“Borderline Budgeting” is a column by Mercedes Killeen about the intersection of mental health and spending habits. Mercedes writes about her own experiences with mental illness, and how she manages to practice skills like self-care while staying on budget.
By now, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has become a global sensation. Across the world, people have embraced her book’s philosophy of minimalism and decluttering to find peace with living simpler lives.
I’ll admit that I was pretty skeptical at first — when I first checked her book out of the library a few years ago, I wasn’t sure that it could truly “change my life.” But boy was I wrong. Before reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was by no means a hoarder, but I did have a large amount of unorganized, unnecessary “stuff” (clothes, loose paperwork, etc.) lying around, which brought me a great deal of anxiety. Motivated by the fact that I would soon be moving into a very small apartment, I decided to streamline my belongings.
The basic premise of the KonMari Method is that you first divide everything you own into categories (Clothes, Books, Papers, etc.). This is contrary to other popular advice, such as “de-clutter your house one room at a time.” Kondo asserts, instead, that the best way to clean your house is all at once, and by specific categories rather than by room.
And then (this is the part you’ve likely heard of), you go through each item within each category, hold it up, and ask yourself, Does this spark joy? If the answer is yes, go ahead and keep it. If the answer is no, then out it goes.
It took a lot of work (and many garbage bags) to complete that process, but since then, I’ve managed to keep things relatively clean, minimalist, and easy to navigate. So, here are the six main ways that the KonMari Method has improved my life.
1. It lowered my stress/anxiety levels
As I’ve written about in this column many times, I deal with mental health issues, including anxiety. Perhaps the biggest benefit of adopting the KonMari Method has been a drastic drop in stress and anxiety levels.
Of course, my mental illness wasn’t magically cured once I decluttered, but having a tidy living space sure didn’t hurt. There’s a reason why so many experts stress the importance of making your bed every morning — those changes really do make a difference.
Personally, waking up and going to bed in a clean room has had ripple effects on my emotional state. When I was living in a cramped, disorganized, cluttered space, I felt stressed out just looking at any corner of my home. I was surrounded by tons of unnecessary stuff, and it was clouding my mind.
2. It ensured that I’d never scramble for an important document ever again
This one goes hand-in-hand with the lowered stress/anxiety levels. Before I decluttered my space, anytime I needed an important document (like my passport, birth certificate, or tax statements), I would go into a frenzy.
I’d scramble through every drawer of my desk, every random envelope I could find, any boxes lying around that I hadn’t even bothered to unpack since my last move. It could take me hours, even days, to finally find what I needed (if I did at all). Now, I own significantly fewer things — including pieces of paperwork — so finding important documents is a breeze. I have a designated folder and spot for everything I need, so there’s no need to hurriedly look through everything I own.
3. It helped me create a wardrobe that I actually like
Before I decluttered my space, I owned a ridiculous amount of clothes. Throughout high school, I had done a lot of mindless shopping, so I’d accumulated tons of pieces that I didn’t even like (and many that didn’t even fit me anymore). This was actually the most dramatic change for me — the number of clothes I owned afterward. When I finished the Does this spark joy? exercise, I probably had about 10 huge garbage bags full of clothes. The sheer volume of excess clothing truly shocked me. I thought, What the hell is wrong with me?
I opted to donate all of the clothing, so the bags were gone quickly, lifting a massive weight off my shoulders. Now when I look at my closet, I only see items that I genuinely like (which makes getting dressed way easier).
4. It helped me curate a personal library that I truly love
As a writer (and former English major), it’s probably no surprise that I love books. From a young age, I started accumulating a massive personal library. From novels to poetry collections and even college textbooks, I amassed a huge number of books.
A lot of them were books I’d convinced myself I’d read “one day” (I think we all have at least one of those aspirational purchases lying around!), or just books that I figured I’d want to revisit again eventually. In reality, after going through the Does this spark joy? exercise, I realized that the vast majority of my collection added nothing to my daily life.
I narrowed my library down to Marie Kondo’s suggested number of 30 total books. (For a bookworm, that seemed impossible!) It turns out that I actually only needed a fraction of my library — there were only a handful of books I loved enough to revisit on a regular basis, and the rest could easily be checked out of the library on an as-needed basis if the occasion ever arose.
I donated what had to be at least 100 books, and I haven’t looked back since.
5. It made me more selective about new items that I bring into my life (even if they’re free!)
This has been another massive shift for me. The KonMari Method didn’t just help me get rid of things I already owned — it completely changed my mindset so that I’m now extremely selective about any new items I bring into my space. As a makeup lover (and former cosmetician), I used to happily take any free sample I was offered. Now, I only accept a cosmetic sample if I can reasonably see myself using it within the next 1-2 weeks. If not, I simply say “no thank you.”
Another thing I had to learn was that, if I didn’t like a gift somebody gave me, I had the right to get rid of it. There was no use in feeling guilty — no matter how thoughtful the gift seemed — and holding onto something I had no real use for. Now I don’t think twice about donating a gift to charity if I can’t see myself using it on a regular basis. This took a lot of unlearning (I used to think that I had to make space for anything I was given), but it’s been absolutely worth the initial discomfort.
6. It motivated me to give back to local charities
As I’ve mentioned, I donated pretty much all of my excess belongings. If they weren’t items purely for the garbage/recycling, I donated all of the clothing, books, and other household items to Diabetes Canada. I love donating to that charity because they actually come to your house and pick everything up. You just give them a call, see when their next pick-up day is in your area, and drop the bags in front of your door the night before. (I don’t drive, so this is a big plus for me!)
It also serves as a nice motivator, because once you schedule the pick-up time, you feel obligated to de-clutter by that set date. While it can be tempting to try and sell everything on Kijiji or even trade it on Bunz, that process takes time. I preferred donating everything to charity, because it was quick and simple.
And of course, the most important thing was that it felt good knowing someone in need would find real joy from the items I no longer wanted.
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