Spring is nearly here, and with it the urge to do some spring cleaning. To make your seasonal chores more enjoyable, you might want to consider spicing things up with one of the two latest trends in decluttering and setting things to rights: The KonMari MethodTM or Swedish death cleaning.
Get Joyful and Tidied Up with Marie Kondo
In case you haven’t read her book or caught her Netflix show or read one of her gazillion interviews, let me first introduce you to Marie Kondo, the diminutive organizing enchantress from Japan who is leading the charge on the global tidying movement.
A self-proclaimed “tidying expert,” Kondo is on a mission to help people put their homes in order and live happier lives by discarding what no longer “sparks joy” and organizing the heck out of everything else.
While many other methods recommend tidying up either room by room or maybe by doing a little bit each day, Kondo encourages tidying by category—starting with clothes and books before moving on to papers, miscellaneous items, and, finally, sentimental items.
Her approach is simple, if somewhat mystifying. You pick each item up and hold it to see if it “sparks joy.” If it does, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you thank it for its service and toss it.
I get the part about thanking things. I still have two giant Rubbermaid bins full of my daughter’s stuffed animals because I worry the little critters would suffer feelings of abandonment if I tossed them. (Anyone want to adopt some Beanie Babies?) What I don’t get is how to tell if something “sparks joy.” I am not sure I could trust my inner joy meter to give me an accurate reading. I think it might get overloaded by “what if” worries.
What if I get invited to an occasion that requires a floor-length chiffon ballroom dress in deep plum with a waist so tight it makes breathing optional? What if I finally find the time to make the advent calendar of miniature felt stockings that I bought when my granddaughter was two? What if I decide I want to reread my complete collection of Nancy Drew novels?
Kondo has been collecting accolades all around the world, and her method has clearly helped many people rid their lives of excess clutter and make more space for joy in their lives. I applaud her and her followers for all the good work they’re doing, but I’m not 100% sure it would work for me.
Get Down to Brass Tacks with The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning
Happily, for those of us who can’t quite connect with the KonMari Method, there’s another option – Swedish death cleaning. Where Marie Kondo appears as a spunky and sprightly fairy of joyful decluttering, Margareta Magnusson (the author of The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning) is more like a no nonsense grandmother with a wicked sense of humor and a very pragmatic approach to life.
As her book’s subtitle proclaims, Magnusson’s approach to cleaning is all about how to free yourself and your family from a lifetime of clutter. Anyone who has lost a family member and had the responsibility of going through their things knows that the task can be both overwhelming and heartbreaking, and that’s not even considering issues where there’s a lack of clarity about who gets what. “Let me help make your loved ones’ memories of you nice — instead of awful,” Magnusson writes. “A loved one wishes to inherit nice things from you. Not all things from you.”
I appreciate that, unlike Kondo (who advocates for tidying up all in one go), Magnusson acknowledges that death cleaning is something you can chip away at little by little, over years, if need be. She also helps you ease into the process by starting with things that are already out of sight in your attic, garage, storage unit, and other such places. She agrees with Kondo about saving sentimental items—photographs, letters, journals, and so forth—for last.
My two favorite Magnusson tips are
1) shred or throw away anything that might cause a friend or family member embarrassment or pain (kind of obvious, but often overlooked)
2) create a “throw away” box. A throw away box is where you place items you don’t want to part with even though they probably won’t hold value for anyone after you’re gone. This might be old love letters, dried flowers, a favorite seashell, or a grandchild’s art project. The idea is that your loved ones have permission to look through this box, but they don’t need to feel any obligation to keep any of its contents.
Whether you follow the advice of Marie Kondo or Margaret Magnusson (or make up some hybrid approach of your own devising), you can make your spring cleaning a little more exciting (and hopefully effective) by incorporating some tips from these experts on tidying up and decluttering. Good luck, and happy cleaning!
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