In the fall of 2012, I wrote about lessons I’d learned from backpacking over the summer—the most important being to ditch everything but the absolute essentials. When I applied that same idea to the stuff in my house, I was surprised how much the clean-out binge lifted my spirits. My own experience suggests that the title of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is spot on. And since Kondo’s book became a bestseller almost immediately, I guess I’m not the only one who’s discovered that de-cuttering clears minds as well as living spaces.
Last year, my husband and I took the additional step of downsizing our living arrangements. While we didn’t join the small house movement by any means, downsizing nevertheless necessitated an even more rigorous round of tidying up. And it wasn’t just clutter that had to go, but pretty much half of everything we owned—the piano, most of our big furniture, bric-a-brac, even tools and garage items. If you’re part of a household in which the garage is sacrosanct, you can imagine the angst that caused.
Space is at a premium in our home now, which means anything we buy has to be evaluated on the basis of three questions: Do we really need it? Is there space for it? And even if there is, will we use it enough to justify the space it will occupy? If two of three questions get thumbs down, we pass on the purchase. I won’t claim we’re clutter free, but we’re definitely living lighter than we have in the past.
For those of us embarking on the final third of our lives, there’s an added benefit to de-cluttering and tidying up: everything we dispose of now means less for children or other loved ones to deal with after we’re gone. If you’ve cleaned out a house or apartment belonging to a deceased relative, you already know how physically and emotionally exhausting it is to sift through their belongings and decide what to save, what to donate, and what to throw away. Doing some of that now will be a tremendous gift to those who survive you.
Marie Kondo urges us to ask a single question of every item in our homes: Does it spark joy? I’d never thought of the stuff I own in those terms, and I was shocked at how much of it sparked anxiety rather than joy. Once I’d separated the joyful from the joyless, bagging the latter up for the thrift shop became a breeze.