Konmari for Travellers: How ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ made it easier, cheaper, and more fun for me to travel

Most people who know me remember the intense phase last December when, fuelled by dreams of long-term travel, I embarked on the process of reading and then following the tenets of Konmari.

Groan, you think. Not another one of these “throw-everything-out” obsessives.

Well, yes. I am a bit crazy about this stuff, but only because it worked so incredibly well for me and played a big part in helping me to plan and afford to take a big trip in the near future.

I know you’re still sceptical, but I’ll explain the whole process and see if I can’t show you that it’s not only doable, but necessary for your life as someone who loves to travel and wants to do more of it.

Marie Kondo’s now-infamous guide to organising your possessions, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is often misconstrued by people writing clickbait articles on it.

Yes, it’s a lot of hard work; yes, it’s a little (well, a lot) kooky; yes, it requires the reader to have a certain level of privilege to even need it.

But from my experience with Konmari, as Kondo’s method is popularly called, it is a straightforward clutter cure-all that requires nothing more that a commitment to discovering what you really love and surrounding yourself with only those things. Marie Kondo never says you have to be a minimalist– she is fine with people living with warehouses full of their favourite things, as long as each of those things is truly useful and makes the owner happy.

The basic overview of the method, as I’ve interpreted it, is this:

  • Because we store everything away in various corners of our homes, we don’t really have a realistic view of what or how much we own.
  • We should only surround ourselves with possessions that spark joy or are so useful on a regular basis that it brings us a kind of joy in knowing we can perform certain tasks with ease.
  • Having fewer but better options for what to wear, read, serve food on, etc. is actually more freeing than having many options.
  • The purchase of anything that you are going to keep in your home (or office) should be considered carefully, no matter how inexpensive it is, because you will be making it a part of your life.

If you want to know more, the Internet is packed with blogs and think pieces about the Konmari method. I found this blog to be the most useful source of extra information because it’s by a self-confessed slob who found Kondo’s book life-changing as well. And she’s very funny!

 

How I Konmari’d my life in one weekend

So, how did I do it? I wasn’t the smartest, I must admit. I devoured the book on my Kindle and then, true to form, decided I needed to Konmari immediately.

In the end, I did what Marie Kondo recommends doing in 6 months… in one weekend. Yes, less than three days.

Lucky for my poor unsuspecting housemates, they were both out of town so I had the whole house to myself. M., I believe, was also out of town because I don’t remember seeing him at all during this process (he sort of naturally already follows the gospel of Konmari just by being frugal and not very materialistic).

konmari process clothes closet

To prepare, I emptied as many large surfaces as I could in the house– my bed, the kitchen counter, the coffee table, etc– and purchased some extra-large, heavy-duty garbage bags (and I had to go back to the shops later to buy even more). I downloaded this helpful checklist to make sure I was going through the categories of item in the right order and not forgetting anything.

Just as Kondo instructed (I’m kind of a rule-follower), I went through each category of possession, put it all out in the open, then held each item to determine whether I really, truly liked or found use from it. In most cases, I did not, so out it went into the hallway purgatory to be placed in my big garbage bags.

I didn’t listen to any music, also as instructed, and instead just immersed myself in the things I owned and my thoughts about them. It was pretty torturous, actually. I’m already quite an organized person but it still felt like an eternity to get through everything I owned.

I think this is why Konmari worked so well for me. By the time I realized what a colossally idiotic thing it was so sort all of my belongings in one weekend, all of my stuff was strewn about the surfaces of my house and there was no going back!

Gradually, I got more and more of my things into the garbage bags and fewer things out in the open. That night, I got takeaway food, tossed my smaller pile of clothes to keep on the floor and crawled into bed, exhausted.

The next day, with my possessions purged, I went about getting everything put in its own proper place. I was still mentally and emotionally drained from the day before, but I started to see how much more ordered and peaceful my home was becoming.

