Tidying Up – Our Story, part 1

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KonMari Insight Blog Series.

 

When I met my husband, Greg,  8 years ago, I knew he was a collector. I have to admit the first time I went to his house and saw the vastness of the clutter, my heart sunk.  I had just moved my sister and brother in law’s “treasures” to my home. My house was packed.  My storage sheds were packed. My mother, who was ill, had been sending me her stuff for years.

“Oh Sweetie, do you want that table? It’s all  yours, you just have to also take these 5 boxes of linens, too!”

I had also spent a good part of my working career helping seniors who were moving or living in retirement homes.  Some just had pleasantly cluttered homes; others were hoarders. All needed to downsize because they were moving. I spent a lot of days sorting through bags and boxes, old jars of spoiled canned foods and unopened mail wrapped up in newspapers.  One woman’s son had me go through her basement looking for unopened stock dividends that were mixed in with bags of trash.  I found at least part of what he was looking for.  Some of the dates went back 10 years.

Needless to say, I did think twice about getting involved with Greg, his 5 cats and all of his accessories. But, not for long. Greg was so awesome.  He was kind, polite, honest, fun-loving, and smart. We balanced each other.  I was the serious, worrier type.  He tempered that with his  wacky humor.  I grounded him with my with my attention to detail and softened his black and white view of the world. We were alike in the places that mattered: our values, humanity and love of animals.

A year and a half later, Greg, his cats, and stuff, moved in with me and my 3 dogs. Day one was not bliss. In fact, he almost moved out before he had finished moving in. He was overwhelmed and tired. The house was packed. My  4 sheds were so packed that  we also needed a storage unit.  I was worried about where all his stuff would go, and complained about it. We found that we had totally different working styles.  I liked to pace myself, Greg wanted to push through and then rest. We both ended up angry and arguing.  Slowly, we merged what we could. But there was still stuff everywhere. His stuff, my stuff, my family’s stuff were all packed into our little 1000 sq. ft. house along with Greg, me and 8 animals.

I was also racked by guilt.  I was the last of my immediate family.  A good 70% of “my stuff” was all of the family “treasures” I had inherited. I didn’t even like the stuff, but I felt like I had to keep it for my nephew, as a legacy.

Enter: KonMari and a conversation with my nephew, Chris.

Chris was visiting for Christmas in 2014.

He said,” I guess I should go through some of the boxes of my stuff. It’s been a long time.”

I thought. “ Wow! Finally! It’s been 10 years, so yeah, it’s time.”

I brought in a bunch of plastic totes from one of the sheds into the house.  Chris went through the six containers in about a ½ hour and combined everything into one partial box. I was amazed and intrigued.  Could it be that easy?  We talked for awhile about his Mom and Dad, and what kinds of things he would like to keep to help remember the good times.  He really just wanted a few things: an Asian camphor wood carved chest, a couple of vases, and a few other things. That was it. What he really wanted hardly made a dent in the massive amount of stuff we moved from my sister’s home.

After the holiday, I got online and looked up decluttering.  That’s when  I came across Marie Kondo’s book with the intriguing title of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up ( The Japanese Art of Decluttering). I got the kindle version of the book and devoured it in a couple of hours. Could this really work, I wondered? I mean we have so much stuff! What do I do about the sentimental things? How would Greg feel about these changes?  What about his stuff?

I thought about it for awhile.  I reread the book.  About a week later, I talked to Greg about what I wanted to do and why. He was supportive, but in no way wanted to participate. He understood that I had a problem with all of my family’s stuff and was fine with me making the changes I needed, but he liked all of his stuff and saw no need for anything of his to go.

That was okay. I mean Marie says you only deal with your stuff anyway.  So, I started. I thought about what I wanted my life and home to be like, my vision.

  1. I wanted to be able to walk through the house without tripping. Maybe it was not an earth shattering goal, but I was stumbling over everything!
  2. I wanted to be able to have people visit and not have to do a manic clean up just before they show up.
  3. I wanted my house to feel like mine (and Greg’s) and not just a place I was living in.
  4. I wanted to like my wardrobe, that it would be easy to wear and comfortable.
  5. I wanted to be able to find important papers and bills easily.
  6. I wanted my home to be guilt-free.

I didn’t have the mindset at the time to go into more detail.  I think I was already overwhelmed at the job I was taking on.

I made time for the project  and dove in. I gathered my clothing, and my Mom’s clothing, and my sister’s clothing.  Then I found more; and then still more. What sparked joy?  What did that mean? I was already stuck! Wait.

I grabbed a shirt. “I should like this.  I’ll keep it,” I thought.

“No, wait a second.  You don’t like this shirt. Let it go.  But it was expensive, I should like it”

Now I was getting a headache!  This was hard. I couldn’t get passed the first shirt.

