The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Decluttering My Home and Writing

KonMari-ing My Home
On an impulse last spring, I purchased Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Much to Andy’s horror, I made us read a few pages every night after dinner. He made it seem like torture, but secretly he loved it.

We blocked out a weekend for our KonMari tidying marathon. We didn’t make it through the whole book, but we tried to follow (almost all) the outlined directions. Here are a few key points:

  • Visualize your destination
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely
  • Tidy by category.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”
  • Discard before putting things back

We went through everything. Marie Kondo was right; it felt amazing. In a three-day period, we got rid of almost 20 enormous trash bags of stuff. Apparently, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

The surfaces of our home may not always look super tidy (I blame the toddler for 85% of the mess!), but everything has a place: our shelves, drawers and cabinets feel much more organized. Our home feels lighter.

KonMari-ing My Writing
Around this time, I began taking The Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books, a writing class offered by The Children’s Book Academy (CBA). It was a fabulous course and I learned a ton about writing picture books.

One of my favorite lessons was about editing for brevity – or, getting the word count down. Currently, picture books range between 400-600 words, preferably less. This means picture book writers must convey plot, setting, character development, conflict, resolution, emotion and meaning in a just a few words. Every word counts. Literally.

Through the course, I learned several helpful strategies to edit for brevity. It is like using the KonMari method on writing:

  • Visualize your destination: What is the story really about? What are the core themes? Knowing these key ideas helps writers determine the necessary and superfluous aspects of their writing.
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely: This is more KonMari + Joanna than CBA, but I have found that when I edit for brevity, I am more effective if I go through the entire story at one time. After each subsequent revision, I do another round of discarding. Tidying writing in one go helps me better understand the heart of my story. Then I revise and discard, revise and discard until I’m left with only heart. At least, this is how it works in theory; I’m still learning!
  • Tidy by category: For starters, chop characters, plot points that don’t move the story, unnecessary descriptions, conjunctions and qualifiers (and, just, but…), adjectives and adverbs, redundancy. Then, get into the nitty-gritty of word choice.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”: Everything left in the story should “spark joy” so to speak. Is it vital to the story? Maybe it doesn’t spark joy; maybe it brings tears, or helps readers understand a character. Critique groups are usually right in their suggestions (my critique groups are wonderful!); but sometimes, despite what everyone else says, only the author knows the spark.
  • Discard before putting things back: Closely related to the second point. Discard before putting the story back together. Sometimes, this means rearranging things and reorganizing. Discard, rearrange, revise, repeat.

KonMari-ing my writing was initially a painful process. I felt attached to every character, every word, every detail. But, by the end of the class, I had edited my 1200+-word picture book down to 636 words. The story is vastly improved. The emotions, characters, plot and themes shine through more clearly now.

Apparently, like with our stuff, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

KonMari-ing really is magical and life-changing!

Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost

The four months since I quit my job have been some of the most liberating months of my life. It has been a time of exploration that has taken me to new horizons and unknown opportunities. I didn’t realize that when I made one leap, I was strengthening my muscles for more.

This willingness to take new risks has manifested itself in rather unexpected areas of my life:

I have always been a strict recipe follower, and lately, I’ve found myself taking the random-est things out of my fridge and experimenting. I’ve been amazed to discover that I can make decent food without a recipe!

Andy and I are reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I’m so excited to tidy our apartment and get rid of stuff, that I started KonMari-ing baby clothes this weekend. Our big cleaning weekend coming soon and I can’t wait!

This is only the beginning of KonMari. The best is yet to come!

For the first time in my life, I subjected myself to a food challenge. My brother did it – and survived! – first. He is literally the only person in the world who could inspire me to try this torture. Basically, I lived off of vegetables, fish, turkey jerky and almond milk for two weeks. And I didn’t die! For a fatty food loving, sweet-tooth like me, it was nothing short of a miracle. I think I’m actually eating differently as a result. Don’t panic, I’m not attempting some no-carb, no-sweets crazy-town endeavor; we all know I would not survive. But, it has expanded my understanding of tasty (and healthier) possibilities in my eating repertoire.

I’ve jumped headfirst into writing children’s books. Maybe it’s more of a belly flop; not super graceful, but in the deep end right away. I’ve attended conferences, webinars, adult education classes and just recently earned a little scholarship to the Children’s Book Academy’s picture book class. I’ve raided the children’s library and holed up at local bookstores, scouring their picture books. I’ve read books about writing books. I’ve joined critique groups. I’ve written and revised and revised and revised stories and have a growing list of ideas for more. I’m serious and excited about this journey.

On the professional front, I’ve explored dimensions of education I’ve never considered before. I’ve explored philanthropy, start-ups and even tech. I’ve explored progressive school models in different communities. I’ve looked into higher education. And it has been a tremendously rewarding experience. I’ve learned there are many different ways to make a significant impact in education. I’ve also learned that opportunities abound. I didn’t see them there before I leapt into the unknown.

This period of exploration has been a gift. I have cherished every moment. My world feels like it has grown. There is more to discover and more to learn and I am excited to unearth the possibilities.

In the Book Mormon, the prophet Lehi takes his family into the wilderness to obey God’s commandments. God gives them a ball, the Liahona, which “pointed the way whither [they] should go into the wilderness.” The Liahona worked according to the faith and diligence that was shown by Lehi’s family and it led them, “in the more fertile parts of the wilderness.” I don’t yet know where this journey will take me, but I have a stronger compass and a better idea of what matters. I know that I am being guided too. And I am so happy.

I am wandering, but I am certainly not lost.