KonMari With A Twist– When Sparking Joy Doesn’t Work

clothes on a hangar with pictures hung on the wall

Hangers rattled as I grabbed them eight at a time, heaving clothes onto the bed.

If you have read The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, watched the subsequent show on Netflix, or tuned in at all to the viral sensation of Americans facing their consumerism with tears and stubborn denial, you may recognize the first step of the KonMari method.

My closet looked like a tree in winter as I dumped all the leaves unceremoniously onto my bed. If I hadn’t been worried about stabbing myself with the twisted mess of hangers, I might have tried jumping into the pile. Instead, I emptied out the chest of drawers, grouped my shoes in a jumble, and pulled my coats out of the hall closet, watching every inch of the duvet disappear.

The Two Motivations

I am cleaning out my closet for two reasons:

  1. We are moving in a couple of months. I want to make sure I’m not loading up boxes full of stuff that will never be used.
  2. I just finished the book The Year of Less, in which the author, Cait, describes her transformational year of living by a shopping ban. As I am thinking of doing something similar, I need to take stock of what I already own.

Ultimately, I want to find my ‘enough,’ and by looking at the heap of clothes on the bed, it is clear that I have more than enough.

a huge pile of clothes on the bed
The embarrassing amount of clothes

I know I’m not alone with my mountainous pile of clothing. In 1930, the average American woman owned nine outfits. Today, the average is thirty outfits, a total of $1,000 to $2,500 dollars worth of clothing dangling in our closets. Looking at that pile, I regretfully have more than thirty.

The Cull Begins

Just as Marie Kondo advises, I hold each item to my chest and wait to see if it sparks joy. My joy-o-meter seems broken. I throw everything into the donate pile.

Mr. Mechanic walks in and starts pulling clothing out. “But you wore this dress to Matt’s wedding!” he waves it in front of me, and then notices a sleeve peeking out, “You wear this sweater all the time!”

I hesitate. Those items didn’t bring me any joy, and besides, I already put a dress and a sweater in the ‘keep’ pile. Isn’t that enough?

A Reasonable Wardrobe

I decide to change tactics. Rather than focus on my emotional barometer, I decide to rely on numbers for this problem.

Define your 'enough', and go from there.Click To Tweet

I already know my threshold for having ‘enough’ is low after living out of a suitcase for 6 months. While abroad, I rotated just a few items of clothing every day. Yet I also know that I keep scrambling to wear the ‘right’ outfit when we go to nice events with family, and in those moments it doesn’t feel like enough.

The clothes themselves don’t bring me any joy, but having one simple outfit for each occasion without having to stress, worry, or worse– try on multiple outfits in a state of panic– brings me lots of joy.

List of clothes necessary for every day wear, shoes, and occasions

This method helped. I added a tally of every item I kept, and if I reached the limit in a category, the rest were moved to the ‘donate’ pile. By the end, I had a small stack of clothes to keep and a massive heap to donate.

Where Did All These Clothes Come From?

I’m not much of a ‘going shopping for fun’ type. I have never bought an outfit online or dashed out for a sale. Squinting at my clothes I wondered, how did this happen? I posted the pile on my bed on Instagram, and my friend Luxe from The Luxe Strategist commented:

I had to think about it, passing my fingers along each garment.

I rescued this sweater from a donation bag my friend let me root through. That dress was a Christmas gift. A generous retiree found out I was her size and gave me multiple professional suits. I could trace back each t-shirt to a tech conference in the last few years. I realized that nearly my entire wardrobe was free-to-me, donated or gifted by friends and family (or found in a parking lot like my lacrosse hoodie, still going strong seven years later).

When I counted through the pieces I actually bought in the last five years, it turned out that I only paid for a tiny fraction of my entire wardrobe.

The numbers of clothes I bought roughly matched the numbers from my “Reasonable Wardrobe” count. Yet I had accumulated so much more than what I really considered ‘enough’.

It Is Hard To Let Go

It is so easy to take more into our lives. We embrace the ‘just-in-case,’ conjuring up scenarios where that fifth jacket will be critical for when it’s drizzling and precisely 55°F outside.

I admit that I kept more than my personal reasonable limit of 2 suits. I have about six more suit jackets than is necessary for a software engineer who is about to transition to working from home. (That number is likely zero.)

I know I am keeping them because of the ‘what if’ of going to a professional event or being asked to do a Ted Talk, even though one outfit would probably cover it in that case.

