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The KonMari Ritual: Here’s how to gently let go of your sentimental items

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Practical tips for getting the clutter out of your home by reclaiming each item and returning to its original purpose ~Marie Kondo.

KonMari is a method of tidying up that involves organizing your home, starting with the most important area: your drawers. The KonMari Method encourages you to “keep only what you love and let go of everything else.”

The method is named after Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning consultant who popularized the idea in her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”

konmari method
The konmari method for sentimental items

Marie Kondo’s wildly popular method for living with less has been criticized as a lot of hype around tidying by folding clothes. However, many consider her ideas helpful in linking organization to the careful use of the world’s resources.

With KonMari the tidying process has a qualitative aim: what you keep in your living space is an expression of your conscious relationship with self. It’s about who you are now, what is important to keep remembering and treasure the past and letting go of younger or different aspects of yourself.

You can read about the true benefits of the KonMari method (after 7 years of practicing it) here.

In this way the KonMari Method is minimalism-inspired. You simplify your life not by taking things out of your life items that no longer hold value for you, but by keeping only the items that do hold value for you now. In this way you are decluttering not just your home but your life intentionally and with mindfulness. It’s kind of like a spring cleaning of the soul!

This method resonates in Japan because organization and presentation have been elevated over the centuries to having ritual status. If you think about the Japanese tea ceremony (“the way of tea” in Japanese) or the beautiful way the Japanese arrange flowers (ikebana), folding clothing and presenting items around your house have come to be treated with the same level of precision.

Kondo has been successful because she has ritualized a method for decluttering that has rules and sequences that KonMari fans believe leads to life transformation

Marie Kondo asks us to think abouts tidying as a journey that takes you to the place where you can experience transformation in your life because free of unnecessary items, the ‘present’ you can decide how you want your idealized ‘future’ you to be, and then move towards that.

But what about all the things you keep because they remind you of your children’s early years, or your deceased partners funny ways, or just because they represent earlier versions of yourself?

How do you declutter sentimental items?

Allowing others to experience the joy you once did

The KonMari method is used to discard items that are no longer emotionally valuable to you. When you hold up an item, does it spark joy in you? Do you love wearing those shoes or are they just shoes? Or perhaps they were once shoes that you loved to wear in your pre-pandemic lifestyle that you know you will never want to wear again?

If they don’t spark joy for you now, Kondo believes it’s important for those items to be able to spark joy in someone else. Perhaps someone else might be starting out on their career and they would be excited to own those shoes?

Marie Kondo suggests you thank the shoes for their service to you and then allow them to be released from your service. In the end, you will be left with a home full of joy and prosperity. 

Decluttering categories and re-homing

The KonMari method organizes decluttering by category rather than traditional western notions of choosing a room. The KonMari method always starts with drawers, and it ends with the category of ‘sentimental items.’ Jewlery can be sentimental for many, especially women. Read about using KonMari to declutter jewelry here.

As you tidy, you are sending back into the world objects that can now be used for their original purpose. This gives you a clue on how to re-home them. Recycling, upcycling, and repurposing is now possible for items that helps create a circular economy of less waste.

Sentimental Items

There’s a reason that the KonMari method leaves sentimental items to last. That’s because these items have emotions, feelings, and memories associated with them. They provide comfort and other ‘feel good’ emotions.

There are also psychological reasons that causes people to hold onto things they received or created or purchased many years ago. These include negative emotions, such as a fear of losing prosperity, fear of throwing out things we might one day need, and afear of having wasting money.

Marie Kondo’s solution to dealing with a house full of sentimental items is to:

  • Focus on what to keep as its too overwhelming to focus on what to throw out
  • Hold each object close to your heart and concentrate on it. Does it create a little thrill of excitement, of warmth, a little electrical current? If so, it’s yours and you don’t need to justify it – it’s yours to keep. Kondo believes most items won’t create this ‘spark of joy.’
  • Work up to it. Hone your tidying skills by working through the KonMari method to get to this final and difficult category.
  • Never outsource your storage of sentimental items. Kondo is very clear that you shouldn’t burden your parents with your stuff!
  • Items made by your children are precious so make a plan about how you will keep them and how many you will keep. She wisely suggests taking photos of items. She also believes in displaying children’s clothes and art so visitors can appreciate them and so it is easier to say goodbye to them because you are thankful for the joy they brought to you and your children’s lives.
  • Kondo says that you should sincerely thank then remove from your home items from deceased family members that were meaningful to them if it no longer sparks joy for you. She argues that thanking the objects lessens the guilt of moving forward within them in your life.
  • The final and hardest category of sentimental items is photographs. Kondo’s advice is practical – do it with your family, remove duplicates and only keep pictures in which you look good!

The ritual elements of the KonMari method are designed to help you live in the present, consciously keeping the meaningful and joyous aspects of the past, but ready to engage with future joyful events and objects.

By Monique Skidmore at Trip Anthropologist

Author bio: Monique is a professor of cultural anthropology based in Melbourne, Australia, and  is the founder and editor of Trip Anthropologist, a travel resources website and podcast series for curious travelers who want to know more about the history and culture and food of the places they visit.

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