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A friend told me the other day that she tried the Konmari Method, created by author Marie Kondo of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and that her problem wasn’t getting rid of things, she’s just a naturally messy person. This got me thinking about the types of homes I commonly see. In my mind, there are three types of spaces I commonly work in: messy, disorganized, and/or cluttered. And while it may seem too “meta” to contemplate or bother reading this piece, I thing the true gain from considering these three types of situations is correctly identifying the problem plaguing your space. Just like with illness and injuries, it is critical to have an accurate diagnosis in order to identify effective solutions. So what’s your diagnosis?

Messy Spaces

The simplest definition of messy is untidy or dirty. Picture a space where trash, recycling, and personal objects live side-by-side. When I think of messy spaces, I think of families with small children where the parents are struggling to balance childcare and full-time jobs along with daily chores and haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. It’s not that objects don’t have a home, it’s that odds and ends are strewn around in these spaces as well. In messy spaces the common problem is that there is not an effective process in place to discard waste. Solutions can be as simple as putting more trash bins around the house (such as one near the front door for recycling junk mail), it can be about creating new habits, such as tidying up spaces every evening once your home has settled down, or perhaps hiring a house cleaner to come give the place a good tidying once a week.

Disorganized Spaces

Disorganized spaces lack structure. Think of people moving into a new space and starting a new job at the same time: they’re in a rush to get their bearings in this new environment quickly, and have little time to unpack with much intention. Individual objects are not grouped with those of similar need. The hydrogen peroxide may be under the bathroom sink, while the BandAids in the first drawer to the left under the kitchen counter. Disorganized spaces make accomplishing tasks time consuming and frustrating; things are never where you want them to be, or where you last saw them. Overcoming a disorganized space takes effort: it requires first pulling everything out of its hiding place, putting like items with like items, and then identifying the best space for them to live (and that may mean purchasing and/or building new storage devices).

Cluttered Spaces

Cluttered spaces typically occur for people who have lived in the same space for a long time. Over the years they have continued to bring new stuff into their home without discarding of their old stuff in the process. This happens when we don’t make time to go through our closets, cupboards, drawers, garages and storage units. Much like disorganized spaces, in order to declutter one’s space one must pull everything out, put like items with like items, and then focus on pairing down. This is when many people utilize the Konmari Method, challenging themselves to ask of each object, “does this bring me joy?” If the answer is “no,” au revoir pilled sweater, and if the answer is “yes,” you better have a damn good memory of the last time you wore it (just kidding, you don’t have to be that extreme unless you want to be).

So what category does your space fall into? You could fall into multiple. Make an action plan: do you need a house cleaner to come in every other week to help you get a handle on your mess? Do you need to call on your fix-it friend to help you build that IKEA dresser to hold all your undergarments? Or is it time to finally go through your downstairs closet and donate those old jackets to the thrift store? The first step to finding a solution is identifying the problem. So what’s paralyzing your space?

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