled-up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?’” It was hard to get past that at first and I’ve never fully bought into the idea that my house itself will be happier once I’m done organizing, but Kondo’s ideas make so much sense that at this point I couldn’t care how she developed them or about her relationship with her picture frames.

I really can’t wait to get started. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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