Can I “Marie Kondo” My Garage?

Well organized tools hanging from wall

First it was the book, and now we have the Netflix series. Marie Kondo’s KonMari method of tidying up is everywhere. I see an article about her and her methods almost every day. The sad part is that they focus on one or two aspects of the method while ignoring the whole. This misapplies Marie Kondo’s work and dilutes it into “just another way to clean.” The title of the book, after all, is “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” not “Let’s Clean Out Your Closet.”

So Can I KonMari My Garage? The short answer is “yes.” You can tidy up anywhere and any part of your environment. But the real meat of the KonMari method is that you are supposed to tidy up all of your belongings once and forever and never look back. That is where the “Life Changing Magic” is.

Clean the Category, Not the Location

The other hallmark of her method is that one tidies by category rather than location. The good news is that “komono,” one of the types of objects, is miscellaneous stuff found in the bathroom, kitchen and, wait for it, the garage! So the garage has its own category of stuff. Even if you don’t use the whole method as written, KonMari can be an inspiration, and there are a bunch of great principles to guide your decluttering journey.

Fifty Percent of Tidying Up is 90% Mental

The physical act of discarding things is rarely the issue. More often than not, it is the internal issues that we confront that are the true barriers.

Just watch an episode of Hoarders and you will see extreme examples of what I mean.  Knowing how to clean is not the issue. The problem is what we think about the things we own.

Marie Kondo also emphasizes a mindful and gratitude-based approach to tidying which can help relieve the stress of clearing things out. It also helps remind you of why you are doing all this work.

Why Bother with KonMari?

Clearing way unwanted items is a great start. You’ve probably done it before and felt the benefits. A simple and clutter-free environment is one where peace of mind can exist. It will give you the mental as well as physical space for planning and executing projects.

But the KonMari method goes beyond merely cleaning up. The hard (read worthwhile) work comes from the act of really letting go of things and having the courage to explore your feelings about various objects, how they got into your life and whether they still belong. This process combined with the actual fact of clearing things out produces the life-changing magic Marie Kondo talks about.

Visualize Your Ideal Garage (and Home)

You need to have a concrete vision of what you want the final result to be. Phrases like “I want it to be cleaner” or “I’d like to not trip over things when I get out of the car” are too vague. You really need a clear picture of your outcome so you know what you are aiming for.

You also want to have a clear understanding of why you want what you want. Why do you want to have room to do woodworking? Why do you want a cool looking garage floor?

Again the KonMari method is about transforming your life once and forever. It is really a journey to self-knowledge. According to Marie, the ultimate realization is that you want all these things so that they will make you happy. Plain and simple, but this is a realization you must come to. It must appear as an insight. “I want to get rid of all this stuff so I can be happy.”

A Shock to the System

Clearing out a vast percentage of your stuff should be like jumping into an ice bath: sudden and bracing. It should be done in as short a time frame as possible and in a complete manner. It needs to be planned and prepared for.

Things that are being donated get donated that day. Things that are being tossed get tossed that day. It’s like jumping from a plane! GO! (Yes there’s a parachute). Marie Kondo views tidying as a special one-time event with permanent life-changing effects.

According to Ms. Kondo the reason you rebound or relapse is that you think you’ve tidied when all you’ve done is sort and store things in a halfway manner. That’s why no matter how hard you try to maintain, things go back to a state of disorder.

The commonly heard advice to do a little each day only gives the appearance of tidiness. Behind that veneer is chaos waiting to erupt whenever you need something. Boxes filled with “stuff” is not organization or tidiness.

Another side effect of “do-a-little-at-a-time-ism” is that we as humans find it hard to stick to things over the long haul. Toss one thing a day leads to missed days and missed days turn into missed weeks.

This idea of this type of purging was inspired by a book called “The Art of Discarding” by Nagisa Tatsumi. If you’re interested in the genesis of Marie Kondo’s work this is a worthy read. Here’s a link to it.

Done correctly, according to Marie, tidying is a purge that lasts. At the end of your efforts, you are left with a home that has only what you love and need and everything has a place. You put a thing back in its place when you’re done. When you buy something you make sure you give it a home.

“If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you’ll see instant results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after.” -Marie Kondo “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

Clutter is the Result of Homeless Things

If you’ve ever cleaned before, (and who hasn’t?) you will have reached the conclusion that it is a never-ending job. This is because you clean and then it gets messy and then you clean again, and it gets messy, and you clean… a sort of YO-YO tidying.  You “might” be doing it wrong.

Everything needs a home. This makes being tidy a permanent state of affairs rather than an ongoing battle. This is a point that Marie Kondo makes often. Not only should every item have a place but it should be easy to put back in that place.

