The Power of the Pile

One of my favourite principles of Marie Kondo’s tidying method is that of collecting items together in one place before starting to joy check and discard. Clients often question this, identifying (correctly) that it takes a lot of time to remove books from bookshelves or paperwork from folders, especially when one knows that certain items will definitely be kept.

So why do we pile up possessions in such a way?

Four words – Power Of The Pile. It’s absolutely essential for you, the client, to be confronted with all belongings from that category at once. Everything – so if doing clothes, remember to bring your coats from the car. Books? Don’t forget those ‘should reads’ from the bedside table. Toiletry Komono? Don’t overlook the shampoo and moisturiser in the gym bag.

Seeing all items together is an important part of kick-starting the discard process.

The most common comment I hear at this point is ‘I just didn’t realise there was so much’. When starting the KonMari process I was equally humbled and overwhelmed when I found myself standing next to a pile of clothing nearly as high as myself. I’d always prided myself on not holding on to unloved clothing, so why was there so much? I was shocked by my physical reaction to the pile. Immediately I had started to feel the signs of stress – heart pounding, the sound of the blood rushing in my ears, the desire to get as far away as possible. But then a dangerous thought crept in amongst the cortisol – ‘what if I didn’t have to deal with these items? What could I do with that physical and mental space? That thought, not even a thought actually but a glimpse of a thought, intrigued me and it was enough for me to push on. It was a brief insight to a freer place.

Having a reaction, whatever it may be, to seeing your items in their entirety is a vital kick-start in the tidying journey. Expect anything from hysterical laughter to feelings of fear.

Marie Kondo has a rule that if when piling up your items, you forget something, it should be discarded. Why? Be honest – if you didn’t remember it, it can’t spark that much joy can it? Piling up one’s items is a good chance to be reminded of any outliers, hidden extras or ‘just in case’ multiples that might be hanging around. Walk around your home, open all cupboards and drawers, remove everything from the coat rack.

It might not be a case of forgetting to add items to the pile, but assuming that ‘essential’ items just don’t count. I’ve had clients try valiantly to convince me that their work books don’t really count as they definitely need to keep them. One client reliably informed me that her collection of work hoodies was so bulky that she couldn’t possibly include them. Alas, they were clothes so on to the pile they went. Some were kept on the basis that looking the part at work made her feel professional, so by default they sparked joy. Before we added them to the pile, she couldn’t tell me whether she had 3 or 5. Afterwards we were able to refine the true number to….7.

Piling all items from one category rebalanced perception against reality in the client’s mind.

To me, the ‘piling up’ part of the process acts as a real leveller of your items – it puts little used ‘maybe one day’ things on the same footing as those that are used several times daily.  Clients have been known to show genuine surprise at the items they’ve chosen to keep. ‘I didn’t think that sparked joy until I saw it alongside the one I thought was my favourite’. Trying to joy-check when books are still on the bookcase, for example, may appear to save time but the process will only need to be repeated a few months down the line when it becomes clear that once again you’ve convinced yourself to hold on to complete sets of books because your bookshelf looks ‘right’ with the full set.

The only exception to be made to the ‘pile it all up’ method is that of personal items such as underwear. If you feel uncomfortable joy-checking this with your consultant, it’s perfectly OK to deal with that as a ‘homework’ task after that tidying lesson and before we next meet.


TL;DR? You can’t avoid the ‘pile it up’ part of the process – it pulls out all of those forgotten items, helps you to rebalance the reality of what you own against the fantasy of what you’ve convinced yourself you own, and allows a much less biased joy-check as items can be easily compared. A little fear can be a healthy thing – it will push you on to an unfamiliar and new place which could be life-changing. 

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