I didn’t get rid of those 17 extra-large garbage bags (oh yeah, that’s how much stuff I owned in one bedroom, some space in the garage and a few kitchen cupboards– keep in mind that I’m in a sharehouse so I don’t even have that much stuff compared to many people!) for a few months, but I found I didn’t regret losing any of the things I opted to toss.

konmari garbage bags purge

The whole experience reminded me a bit of articles I’ve read by people who tried a sweat lodge or went on an ayahuasca retreat: it’s a painful and messy and sickening experience while you’re doing it, but it brings up so many important thoughts and realizations and ultimately leaves you feeling cleansed and centred.

 

How Konmari made me a better traveller

backpacks travel light

So that’s how I did it. But what benefits has it brought me? Is the magic of tidying up truly life-changing?

Yup.

Now almost a year on, this is what Konmari did for me:

 

It saved me a TON of money

Since I did Konmari, I have saved $10,000 more in 2016 (so far) than I had the year before I purged my stuff in December 2015. I don’t think I spent $10,000/year on material possessions before now (maybe I’m still in denial) but there’s my proof that changing the way I think about what I own and what choices I make really pays off.

I’m not exaggerating about that number, by the way. I’ve actually saved an extra $10,000 since doing Konmari. Convinced yet?

 

It reordered my priorities from owning things to having experiences

Seeing how much stuff I had bought with good intentions but didn’t actually need made me cringe at how much money (and time shopping) I’d wasted that could have gone towards a trip.

I’m not about to live out of a backpack in my regular life– I still like things! Some things bring me joy!– but I do prioritise buying things that I can use up and experience, like a new flavour of gourmet jam or a bouquet of flowers, instead of buying yet another decorative bowl or whatever. Or I buy nothing and think of the travel experience I can have later in the year.

 

It showed me what sparks joy for me

In the process of going through all my things and really connecting with how I felt about my possessions, I found some unexpected patterns emerging. I’ve always known that I like to keep little things like cards from friends and ticket stubs from my trips, so I made a key place to store those things.

I did not, however, realize how much I love my budding collection of antique cake stands or that I value my cookbooks more than many of my novels. I found that I turfed most of my dishes for entertaining yet kept every piece of my camping gear, which led to much more camping and less entertaining that summer.

 

It helped me take stock of almost 5 years in Melbourne

Maybe part of what made my Konmari weekend so draining and emotional was that it felt like a bit of a coming-of-age experience. I was going from being an early-twentysomething not quite knowing who I was or what I wanted to having a clear idea of what sparks joy for me and what I want my life to be like.

I got to go through all these things that had accompanied me to various random rental apartments and houses, and even if I didn’t keep most of them, I savoured the memories each item brought up as I worked.

 

It helped me to pack light

Going through the first phase of Konmari meant going through my closet. I had spent so much time feeling like I had nothing to wear and yet after getting rid of so many clothes, I now feel like I have so much more to choose from.

Since I’ve pared my closet down to the things I really love that look great on me, it’s easier to toss those clothes in a backpack and have a lighter, easier time packing and travelling.

 

It made me more organized and able to travel spontaneously

Everything has a place now and I know exactly what I own. I have a travel shelf with everything I need there, so we can take spur-of-the-moment camping trips or decide to fly to Tasmania or Adelaide with a day’s notice and I know I can be prepared.

A camping trip in Wilson's Promotory over Christmas was a breeze to prep for once I had Konmari'd.

A camping trip in Wilson’s Promotory over Christmas was a breeze to prep for once I had Konmari’d.

It made the thought of long-term travel a reality

For me, Konmari was the first step in preparing for the possibility of 8 months to a year of travel abroad. We will have to store our things with friends if and when we leave, which is now an easy and simple prospect for me. When I looked at my room after my Konmari weekend, the idea of long-term travel finally felt real. It won’t be too hard for me to actually live out of a backpack now because I’m used to only having exactly what I need.

 

Whatever hesitations you might have in trying this (admittedly insanely difficult) process of sorting through your belongings and keeping only what sparks joy, just think about it a bit. It will make your brain, your home and you life lighter. Isn’t that what every traveller wants?

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3 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing photos! I wish I had done that. Historically, I’m a bit of a hoarder to say the least (sorry old roomies!), but things have changed.

    Spark Joy is such a lovely read. I’d even say life changing 😉.

    Like

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