Tidying is a Skill

Everyone needs to learn to tidy up, and according to Marie Kondo it is a one size fits all skill. It is a discipline in the truest sense of the word. You are training yourself to recognize and let go of attachments to things that are no longer useful and recognizing true joy when it does exist. This is a highly transferable skill that will spill over into other areas of your life. As she says: “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself. Cleaning is the act of confronting nature.”

It is also a very personal journey and one where family and friends can get in the way. They, after all, have their own baggage and attachments. Marie suggests leaving them out of it. Also leave their possessions out of it as well.

Our Relationship with Stuff

Since you are reading this article, I will assume that you are able to pick up something and throw it in the trash.  Or if you physically can’t, then you have a caregiver who can.  This issue of clutter is mental and not physical. We tell ourselves many things about our possessions, and most of those are not true, or not as true as we want to believe:

  • I might need it some day
  • It’s too good to just throw out
  • It used to belong to so and so
  • So and so gave that to me for such and such
  • The list goes on…

Here There Be Dragons

Marie Kondo stresses the importance of doing things in a particular order. This makes more sense then people realize. If you start with items that have an emotional draw you will still be sitting there at the end of the day looking through old pictures and letters wondering where the time went.

Anxiety for the Future

Humans are hardwired to over-value the fear of loss. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Resources were scarce and those with the desire and ability to preserve what they had out-survived those that didn’t.

If you are reading this then there’s a good chance that you don’t live in a world of scarcity.  If you did, decluttering your garage would be low on your priority list.

The good news is that this fear of loss can be overridden with some conscious effort. You achieve this by thinking about the benefit of taking action.

Clinging to the Past

Mementos and keepsakes tug at our emotions. Mementos are physical reminders of a time when that item gave us joy. When we clear out these things we fear that we will lose the memories that they represent. This simply isn’t true. Precious memories outlast the physical objects and stay with us forever.

Obligations to Families and Friends

I got a thank you card the other day from my boss. It was nice. I like him well enough and I appreciated the sentiment. How long do I have to keep it? If he sees it in the trash at work will he think I didn’t appreciate it?

My mother has a god-awful figurine that a friend gave her. My mom never liked it. Her friend is long dead but that figurine is still in a closet collecting dust.

You might feel obligated to hang on to your children’s finger painting or hand-made ashtray. When I was helping my parents move I couldn’t believe they kept all that crap from my childhood. I tossed it out for them.

Get All Your Stuff Together by Category in One Place

Since we are decluttering the garage (perhaps in the context of your whole home) what we really need to do is get everything out into the middle of the garage or the driveway. Group your items by similarity. Place all keepsakes and mementos in a separate pile to be dealt with last.

It would be a good idea that if you have similar items in the house for you to bring them out as well. Often we have no idea how many of something we really have until we are confronted with all of them together at once. How many garden trowels do you have? You might not know until you see all 5 of them on the garage floor.

Keep What You Love

You know that wrench that you always use? Then there is the other one you use when you need two of them? Then there is that third one that you always grab by accident and toss aside until you find the one you want? That third one needs to go.

This is an important aspect of the KonMari method. Interact with each item. Does it give you a little zing of joy? I know it’s just a broom, but give it a try. Some things are no-brainers and don’t take much reflection to let go of, but others give us pause. Mostly this pause is our rational mind telling us why we should keep something (“I might need it someday.”, “It would be a shame to get rid of this.” etc…) and in order to declutter, we need to push past those thoughts. The process of experiencing the spark of joy is intuitive and your intuition will get better as you move through this.

Thank the Item for Its Service

I know it sounds silly, but seriously, thank your possessions.

Even when we throw things out, we can do so with a sense of gratitude.

I’m not saying you need to get weepy over every spare screw you’re pitching onto the trash. I am saying that gratitude is the antidote to the anger and shame of having a bunch of useless crap taking up so much space for so long.

I’m not saying you need to get weepy over every spare screw you’re pitching onto the trash. I am saying that gratitude is the antidote to the anger and shame of having a bunch of useless crap taking up so much space for so long.

We have no problem throwing some things out. But then there is some stuff that we no longer want or need, but are somehow still attached to. This is what causes clutter.

Ordinarily we just “decide” to keep whatever that object is, without digging any deeper, and move on to lower hanging fruit that is easy to toss. Recognizing that we have some unresolved feelings will be a big part of being able to let go.

Many years ago I saw an ex with her new husband. At first, I had a pang of jealousy. But then I saw that she was happy. I was happy for her. It was a bittersweet joy to realize that breaking up was the best thing for both of us.

I know that people aren’t things. Our attachments to people are stronger. But seeing an old beloved object being put to good use can inspire a similar feeling of joy. We have a phrase around here to remind us to let go. “Share the joy of ownership.”

Do You Really Need to Keep It?

Do you really need to keep it? Or should you buy new stuff next time?

It’s tempting to hang on to rollers for a painting project, or leftover seeds for next year, but in reality, unless you do that type of project regularly, those tools and such will just take up room waiting until time has given you permission to do what you should have done all along.

