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Feb 21, 2017 12:09PM

Spring cleaning: Decluttering your space unclutters your mind

By Annie L. Scholl
Years ago I read a book about how clearing the clutter in your home would promote better Feng Shui. At the time I knew nothing about Feng Shui, the Asian philosophy that our surroundings — specifically where and how we place our stuff — affects our health, our relationships and our success.

I no longer remember the exact title of that book, but I do remember reading it and applying the principles. The author encouraged you to pick up each item in your home. If you loved it, you kept it. If you didn't, you got rid of it — or at least didn't display it.

I started with the bookshelves in my living room. I held each book and each item. If I loved it, it stayed. If I didn't, out it went. Before long I had cleared dozens of books and tchotchkes off my shelves.

Next up were the living room walls. I looked at each painting, each picture, and made the decision to keep them or get rid of them. One big decision: Taking down the wooden clock that hung in a prominent place in the room. The clock had been a wedding gift. I hung it on the wall because I loved the gift giver. But when I looked at it, I felt rushed — even if I wasn't running behind. I took it down and felt instant relief.

From room to room I went, slowly, methodically ridding each room of stuff I didn't love. In the end, I felt lighter, freer. It made a difference. I was so excited about the process that I gave the book to my mom, who was most definitely a pack rat. Ironically I found it after she died, deep in a stack of stuff on her kitchen table.

When I divorced and moved in 2011, I gave away many things — so many that one of my sisters was concerned. "You might need that," she said again and again. "You might want that," she'd say, even though I assured her I wouldn't.

It was tremendously freeing to give away things that anchored me to my past — to give away things I thought I could never part with. It gave me joy to see them in the hands of people who could really use them or who really wanted them.

I took with me only the things I dearly loved or knew I needed in my new home. Occasionally, like when I went looking for the book on clearing the clutter, I've missed what I gave away, but mostly, I haven't.

Recently, I was reminded of my decluttering experiences after a friend told me about, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing."

Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant, wrote this gem of a book, which was published in 2014. Kondo developed an approach to decluttering that she calls the KonMari Method, so named by combining her first and last names.

The book outlines the method of gathering everything you own by category and then keeping only those things that "spark joy." Kondo walks you through how to simplify, organize and store your stuff, but she goes beyond just a "how-to" declutter; she encourages us to cherish the things we have that bring us true joy.

The process, she promises, inspires a calm and motivated mindset.

I wish I could tell you I jumped right to work using Kondo's method, but I haven't yet. I'm sitting at my desk, looking out over my home office, and mostly all I see is mess — a stack of papers from an all-consuming work project from last week. A too-small bookshelf that has books stacked this way and that. Journals piled on a plastic tub filled with props for my photography business. Even a sports bra and shirt for the day I want to get on the treadmill first thing in the morning.

While I haven't yet gone to work on my clutter, Kondo's book reminds me of what's possible if I do. I know the method works. I remember how wonderful it felt all those years ago to purge my home and keep only the things I loved. I remember, too, taking that approach at my then-office at a marketing firm, and creating a peaceful space that kept me calm in a stressful job — one that my co-workers loved visiting because it helped them feel calmer, too.

Not long after revamping my office, I realized that job no longer served me and I went out on my own as a freelance writer. That was nearly seven years ago.

Tidying and decluttering really can change our thinking — and the way we approach life. It's not easy— it takes time — but as Kondo writes, "When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too."
Annie L. Scholl is a frequent Radish contributor.

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