KonMarie and Me
The first week of 2015, I decided to KonMarie my life. The concept of spring cleaning never made much sense to me. Spring brings flowers, allergies, sunny weather and a sun that doesn’t really set until at least 7 p.m. Spring is made for being enjoyed outdoors with the sun on your shoulders, not in your musty apartment, marveling at moths and finding new and inventive ways to store the scarves you stress-knit or the sweaters you bought when you were sick of everything else. It was decidedly winter out—cold, blustery, with traces of snow still on the ground. I decided that the new year was the best time.
The central tenet of KonMarie is joy. Every item that you purchase and choose to surround yourself with should bring you immeasurable amounts of joy. The boots you put on when it’s snowing for the tenth time should bring you joy, as should the toothbrush you got from your dentist for free. Each joyful, delightful thing, she says, has a spirit. Treat each item with respect, by putting it in its right place, and you will find the peace you’ve been craving. By wrestling your physical possessions into control, you will also soothe the mind.
What is it like to live in a house where every item in it brings you joy? Do you walk into your bedroom suffused with a sense of well-being, spreading your arms wide and feeling the good vibes emanate off the five things you have left? Are you no longer soothed by material things? Do clean corners and white walls suddenly provide peace when before they produced a nibbling anxiety? I was going to find out.
I tried to KonMarie my books, but that was ultimately too painful. There are a lot of books in my house, and I eventually shoved off a couple of bags to the used bookstore down the street. I had a lovely conversation with the bookseller about Station Eleven, and cashed in the credit I received to purchase one shiny hardcover book, which is languishing, spine barely cracked, on my bedside table. After I was done, I texted a picture of my pared down collection to a friend.
“I don’t see a difference?” he responded. I would say that every book in there brings me joy, but really, I think I’ll get around to reading them eventually.
Next, my clothes. Asking if, for example, a Betsey Johnson sundress that is too short to wear in public brings me joy is a strangely loaded question.The dress at one point surely brought me joy. I’m pretty sure I purchased it in a fit of pique at Buffalo Exchange, wore it once and realized that the entirety of Brooklyn doesn’t deserve the sight of my bare ass every time a breeze comes by. It went into the pile. Dresses that no longer fit, anything that was stained, tops with unfortunate floral patterns that I envisioned wearing with shoes I didn’t own all went into garbage bags, stuffed so hastily that I didn’t bother folding. As I began, I started asking myself quietly if the things I was holding brought me joy, because it seemed so delightfully whimsical to assume that they did, but the answer, every single time, was no.
I don’t spend a lot of money on clothing. I have learned over the years that shoes are better if they cost more, because you walk so often in New York, but the rest of it is purchased off the sale rack at H&M or Old Navy. Paying $30 for a shirt is appalling; why would I spend that money, when I can get three for the same price? I fear that if I start buying nicer clothes, clothes that cost real money, I’ll realize how absolutely wonderful they are. I’ll be hooked.
Clothing brings me joy, if we define joy as being happy that I am leaving the house dressed in a manner that doesn’t make me look crazy. I like a lot of the things I have, but none of them fill me with joy, because they all cost under $50 and were purchased during my Saturday routine, which consists of looking for new shoes and listening to podcasts as I dodge tourists in Soho. I’ve always been big on quantity over quality, for mostly financial reasons. I would love to be at a place in my life where it doesn’t feel awful to spend over $100 in a shopping trip. Would I feel better about the stuff that I wear if I spent actual, significant amounts of money on it? Maybe. But, I won’t ever be able to tell unless I actually bite the bullet and do it.
Buying cheap clothing and tiny, thin rings that will turn copper in a week is my personal form of self-care. I like to feel like I have new things constantly, because the old things weren’t very nice to begin with. It’s an endless cycle that continues, and probably won’t be broken until I pony up and spend the scratch on something that is actually well-made and won’t lose its shape or become threadbare after a month or two. I want to spend money on clothing because it feels like the thing you do when you’ve actually achieved a modicum of financial security, but I’m not entirely convinced that you need to spend money on your clothing to feel joy.
When it was all over, I was left with a handful of shirts, a bunch of seasonally inappropriate dresses and the same three sweaters I had been wearing all winter. My understanding was that the clothes that were left over should have brought me joy, but all I felt was resigned acceptance. It was just stuff, the same rumpled miscellany that had previously filled my drawers, but just less of it. The winnowing process had helped me cast a critical eye on my wardrobe, but the findings were what I thought they would be: I like stripes, I usually won’t wear pink, even if it is very pale, and I prefer things shapeless and drapey in silhouette, ideally leopard print in pattern. It’s the foundation for a uniform, maybe, or the beginning of a wardrobe of simple “staples” that will inevitably land me on a best-dressed list sometime in the future, when slip-on sneakers and oversized T-shirts with barely discernible stains are in vogue.
What brings me the most joy, out of everything that was left, is a faux fur jacket I bought after a haircut one day. It has big buttons, a giant collar and was warm enough to keep me cozy throughout the entire winter. There’s a hole in the lining of the pocket I keep my cell phone. Every time I wear it, I have to stop and fish my phone out from the abyss. It cost me $20, and has been worth every penny.
Megan Reynolds lives in New York.
Photo: Emily May