We have a fear of being wasteful. Our intuition says to let go, but our rational mind enjoys the illusion of ownership.  Intuitively we know we need to get rid of some things, but we think our way out of doing it.

Put Things Together Where They Will Be Found and Used

The final step is making sure that what you have is making your place a workable environment. Marie Kondo goes into some painful detail about how to store individual items like socks, anthropomorphizing each item you keep.  Many people skip or skim over this part thinking it is just new-age BS. Gratitude is the crowbar you use to pry off unnecessary attachment to the clutter that is making you miserable.

At its heart, this is about treating our belongings with the respect they deserve. Professionals do it all the time. Every professional mechanic I’ve ever met or seen takes care of his tools. They clean them and put them back where they belong. It may seem like a chore from the outside but to them it is a form of meditation, unwinding the stress of the day and regrouping mentally and physically.

In the hyper-masculine world of the professional chef, as described In Anthony Bourdin’s book “Kitchen Confidential,” even the drug-crazed misfits that seem to be a baby-step away from prison keep a clean work environment. Mise en place is the term used, from the French essentially meaning everything in its place.

With this in mind, the idea of treating your tools or holiday decorations as loyal friends and helpers rather than meaningless objects to be tossed about, becomes a little less crazy. Objects want to be used. Objects need to be cared for. If you aren’t doing either of those things do both of you a favor and get rid of them.

How to Put Things in Their Place

The good news is that since you purged items by category, they are already grouped in a logical manner. The rule is that everything needs to have a place. The second more important rule is that you cannot store your stuff before you purge! That’s what got you into this mess (pun intended) in the first place.

Start With the Premise That You Have Plenty of Room

If you’re scratching your head trying to figure out what to do with all your stuff, you have too much stuff. It really is that simple.

“Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own. ” – Marie Kondo  “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

I will say this, however. If you currently have a garage that is devoid of wall shelving and/or cabinets now is the time to take inventory of what you have and start to make some plans.

Nix All the Clever Ideas

Cute, gimmicky, fun-to-look-at but impractical storage ideas have been around for a long time. Well before Sharper Image started selling motorized tie racks and certainly before clickbait like “37 things to do with empty toilet paper rolls that will change your life.” My father fell victim to one of the original “life hacks”: nailing jar lids to the ceiling in the basement. This seems like a nifty idea at first. But the truth of the matter is that my father rarely used any of those random screws. He just didn’t want to toss them because “They’re perfectly good why would I throw them away?”  So what he wound up with was an unsightly collection of half-empty jars hanging from the ceiling. He would have been better off with a few boxes of boxes that contained some organized grouping of nails and screws. When it comes to storage simplicity is the best policy.

There are however some great storage methods specifically designed for particular purposes that make absolute sense. Tool storage and holiday ornament storage are on the top of the list.

Store Things by Type

Kondo advises that we store like things together. Her method ignores ideas of storing things where they will be used or by how frequently they need to be accessed in favor of putting like things together. This prevents scattering storage all over the house. Since we are talking garages here, this makes a lot of sense.

Give Everyone Their Own Space

If the garage is just your domain then skip this step. The idea is that everyone who needs to store things has their own designated area. This can lead to better family harmony and fewer lost things. This way little Billy or Suzy knows where to put their bike (good luck with that but it’s a start).

Store Things So They Can Be Put Away Easily

Clutter happens when things don’t get put back in their place. That is why this technique works in the long run. Simple uncomplicated storage ideas are the key. Squares and rectangles are better than round containers because they store more for the amount of space they take up and fit together better.

Use a box with smaller boxes inside it to store small items such as screws and nuts and ditch that flimsy “chest of drawers.” The drawers always get stuck, you wind up putting things in front of it so you block half the drawers. You probably don’t use the stuff inside the drawers often enough to make it useful. You can also store smaller accessories or spare parts of larger equipment or small boxes of nails that can come in handy.

Simple Specialty Storage is Great

Some things just need special treatment. Larger sports equipment like bikes and kayaks need good solutions. A kayak in particular need to be stored in a way that won’t compromise the hull. Christmas and other holiday decorations deserve some extra consideration as well. There are sturdy storage boxes specifically designed for delicate ornaments and duffels that are meant to hold wrapping paper, wreathes and trees so they can be easily stacked and won’t get dirty or damaged.

Golf equipment should be hung from the bottom of a sturdy shelf like the DIY Rhino Shelving to keep it off the floor. Golf shoes should be cleaned, bagged and hung up right along side the golf equipment.

Conclusion

The KonMari method is applicable to any area of your home but is best used as a total purging. Putting things in a storage unit or bringing stuff to mom and dad’s really just kicks the can down the road and allows you to avoid the real problem. Confronting yourself and your relationship to “stuff” is the real heart and soul of the matter.