As an unmarried man who works really hard, travels a ton, and leads an active social life, I’ve come to accept several less-than-awesome realities about my daily existence. (For starters: I eat way too much takeout, I’m constantly forgetting my toothbrush on trips, and these days, I could probably consume a few less sugary cocktails.) But if there’s one piece of man-on-the-go collateral damage I simply can’t accept, it’s the increasingly gnarly state of my apartment. In recent months, I’ve found myself engaged in a daily battle against the black hole of my storage closet, the mountain of mismatched clothes scattered across various pieces of furniture, and the towering pile of envelopes on my desk. When it took me a full hour to locate my hiking boots (in a kitchen cupboard?) last fall, I realized: Holy shit, I’m messy—and I need an intervention. So I reached out to Patty Morrissey, a Jedi-level practitioner of the ultrahot KonMari Method of streamlining your life—inspired by the ultrapopular book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering, by Marie Kondo—for her to whip me into shape. Here’s what I learned.
1. Keep only what brings you joy
“Let’s start with your clothes,” says Patty. She instructs me to put every article of clothing—winter coats, underwear, bathing suits, the works—into a pile on my living room floor. Good God. She calls this the “power of the pile,” since it forces you to confront how much you truly own. The Kondo principle is dead simple: Touch every single item. Feel it. Think about it. Ask yourself, Does it bring me joy? If it does, keep it. If not, ditch it. Patty hands me an old fleece sweatshirt. “What do you think about this?” she asks in a neutral voice. I haven’t worn it in years, and it doesn’t bring me joy. Gone.
2. Say thank you to your give-aways
Before I toss the sweatshirt, Patty asks me to thank it for its many years of service. This is a pillar of the Kondo method, as it helps you get closure on the items you discard. “Thank you for keeping me warm when I jogged to the gym, sweatshirt,” I actually say out loud. This is goofy but strangely empowering. In total, I stuffed 11 bags with clothes, which I donated to charity.
3. Declutter, then upgrade
I have a knife rack in my kitchen. It’s the kind that hangs on the wall. To be honest, it looks kind of cool, but the knives are dull, and I never use them. I hold a knife in my hand. Does it bring me joy? In its current condition…no. But what if I get it sharpened? I did just that. Now the knives get me excited to cook, and more cooking (and less Chinese takeout) means healthier eating. Tiny upgrades can have domino effects.
4. Zone in on your values
Soon I get to my hiking boots: Joy. Backpack: Joy. Passport: Joy, joy, joy. At a gut level, I realize how much adventure travel means to me. I’m now headed to a trek in the mountains of Thailand—not a coincidence. Changes like this are why Kondo claims in her book that “many of my clients remark that they have lost weight or firmed up their tummies. It’s a very strange phenomenon, but when we reduce what we own and essentially ‘detox’ our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well.”
5. Never ball your socks
Kondo views balled-up socks as the devil’s work, since they are “always in a state of tension, their fabric stretched and their elastic pulled…what treatment could be worse than this?” Patty instructs me to fold everything. On a philosophical level, the point is to treat your possessions with respect, which extends their lives and provides greater pleasure. On a more basic level, now my socks don’t slide to my ankles. Win.
6. Sort your stuff to sort your past
I hold a coffee mug from an ex-girlfriend. Joy? I’ve been lugging that sucker around for years, never using it but never quite having the guts to throw it out. “Thank you for reminding me of the good times we had, coffee mug,” I say, gently placing it in the trash. Kondo frowns upon clinging to the items that bring us pain. The focus is now on the present, not the past.
7. Take your time
“You wouldn’t hire a personal trainer to give you a hot body in four hours,” Patty tells me. It’s a journey. Kondo suggests that the entire process can take six months, but I’ve found that even before you finish your entire home—I’m still working—you can feel immediate results. Bite-size chunks have value.
8. Appreciate the less you have
One category is especially tough for me: books. I blanched at the idea of losing a single paperback, but I dutifully went through each and every novel and was embarrassed to find stacks that I had never read. “If you missed your chance to read a particular book… this is your chance to let it go,” Kondo explains. “Get rid of all those unread books.” So I did. And then something unexpected happened: Now I love my bookshelves. They seem to sparkle. The only books that remain are the ones I really like, so every time I glance in its direction, the bookshelves jolt me with a pick-me-up. Now extrapolate this sensation with everything you own, and the results can be, well, magical.