While wonderful and, truly, life-changing, the KonMari Method isn’t without its challenges. Having been there, done that, and decluttered the t-shirt, I’ve faced a lot of them. Here are the most common ones and how you can overcome them.
I’ve been a KonMari konvert for 4 years now. I’ve been through it twice and from that, and from reading all of your comments and messages, I know that there are some common obstacles that people face. So if you’re considering doing the KonMari Method, or you’ve started but you’re a bit stuck, here’s how to get yourself on the right track to tackling your stuff.
Roadblock #1: “My place is too messy to start! I don’t have space to pull everything out and pile it all up in one spot. It’s all so overwhelming.”
In these situations, I always recommend what I call a “pre-KonMari”. Grab a bin or a bag and zip through the room, removing anything that’s obviously junk or that you know immediately you no longer need. That alone will make a decent dent.
Next, grab a big box and dump anything into it that doesn’t belong in that room. Don’t worry about where it should go or about putting it back, just box it up so it’s all contained in one spot and not strewn everywhere. You don’t even need several boxes, just pick the biggest box you have and fill it.
I did it in my kitchen when I felt it was getting out of hand and it made such a huge difference. I was able to KonMari kitchenware and then deal with the box afterwards, grabbing one thing at a time as I was passing or, if I had a few spare minutes, sitting down and going through it.
(In fact, I still do this when certain spaces get messy.)
Roadblock #2: “I share a space with someone and they are not on board with the Method.”
First of all, I hear ya. That can be extremely frustrating.
I live with my husband and my daughter. My husband is not what you would call a minimalist, and my daughter… Well, when I started the KonMari Method she was just about to turn 2.
I began by explaining what I wanted to do and why. In our house, I’m the one who does the majority of the cleaning so I simply explained that less stuff would mean less housework, which would take a lot of pressure off me. (Happy wife, happy life, yo.)
You may not be able to get your partner or housemate to actively participate, but you can try get them to understand your reasoning and respect your decision.
(I do know from personal experience, though, and from hearing from lots of others, that if you stick with it, your other half will usually follow suit. Maybe not immediately, and maybe not to the same extent, but they do eventually start to declutter a few things of their own. Believe me, if my husband can declutter, there’s hope for everyone.)
Another thing I did was to promise my husband I would never declutter any of his stuff without his say so. And I stuck to that, even though it pained me.
Very often, you will experience pushback from people who feel their time or space or possessions will be infringed. We’re selfish creatures at heart, so someone else will be worried about how it’s going to affect them. Make it clear that you will not interfere with their belongings without their express permission, and then follow through.
Know that if you break your word, you’ll lose their trust, they’ll cling to their possessions even more, and if you thought you experienced resistance before, be ready for an all-out offence.
When my husband knew the KonMari Method wasn’t going to interfere with his plans, he was quite happy for me proceed.
And remember that you can still make a significant difference even if you’re only focusing on your own stuff.
Roadblock #3: “I don’t know what to about shared stuff when the other person doesn’t want to participate.”
When it came to shared stuff, like kitchenware, I proceeded as normal, separating out all the stuff that I wanted to get rid of. And then I snapped a picture and sent it to my husband, asking for the green light to get rid of it. Sometimes he would specify something he wanted to keep (which I did, because of the promise I made).
But here’s how that helped:
- Things are so much simpler when someone else is doing the heavy lifting. I had done all the hard work and had already separated everything, so it was easier for him to agree and go along with it.
- Had we been together in the same room, a big heated discussion would have broken out. By texting him, it kept some distance and removed a lot of the emotional element. When he couldn’t hold the stuff, it was easier for him to let go.
Then I dumped that stuff immediately lest he changed his mind. No comebacks, no callbacks, no changing your mind.
For the most part, I didn’t argue if he wanted to keep something. I did speak out when something was blatantly ridiculous – who needs 14 bottles of expired Tabasco sauce, I ask you? – but by keeping my messages reasonably short and sweet, I was able to make quick progress.
Isn’t technology grand.
Roadblock #4: “I don’t know if I should get my children involved. They may be too young… or too distracting… or detrimental to the whole process.”
Because my daughter was so young when I first started the Method, I did it without her. She’s old enough now, though, that I do involve her in the decluttering process.
Personally, I think 3 is a good age to start.
If you have kids, it’s a judgement call as to whether you feel they’re old enough and mature enough to make decisions about what happens to their stuff but I’d recommend at least trying to get them involved. They may surprise you. If it’s not working, you can always continue alone thereafter.