I grabbed the book again and reread the section on clothing. What I was feeling about the shirt was guilt, not joy. I picked up the shirt again.  More guilt. I dropped it on the floor and mentally thanked it and said goodbye. One down. I went through my pile. I went through my sister’s pile. I went through my Mom’s pile. I really didn’t have much left.  I grabbed a pair of pants out of the goodbye pile, because I needed them for yard work. But I put everything, except a few expensive pieces to sell into donation bags. I have to admit I just folded everything my regular way that first day.   I was really exhausted. I didn’t have the mental agility to try the special Konmari  folding. One thing at a time.

I moved on to books. They were easier for me and I went through the category pretty fast.  I kept my childhood books and a couple of my Mom’s, some fix it books, a couple of cookbooks, and some craft books. Greg saw the stack of books that were leaving and winced.

“ But these are BOOKS! You are getting rid of books?” he said.

“Yes,” I said.  “I don’t need them, I don’t read them and they don’t make me happy. I have my Kindle app.”

“Oh.” Greg looked sad. “But they are books.”

We worked through it.  They were my books and he knew he couldn’t really stop me.  I wasn’t touching his books.  And he had/has a lot of books!  But more about that, later.

Papers were next.  I had one word for papers: Yuck!  Because papers were an “ours” item, I talked to Greg about what to do. I tended to do part time work at home, so I paid bills and generally tended to the paperwork. We agreed that I would  purge and sort everything. Then fill Greg in on how everything was organized.  We ended up with a fire safe box for important papers, a flat container for manuals and other things to save, and an in box for pending.  I bought a small scanner and copied permanent things and tossed the hard copies. I have to admit that things still pile in the in box, because I still hate papers. We went paperless on most of our bills, but we’re  working on managing the daily influx. Greg was fine with the end result. Probably because it was an area that didn’t really affect him on a daily basis.

So far, KonMari was pretty painless for Greg. I routinely talked about what I was doing and how happy I was doing it.  You know, the happy wife, happy life thing. I really stressed the happy part. I didn’t really talk about how I was tired,  and sore, and dirty. I would just take a break, then start up again. I wasn’t trying to be dishonest, but I really wanted him to join in the purging.  I thought if it sounded too hard, he wouldn’t do it.  I was wrong.  Better to be honest about the whole thing, and let the chips fall where they may. Purging is hard and tiring. It will be equally hard for your partner when they start. They will be in for a rude awakening if you’ve sugar coated what it’s been like for you. What really kept us going through the hard times was having a good sense of humor and let ourselves laugh through the tears.

Next, I went back to the closet and folded my things KonMari style.  I showed Greg what I had done and how much space I had.  I contemplated rearranging the closet we shared.  I took the plunge and asked Greg if we could go through his clothes. He grumbled, but asked what I had in mind.

“ How about if I pull out all of your pants and shirts and put them on the bed and you pick out anything that doesn’t fit or is worn out.”  I was rearranging the closet anyway, so I already had to pull his stuff out. “We can set a time limit of say ½ an hour.”

“I don’t have to hug my shirts and ask if I love them?” he asked.

“Nope, just see if anything is worn out. Then I’ll hang it all up and fold things.”

I could tell that Greg liked the idea of not having to put anything away.

We tackled the clothes the next day.  Surprisingly, he got rid of a lot.  I folded and hung the remainder, reorganized the closet. Greg kind of smirked at the specially folded clothing,but when it came time to pack for our vacation a couple months later, he was done in just a few minutes. He was able to just grab and go.

As we moved on to komono items. Greg and I talked more about the sorting. He still wasn’t really interested in doing KonMari actively, but he was open to talking about it.  We made decisions on the joint items.  Those things that I handled more, like the kitchen and cooking, I just did on my own. Anything that was Greg’s, I left as is and just cleaned around them.  The house was really coming together.

I didn’t touch Greg’s office.  I’ll have to admit, that at first, the mess really bothered me. Then as I got rid of everything else, his belongings affected me less. I cleaned around things, but I didn’t “accidentally” toss out anything. I think because as I let go of my things, and the things I thought I had to keep, I let go of the anger and guilt associated with them. I was really happier. A big part of the reason I was decluttering was so that Greg and I could have a home that was ours. Greg’s belongings, no matter how I felt about them were actually part of the goal.  They were what represented home to him. Once that sunk in, it was life changing for me.

The other reason that I didn’t / couldn’t randomly toss out what to me was just junk, was trust.  I would never betray Greg’s trust.  It’s the cornerstone of our marriage.  If I broke that trust, then I would again damage my end goal: a happy life with Greg. Trust is a delicate thing.  Once it’s damaged, it takes forever to heal.

I’ll finish the story on Tidying Up – Our Story (part two)

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