Tuesday, January 19, 2016

KonMari and Little Free Libraries

Let me tell you a little story about how KonMari stole my summer vacation. If you are asking yourself, "What is KonMari?" you might want to check out this good summary of Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.

Now that everyone is up to speed on Kondo and her KonMari method, let me first say that I had not expected this book to resonate so much with me. I don't have a cluttered house (I do have areas that are disorganized but most of my house is on the minimal side). I am not a collector of things. I already had a habit of editing and purging my belongings once or twice a year. But, man oh man, did this book come at me in the right way at the right time.

Let me set the scene for the madness that happened: I heard about the book, had my interest piqued and added my name to the very long waiting list at the public library. After being on the waiting list for long enough that I had forgotten the book existed, I got the email that the book was waiting for me. It just so happened that I got this book right before a scheduled staycation in July. Paul was going out of town on a trip and I had planned to use a week of vacation time to do a cosmetic makeover of our front porch as well as soak up the summer with bike rides, beach time and hiking with Uli. That was not what happened.

I read the book and thought, "Hmm. I should apply this method to my house gradually because surely there are things that I have that I don't need." And then, in the days leading up to my vacation, I started sorting through things. When cleaning and organizing areas of my house, I used to ask myself, "Should I get rid of this? Is it ever going to be useful to me? Would I miss it if I didn't have it anymore?" But, at Kondo's suggestion, this time I sorted by category and asked, "Does this spark joy? Do I have a really good reason to keep this? Is this useful to me right now?" The slight flip of my screening questions along with tackling stuff by category instead of by area helped me see that I was unnecessarily holding on to tons of things.

This dabbling took on great momentum and ended up consuming my vacation week. I dove deep, deep into it and touched nearly everything in my house that is exclusively mine (Paul's stuff and our shared possessions were off limits since he was out of town). It also spiraled off into addressing projects that would make my house more "finished" like better lighting in one room, a rug in another, hanging curtain rods and curtains, shuffling around furniture and a list of finishing touches to be addressed in the future. 

To really get fully immersed and honest in this experience, I went completely offline for a week and worked on this project from sunrise to sunset for 5 full days. It was intense and super satisfying! My sense of what could go and what needed to stay got pretty well honed by the end. It was a far more therapeutic experience than might seem on the surface. In order to make your decisions, you really have to face who you were, who you are and the uncertainty of who you will become. 

I also realized as I was in the midst of this project, that I could not have done this earlier in my life as this was an extremely privileged activity. I think that I needed to reach a place of stability in my life where I could calm myself with the thought that in the unlikely even that I regretted letting go of something, I had the resources to get it again. It is a privilege thing to have too much stuff and it is also a privilege to live minimally with the notion of a financial safety net large enough to not feel like you will ever have to go without if you really want something. Holding on to things "just in case" is an understandable thing to do when you don't have a lot of resources. I experienced a lot of gratitude for being in a position of faith in future abundance, if needed.

In addition to the unaddressed privilege in her method, I also feel the KonMari method is lacking when it comes to how you are instructed to get rid of your things. She does not have environmental sustainability in mind when it comes to disposing of those items that don't pass the test. I realize it is more work to find ways to donate and recycle your unwanted possessions and that the extra work might be a barrier to some, but it is the responsible thing to do. 

Kondo does mention asking others in your life if there is anything that they have been wanting that they are considering buying for themselves. If you are getting rid of that thing, you are encouraged to give it to them. And, in the long run, living by her method will mean you acquire less things in the future. But I just can't get on board with her directions to just toss it all and ended up taking multiple carloads of things to Goodwill, sold a few things and, of course, I must tell you about the books... 

This method helped me to recognize that I had a lot of books that I just didn't need to keep. I was holding on to books that I got when I worked in publishing, books I thought I might read someday, books I read and liked, art books, cookbooks and reference books. When I am honest with myself, I find that I primarily read ebooks these days. I look up reference info and consume most of my visual art online. I only consult about half of the cookbooks I own. All of that adds up to a major purge of my bookshelves. 

I brought a box of books to the used book store and found it to be depressing how little value they hold. I figured there had to be a more worthy and satisfying way of getting rid of books that I once treasured and, in some cases, felt like contained a bit of my personal history. Enter the Little Free Library system! From their website:
A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” free book exchange. They come in many shapes and sizes, but the most common version is a small wooden box of books. Anyone may take a book or bring a book to share.
Little Free Library book exchanges have a unique, personal touch. There is an understanding that real people are sharing their favorite books with their community; Little Libraries have been called "mini-town squares."
Minneapolis and St. Paul are rich in Little Free Libraries. Pair that with the fact that I was biking to and from work past a slew of them every day and I found my book disposal solution! I made it my goal to drop a book or two into new libraries and altered my bike routes to go past new spots to leave my books. I would load a couple of books into my bike bag in the morning and take a meandering ride home to drop it off (if my coworkers didn't want to claim the books first!). I took pictures of most of my donations as a fun way to remember it for myself and then realized a collage would be fun to see when I was done. 

Here they are!

While Kondo's method is not without its flaws and extremes, you can safely add me to the list of people who benefited from the experience and have enjoyed talking about applying the method to my home. A number of months afterwards, I am happy to report that I haven't missed anything that I donated and have enjoyed the ease of living in a tidier space.

PS I didn't mention her folding methods for tanks and tshirts, but I give those a thumbs up, too!


  1. Great overview here. I am pretty envious of your time dedicated to this. I have been doing this kind of assessment and purge in waves over the last 2-3 years. It is time for another round. I purged the vast majority of my books to Little Free Libraries too. I had fun walking to them, and some times driving by them when I had a few boxes ready. Admittedly, I had a hard time not looking for new books at the same time! Ha! I also donated some books and CDs to the Hennepin County Library for their book sales. They do not take magazines.

    1. Hey Missy! Fun that you are also using them for this purpose. I was happy to see that most of the libraries were pretty well stocked before I added my books to the mix. There were even a few that were so full, I couldn't add to them. I was also tempted to bring some home with me, but didn't succumb to the temptation. I have plenty of library karma now, so I could take books in the future if I wanted/needed to.

  2. I love that you loved this book! I have to say that it stressed me out to no end. But I loved reading about how you applied it to your unique situation. Good for you! That must have been very rejuvenating! Great to "catch up" with you on your blog lately. :)

  3. I love that you loved this book! I have to say that it stressed me out to no end. But I loved reading about how you applied it to your unique situation. Good for you! That must have been very rejuvenating! Great to "catch up" with you on your blog lately. :)

  4. Trinity - I love that used Little Free Libraries to get rid of your books! That's a great idea! And I loved the collage of images. Go you! And the t-shirt folding tip is amazing. I think I have to go home and re-fold all of my t-shirts now. Having fun catching up! - Beth


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