Break the toys down into very small sub-categories so they’re not overwhelmed. Start with the stuff they play with least, and explain to them why it’s important and where their toys will go. I’ve always told my daughter that her toys go to other boys and girls who have none.
Be patient. You may need to do it several times over the course of a few weeks or months. It took a few tries before my daughter started to let go, little by little.
I also gave her the option of storing things in the attic. That way she had the comfort of knowing she could get it back if she wanted, but in the meantime she was learning that she could live without it.
Then I implemented a rotation system so if she wanted something out of storage, she had to choose something else to go in its place. It taught her, I hope, to be a bit more discerning.
Roadblock #5: “I don’t have the time!”
Break everything down into sub-categories. Just because clothing is the first category doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pull out every stitch you own. If you’re struggling, start with just your tops. Or just your skirts. Or even just your socks. Slow and steady is the way to proceed if you can’t sprint.
I have a free checklist that breaks each category down into really small sub-categories. I know it’s helped a lot of people overcome that feeling of overwhelm, so if you’re struggling, please feel free to use it. Click on the image below to download.
Work in small chunks of time if that’s all that’s available to you. Don’t think you need to take an entire week off work. A few minutes here and there will still add up and you’ll still make progress. I found it really helpful to keep a drink and some snacks with me. That way I could keep going for longer if I had the time and energy.
Try keep the momentum going by making quick decisions. If something is slowing you down, set it aside and come back to it later.
It’s also really important to get comfortable. Try sit down when you’re going through each item. I can’t tell you how much my back ached from bending over a pile of clothes, or how uncomfortable it was to sit on the floor while sorting through papers.
Once you’ve bundled everything together, get yourself comfortable and then start powering through it. Nothin’ to it but to do it.
Roadblock #6: “I don’t really know what “sparks joy” means, or I don’t think it will work for me. I have things that don’t bring me joy but I still need them.”
Find something similar that works for you.
The fact is that “does it spark joy” doesn’t suit everyone. Some people suffer from depression or other emotional difficulties, or for some reason they just can’t get to grips with the concept.
That’s OK. Use your own criteria. I have another blog post that includes some alternative decluttering questions you could ask yourself, like “If I lost this in a flood or fire, would I be devastated?”
If you’re just not entirely sure what “sparks joy” really means, or you’re confused about what to do with things that don’t spark joy but you still feel you need, click play on this video to find your answer:
Roadblock #7: “I might need this (or fit into this) sometime in the future.”
This is what I call “someday” clutter. The most common kind is clothes that don’t fit right now but you hope will fit in the future. Or sometimes it’s a craft or hobby that you don’t have time for right now but you hope you’ll be able to pick back up in future, or even pass down to your children.
For those, my advice is always the same. Put the stuff in a box and put it out of the way so you’re not always tripping over it. Give yourself a deadline day for when you’re going to fit back into those clothes or start using the items again. Mark it on your calendar. If that day rolls around and you still haven’t made any significant progress, toss the stuff. If it was really that important to you, you would’ve put in the work.
Let it go, safe in the knowledge that you have other, higher priorities.
Roadblock #8: “Help! I’m now surrounded by bags and boxes of decluttered items!”
Sort out an exit strategy.
We get so engrossed in the process that we don’t always think beyond the decluttering session itself. And sometimes we even underestimate how much we’ll actually get rid of. So it’s important to know how and when all that stuff is leaving your house. Because believe me, it starts to pile up fast.
While you’re scheduling in time to declutter, leave aside some of that time to make the trip to the charity shop or drive to the dump or list the items online. There’s no point decluttering stuff if it’s going to sit around your home for the next 6 months.
Once a bag or box is full, put it straight into your car and then drop it off wherever it needs to go the next time you’re out and about.
Roadblock #9: “I’m knee-deep in ‘komono’ and can’t see any end in sight.”
Once you get past clothes, books and papers, it can be a bit daunting to categorise the entire rest of your house. Marie Kondo does have some guidelines for sub-categories you could tackle but they’re not all-encompassing.
My advice is to start with the bigger categories – the larger pieces of furniture, the things you think will be easiest, and the things you know you have loads of, like kitchenware, toiletries & cosmetics, toys, etc. – and alternate with the more awkward categories, like cables and trinkets.
That way you’re always seeing visible progress but still also getting to those smaller, seemingly never-ending categories. The former will keep you motivated, and the latter will ensure you’re not saving all the worst things ’til the end.
