Tidy Friday

The Joy of Categorization


If you know anything about the KonMari method, you know we tidy by category, not location, in a specific order. We hold each item, decide if it sparks joy, and either keep it or discard it with gratitude.

Here’s the order: clothing, books, paper, komono (which means miscellaneous) and finally, sentimental.

You gather everything in the category and put it all in one spot. For example you put all the clothing you own - off-season clothes and jackets from the coat closet included - in one giant pile. Part of the reason for doing this is to confront the total number of items you own. It’s easier to let go of the things that no longer spark joy when you are coming from a place of abundance. It’s called “the power of the pile.” Also, it prevents you from storing duplicates of the same items in multiple locations. After you’ve gathered everything from the category into one place, you begin “joy-checking” - deciding what brings you joy and what doesn’t.

Some people are happy to heap everything on the bed or floor and dig in. To others, a huge pile is overwhelming and even embarrassing for them. I can see it in a client’s eyes when this happens and know that we’ll need to subcategorize. In that case, we might only joy-check shirts to start with. Then move on to pants. We are still tidying by category, but we’re breaking it down into subcategories that can be handled without stress.

Subcategorize until the pile is manageable for you. Some people have a harder time than others when trying to sort things into categories. If you are overwhelmed by the thought of going through your things, here are 4 key ideas that may help:

  1. Put “like” items together.

    For example, when sorting tools, put power tools in one pile, hand tools in another, gardening tools in a third. I recently helped a client with her kitchen. We put all her pans in one spot, pots in another, tupperware in another etc.  I could see the relief on her face when all her things were sorted into smaller piles. Subcategorizing made the job much less daunting for her.

  2. Start with broad categories

    Then, subdivide until you’re comfortable joy-checking that pile. When a client’s decision-making slows to a crawl and they get a blank look on their face, I know the category is too broad. For example, if you have lots of craft supplies, you might divide them into sewing, art, and scrapbooking. Then divide the scrapbooking pile into albums, paper, stickers, pens and pencils, embellishments.

    My mom has an enormous amount of sewing and craft supplies. We needed to separate it into smaller categories to keep her from becoming exhausted by trying to make too many decisions. One of her subcategories was sewing. We then separated that into fabric, patterns, thread, tools, scissors, etc.  It may seem silly to have an individual scissor subcategory, but deciding which of her scissors gave her joy was much easier for her than making choices about all her sewing tools at once. It’s much simpler to decide between 5 things than 50.

  3. Use post-it notes

    Mark out physical areas for each subcategory. This works amazingly well for most people. I recently had a client who was working on the paper category. She took up a paper from a stack, looked at it and said she wanted to give it to her daughter. She set it down and moved on to the next paper in the stack. She looked at it, said she wanted to give it to her son, and set it down on top of the one for her daughter. And kept doing this until I stopped her. We made post-it notes for her daughter, son, and several other people she wanted to send things to, and stuck them on the edge of a bookshelf. When she went back to the pile, she could pick up a paper, decide who she wanted it to go to and put it on the shelf by their name. This stopped her from “churning” through the pile over and over again.

  4. Enlist someone to help.

    It’s so fascinating to me how differently people sort things. Some people easily categorize, while others really struggle with it. My theory is that some of the people who struggle can think of so many uses for things, it’s not easy for them to put one label on them.. They might look at a vase and think, “hmmm - that could be used to hold flowers or shells, I could make a layered dessert in it, it would be cute to serve punch in, I could put my toothbrush in it, or put spare game pieces in it, or…” Instead of thinking vase=flowers, their creative mind thinks of so many different uses that they can’t narrow it down to one category.

    A friend or professional can help in these cases by listening to the ideas, and helping decide what would be the most obvious use for it.  A word of caution - if you choose a friend or family member, choose one who can help without criticizing. This is where a professional can be very helpful. We are trained to be patient and non-judgmental. Sometimes just having someone there with you for moral support when you tackle your things can be all the boost you need!

So if you’re overwhelmed, subcategorize and have fun!

 Mom’s craft supplies before…

Mom’s craft supplies before…

 and after!

and after!