I have a problem with clutter. Not to hoarder levels, but I’m definitely a collector of:

  • Shelves upon shelves of unread books.
  • Plastic bins full of yarn, shoved in a closet.
  • Clothes that are put away but which I never wear.
  • Boxes upon boxes of shoes, despite the fact that I wear the same two pairs of shoes every week.
  • So. Many. Books.

When it first hit the bestseller list, I read Marie Kondo’s treatise on sparking joy, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Did I agree with all of her ideas? Definitely not. I refused to dump all of my clothes in one big pile, handling them one by one. I did go through my closet and drawers and donate/trash a bunch of items, however. Did I ask myself if each item “sparked joy”? Not necessarily. But I got real with myself and decided what was worth keeping or not. I also refused to thank the items I was letting go of prior to them leaving the house—I just didn’t see the point of personifying my stinky old shoes that way, but hey, whatever works for people, right?

The problem with becoming clutter-free is that it’s an ongoing process and that’s the part I have trouble with: keeping up with it. Keeping things tidy. The process. Try as I might, I struggle with “collecting” a little too enthusiastically and find myself needing to purge every few months when my book stash reaches critical mass (along with my other collections). 

I ran across Francine Jay’s book, Lightly, when it was the Audible Daily Deal recently. I saw that she had another book, The Joy of Less: A Minimalist Guide to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify. Unlike Kondo’s book, Jay’s book seemed more straightforward and practical, so I bought the audiobook, put in my earbuds, and got to work.

The Joy of Less by Francine Jay

I don’t know if I was just in the perfect mood to declutter or if the book is solely responsible, but I decluttered SO much while I listened to this book. I’m talking three trash bags full of clothes and shoes for donation, not to mention A LOT of books (six bankers boxes worth). Plus a bag or two of things that just needed to be recycled or thrown away.

As with Kondo’s method, I haven’t put everything in Jay’s book to practice. Jay emphasizes the importance of putting things away immediately after you’ve used them, rather than leaving them out. For example, not having a lot of random things on the coffee table or nightstand all the time. For me, that doesn’t quite work, because too often out of sight equals out of mind, which means if everything is put away I forget that certain things are there to begin with. But I get the concept and it’s part of that process I’ve always struggled with. I can definitely put certain things away immediately (dishes, clothes, mail) but my books are pretty non-negotiable in terms of being out in each room.

Something else I love about Jay’s method is the idea of having a place for everything. Before, our mail would sit on the dining room table, piling up, when most of it was junk that could be recycled immediately anyway. It even got to the point where we had so much clutter on the dining room table that we stopped using it for its intended purpose. Now, the mail gets dealt with every day and the table is clear. We use it as an actual table again! For sitting at! And having meals on! What a concept! And any mail that needs to be looked at more closely or dealt with later goes in a small basket. Just thinking about that tidy basket versus the table, previously covered in junk, gives me joy.

I still have a ton of work to do—while the closet is tidier, it’s not as clear as I’d like it to be. Next up are my plastic bins of knitwear, purses/bags, and who knows what else. I also have a second closet that’s stuffed with yarn I never use and things I’ve held onto for a decade or longer…but why? Just to sit in a dark closet? I cannot wait to tackle that space next.

I’m not sure if the full minimalist lifestyle is for me. Jay, the self-proclaimed Miss Minimalist, shares that she and her husband live in a sparsely furnished bedroom. That’s fine for some, but personally I like having a big, comfy bed and lots of storage for clothes that I do actually wear.

All this being said, Jay’s book really resonated with me because I love the idea of having fewer things with the intention of creating more space. There’s something freeing about that concept. My challenge is to resist the urge to fill that new space with more random stuff, but like I said—it’s a process. And the things that are worth keeping are the ones that are truly meaningful to me, which means that when I look around, I see things that—dare I say it?—spark joy, rather than panic or stress.

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