Once you’ve done some broad categories, I’d recommend going room by room or space by space and clearing out whatever’s left in it that you haven’t already tackled.
Why? There can be so many odds and ends throughout your house that trying to categorise them all could take too long. You’ll be quicker if you just dive in and get it done rather than spending an age trying to decide which category the fireplace poker fits into.
Finishing up a room also means you’re less likely to forget something. When I tried to stick to categories, I ended up missing things (like aforementioned poker). When I did the Method the second time, I worked my way around the living room and looked at everything.
Take your time with this one. ‘Komono’ generally takes so long because there’s so much included in it. Again, slow and steady. Lots of breaks, drinks, and snacks, and a good exit strategy.
And remember, there’s a finite amount of stuff in your home, so you WILL hit that finish line if you keep moving forward.
Roadblock #10: “I’m getting nowhere! It’s one step forward and two steps back. My home looks worse than ever!”
Document the journey.
It’s hard to keep going when a lot of your efforts are kept behind closed doors where you can’t see them – clothes in your closet, papers in a filing cabinet, dishes in cupboards – whereas the mess is usually what’s most visible. It’s out on tables and counter-tops, and sitting in piles on the floor.
My biggest tip here is to take ‘before’ pictures. Go around your home before you start the process and take pictures in each room. Open closet doors and kitchen cupboards and junk drawers and take pictures of what it looks like inside.
Even if you’ve already started and you forgot to take photos, do it now. ‘In progress’ pictures are still better than none. Trust me on this.
When you’re slowly chipping away at something, the changes each day can be so small that you won’t even notice them. It’s the same way you don’t see your kids getting bigger each and every day yet, before you know it, they’re a few feet taller.
The pictures will serve as a reminder that you really have come a long way and you really have made a difference.
It also helped me to list and take pictures of the bags and boxes I was getting rid of, again to show me how much stuff was leaving my house. I’m always astounded when I see those photos because… Well, how and why had I been storing all that stuff?!
When you re-organise things, it might not seem like you have that much extra free space, but that’s usually because it was stuffed to bursting before, or so many things were shoved in the back and hidden in corners, or you’ve been working on it for so many weeks that you simply forget how bad it looked before.
So while you may not think that the corner cupboard looks any different, the black sack of stuff says otherwise.
I’ll just put one little caveat in here: only take pictures of closed bags and boxes. If you start glimpsing things that have already gone, you may feel a little nostalgic or wonder whether you made the right decision. You did, but you’ll get that niggling feeling nonetheless.
Which leads me to…
Roadblock #11: “What if I regret something I discard?”
You keep on living.
I’ve heard from some people who’ve said they wished they hadn’t got rid of a certain dress or something because they’ve finally found the perfect pair of heels to go with it.
The truth is, you got rid of it for a reason. Just because you found the right shoes doesn’t necessarily mean you would’ve worn the dress more than once. Or that those strappy sandals, though seemingly perfect, wouldn’t have stripped the skin off your feet.
There was a pair of wedge sandals I donated when I was feeling particularly ruthless. Sometimes I wear an outfit and think they would have been perfect with it. But do you know what happens next? I pick another pair of shoes and move on with my life.
It’s normal for some doubts to creep in sometimes. It’s a big life change. But you’re not going to get rid of anything that’s essential to your being, so it’s OK to say goodbye for good and just let it be.
(Those metallic ones ones in the front row, second from the right, in case you're wondering. Yes, I do sometimes wish I still had them. No, I don't lose any sleep over it.)
Roadblock #12: “I’ve decluttered everything but I still don’t feel like I’m done. My home still feels messy.”
Take the last step. Or the first one again.
The truth is that going through all your stuff is only half the battle. If you want to reap the full rewards, you need to complete the final step – giving everything that’s left a home.
This was one of the biggest struggles for me, but when everything has a specific place, it’s so much easier to put it back there and, thus, keep your home tidy.
Anything that doesn’t have a home is going to end up being set down on whatever surface is available. And that’s how the mess builds back up. So be sure to leave yourself time at the end of your decluttering spree to actually go back through everything and give it a proper place.
It’s also a strange phenomenon but the more you get rid of, the more you’ll want to get rid of, so don’t be surprised if you get to the end and want to start all over again. The process will be faster and decisions will be easier the second time around so if that’s what you feel like doing, go for it.
Did you face any of these obstacles? Or maybe you’ve come up against something that’s not on the list. Pop your concerns in the comments and I’ll help if I can.
In the meantime, here’s a playlist full of additional tips for helping you complete the KonMari Method: