How to Declutter by Category, Not by Room

Updated: Jan 27, 2019

{It's a Total Pain in the A$$, But Worth It} 

One of the keystone concepts of Japanese professional organizer and author Marie Kondo is to declutter by category, and according to her, to do it any other way is a fatal mistake. We typically tidy up room by room, but by tackling items by category we are better able to visually grasp the sheer quantity of items we own. Taking our belongings off hangers, down from shelves, and out of drawers and boxes allows us to see and handle each item one at a time. 

I'm not going to lie - the first time I tried this it was a bit exhausting and overwhelming. But after doing it once, it is easy to experience firsthand that the benefits of organizing in this way greatly outweigh any downsides. It allows you to visually assess the quantity of items you own and ensures that you don't overlook anything in your process of elimination.

Write a List of Your Categories to Declutter

First thing's first! Make a list and check it twice. Marie Kondo recommends starting first with these basic categories: 




There's clearly more to do beyond that, but these categories are a great place to start! If you're just getting started, start with decluttering your clothes first and breaking that category down into smaller, more approachable categories:  












Designate a Space to Declutter In 

In her book, "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up", Marie Kondo states that many of her clients may take 6-9 months to fully declutter their homes. What she fails to mention is that this can be a very messy process. I would recommend trying to create a designated space in your home that is out of the way and ok for it to be a bit out of control. In some instances, you will know in advance that you can tackle one category in a single sitting, but for bigger categories it will not be fun to have, let's say, your bed as your main sorting area! 

Set Aside an Empty Box for Sentimental Items 

Because this category is one of the most difficult categories to go through, Marie Kondo recommends saving this for last. Any photos, mementos, or sentimental items should be put away in a box as you find them. 


Find a Spot for Empty Storage Containers 

One mistake I made was getting rid of a lot of the storage containers that I emptied out. I later wished that I had held onto them. I definitely recommend getting rid of any broken or unusable containers as you go, but save the rest to re-evaluate towards the end of the overall decluttering process. 

Create "Keep, Donate, Trash, Recycle, and Maybe" Piles

What worked best for me was to have white trash bags that I labelled with a sharpie. Any containers like totes and boxes or even just labelled slips of paper taped to the wall can help keep these categories separate and clearly organized. Find what works best for you with supplies you already have around the home.

Make It Comfortable

This is hard work! I quickly started the habit of throwing on comfy clothes and having a floor pillow to sit on for comfort, a glass of ice water, and scented candles lit in the room to make it a bit more cozy. 

Create a Quiet Space to Work In

Rid yourself of distractions like podcasts, music, television, and handheld devices so that you can work quickly and effectively in a focused manner. 

Do a Walk Through of Your Home 

No matter what category you are working on currently, always do a tour of your home in order to gather up all of your belongings by category. Look in every room, closet, and container for these items. Chances are you will find these things spread throughout your household and possibly even in your car, on your porch, or at work. 

Gather Your Items Together in One Massive Pile 

Now that you have looked in every nook and cranny, make sure to get it all into one space on the floor or on any available surface that works for you. 

Clean As You Go

Now, I'm not sure that this is specifically recommended by the Konmari Method, but one thing that helped a lot was to clean or wash items after each category was sorted. In the case of decluttering my clothing, linens, and textiles I had massive laundry days before and after. But often it would be something as simple as wiping down all the books I was keeping and the shelves they were being returned to. This might not work for everyone, but it's something that I was later glad I took the time to do.  

Evaluate Your Belongings 

Marie Kondo specifically talks about sorting items based on whether or not they spark joy for you. This honestly seems a little vague and cheesy to me! This method has worked wonders for many people, but if you find yourself in need of a more specific framework, there are options! It would be too easy for me to say "yes, everything sparks joy", so I prefer a more in depth approach where I evaluate the items based upon joy + more practical concerns. Check out these ideas on how to evaluate your belongings with a methodical approach. 

Take Small and Big Breaks 

It's important to take small breaks while you are tackling each category. Give yourself short breaks to stretch, check your phone, make a cup of tea, or clear your mind as needed throughout the process. Also, don't forget that it's ok for life to happen and that sometimes you might need to take a two week long break as well. Decluttering can become mildly addicting to some of us, but always keep in mind that this is a process which will ultimately unfold at its own pace.  

Don't Cheat

We all like to take shortcuts sometimes, but I promise trying to skip pulling everything out into one place will waste your time and be less effective in the long run. I know, because I was feeling lazy about gathering all of my books into one massive pile (turns out I had about 300), and I tried decluttering just by looking at them on the shelf. After several rounds of doing that, I finally just put them in one pile and got it done. 

Ready to get started? View the Ultimate Guide of Categories to Konmari.

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