Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: KonMari (page 1 of 3)

The Toys Have to Go

I’ve struggled with kid stuff for years and have written about it here, here, and here. My kids’ junk may be the main source of clutter-induced stress in my life. Marie Kondo, Joshua Becker, and my mother all agree that you shouldn’t get rid of other people’s stuff (how will they trust you afterwards?), but do kids really count? Mine never want to get rid of anything and I’ve tried all of the psychological tricks. Are my 2 and 5-year-olds really old enough to dictate how cluttered my house is?

I finally decided that the answer to that is a big, fat NO. I agonized over that decision for months before doing anything about it, wondering if I would somehow emotionally injure my children by removing most of their toys. Then, I came across an article that put an abrupt end to my agonizing: Ruth Soukup’s Why I Took My Kids’ Toys Away (& Why They Won’t Get Them Back). Soukup got angry one day and snapped. She cleared out her children’s rooms, all the way down to their comforters; removing everything that wasn’t absolutely essential. What made her do it? Her kids weren’t listening to her pleas to pick up their toys. That sounded all too familiar. That’s when I realized, the toys have to go.


My kids get their toys out by the hundreds and leave them in the living room, their rooms, the kitchen, and even the stairs. They are terrible at cleaning one thing up before getting another thing out. They float from one toy to the other. They don’t appreciate or take care of their toys.

Should we really be teaching our kids to superficially use something, then toss it aside? I now concretely believe that’s what we unintentionally do when we overload our kids with stuff.

After reading Soukup’s article, I wasted no time in clearing the girls’ rooms out.


All of the Toys


I pulled all of the girls’ toys from every corner of the house together and sorted them into three categories:

  • Keepers: These are the classic toys that they come back to again and again. Great books, legos, markers, and our play kitchen toys all fall into this category.
  • Maybe: These are the toys that I wasn’t sure about; toys the kids occasionally played with and really seemed to like. I decided to keep them out of sight for a while and if the girls asked for them, I would bring them back into the rotation. Stuffed animals that are rarely played with and games that occasionally bring us joy, but are barely touched filled this category.
  • No Way: These are the toys that they never play with or that I hate. Loud toys, cheap happy meal toys, toys that are too big and never used. These went directly into a garbage bag.

For those in the Keeper category, I then placed them on the top shelves of their closets and put three items within reach in the toy box, brought down two stuffed animals and filled a small shelf with books. Everything else in this category, I put in a storage bin to rotate in. The new rule is that when one item comes out, another item goes back on the shelf.

What We Kept

The toys we kept were very simple, classic toys that I know my kids love. Art supplies and the easel, legos, blocks, the Lottie dolls, favorite stuffed animals, play kitchen supplies, and a sub-set of puzzles, board games, and books.

My Kids’ Reaction

 I braced myself for a screaming fit and a lot of tough questions, but to my surprise, this was a non-event. I did this while they played outside with their dad. I split the toys up and put them away before they had a chance to ask what I was doing. When they came inside, I told them that I put their favorite toys on their shelf. I told them about the new rule of having one toy out at a time and I told them that if they missed a toy that was not on the shelf that I would rotate it in.

Their response? “OK.”

“To my surprise, this was almost a non-event.”

How It’s Going

It’s amazing how much unfounded anxiety the anticipation of an unknown reaction can cause. This was one of the best things I’ve done since starting my minimalist project. My living room is cleaner. The basement is cleaner. It’s easier to clean almost every space in the house.

In the kids’ rooms I need to do a better job of reinforcing the new rule. Their rooms still get messy and old things are not put away before new ones come out. We just need to work on that. I will say that the time necessary to clean the rooms is much shorter.

This nuclear option seems to have worked for us!

I’m dying to know – how do you keep you kids’ stuff under control?

Spark Joy: KonMari & Organizing My Wardrobe

Marie Kondo has a new book out, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, that serves as a deep dive into the KonMari Method and aims to explain all of the questions left by her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I’m only a few chapters into it, but I’ve happily discovered that she does explain many of the confusing aspects that I’d wondered about after Life-Changing Magic.


On the Necessary Stuff that Doesn’t Spark Joy

For example, “What do we do with the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, but that we NEED (like a funeral suit or a screwdriver)?” The answer is keep the item, but thank it often for the service it provides. Appreciation helps you get over the fact that you dislike it — at least until you can replace it with something you love.

On Starting Over

I still haven’t finished discarding my sentimental items, but I’m starting to see new things creeping into the other categories (like that new T-shirt I got from work that I’m pretty sure doesn’t spark joy). I was starting to wonder if I had to start over. Kondo answers that question too and the answer is no. Keep going and when you organize you’ll naturally cull the new items that don’t spark joy. (Although, since I know that T-shirt doesn’t spark joy, I should probably walk right into my bedroom and throw it out right now.)

