There are a lot of things people with kids like to warn you about before you get pregnant. You’ll never feel properly rested! You’ll be broke because kids are expensive! Your social life will deteriorate and you’ll have to start scheduling sex! Your body will never look the same! When my twins were born, I knew to expect the exhaustion, the overwhelming new schedule, the financial devastation, the non-stop poop talk, and never-ending iPhone photo-taking (it’s true, they get cuter by the day!). But what nobody prepared me for was that becoming a mother would suddenly make me unable to stay on top of pretty much anything. Ever since the twins came home from the hospital, my life has felt like one chaotic, disorganized mess, and some days I wonder if I’ll ever be able to get it together.
Before having kids, my husband and I had a fairly reasonable grasp on basic adult functioning, like making sure to keep the bed made, cooking dinner from scratch, drinking nice wine, and always having plenty of clean underwear. We were up-to-date on current events, and we’d go to concerts and keep houseplants alive and have leisurely boozy brunches on the weekends. But these days, with two toddlers in tow, we’ve become shells of who we once were. Our bed is never made. We eat toast or cereal for dinner standing up at the sink after the kids have gone to bed. We’re up at 6:30 a.m. on the weekends because our children force us to be. I can’t even remember the last time we had brunch, or went to a movie, or did anything on a whim like we used to. And we are always, always behind on the laundry.
When I first heard of Marie Kondo’s best-selling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was intrigued. According to Kondo, a Japanese cleaning consultant and minimalist organizational guru, decluttering and discarding all the unnecessary things from your home won’t just make your house more organized, it’ll make you a calmer, more motivated, successful human being. As someone who has at times considered stocking paper plates and plastic cutlery just so I can avoid dealing with a seemingly never-ending pile of dishes in the sink, Kondo’s theory certainly appealed to me. But after reading her book cover-to-cover, there were still some things I wasn’t sure of. Firstly, could I actually do it? And secondly, could I maintain it with two messy kids?
After my husband and I spent our evening cleaning the kitchen, griping about how it would inevitably be a mess again approximately 10 minutes after the twins woke up for breakfast, I decided that enough was enough. I was going to get my house — and my life — in order with the KonMari method, and there would be no turning back. I’d live the KonMari way for seven days, and then assess whether or not I was doomed to eventually end up on an episode of Hoarders.
Off To A Good Start
One of Kondo’s main rules about tidying is that you should organize by category, not by room. You must gather all of the items you own in that category, and then go through each piece one by one to start paring it down. With the seasons changing and the weather getting colder, I’d been thinking a lot about how I really needed to figure out what we already owned for winter and what we needed to pick up, but I’d been avoiding the task entirely because our hallway closet had become a landfill-like dumping ground of shoes and hats and coats and reusable grocery bags. I’d already spent so much time stressing out just thinking about getting that closet in order, so I decided that it was the best place to begin.
I started with coats and jackets (because there weren’t too many of them), and put anything we didn’t want in a garbage bag for donation. Just by doing that, I realized that we already had a perfect hand-me-down pair of snowpants for my son and I rediscovered an old wool pea coat I’d completely forgot that I even had. Score. Then I moved onto shoes, keeping only the shoes that “sparked joy,” versus the shoes I’d kept for years because they were nice to look at, but that I never actually wore; or the ones I had that I never wore but also didn’t even like, but still, inexplicably, hung on to. I went through all our hats and gloves and scarves and origami-ed them Kondo-style into little squares, and kept them in a separate box. I even folded some of the grocery bags and my purses, because it looked nice.
I started and finished the front closet in one giant wave of energy the first evening, and felt fantastic when it was done. In fact, it was such a dreamy relief to finally have it done that, over the next few days, I’d open the closet door every now and then just to admire my handiwork. Even though the rest of my house was still in disarray, that neat and simplified closet actually helped me feel a little less stressed, which made me start to wonder if I might really be onto something here.
Tackling The Laundry Behemoth
Feeling invigorated from my first foray into the KonMari Method, I figured it was time to tackle our biggest issue: our neverending laundry mountain. I’m not sure why going from a household of two adults to two adults and two children resulted in such a huge increase in our laundry output, but it did, and it’s almost impossible to get ahead of. We seem to be incapable of getting everything clean, folded and put away at one time, and on the rare occasion when that does actually happen, it feels like we don’t have enough space for it all. I knew that we needed to seriously pare down our clothing to only the things we actually liked and needed and wore. That way, we’d not only have less laundry, but we’d also feel less overwhelmed, and we’d know exactly what we had and exactly where we could find it.
We waited to go through all of our clothes until the kids were asleep, because piling every single clothing item we owned into one space turned our basement into the clothing equivalent of a kids’ ball pit. And then we went through each item (by category, starting with tops), and kept only the things we really, really wanted.
