Clean Out The Condo Without A Full Kondo

Do you really need to toss everything that doesn't spark joy? Meh, probably not. But here's what you can get rid of without a trace of remorse.

By Danielle Claro
tidy bookcase


The other night, in a fit of Productive Procrastination (patent pending), I began emptying the odd-shaped closet in my bedroom. It’s a black hole so deep and crooked, you can actually toss items into its maw and not see where they land. Not a good situation.

For company, I had Marie Kondo on Netflix. I’m late to the Kondo viewing party because, frankly, I didn’t think she had a whole lot to teach me. As a former editor at Real Simple  magazine, I already knew the rules of purging, plenty of tidying up tips and had become quite skilled at skirting them with compliments to my character (“I’m too creative to clean!” “This pile is a reflection of my roiling soul from which shall emerge great beauty!”). But, dammit, that charming sprite got to me. As I made a mess of my room (the corollary to cleaning a closet), I was able to test out Kondo’s principles, sprinkle in a dose of reality, and add a layer from my own experiences in the crazy, meth-fueled world of home organizing (just kidding — there are no drugs. Just a lot of Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons). The upshot? An easy lift for making some space in your own home. Herewith, the only tidying up tips you really need.

Donate Books That Don’t Spark Feeling

Unless you’ve been living in a cave (and if you have, I envy you!), you know that Marie Kondo encourages folks to only keep possessions which “spark joy.” This is lovely and poetic and works well when it comes to decorative objects — But for books? I’m gonna push back. We’re complex beings with lots of life experience behind and ahead. Do we really want to scrub our homes of dimension? Books are closed, contained boxes of magic. My tweak to MK’s advice is: “Keep only books that give you feelings.” Books that spark joy, of course. But also, books that make you cry. Books that make you scared. Books that make you tingle. What about those you haven’t had a chance to read yet? Gather them together and when you have the time, sit among them and read five pages of each (or maybe ten). Usually, this is enough to determine whether or not there’s chemistry between you and a book. Then, purge accordingly.

Do you have any idea what it feels like to see a single digit next to the word INBOX every day?

Donate Clothes You’ve Outgrown

Marie K has a strict order of operations for sorting and clearing. She starts with clothes — as in, emptying closets and dressers and piling all clothes  onto your bed. I’m probably not the only person who sees this as overwhelming — and therefore a massive barrier to action. The better system for me (and I suspect other non-superhumans) is a method I first learned from the great modern pioneer of home organizing: Julie Morgenstern. Julie’s first book urged readers to focus on “making trash” — basically thinking about removing rather than focusing on what you’re keeping. It’s a great way to approach your closet — especially if you don’t have 48 consecutive hours to devote to a bed full of garments. And, it’s particularly useful in parting with expensive items that simply do not work. I think for most of us, the attachment to these objects is investment-related and traps us with sunk-cost fallacy. If when you hold a pricey but unused garment in your hands you hear the words “someone would pay a fortune for this,” I beseech you to go get that fortune — at a consignment shop, Poshmark or eBay. But if a hole or stain is (rightfully) keeping you from converting your treasure into cash, please give the piece to someone who’d appreciate it, even with an imperfection. Put it in a giveaway bag and go item-by-item till that bag is full. As for clothes with sentimental value — such as the sweater you were wearing when you fell in love with your hubby, the dress you looked fabulous in at your 40th, your late grandma’s denim jacket (I’m putting a cool-old-lady vibe into the universe here, people; please stay with me), let’s take a minute to talk. I subscribe to the Brokeback  school of clothing attachment. Clothes have energy and meaning. They can make us happy even if we don’t use them. They can spark joy just by being, as long as they’re filed appropriately and not sapping your strength by getting in your way while you’re trying to get dressed for work like some kind of slacker boyfriend. Purchase a zip-canvas garment bag with room for, say, five very special pieces. Stick with your number. I hereby grant you permission to fantasize about a future granddaughter who will one day open this bag and say, “Oh, Nana, your clothes are so cool! I can’t wait to wear them with my own twist, just like the girl in that old-timey movie you showed me, Pretty in Pink.” But take the bag to another spot in your home, away from the pulse and fray of everyday life, like where the holiday decorations live.

Delete Old Emails and Digital Clutter

After four episodes of Marie K’s show, three bags of giveaways, one huge sack of trash, and a gorgeous stack of vintage tablecloths where there once was only chaos, distraction kicked in and took me out of the closet. I checked my gmail and decided to clear all the promo and spam messages. But something interesting happened: When I attempted to torpedo only junk mail, The Delete Monster took with it every single unopened email since the dawn of time — 2,217 unread emails, many from my primary folder. I paused. It wasn’t too late. I could restore. I could undo. I could pull this mass of communication from the trash. However, I open every email I care about. What are  these emails that have been flagged for destruction? The majority are solicitations, receipts from purchases, follow-ups on said purchases asking for reviews, and reminder emails I send to myself. Yes, maybe there are messages I kinda sorta meant to check…

I thought about it. I really did.. And then, I emptied the trash. (Pause for effect.) Do you have any idea what it feels like to see a single digit next to the word INBOX every day? It’s like a headache lifting, like dancing in your favorite sneakers, like a mountain breeze ruffling your hair. 

Even though I deviated from her show on this email purge, I like to believe Marie Kondo would approve. I feel the space and peace and clarity she seems to genuinely wish upon the homes she visits. If I live to regret my bold move toward digital feng shui, I’ll let you know. My bet, though, is that the only thing I missed out on was an Anthro sale on pants and a chance to help out a desperate Nigerian prince. So I’m good. 

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