Wednesday, October 7, 2015

KonMari for Families

As I read the book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" perhaps the most common concern I kept having was, how would I do this with a big family? Ms. Kondo seems to have written her book with small Japanese families and singles in mind. In fact, as far as I can remember she only mentions children once, in reference to a single mother of one who wondered whether her child would adapt well to the changes she was implementing. She said second hand that it seemed as though the child had adapted well, but had very little to recommend on how that could be accomplished. I also often found myself thinking, how will I have time to do what she says between all my family duties? In order to "quickly and completely" purge my stuff as she recommends, I would have to put everytng else on hold and just focus on cleaning and organizing. That doesn't happen in a house full of kids. Life moves on at a very quick and busy pace. Also, as the determination about whether something sparks joy is a very personal thing, it would stand to reason that you can't make that choice for your kids. Having large families complicates the process even more. So how do you apply this wonderful process in a family home?

I was certain that while having a large family makes this process more complicated or challenging, it did not make it impossible. In fact, using the KonMari method seems to be even more beneficial the larger the family. It almost becomes a necessity for the sake of sanity! I can barely keep account of my own things, but as a mother of 5, I become by extension the steward of that many times more the amount of stuff. Being aware of what we all own and keeping it manageable is one way to run a tighter ship.

Once you have read the book yourself, there are a few basic principles I'll share that I think can help you get off on the right foot. My first recommendation for sucessful family KonMari is to effectively get everyone onboard. Doing this as a family will be a long and challenging process. You will need cheerleaders and helpers or you may loose steam. It's best to start with your spouse. Nothing will sow seeds of doubt faster in your children's minds than a spouse who is rolling their eyes, acting like this is just one of mommy or daddy's "phases", or defiantly refusing to participate. I have the benefit of having a spouse who is better at picking up after himself than I am. I think he was doing internal somesaults of joy when I was reading the book and getting so excited about cleaning and organizing our house. However, I believe it is still very possible to get even the most reluctant spouse to be excited about KonMari if you just approach it with the right attitude. It is imperative that you maintain a cheerful enthusiasm about it at all times. Take the attitude of leading them along rather than pushing them into it, or worse yet guilting them into it. Never, ever let your prompting turn into nagging! If you can get them to read the book, that's great! If you have to explain the method to them yourself, do it in an excited way. When I read the book the first time, I was so excited I was in tears! I felt an incredible liberation, a lifting of earthly burdens I had been carrying for years! I could finally bid farewell to the pounds of useless stuff I had been packing around for decades. Hopefully you have had or will have a similar experience with the book. That enthusiasm is the fuel to ignite the rest of your family's support of this life-changing transition.

If words are not effective, don't belabor the point but skip straight to the second key which is to lead by example. Ms. Kondo discusses this in her book and calls it one of the best ways to motivate your family. When she was young she became so frustrated with her parents' and siblings' lack of organization that she used to throw out their things without asking and just wait to see how long it took before they noticed. She admitted that was less effective. But she found and continues to find with her clients that when you clean and organize your own things and enjoy the peace and order it brings to your life, others will want to follow. Of course this takes committment and discipline, "constant vigilance" is the mantra I often repeat in my head. If our efforts fizzle or we aren't actually any happier no one is going to be converted. On the other hand, you will find that knowing your things are in order will bring you a sense of contentment that will make it easier to be patient while the rest of the family comes around.

