How I Learned How to Declutter (Without Marie Kondo’s Help)

published Jan 11, 2019
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(Image credit: Diana Paulson)

My walk-in closet was clogged with items I purchased at the mall just because they were 40 percent off. But now that same closet is sparse. My home office is also orderly (for the first time in my adult life) with neatly organized folders containing the gazillions of tax documents that come with being a freelance writer.

Yes, I’ve been binge watching Marie Kondo’s “Tidying up with Marie Kondo.” (It’s soothing!) But, no, it wasn’t the show—or the KonMari method—that saved me from my messiness, clutter, and countless stop-and-start closet clean-ups. Instead it was a hiking trip I took through Japan with REI Adventures last spring that helped me finally get an organizing system in place.

As cliché as it sounds, I embarked on the trip with the hope of experiencing a soul-searching adventure. My group hiked the ancient Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trail that emperors once traveled for spiritual purification and, along the way, learned a good deal about Japanese history and culture. I mediated, soaked in onsen baths, and, surprisingly, learned how to do away with clutter.

I was super-impressed with how neat, orderly, and clean everything was, from the guest inns, to the train stations, to the trails. When I asked my guide about the orderliness, she simply explained: “We believe that if you’re cluttered, you won’t have space to receive blessings.”


By applying this idea, I was finally able to get a decluttering system in place and attached a meaning to why I was organizing. I wasn’t getting rid of stuff just to get rid of it. Instead, I was removing meaningless distractions and clutter, freeing up space and energy for good things to happen.

So when I returned home from the 11-day trip, I started decluttering. It was no small process. I worked in one-hour increments over the course of a few months, setting a timer and listening to my favorite true crime podcasts as I got rid of my mess (OMG, why so many tote bags?). I made room for my blessings.

My office was dominated by old newspaper clippings of articles I had written. They were turning yellow in their stacks. Was I holding on to dozens of articles I had written in the past for fear that there wasn’t abundance of writing opportunities? Probably. I decided that if I got rid of them, it might help me make space for more blessings (i.e. writing assignments) to come my way. So I put my favorite ones in an album, scanned a few others, and recycled the rest. I’d say it worked—not only did I continue to have a steady stream of jobs, I was also finally confident enough to rid myself of some lower-paying jobs that were cluttering my to-do list, too, thus freeing up space to pitch publications I love (that also pay well).

As for my bedroom closet, I got rid of a lot of clothes that I felt “meh” about. I didn’t do it to make room for more, but to give myself the blessing of feeling confident in everything I wear. I can honestly say all of my clothing items now “spark joy” and I no longer have trouble finding outfits I enjoy wearing. Another unexpected “blessing”? I no longer spend so much of my discretionary income on fast fashion—I’ve been able to save that money and travel more.

The takeaway for me? I had to climb mountains in order to gain the perspective to tackle my mountains of clutter—but once I was free to accept to change and challenge, life suddenly started to be a little easier.