BY BETH J. HARPAZ, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — Reading Marie Kondo's best-selling books about decluttering is intimidating. I have a complicated relationship with many of my possessions: souvenirs from favorite places, gifts from loved ones. Even if I never use them, how could I part with them? And how could I face my overflowing cupboards and scary closets?
But I got over my fears. Ultimately, Kondo's books, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" and "Spark Joy," are not so much about throwing things out as they are about "choosing what we want to keep," as Kondo puts it.
Here's what it felt like going Kondo.
THE BATHROOM WAS EASY
Kondo says sentimental things should be left for last. So I started with the most unsentimental place: the bathroom. There's no emotion in tossing expired medication, used Ace bandages and unclaimed toothbrushes, or in consolidating half-empty boxes of Band-Aids.
Those baby steps strengthened my discard muscle. Next I said goodbye to fragrances and lipsticks I never use.
In cleaning out, I unearthed a cache of skin creams and cleansers that I like. I now keep some handy for daily use, and store others in a beautifully decorated gift box I'd been reluctant to part with. Keeping and using the box this way fit several Kondo principles.
First, she says, "Everything you own wants to be of use to you."
Second, she says, don't buy storage containers. Instead, use things you already own: shoeboxes, stationery boxes, decorative bowls.
Third, Kondo is no minimalist. "Adorn your home with the things you love," she urges. My pretty box now brightens a shelf.
Folding is also critical. Kondo says every foldable object has its own "sweet spot ... a folded state that best suits that item." I'm still working on folding the bathroom towels just right, but after studying her techniques, I get the origami-like art of folding shirts.
SORT BY CATEGORY
Don't clean shelves and drawers one by one, Kondo says. Instead, sort by category to "compare items that are similar in design, making it easier to decide whether you want to keep them."
In the kitchen, I surveyed all the bakeware at once, shedding excess cookie cutters and muffin tins. A dozen random mugs and two teapots were given away. I counted a dozen vases and kept four. I was stunned to find nearly 40 portable water bottles tucked in cupboards; I kept two.
I also stacked items by shape, as Kondo suggests, transforming cluttered shelves.
Then I gathered decorative platters and bowls, many of them gifts that weren't to my taste, and employed her ritual: "Take each item in one's hand and ask: 'Does this spark joy?' If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it."
As I proceeded, I contemplated the gift-givers' kindness. "You don't need to feel guilty for parting with a gift," Kondo writes. "Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it."
Along the way, I found things I love, like a carved wooden dish I now use to display fruit. I hesitated over my mom's ornate, silver-plated sugar-and-creamer, which I'll never use. But I cleaned the tarnish off and a friend pronounced them "shabby chic." They now decorate a windowsill.
As Kondo says, "If you have items that you love even though they seem useless, please give them a turn in the spotlight."
I dumped all my clothes on my bed and dove in. Some didn't fit, or were stained or damaged. Some were gifts, or I'd bought them on vacation.
I sent the rejects off with Kondo's blessing: "Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you," or "Thank you for teaching me what doesn't suit me."
"By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order," she writes.
Kondo is fine with keeping things you don't use, as long as "you can say without a doubt, 'I really like this!'" So I kept the flowered confection of a hat I bought in England, although I'll never wear it.
She also says nothing is too special for everyday wear. So now I wear a favorite black velvet top to work.
SCARY PLACES, BEAUTIFUL SPACES
I have a dark, scary closet under the ceiling that I've been throwing stuff into for 20 years. Kondo emboldened my excavation.
Crumbling 1970s luggage? Out! Subzero military boots bought secondhand for a winter trip to Alaska? Donated to the Salvation Army.
My outdoorsy son's camping equipment stayed, but Kondo's folding techniques helped reduce the space needed for his weatherproof clothing and bedding.
Once again, forgotten treasures emerged: artwork from Morocco, a carved wooden bowl that belonged to my late mother-in-law. Both are now on display.
"By the time you finish, you'll see something you love everywhere you look," Kondo writes.
And that's her real genius: "You are not choosing what to discard but rather what to keep."
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Photograph from Instagram.com/mariekondo