Of course, if your are going to truly KonMari your whole house, eventually you will have to tackle things that belong to someone else. Because this is a very personal method of cleaning, your kids will be involved, either by directly making decisions or by you doing your best to interpret their feelings about their possessions. It will be hard to do everything on your own, so at some point you will probably find yourself working together with your children. My advice is to make it special. Even if they share a room, it's best to work with each child separately as you guide them through the process of turning their space into a joyful place. You will find it is a great way to bond and learn a little more about them, while also inspiring them. If the whole point is to whittle down your possessions until all you have left is infused with joy, then the process should be joyful, too. Enjoy it! Each family member may respond a little differently, but that is the beauty of families. Three of my children are old enough to manage their own clothes. As I spent time sorting clothes with each of them, one was excited, one huffy, and one indifferent, but I did my best to just smile through it and do my best to teach and inspire. I wondered how well their drawers would keep. After some time had passed, I had a very validating moment when I secretly found my daughter redoing her own drawers which had fallen into disarray. My son who was excited at first has let his drawers return to chaoticly crammed piles, while the reluctant one has seen the value of keeping his things neat and regularly rearranges his drawers in unique and creative ways. We are all at stages, but regardless of their enthusaiam or lack thereof, I am glad they all have the idea in their heads, and they have all at least tried it out. It is hard to maintain perfect order and I often have to redo their drawers myself or have them do it. But every time I pull out one of those neatly ordered drawers, I am reminded how great this system is. I love seeing all their clothes at once neatly in rows, and I love that I have enough space that I don't have to switch out seasonal clothes anymore. The only clothes in the attic are hand-me downs in waiting. Those drawers are like a little haven of sanity for me, and as long as I keep them up, I expect the joy with eventually diffuse throughout the rest of the house.

It's great to get the whole family involved in doing KonMari, but it's also important to know when it is time to work alone. There are things that will become complicated when you involve too many people and their accompanying opinions. Clothes are pretty safe to do with your kids that are old enough, though I recommend doing it one on one with each child in an undistracted large block of time, like a lazy Saturday. I find when it comes to things like toys and books, I would rather sort on my own first. This is best done while the kids are away at school. Then when I am all done I bring in the kids to help me finish up. 

Here's what I like to do: while sorting on my own, instead of just having "keep" and "eliminate" categories, I like to have a third box, called my "ask the kids" box. As I go through my kids things it's usually easy to identify the things they love. These are the obvious keepers. I also take this chance to exercise my right as a parent to get rid of those things I deem too messy and of little value or interest (like those nefarious happy-meal toys). These items get put away in the garbage or donation bags before any kids can see them. So far, I have not encountered any problems with kids asking for these things later. They remain thankfully forgotten. I always keep in mind the feelings of my kids, and if there is something I would really like to let go, but I know my kids have an attachment, those things go in the "ask the kids" box. Later, I have the kids come individually and I go through that box with them. I have been surprised how many of these things they tell me I can get rid of. They are stronger and less attached than I thought. Of course anything they want to keep goes back with the stuff to keep category. Then we decide how to store everything, and the kids are made aware of the system so they can put things where they belong.

Perhaps the most challenging thing is that it is really hard to do the KonMari method as quickly and thoroughly as Ms. Kondo recommends. Despite all her arguing about doing it in one fell swoop, I feel that as a family you just have to take your time, but don't give up! There are just too many extra factors in the soup and you can't expect to pull it off the same way a single person could. For one thing, this method just can't be done with young ones about. I find I often pull out everything from the current category I'm doing only to have to stuff it all back into place because I have to go pick up kids, run errands or start cooking dinner. You just can't lave piles of stuff sitting around when there are kids in the vicinity. Putting things back over and over slows me down considerably, but it is better than trying to leave it all out. If you have an awesome friend, sibling, parent or in-law who can take your kids for long stretches of time, go for it! I believe the idea that if you do not do this quickly and thoroughly you will loose steam. I have already seen that happen to me, but there wasn't much I could do. I am not, however, giving up! It has already been longer than the 6 months Ms. Kondo says it should take to get through our house, but my vision of the end result is the motivation that keeps me going. I used to think having an organized home was a physical impossibility for me. I no longer feel that way. That is the thing that has excited me most about KonMari. My goal, which I always longed for despite my pesimistic outlook, is at last achievable and totally within my grasp! I'm not only excited for myself, but I hope my children will also benefit from this shift in habits, and that their lives will be easier in this regard than mine ever was.