“I feel like I might not have anything left after this,” my husband said, mid-sort. “I kind of hate all of this stuff.” I had to agree with him. There were items I liked, sure, but loved? Maybe back in the day when I had responsibilities that required me to look nice and put-together. But these days, not only do I have a virtually-non-existent clothing budget compared to my pre-baby life, but I also know that anything I do buy is going to get covered in food or snot or pee at one point or another. I wasn’t really emotionally attached to anything.
I Love Folding. I Hate Folding.
One of the best and worst things about Kondo’s tidying method as it pertains to clothes is the way she suggests you fold them. Historically, washing my clothes has never been an issue — it’s getting them actually folded and put away. Kondo’s folding technique takes some time and a bit of practice, but the upside is that your KonMari-ized clothes take up such little space when put away, and you can see everything in your drawers at a glance. Fantastic!
As I put our remaining clothes back where they came from, I couldn’t help but think about how nice it felt to have such organized drawers for once. I was so on the ball! I totally had it together! And then I saw the look on my husband’s face.
“I’m sorry, but how are we going to keep our clothes neat and folded like that?” he asked, looking skeptical.
I had absolutely no idea, but I tried to hold out hope — at least, until my son woke from his afternoon nap and I found that he’d emptied all of his carefully-folded clothes from his top drawer onto the floor. I started to fold them again the KonMari way, but my son started saying he was hungry and then my daughter woke up in a terrible mood after her own nap, and I realized now was not the time for fancy folding. I shoved all the clothes back into the drawer and vowed to come back to it later.
I did not ever manage to come back to it later. I meant to, of course, but between playtime, and making dinner, and bath time, and (finally!) bed, I didn’t get a chance to stop and peacefully fold my son’s clothes again like Marie Kondo would do. In fact, the first chance I really got to even consider thinking about folding clothes was after the kids had gone to bed, and I wasn’t about to risk waking them up in order to put their clothes back in their dressers. It had suddenly become clear to me why the clean laundry usually just sits in the basket as opposed to being put away: I never have the chance to actually do it.
Making Your Life Easier Sure Is Hard
Finally getting all of our clothes sorted, organized, folded, and put away felt fantastic, and it was incredibly gratifying to see the garbage bags full of things that had just been sitting in our closets and drawers, taking up space and stressing us out. I was totally sold on the concept, and knew that once I got through my whole house, I really would feel like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
The problem was, I still had to get through my whole house.
As the week came to a close, I realized we were already struggling to maintain our new clothing organization system. Sure, we had less laundry, but we still had to make sure it got done. Almost-three years in and we’re still trying to fit housework in, take care of the kids, and do enough work so that we can pay the bills. Cleaning up usually gets pushed to the end of the day once the kids are asleep, but by the we’re too exhausted to even think about it. And then I thought about all of the other stuff that still needed to be organized: the kitchen cupboards full of lid-less containers and random kitchen gadgets, the boxes of books and picture frames still in storage under the stairs that haven’t been opened since we moved in over a year ago, the two bathrooms full of half-empty cosmetics and shampoo bottles and shaving cream. I’d have to take all of it out, sort it, and put back together before my kids could screw it all up. Um. When would I actually get to that? Surely my closet will be a mess by then.
Doomed For Disorganization?
I started this experiment with incredibly high hopes. My husband and I have talked for so long about how we just needed to get organized once and for all, and Kondo’s book made it sound entirely doable. And, to be clear, I still think that it is — it doesn’t surprise me that she has a zero relapse rate amongst her private clients. What I still don’t understand is, how do some parents find it easy to balance the housework with life stuff, while some of us find it so freaking hard? My house is a mess because my life is a mess at this point — one loud, chaotic, hilarious, love-filled mess. Maybe for now I’ll just have to learn to live with it.
I still do plan on utilizing some of the KonMari strategies that worked well for us. Getting rid of things felt so great, and I want to keep going to see how much other stuff we can get rid of. And I’ll probably stick with the folding, because it just looks so nice when you’re finished. Kondo’s book has also given me a different perspective on buying things as well: just as she suggests, you only keep things you really love, because there’s no point spending money on new things if you don’t really love them either. As my kids get older (and more capable of actually helping out in a meaningful way) I hope that we can teach them these things too — how having a few things you love is better than having lots of stuff you don’t really care about, and also that we all have to work together to keep our home organized (aka quit pulling your clothes out of your drawers!).
I’m sure the KonMari works well for lots of people, but maybe, right now, it just doesn’t work for us (and maybe there’s nothing wrong with that).
Images: Courtesy of Alana Romain (5), Giphy (6)