You know that expression, you can’t love anyone until you love yourself? Well, when it comes to organizing and decluttering your life, you can’t “KonMari” anyone until you KonMari yourself.  

For those who are not familiar, the KonMari Method is an approach to organizing created by Japanese guru Marie Kondo, author The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In short, it is a thoughtful process where you start with a vision of your ideal life: what are you wearing, where are you going, what your home looks and feels like, etc. With that clear vision, you then evaluate your belongings one category at a time (e.g., clothing, books, papers, linens) based on how they make you feel.

If the object elicits feelings of guilt (insert ugly sweater from mother-in-law) or sadness (um, my 37-year-old postpartum butt will never fit into those jeans again), then you express gratitude for the purpose it once served and say goodbye. All that is ultimately left in your closet are things that “spark joy”—and that means current joy, not theoretical future joy after the 10 pounds you might never lose. Roger that?

When it comes to organizing and decluttering your life, you can’t ‘KonMari’ anyone until you KonMari yourself.

So, back to why you have to worry about yourself first before your partner. We often project and see our flaws in others. I’m not denying your partner may in fact be a slob, but we must first self-reflect before dishing out criticism. So, before yelling at your partner to pick up their mess, consider your own heap and answer the following questions:  

  • Have you fully decluttered your clothes, books, papers and miscellaneous items like beauty products, kitchen gadgets, bath towels and even the junk drawer? (Including lipsticks from college.)
  • Do you still have memory boxes at your parents, twenty years after leaving the house? (Including boxes of photos of ex-lovers.)
  • Do you have keepsakes that never see the light of day? (Including piles photos of boring monuments in Europe that you felt obligated to snap.)
  • Do you take care for your own belongings with a sense of gratitude? (Like dry clean the “dry clean only” and properly fold things after use.)

Congratulations if you have a checked all the boxes! I’m guessing most of you haven’t, so normal people keep reading!

You must take the time to do the work because, let me tell you, if I can get my sloppy husband to fold like the Japanese master, Marie Kondo, then you can, too.  Here’s how:

  1. Do the work on yourself first.  
  2. Lead by example and quietly tidy common areas (but don’t throw out common items without discussing with your partner!).  
  3. Make it easy for them. Label storage containers for obvious “correct locations.” Similar to my children, I find that my husband responds well to clear containers with labels.
  4. Be patient. Wait a few weeks and then ask if they might take a stab at the same approach. (Feel free to act like it won’t be that big a project and “it’ll be fun!”)
  5. If they accept the challenge, be an adult and don’t resort to phrases like “you never use that” or “that was the dumbest thing you ever bought” or “those jeans totally look like ‘dad’ jeans.” If they still deny their messy state of existence (despite the stark contrast next to your tidy items) then express how happy it will make you…as in less nagging.  (Feel free to propose rewards, too.)
  6. Suggest hiring an organizing professional (Be it me, or another KonMari certified consultant) if things get too contentious. Some things are just better outsourced.

Decluttering can be overwhelming, so having a common goal and vision in mind serves as a great motivator for you both.

Most importantly, before taking on any decluttering with your spouse, you must get aligned with your partner about what your ideal life looks like, including what your ideal home looks like. Are there any pain points in the home for them, as there are for you? For example, maybe you will learn that your partner has dreams of building something in the garage, but it’s too cluttered.  Perhaps the guest bedroom has become a storage unit when you’d love to use it as a reading room. Maybe you want more romance, but your partner’s clothes are all over the bedroom (and not from undressing each other). Learning about your partner’s hopes and dreams shows that you care how your home impacts them, too. Decluttering can be overwhelming, so having a common goal and vision in mind serves as a great motivator for you both.

Decluttering goes beyond tangible stuff in your house and should include a hard look at your calendar. It includes removing the superfluous appointments, coffee dates with old friends you don’t much care for, bbqs at the dreadful neighbors and wasted time scrolling on your device. They all serve as distractions from the core of what matters– your time for meaningful things, including your partner.

You may say things, like, “I’m so tired” when it comes to having sex, yet there seems to be enough time for you to sign up for another committee or maintain a toxic relationship with that friend. So just as you would your clothing, cut out the draining stuff that does not serve you or your partner. That doesn’t mean go on a KonMari dumping frenzy, but really assess your commitments, friendships, shopping habits, Instagram scrolling and overall lifestyle.  

If you are still jamming your calendar with things that are truly optional and that take you away from your partner, then what might you be really avoiding? Perhaps that’s a whole other post.

Cassidy Nasello is the founder of Felt, a thoughtful home organizing consultancy that helps people declutter for life with the KonMari Method. Through the tidying process with Felt, clients gain a clearer sense of their values and ultimately a new outlook on what matters in life.

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