FCLC’s Guide to Spring Cleaning


Messy dorm room? Get to work in order to start fresh this Spring! (PHOTO BY JESSE CARLUCCI/ THE OBSERVER)


With the beginning of spring comes the infamous ritual that defines this season: spring cleaning. This is an annual event that I eagerly embrace—there are few things I enjoy more than returning from spring break with a clean desk, organized closet and filed paperwork. This year I decided to embark on the wildly popular tidying regimen called the KonMari Method, created by Marie Kondo and detailed in her best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” The method can be boiled down to three simple points: tidy according to category rather than location, discard before you store and keep only what brings you joy. Beginning with clothes, then books, then papers, then miscellaneous items and finally sentimental items, Kondo directs her reader to gather every item that belongs in each category, drop it in the middle of the floor, and then pick up each item one at a time, determining if that item sparks joy in the reader. Kondo promises that if the reader follows the ritual exactly as she has laid out, then the reader will have tidied once and for all, will never rebound and will never have to tidy in such a way again.

Sounds magical, right?

It also sounds like a lot of work, which tends to be the first roadblock of tidying, especially for busy college students. In speaking to Elizabeth Clark, Psy.D., a staff psychologist in Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at Rose Hill, about the benefits of tidying, she echoed this sentiment. “You have these busy periods of time and it’s very easy to neglect your physical space,” Clark said, “and then there can be just a feeling of low-grade underlying anxiety, I think that comes from being surrounded by that kind of chaotic, disorganized clutter.” This is certainly something I have experienced; sitting down to write an essay at a desk piled high with papers typically makes for a scattered, un-productive writing session. Clark said that if students “take even 10 or 15 minutes to address some of that chaos in their physical space, then it really opens up a calmer mental space to be able to do some of those things that we need to be doing.”

Armed with this information, and the mouth-watering notion of having to tidy only once, and never again, I awoke eagerly the morning of my first tidying session. I gathered every single item of clothing that I owned, plopped it on my bed, and tried not to be overwhelmed by the clearly absurd amount of clothing I owned, particularly for someone who basically alternates the same three sweaters week after week. Determined to do the method exactly as prescribed, I picked up an item and awaited a spark of joy. Here are some things I learned:

1. Choosing a charity for your discarded items is key.

Perhaps nothing has made me feel more privileged than picking up clothing items that I can afford to deem “excess” and asking whether or not they bring me joy. To combat this feeling of borderline self-disgust, I highly recommend selecting a charity to which you’ll donate your discarded items. (I chose Housing Works, a nonprofit that is dedicated to ending “the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS,” as their mission states.) It is exponentially easier to reject items when you know that your purging actions will be helpful to others. This donation will also be tax-deductible, which might help ease your mind when you realize with horror exactly how much money you’ve spent on apparently un-joyful clothing items. (This becomes all the more real when you realize you’re discarding some items that still have their price tags.)

2. Once you’ve selected your charity, give yourself permission to let go.

I am ashamed to admit that the majority of the clothes I owned did not “bring me joy”—but I was horrified at the thought of discarding that many items. Items that were given to me by people I loved were especially hard to get rid of; those items might not bring me joy, but the people who gave them to me do. But Kondo has immensely helpful advice for dealing with items you’re having trouble letting go of. Rather than thinking of your unwanted clothes as items that you’ve failed to properly utilize, think of them as items that had an entirely different purpose. “The true purpose of a present is to be received,” Kondo writes. “…you don’t need to feel guilty for parting with a gift. Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it.” I realize this sounds kooky, but this shift in thinking allowed me to let go of the items that no longer suited me, and free them up for someone who might really love them.

3. It’s not always so easy to figure out what brings you joy.

The first clothing item I picked up did not spark joy. The second didn’t either. I grabbed a sweater I wear at least once a week, and couldn’t figure out if I liked wearing it because it sparked joy, or because it didn’t have to be dry cleaned. Deciding what brought me joy was hard, but Kondo insists that this is a process that must be undergone—not just to establish a clean home, but also to establish confidence in who we are, and what we want. “[O]ne of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity,” she writes. “…People who lack confidence in their judgment lack confidence in themselves. I, too, once lacked confidence. What saved me was tidying.”

Clark offered an additional reason for why it can be challenging to determine what brings us joy. “We have a culture that very much wants us to believe that having more stuff or having the right stuff is what’s going to make us happy,” she said. “Sometimes when we don’t feel individual subjective joy at this thing we’re being told is supposed to make us feel that way, it can be hard to trust your own actual feeling, as opposed to what you’re supposed to feel.” Establishing the difference between what I loved and what I thought I should love helped me determine that a lot of the clothes I wore regularly didn’t bring me joy—and a lot of the clothes that I didn’t wear regularly did.

4. Be a little forgiving.

The KonMari Method is tough. But even after one day of discarding, I already feel better about my home. This echoes Clark’s advice for college students undergoing this tidying process: “Be forgiving… if it’s not possible for them [college students] to do it 100 percent in exactly the way it’s being prescribed, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything valuable there…even taking the pieces that you can use from this system, or any system, and enacting them in a way that works for you is probably better than getting discouraged by how daunting the task can be.” The value of this process, Kondo argues, translates into areas of life beyond tidying, citing clients that have completed the course and proceeded to find new passions, new careers and even weight loss. While Clark cautions against buying into a “magic bullet” system, she does believe that the process has the possibility to affect other areas of life. “Her idea about getting your space, the physical space that you live in, free from things that you don’t need and filled only with things that you love, I can see that having a profound impact on a person’s life,” said Clark. “…You can imagine that if you applied that same principle to food, for instance, you might find yourself less prone to kind of automatic mindless overeating.”

I don’t know if my life has been changed just yet, but I do know that beginning this tidying process has already given me a new sense of appreciation for the things I own. Would I recommend this process? Absolutely. Just be prepared to fill a lot of trash bags.