Give Your Clothes a Job or Fire Them

Despite my personal failure to donate every last thing I don’t need, I have recommendations for anyone about to do their spring cleaning. Before even looking at what you already own, start making a ‘reasonable wardrobe’ list of your own.

      1. Make a job for your clothes.

Each occasion is a different job. Similar to how a budget assigns a ‘job’ for your money, make a list of the occasions for which you will need an outfit.

      2. Figure out which piece of clothing will do the best job.

If you have an outfit for each occasion, you can fill in the ‘what-ifs’ and let everything else go. I had multiple sweatpants, but at home, I tended to wear the same pair. The job was full. I kept the single pair and donated the rest.

      3. If the role is already filled, thank it KonMari-style for interviewing. Let it know gently that you hired a more qualified candidate.

If something about the clothes doesn’t work for you– the style, the fit, the material– then it is time for a reduction-in-force.

Clothing Buying Ban… Commence!

It’s time to start my ban on buying clothing. I have shoes for the beach, for running, for work, and for hiking. I have shirts for lounging, for the office, and for presentations. I have jackets for every shade of the sun.

I have my ‘enough,’ so I don’t need to keep adding to it.

Starting today, the clothing ban begins!

What about you?

What was your experience decluttering? Did you use the KonMari method or adapt it? Have you done a shopping or clothes-buying ban?

Let me know in the comments below!

21 Comments

  1. Lately, I have been trying to follow a 1-in, 1 out rule for clothes, but I have way too many!! So starting NOW, it’s 1-in, 5-out, and I don’t think it’s going to be that hard to do, at least for a whiiiile!

    1. Love this! That is essentially what happened yesterday when I decluttered. For some things it was more like, 1-in, 10-out! Good on you for being intentional with decreasing your clothes.

  2. I like the idea of pairing things down to a reasonable wardrobe. I went through my wardrobe about a year ago and got rid of so many things. Admittedly, I need to go through it again soon. I do like the KonMari method, but I also think your method has a lot of merit as well. I should try a cloth buying ban as well. I really don’t need any clothes at the moment, though eventually a new pair of winter books will need to happen, but maybe that can be my one allowed clothing purchase.

    1. Yes, I liked the idea of having a list in advance, because it meant you had to be really intentional before starting the ban. I had hiking boots and proper sandals on my list before starting the ban, but this month I bought both and so I figured this is as good a time as any to start!

  3. Thanks for writing this up! It’s interesting to see how you accumulated so much not because of buying, but for accepting free items.

    I myself am trying to cut out clutter by being more mindful about free items. For example, decided that if I ever went to FinCon I wouldn’t just take any free stuff just because. I don’t need any more tote bags.

    I’d say my struggle is with work clothes. 30% of my entire wardrobe is dedicated to work clothes even though I work in a casual environment. It’s tough to throw them out when you might need them for meetings and interviews. I don’t want to start over again!

    1. Yes! My friends know I’m always down to check out their donations before they give it away. Conferences are my weak spot too– I think I came away from one tech conference with 15 new t-shirts. That is too many!

      Work clothes are my struggle too. Every other article of clothing I had enough of while entering adulthood, but I always felt like I didn’t have enough professional-wear. With the massive donation from a couple of women in my life, I have enough and find it so difficult to get rid of any of it since I spent so long feeling like I didn’t have enough!

  4. Wow! 15 T-shirts form a conference?? I got a few from Docker Meet ups about a year ago and some office swags! You’ve got to write a post on cloth hacking through conferences!

    I loved your approach to clean up your wardrobe and it makes sense!

  5. Ha, I actually have been having the opposite experience in trying to build up my wardrobe a bit so I’m not wearing the same three or four shirts all the time. It’s slow going, though, because I’m only shopping at thrift stores.

    Still, as I looked over my summer tops recently, I realized that I probably have enough there to avoid any more shopping. I don’t think I’ll be decluttering them (unless I find I’m not wearing something) but I need to remind myself that I have enough the next time I get the urge to go find something new and cute.

    1. I definitely recognize that the times that I felt a scarcity in my wardrobe (getting teased in middle school for wearing the same shirt multiple days in the same week) perpetuated into clothing-gathering after I attained enough. Similarly, when I started working, I always felt like I didn’t have enough work clothes, so I kept accumulating work clothes and now I have too many! Good on you for recognizing when you’ve hit your enough.

  6. I admittedly don’t have a ton of clothes, but every season I go through the closet and find the things that I haven’t worn in a year. I either need to work it back into the rotation immediately, or I ditch it. It’s my “use it or lose it” method!