On Organizing Clothes

I liked how most of my shirts were organized in my closet, but I think Kondo is right about folding them. I was so inspired by her illustrations of how to fold clothes that I was dying to try it. So I did!

Spark Joy - KonMari Drawers

KonMari Drawers

Spark Joy

Folding my clothes DOES take longer and I’ve often found myself annoyed when I have a pile of them waiting for me. That feeling disappears when I get the clothes in the drawer. It is easier to pick them out because you can see each and every one. It is also a nice way to know when you’re accumulating too many clothes again. When the drawer feels stuffed, it’s probably time to consider whether everything in there sparks joy.

I thought this method might fall apart in a couple of weeks, but it’s been 1.5 months and I’m still using it. My underwear looks really nice all folded and lined up from light to dark. I actually have matching pairs more often than not because I can see all the options. (My husband likes that. Could that be one extra benefit to the KonMari Method that Kondo doesn’t mention in either book: improved marriages?!)

Have you organized your clothes KonMari style? How’s it going?

KonMari Method: Discard Sentimental Items

For the past few months, I have been working through Marie Kondo’s amazing KonMari Method, the most effective way that I’ve found to get rid of excess stuff. Kondo outlines her method in her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in which she recommends that you first discard (by category, not by room) anything that doesn’t spark joy in your life, then organize completely. I worked my way through every category (clothes, books, etc) and found a couple new categories before I picked up a single sentimental item. Sentimental items are the last category because they can easily derail an efficient discard session. Most people need the practice that you get from categories such as clothes and books before they can efficiently tackle sentimental items. This includes old letters, awards, pictures, and anything that brings back sweet memories.

How To Discard Sentimental Items

While many resources suggest that you take a picture of sentimental items (the item jogs your memory, but you don’t need the item itself), Kondo recommends thinking hard about whether each item really sparks joy, then simply discarding those that don’t.

Discarding Sentimental Items Is Easier Than You Think

I was pleasantly surprised by how truly easy it was to sort through my sentimental items. I had a box in the basement that was filled with my old sports, DECA, and orchestra ribbons, medals, and trophies. I was so proud of these that I kept a display of them in my room throughout high school and I called it the shrine to myself; proof that I was awesome in my own little way. There were hundreds of awards inside this little box and when I thought about discarding sentimental items, I always wondered how on earth I could part with them.

My Favorite Ribbon

My Favorite Ribbon

This weekend I pulled out that box for the first time in at least 10 years. To my great surprise, I realized that I no longer remembered what I did to earn most of the awards. They were all generic and while most of the ribbons had my age, event, and swimming time on the back, there were hundreds of ribbons and I realized that there was only ONE that I remembered and ONE that I really cared about. I searched and searched until I found it: an 11th place ribbon in the long-course 50 freestyle event at State when I was 12.

That was the first time I’d ever placed in an individual event at State and every time I think of that day – how shockingly fast I’d gone, how proud I was, and the look on my mom’s face that seemed to say, “Wow, maybe this girl will actually be pretty good at this” – I get really happy. I kept that ribbon and got rid of the rest. There were a few other awards that I remember earning and that sparked immense joy. Those are all safe in my basement. The rest of them were ceremoniously placed in the trash bin outside.

discard sentimental items

Tips for Discarding Sentimental Items

  1. Wait until you’ve gone through every other category. Practice makes perfect and you’ll get better and better at figuring out what sparks joy as you go through each discard category.
  2. Work from a central location. Put everything from the sentimental category in one place so you can see how close to the “discarding finish line” you really are. This is the very last category before you get to start organizing, so knowing how much you have left is highly motivational.
  3. From photo albums, choose the best 1-2 pictures from each event that remind you of that day. Throw the rest away. The older the event, the easier this is to do.
  4. Tackle a little bit at a time. Break up your sentimental items into chunks that you can do in one hour or less. Know that this category can be a tough one, so allow yourself plenty of time with lots of breaks to finish it.
  5. Enjoy the process! Even though I got rid of about 80% of my sentimental items, I kept the best ones and rediscovered myself at the same time.

No wonder I love writing this blog every week. When I was in elementary and middle school, I spent loads of time writing stories, poems, and song parodies. Finding those sparked a lot of joy and they are among the few items I kept. They say that you should be doing as an adult what you enjoyed as a child and clearly I need to start writing more often.

How to Digitize, then Purge Handwritten Notes

The latest research shows that taking handwritten notes (versus typing notes on a laptop) helps us learn better and retain knowledge longer. However, what do you do with all those handwritten notes, which pile up over the years?

