Life-Changing Magical Spring Cleaning

By Shelley Black, Director of Operations

“It is an illusion. And, in fact, that which you have possesses you more than you possess it. The possessor finally becomes the possessed. You think you have so many things – riches, power, money – but deep down you are being encaged, enchained, imprisoned by those same things.”

—Osho, the Zen master

My husband and I have argued about Things and Stuff for as long as I can remember. What to keep, where to put it, why it matters. It’s a hot-button issue at this point. We have joked about how everything his grandparents ever touched is sacred. His busted childhood toys have “character” and maybe they’re even collectible! His closet is bursting with clothes, shoes, luggage, boxes, and bins of precious knick-knacks. About 1,000 sentimental Christmas ornaments fill our hall closet. We joke — but we have heated arguments sometimes too. Because I am a minimalist, a neat-freak, and have not a sentimental bone in my body — having too much stuff drags me down. I love him but I don’t get it. 

So we have butted heads weekly for years, until recently, when something big changed, and now everything is different. And I mean everything. I want to tell you the story of how together we have solved this dilemma. And maybe you can use the secrets we discovered to make peace with the “Hector the Collector” in your life too (even if it’s you)!

Recently I discovered the audiobook “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondō, an organizing expert from Japan. She changed the way I see my own Things and Stuff – and to my dismay, it turns out I’m not the master of de-cluttering that I thought I was. Humbled, I shared a little of what I’d learned with my man. Being a fan of all things Japan, he wanted to listen to the book too, so we started from the beginning, together. He was hooked. Suddenly he was on a mission to clear the clutter from our home in the way Kondō recommended, step by step. As I watched him work, diligently sorting, discarding, and organizing … well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. 

What caught his attention? How could all our years of arguing about clutter fail so miserably, yet the opening chapter of this book cracked the code? And what is this magic Kondō speaks of?

To completely over-simplify the answer to all of these questions, I’ll share the secret: Keep what sparks joy; discard the rest.

“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”    

– Marie Kondō

Kondō’s promise: if you are intentional about what you choose to own, you will enjoy a clearer mind, a fresh perspective, and a new outlook on life. Something about this appeals to both of us from our different perspectives and we jumped at the chance to face the challenge together. This is not about letting your neat-freak flag fly (my old favorite pastime). This is a spiritual experience – you declutter your mind, heart, and soul in the process. That’s a whole new level of spring cleaning!

Here’s a tantalizing teaser to get you excited about starting, but I do recommend reading or listening to the book to get the full inspirational experience and detailed instructions (I found the book on Amazon). 

Begin with this meditative and intentional process to decide what will be released from your life. Choose a category of things you’re not too emotional about, such as your off-season clothes. Round them up from all over the house, pile them on the bed or floor, and quiet your mind. Handle each item and ask yourself “Does this spark joy?” Wait for the answer quietly. If it does not spark joy, it’s time to thank it for its service and let it go. Hanging onto it deprives it of the “life” it is supposed to have with someone else who will find joy in it. Worse, continuing to own many things that don’t bring you joy creates the opposite of joy – it is a burden. At that point, your stuff owns you, and not the other way around.

There are a few rules for success: 

  1. Don’t go room-by-room! Go by category. In order to hone your decision-making skills, move from easy to hard categories when deciding what to keep. Start with clothes, then move to books, next to papers, and then to miscellaneous (everything else except sentimental stuff). Seriously, don’t even look at sentimental things like photos until the very end. 
  2. If the question “does this spark joy?” doesn’t get you a satisfactory answer, ask yourself “What is the purpose of this item? Has it fulfilled its purpose already? How long have I had this? Why did I get it? How did it end up in my home?” Use the answers to decide if the item needs to move on or stay and keep serving you.
  3. Only when you have completed sorting everything in one category should you begin putting away the items you will keep from that category. Doing it in this order takes self-control, but it’s essential. You will have room to neatly organize everything you are keeping. Notice the joy and peace that flow from your organized space!
  4. If you are getting stuck or overwhelmed, take a short break or go back to less-sentimental stuff. Still try to go through all of the categories, in order, in a short period of time. You will have a mountain of things to discard at the end. Get excited about this – perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 of your stuff is about to release you from its bonds! 
  5. Do not give your discards to your friends or family unless they were already planning to purchase those things for themselves. Passing your clutter to others is not kind. Storing your stuff in Mom’s attic does not help anyone. Using others to relieve your hesitance or guilt about getting rid of things just passes the burden to your loved ones. This is one of the hardest rules to follow, but it will really teach you the meaning of letting go.

“The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

– Marie Kondō

This is a super-simplified summary. If you want to take it on, definitely consider getting the book. The bottom line is: When we surround ourselves only with the things we love, we release ourselves from bondage physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Holding onto things because of old ideas that are no longer in play wastes our potential and depletes our life force. 

As we continue to clear the clutter together, my husband grows more youthful and optimistic each day. Even his sense of humor is getting sharper! We both feel lighter and happier and our life has become a little simpler, a little more joyful and playful. We are growing together into the people we are meant to be. We are not arguing anymore. That is some life-changing magical spring cleaning right there!

If you’ve read this book and have more helpful tips or positive experiences, please share them with us in the comments below!

Kondō, M., & Zeller, E. W. (2015). The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Unabridged. [United States]: Tantor Audio.

Shelley has been an advocate for natural birth and attachment parenting for as long as she can remember. When she found out that Abigail was starting a midwife birth center in Albuquerque, she immediately joined the cause, and served on the board of directors for three years. When Dar a Luz needed an Office Manager, she was thrilled to step into the role for a number of years. Now as Director of Operations, she enjoys supporting our staff and clients, as well as guiding much of the business side of our amazing and unique model of non-profit healthcare.

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