Coming clean


Lindy Alexander

In your great declutter, start with clothes.

In your great declutter, start with clothes. Photo: Getty Images

Since hitting my mid-30s, I've noticed that I've fallen prey to middle-aged spread. Not the thickening of flesh into muffin tops and love handles, but the gradual creep of having too many possessions. "We need more space," I say to my partner as I look at our bloated spare bedroom. "It's not space we need," he replies. "We have to get rid of stuff. We're stuffocating."

Like millions before me, I turn to Japanese organising guru Marie Kondo, and her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, to help put my house in order.


"Tidying must begin with discarding," Kondo writes. "We shouldn't be choosing what to get rid of, but what to keep. If it does not spark joy, get rid of it."


I'd heard that this was the core of Kondo's strategy. A few weeks earlier, I'd mentioned to a friend that I was reading Kondo's book. "Be careful," she warned. "None of my long-sleeved tops sparked any joy, so I got rid of them all. It's been the coldest winter I can remember and I'm bloody freezing."


According to Kondo, most people make a simple but critical error. They tidy by room, not by category. The problem, she writes, is that we keep the same type of item in more than once place, so we end up shuffling items between rooms unaware of how much we actually have. Start by discarding clothes, she advises, then move onto books, papers, miscellany and, finally, sentimental things.

I baulk at the idea of getting rid of books, but my wardrobe is in dire need of a cull. Kondo advises putting all clothes in a pile, picking each item up individually and asking the ubiquitous question: "Does this spark joy?"

I plonk the contents of my underwear drawer onto the floor: 49 pairs. Not many spark joy; in fact, some bring back memories of utter discomfort and I relish throwing them out. I count how many remain. Ten pairs. My heart rate increases. What if the washing machine breaks on day 10? And am I really someone who only wears utilitarian undies? I look at the pile I've nominated to keep. It seems I am.


It's late one evening when I'm going through my books for a garage sale, having eventually conceded I could get rid of some. "What about this one?" my partner asks, holding a slim book. It's Kondo's. I take it from him. Does it spark joy? Not exactly, but it has sparked action. I put it in the "to keep" pile.

I get rid of about a quarter of my books and don't give them a second thought.


Throughout our house, newspapers, invitations, bills and reminders pile up like snowdrifts. The no-nonsense Kondo writes, "My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away." I pull out all the bits of paper we have in the house. The stack is nearly as tall as me.

I sort it into piles: general recycling; shredding; currently in use; documents that must be kept indefinitely.

After three hours of constant use, the shredder makes an unhealthy whirring noise and conks out. Days later, the shredder still won't turn on. Another Kondo casualty. We take it to the tip.


My house is full of things I don't adore. Random vases, ornaments, spare buttons, my Swatch watch collection and old mobile phones are a sad testimony to 30-something years of collecting, but not casting off. Once

I get going, discarding items is freeing. Not even the Swatch collection survives.


It's taken months but my home is tidy. The spare room is orderly and habitable, and I feel lighter walking through the house without surfaces congested with stuff. It's time for Kondo's last directive. Getting rid of mementos.

I have shoe boxes full of letters I've held onto since my teens, most of which are at my parents' house (I can almost hear Kondo tut-tutting: "Your parents' home is not a haven for mementos").

I keep only the letters to and from my partner from the early days in our relationship. I don't know if Kondo would approve, but they still spark joy -and that's enough for me.


Visualise what you want your house to look like.

Sort by category, not by room.

Tidy clothes first, then books, papers, miscellany and, lastly, mementos.

Designate a place for each thing.

Don't keep things "just in case".

Only put things away once you have finished discarding.

Keep only the things that speak to your heart.