Many people I speak to seem to be quite curious about what actually happens when I work with a client to declutter their space. People thinking about inviting me into their home obviously want to assess:
- That they’ll get value for money
- Whether it’s worth the ‘risk’ of starting what can be a very transformative process
- Whether they’ll be opening themselves up to embarrassment, shame, or other negative feelings.
The home is such a personal thing – as author Davina Mackail identifies, ‘our homes are the most intimate external expression of ourselves’, so to invite somebody into that environment who is not a close friend or family member is already quite a daunting task. When you add into the equation the purpose of the visit – to declutter and tidy the home – it’s easy to understand why potential clients have been known to feel embarrassed or even ashamed to reach out for help.
With this in mind, I’m going talk through my most recent tidying lesson. Of course I’ve asked my client’s permission to include her session in this blog post, but I have changed some details to protect her privacy:
I arrived for Joanna’s tidying lesson at 11.30. She works as a teacher and was using a precious day of her half term holiday to tackle the third category – paperwork.
When invited into the home I sat with Joanna for ten or fifteen minutes. Over a coffee we discussed how she’d got on since the last tidying lesson. This is always a really useful time because it tells me if we need to pencil in time to revisit any areas that the client has found hard, or hasn’t managed to complete.
Joanna had been super organised and had made a head start by going around her home to collect all of the paperwork she could think of before I arrived. This comprised:
- Tax paperwork
- Documents such as driving license and passport
- Paperwork linked to her car
- Insurance documents
- Academic reports for her daughter (although these are her daughter’s, strictly speaking, she felt that she should be the one to make the decision about which to keep).
- Health related paperwork
- Research related to her hobby, genealogy
- Work related notes and forms
She had also come across a lot of stationery and greetings cards she’d been sent – and was delighted when I told her that these would be sorted later under Komono and sentimental items respectively.
Before we started the process of sorting and discarding, I asked her if she had checked certain areas – e.g. the boot of her car and under her bed. These are prime areas for collecting receipts and boxes of ‘stuff’. Joanna disappeared to take a look and reappeared with not one but two A3 sixed storage boxes, filled to the brim with a real variety of papers and receipts.
Using a block of post-its, we laid out areas that her paperwork would go into. The three key categories were ‘keep indefinitely’, ‘keep for a specific amount of time’ and ‘pending’. As Joanna often brings work home, she identified that it would be good to have a separate ‘pending’ pile for work.
Of course we allocated a big area of the floor for ‘discard’ items, but split this into ‘shred’ and ‘recycle’.
As Joanna lives with her partner and daughter, we also made piles for them – one of the golden rules of organising using the KonMari method is never to discard other peoples’ items!
The next few hours passed quickly. Joanna worked solidly, taking each individual item in her hands and identifying which pile it should go into. She was fully on board with the philosophy of ‘decide what to keep, not what to throw away’ so the majority of items went into the ‘discard’ piles. Joanna found it useful to tell me a little about some items if she was struggling to decide, and I would ask questions to help her to understand if the piece of paperwork still had a place in her life. A good question to ask yourself if you really can’t decide whether to keep a piece of paperwork, and it doesn’t need to be kept indefinitely, is ‘can I find this information elsewhere if I need it?’ and ‘does it bring me joy when I look at it?’
After a quick break for lunch (I brought my own lunch and we sat together and chatted about ‘other’ things), Joanna was itching to get this category finished. She asked if we could cut lunch short and of course I agreed – it’s lovely to see clients feeling empowered to reclaim their space like this!
After working through all paperwork (this took us about 5 hours including a lunch break of 20 minutes), it was time to organise. This is a point where clients sometimes want to stop. They may have other commitments for the rest of the day or may simply be tired. That’s fine – if that’s the case we’ll talk about good ways to organise the paperwork and set a deadline for them to complete it by themselves.
Joanna was happy to continue though, and the organisation part of the process proved to be straightforward. During previous tidy-ups, she’d bought a number of plain but sturdy magazine files, many of which had never been used. These are perfect for organising paperwork – everything stands vertically so nothing is at the bottom of the pile, lingering for an eternity!
After allocating a file to each pile, it was simply a case of labelling them up (I don’t normally go for labels as I feel that if they’re needed, perhaps you have too much….stuff…. but for identical files, they were essential to save time when looking for items) and deciding on a suitable place to keep them.
Joanna decided that the ‘keep indefinitely’ file with its passports and important paperwork relating to her daughter should be kept out of plain view so it was allocated a space in her wardrobe where it would be easy to find yet away from the eyes of visitors.
The other files were placed in the dining room on a cleared surface. This is where Joanna normally opens her mail, so it made sense to centralise the process of filing / dealing with ‘life admin’. She also decided that when Komono is completed, she will keep her stationery nearby to facilitate this.
The final step was to take an ‘after’ photo to remind Joanna of how far she’d come. The reduction in quantity was vast. But more than that, Joanna seemed lighter. She admitted that she’d carted those A3 sized storage boxes from home to home as she moved, never opening them and over time beginning to assume that the contents had been binned long ago.
I was really pleased to receive an update a few days ago from Joanna – even though we haven’t started our Komono category yet, she has already made some adjustments to how the space in her dining room (an area that had collected a lot of clutter) was being used.
Her desk, formerly piled high with files and work reports, had been relocated to her daughter’s room to aid her studies. In its place was an Ikea Kallax unit, with each section allocated a particular purpose (e.g. board games).
I replied immediately to say how happy I was for her. We might talk again before her next session – she knows that if she has any questions she can drop me an email or pick up the phone and I’ll be happy to talk it through with her.
So there you have it. A half-day in the life of Zen With Julia and her amazing client.
- This is how my last tidying lesson went:
- My client had already collected most paperwork but I reminded her to check under her bed.
- We used post-its to sort into specific categories.
- If she didn’t know what to do with a particular item I would ask specific questions to help her decide.
- Magazine files were our friends.
- She was super enthusiastic and has since continued to hone her space.