    1. I do that too! If I find something I never wear but don’t want to give it away, I wear it the next day. If I loved it, it goes into regular rotation. If not, out it goes! I’ve heard people use a method with hangars where you move everything you wear to one side. If pieces dangle long enough on the other side, it’s time to get rid of them. “Use it or lose it” is a great test of our true favorites!

  7. I love the concept of enough. So liberating when you get your various possessions to the point of what is needed and remove a lot of the excess. Also removes a lot of added stress that the clutter creates!

    1. I completely agree. I am not a particularly clean or minimalist person, but my closet had been nagging at me for weeks. It’s definitely liberating to figure out that you actually don’t need MORE, but less 🙂

  8. What a good idea to actually pull all the clothes off the hangers. So much more effective that way!
    There was spoof on the spark joy concept where a woman held each of her items of clothing to her chest and tossed those that didn’t spark joy. She ended up with no bras, b/c lets face it, they never spark joy right?
    I don’t think the KonMari concept would work for me either. I am too practical to put things to test involving little more than a gut feeling or a “Je ne sais quois”. If I just kept clothes that are old friends then I would be more disheveled than Compo, the character from the the British sitcom, “Last of the Summer Wine”.
    It is more practical to keep a few nice pieces based on clear criteria such as good fit, good repair (i.e. no holes) and stain free.

    1. There definitely are a few items that are harder to give away since they have been around longer. I have a hoodie my mother would love for me to trash because the sleeves are quite raggedy but I have a hard time giving it up! However, having some kind of framework to ask yourself if it checks the boxes makes it easier to sort. For now I have put the hoodie and other questionable items in a trash bag to store away. If I don’t miss them, it is likely that I don’t need them.

  9. I relate with this so much! I’ve never really “shopped for fun” yet after reading “the year of less” and embarking on this decluttering journey I was astound at the amount of clothes I had. I also enlisted the help of Mr. Mod for my keep pile as I was having trouble with selecting things.

    Like you, I am the type to go for the “just in case” hand-me-down and my closet had gotten out of control. This method of going for outfits for the types of occasion you know you will attend really resonates with me with its practicality! I hope you enjoy the cleaned out wardrobe as much as I do, it makes putting clothes away and choosing an outfit a breeze!

    1. I am thinking of doing a second round where I label hangers based on occasion, and also store away seasonal wear when it’s not in the right season, so my wardrobe will always be smaller. I’m glad you have a clean wardrobe, it really is amazing how much better it feels to have less.

  10. I started my minimalism journey with the KonMari book. I find it’s a great starting point to realign my attitude with “stuff”. I did a full cull with her methods. Then, the journey went onto the next phase with the Minimalist Game from The Minimalists.

    My husband and I played it together the first month (adds a little friendly competition), and purged over 900 items from our household. We played a second round a few months later, and ultimately it led us to downsize all of our belongings to a suitcase and a backpack each. Now, when we buy anything, we follow the one-in-one-out rule, because well, limited space! We won’t live like this forever, but it’s a good reset. 🙂

  11. Great article on thinning out the wardrobe. It’s amazing how much extra stuff we can accumulate without even noticing it. I’ve also been making an effort to embrace minimalism and did a similar wardrobe clean-out recently.
    My rule was: “If I haven’t worn it in a year, it goes in the donation bin”. I find that the clothes that I do wear, I wear all the time. And the things I don’t wear often, I almost never wear. So I love your idea of giving each piece of clothing a job and creating a functional wardrobe of clothes that are worn frequently.
    Getting rid of all of those unused clothes feels so good!

  12. The concept of only keeping clothes that spark joy is a terrible rule for me.

    I have maybe a handful of clothes that spark joy, and those are mostly clothes I never wear anymore. Like my dress from college graduation. I’m in my fifties. It sparks joy because I can still fit in it, and I have always loved it. But it looks like the dress from the 1980’s that it is, and it fits me like a middle aged woman in a young woman’s dress. I won’t wear it again. But joy? Lots of joy in that dress!

    Meanwhile, I’m very tall and thin, with broad shoulders, and it is terribly hard to find clothes that I love and that fit me. So most of my wardrobe is utilitarian. It looks decent, it fits OK, it does what it needs to do, and I wear it. I’m surely not going to get rid of things I wear regularly just because they don’t spark joy!

    If I only ate food that sparked joy, I’d become anorexic. If I only drove a car that sparked joy I’d go broke. If I only kept books that sparked joy, I’d have no professional library.

    It’s a cute idea, and clearly it works for a lot of people. But it’s a useless metric for me.

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