Marie Kondo, in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, encourages you to integrate the learnings into your life, then throw the notes away.

Kondo says, “It’s paradoxical, but I believe that precisely because we hang onto such materials, we fail to put what we learn into practice.”

She’s right, however, knowledge in our daily lives comes at you quickly – faster than you can process it – and sometimes it’s nice to have that external memory to refer to.

How to Digitize & Organize Your Notes

Today, it’s easier than ever to digitize your notes. Digitizing allows you to free up space in your home and access the notes from anywhere at anytime.

The easiest way to digitize your notes is with your smartphone. Take a picture of each page and upload them to the app of your choice.

Purge Handwritten Notes

Google Drive “Getting Things Done” Folder

I use Google Drive to organize my notes. I take plenty of notes by hand while I read on the bus. Until now, I kept them all in a folder and only had access to them when I was at home. Now, I have a folder in Google Drive called Book Notes and under that, I have a folder for each book I’ve read that includes my handwritten notes, plus any extra materials that I’ve found to be useful in connection with the book. For instance, I recently found my Getting Things Done notes, plus a copy of the workflow and weekly review instructions; all of them hidden away in a folder I never checked. Now, I can look at these any time on my laptop or phone. I’ve already shared the workflow with one of my co-workers who happened to ask how I keep my inbox at zero all the time.

Everyone has their favorite place to store documents. Lots of people swear by Evernote, which allows you to upload handwritten notes right in the Evernote app and easily organize them with a plethora of other documents.

I also use Trello quite a bit, which allows you to upload photos into cards that can be moved around between lists (To Do, Books to Read, etc). I use Trello for my master to do list.

Purge Handwritten Notes with Trello

Disney To Do List, Neatly Captured in Trello

Purge Handwritten Notes

Once you’ve uploaded the notes, you’ll never need the physical copies again. Recycle them and reclaim some space.

Be Picky

Digitizing can take a long time if you are uploading, for instance, a whole semester’s worth of notes. Look for the main pages that explain the important points from a class or book and just upload those. You’ll never want to sift through a whole notebook’s worth of notes again – who has the time?

Digital clutter is still clutter, so as you’re uploading your notes, be picky about what you keep. If you haven’t used the notes in years and can’t think of a reason to pull them out again, get rid of them. Marie Kondo would be proud.

What are your favorite apps for organizing your digital notes?

Great Minimalist Blogs (Plus Three Books & A Group)

Over the past year, as I’m researching topics or getting advice from friends, I’ve found a few good minimalist blogs that I thought I’d pass along.

Becoming Minimalist

If you need a dose of inspiration to pursue a life with less stuff, try Joshua Becker’s blog, Becoming Minimalist. He’s been living a life of rational minimalism for years in Arizona with his family. His posts are usually not very tactical, but are always motivational. Start with this blog if you need to be convinced of the merits of minimalism or if you need an infusion of inspiration to move forward on your own journey. Becker has also written the best book I’ve found yet on embracing minimalism with kids, Clutterfree with Kids and his book Simplify, which I’ve never read is constantly hitting the non-fiction best-sellers list on Amazon.

Zen Habits

This is not strictly a blog about minimalism; it’s a blog about changing your everyday habits for the better. In his blog, Zen Habits, Leo Babauta writes about topics ranging from how to get out of a funk to how to lose weight and keep it off. He’s developed a menagerie of habits that make life sweeter, and he discusses in detail how to make good habits and how to break bad ones. This is currently one of my favorite blogs because Babauta outlines concrete steps to help readers form better habits. I’m currently using his advice on leveling up to gain healthier eating habits and lose weight.

Minimalist Mom

I subscribed to The Minimalist Mom last year when Rachel Jonat was not writing much due to the birth of her third child. Then she moved from the Isle of Man to Vancouver and suddenly her posts have become regular and fairly relevant. She usually writes about something specific, like getting a smaller fridge or a new second-hand clothing website that she’s found. If you’re a parent, this is a great place to get ongoing ideas for life with your kids.

Marie Kondo

I haven’t been following any ongoing dialogue from Kondo, but her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is by far the best way to reduce stuff and get organized. I love, love, love her book and the KonMari Method. The book is a somewhat quirky and indispensible must-read for anyone trying to create a life with less.

Find Other Minimalists in DC or Your City

I also follow The Minimalists and, while I don’t usually find their blog entries useful (they focus more on their tours, books, and upcoming documentary), one thing they’ve done well is to establish minimalist groups in major cities across the country. There’s one in DC. To join, like the Washington, DC facebook page and you’ll be invited to meet-ups about once a month. You’re also treated to random articles found by the club members. I’ve enjoyed lurking on the site for a while and someday hope to join a group meeting.

Which blogs inspire you?

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