The Day I was Liberated by Marie Kondo

A self-proclaimed clothes horse and clutter-hider gets a visit from a KonMari-certified consultant.
Written by Bridget Phillips | Photography by Laura Wall

If you’re unfamiliar with the latest craze to hit Netflix, let me fill you in: There is a show called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and everyone is talking about it. As we Americans accumulate ever-more stuff, there’s a countering urge to purge, so to speak. So when WALTER asked me if I’d be up to the KonMari challenge, I said, sure! 

The team connected with Kelley Jonkoff, a licensed KonMari Method home organizer. We spoke on the phone and made a date. In the days leading up to my consultation, I was riddled with anxiety, excitement…and a dash of fear. It felt like an indulgence, something I don’t often allow myself. (Isn’t this how celebrities keep their lives in order? They hire someone?) But the truth is: I need this. I’m a mother of two, with another one on the way. My husband works 50-plus hours per week, from our home. So this was not only was an excuse to send the whole family away for the day, but also an opportunity to nest. I’ve been craving this for weeks now, but either haven’t had—or haven’t made?—the time. 

The backstory: We moved into this home last June. It’s an old house, downtown, and we’ve been renovating as we go. With all that’s going on, I never took the time to find a proper home for all of our belongings. I threw things in closets, hid things in drawers and forgot about it all. But with a new family member coming, we have to make room. 

When the day arrived, my heart beat wildly, my palms were damp and sweat slid down my brow: I was about to allow someone who specializes in organizing come into my disaster of a house! I was told to not watch or read anything Marie Kondo beforehand, but I’d seen a bit about “sparking joy” on social media.  How in the world was I, a perpetual clothes-hoarder, going to find joy in this? With a deep breath, I opened the door to greet Kelley and the WALTER team, and we got to work. 

Right off the bat I knew I was in for a fun day: Kelley has an easygoing energy, and was a breeze to talk to. She recently started her own company, Organize with Kelley, after receiving formal KonMari training in NYC (with the real Marie Kondo), and is one of only a couple hundred certified KonMari organizers in the States. She gently gauged my desires for the session by asking me questions like: 

“What do you feel when you walk into the house, and how does that differ from what you want to feel?”

To be honest, I had never really thought about it. What DO I feel when I walk into my front door? After some thought: I feel proud more than anything. The main entrance is tolerable most days, mess-wise. I have a system for collecting the belongings my family tornadoes through the downstairs. But… the kitchen is a work in progress, and the closets… Well, I don’t feel proud of those. So: Proud, with room for improvement. 

The thing is, I jam things into every nook and cranny. I am the undisputed QUEEN of making things look great from the outside, but knowing that they’re a mess on the inside. (Let’s skip taking this to the psychological level, thanks.) I consider this the way I manage clutter: I hide it. As we walked upstairs to face my multiple closets and plastic bins—clothing is always the first to tackle, in the KonMari method—I felt a heat wave hug my neck. And that’s when I recognized just HOW BADLY I needed Kelley there. I needed to be held accountable; to thoroughly go through the YEARS of clutter that I had accumulated, then hidden from sight. As Kelley said:

“This is self-care. It’s not easy self-care, but going through your stuff helps you create intentionality and figure out how you want to be.”

To begin, we dumped every single item of clothing I owned on my bed. Shirts, Pants, Underwear, Pajamas, Socks, Workout clothes, Dresses, Halloween costumes…EVERYTHING. I had a mountain of excess, it was almost nauseating. So many things that I never touch, but hadn’t gotten rid of.

Kelley asked me to pick five things that I LOVED. I found this to be the hardest thing, which honestly surprised me: Not because there were so many garments that sparked joy, but so few. I dug around and found five things I liked more than most, that was as close to LOVE as I could get.  From there we plowed through all the various groups of garments: I had to hold each one, decide if it sparked joy, then thank it for the purpose it had for me in life if I was getting rid of it. To my delight, it was easier than I expected once I was in the groove. It was actually quite cathartic, although it did give me pause to realize just how big my “getting rid of” pile was. 

Once we had separated everything, it was time for the clean up portion. All my joyful clothes were going to be folded or hung in a way that will keep them happy and elongate their life. My other clothes were sorted and packed into bags for Goodwill, Revolver, Fifi’s and Clothes Mentor. All in all we had six industrial garbage bags so full, I could hardly lift them. What I liked most about this part, besides the purge, was how we then not only organized my clothes based on type, season and style, but also made the closet appealing: Marie Kondo believe the items in your closet should swoop up, so long dresses to the left and sleeveless summer shirts to the right.  Clothes should go from dark to light, and get this, SO SHOULD THE HANGERS! Yes, that’s right- if you have black and gray hangers, your black ones go in first and hangers should use a color gradient the further right they go. It’s on another level, it really is. 

When Kelley left, I took pictures and literally sent them to everyone I know. I was beaming. I had gone from two closets and multiple bins to ONE closet that was nowhere near even being full! Zero bins! Empty shelves!! My closet is showroom-ready now. As an added bonus, my second closet is now my husband’s very own space, instead of a sliver of mine, for the first time in years. To see his face at the end of the night was priceless. 

I could NOT have done this without Kelley, she talked me though it all and she had no judgements, just kind words and supporting advice. And I realized getting rid of clothing was not just about getting rid of excess: After having kids, I’d been buying things to hide myself, not choosing special things which made me feel alive when I wore them.  I’m going to change my shopping outlook, too: If I can’t find something that fits me and makes me feel beautiful and joyous, I’ll come home empty handed—AND THAT’S OK. THAT in itself has been one of the biggest lessons for me. So ladies and gents, wear what makes you feel most alive and toss the rest, it doesn’t spark joy.

It really is liberating.