One of the things that drew me into the profession of design was a love of beauty, and beautiful things in particular, from clothing to art to furnishings. But having too many beautiful things quickly causes those things to lose their luster, turning them into STUFF. Stuff to be cleaned, maintained, and stored. As a small-house dweller who loves beautiful things but also craves order and a serene environment, I’ve long been on a cycle of binge-purge-binge-purge with my possessions. A sort of bulimia of stuff. Living this way, I never felt I could stay organized for very long. It wasn’t until I read Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up that I found an approach that worked for me.
The book was recommended to me by a client, in fact, who had followed Kondo’s tidying process herself while working with me to renovate her kitchen and update several other rooms in her home. I read the book in an afternoon and was immediately inspired. Kondo’s method is simple yet profound: her core advice is to keep only those items that truly inspire joy. She recommends a process of going through categories of things one at a time, such as clothing, then books, then kitchen ware, etc. Everything of the same type is laid out together, then you must evaluate each and every item to determine if it sparks joy.
As Kondo suggests, I started with clothing. In an afternoon I culled 24 tops, 7 dresses, and 10 pants/skirts from my closet. On another day I eliminated 16 pairs of shoes, 12 pieces of underwear and 5 bags/purses/wallets. So how could I tell if something sparked joy? That was definitely part of the discovery process and perhaps it’s different for everyone. For me, (with clothing, at least) joy was when an item did not yet feel “old” no matter its actual age. If I still felt the same thrill wearing it as I did the first time, then I knew it was a keeper. To relieve guilt with the give-aways, Kondo has you thank each item for it’s service. I acknowledged each item of clothing as I went: “Gray pants, you were perfectly professional in my corporate days but I am a different person now and now you make me feel frumpy. Bye-bye, and thank you for your service!” . Each item got a proper send-off. I have yet to tackle winter coats and jewelry, but thus far, have reduced my wardrobe by about 25%. So what’s life changing about that?
Besides freeing up a good bit of closet and drawer space, the process forced me to zero in on exactly what I love and why. I started making notes as I evaluated each item. Likes: boatnecks, natural fibers (especially silk and linen), navy blue, jewel tones, box pleats, A-line blouses, wedge heels, skirts. Dislikes: fabrics that attract lint and cat hair, mid-tone colors, overly fussy details, gaping necklines, and most non-denim pants. (Pants, oh how I do not love thee. My dresspant collection was decimated in this process.) Furthermore, I starting making a list of the key items my wardrobe is missing, so that when I’m shopping I can focus on exactly what I need.
Additionally, I found Kondo’s recommendations for storing clothing truly revolutionary. She advises that clothing be folded and stood on end (rather than piled) in the drawer, so that you can see every item at once. At first I thought she was bonkers. Surely it would NEVER work. Nevertheless, I tried it and was amazed. It took a bit of practice to get each item folded into a neat little square, but once I got the hang of it I was able to pack 20-30% more clothing into my limited drawer space. My pajama drawer, which was perennially a spaghetti mess, is now the picture of orderliness. I bought some spring-loaded drawer dividers to keep the clothing rows neatly segregated.
I’ve been practicing the folding technique for about a month now and am pleased to report it’s working great for me. It’s actually even kind of fun (full disclosure: I also enjoy ironing and painting wood trim. Anything fussy and neurotic = happy funtimes). Now that my drawers look so tidy and each item has its very own designated spot to live in, I find myself actually WANTING to put away my clothing, rather than letting it pile up on the bench next to my bed. I also find myself WANTING to make my bed, which is a chore I’d never been very consistent about before. There’s something so calming about having a bedroom where everything is put away and in its place. Totally worth the effort.
I still have several big purge categories in front of me, and I’m excited to discover what changes may be in store as I complete the process. Kondo suggests a scenario where nearly all household papers are eliminated. Just a tiny to-do folder, nothing more. Is that crazy talk? It sounds incredibly liberating. So yes, I do think tidying up just may change my life. And I think it would be an incredibly valuable process to go through for anyone planning a home renovation, addition, or interior update. If you can discover what you really love and eliminate all the distraction and clutter, you can create a space that is inherently peaceful, satisfying and more fully expresses who you are. Which is ultimately my goal for every one of my clients.
Tamara Leicester is a licensed interior designer and owner of Tamara Heather Interior Design, LLC. She designs casually elegant interiors with an artistic sensibility, often drawing upon the talent of local artists and craftspeople in her work. Dreaming about updating your space? Learn more at tamaraheatherinteriors.com.