When she decided to employ cult cleaning guru Marie Kondo’s life changing method of decluttering her home in 2016, Koh Lay Chin was a little apprehensive.
After all, the process needed to be done in one hit (one category at a time, beginning with clothes) and Koh and her husband, Anh Nguyen, had their hands full with their toddler, who was a year and a half at the time. Were they being too ambitious?
Like Koh, millions tried out Kondo’s KonMari method of decluttering, popularised through her 2011 best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
It’s enjoying a resurgence in interest since Kondo’s show premiered in January.
But Koh really wanted to clear her clutter, both in her home and in her mind.
“At the time, I had a lot of clutter in my head and, as I think many mums can relate, it was reflected in our home.
“I’d also recently watched a documentary called The True Cost which looks at consumerism and what happens to fashion waste … we think that we can give away our old clothes and that’ll be of use to someone else but the truth is only a small portion of it gets reused. The rest is waste and it gets shipped to third-world countries. It was just shocking and all of that was playing in my mind. Along with my own consumer habits and the amount of nappies I was using … what was I doing?
“So when I read Marie Kondo’s book, it made sense. Of course, I had my cynical moments and wondered if I could just take use elements of the method and adapt it a little,” shares Koh.
But Koh and her husband decided against taking shortcuts and decided to commit fully to the KonMari way.
“We decided to be true to the book. And so, starting with our clothes, we took everything out,” she says.
The process was revelatory. It took a long while – more than a year – but taking everything out and laying them out in one place made them see just how much things they had accumulated.
“It was wonderful to be able to do it together and it became a little competition even. Of course, my husband went through his stuff quicker because he has so much less things.
“But it gave us a lot of clarity. We were able to see the junk we had accumulated in our lives as well as the things that were really precious to us. And the wastage,” says Koh, who is the editor-in-chief of parenting site makchic.com.
The method, she says, also decluttered the mess in her head.
Sorting through their things made Koh confront her habits and has made her more mindful about shopping – for food, clothes, toys and everything else.
“Seeing the wasted, rotting food in the fridge …that really hit me. I mean nobody sets out to waste food … when we go shopping we have the best of intentions to cook this and that. But we end up not having time and there is just so much wasted, rotting food and it felt really terrible to see it,” she shares.
Once they’d completed the process, their home was decluttered and everything, as Kondo promised, had a prescribed place. Koh also found that she had more peace of mind.
But more than just decluttering, they changed their habits. To avoid food wastage, they drew out meal plans. They’d cook a couple of days a week and save the leftovers for other days.
“It didn’t always work but we were eating better and that made us feel better as parents too. We were also ordering in less, which reduced the plastic waste. I’m not a super mum who’s an environmentalist or anything but like all mums, we want to do our best. The KonMari method helped me reset … it gave me a step by step way to sort through my mess,” explains Koh.
She also refrained from shopping for a whole year – not the essentials, of course, but from everything else.
“It made me realise that it’s a mental challenge. Often, we buy things to make us feel better but what if we don’t need to?” shares Koh.
Three years on and Koh is happy to report that though her home may not be as tidy as it was after the clean-up – she has two little boys running around, after all – “everything has it’s place”.
“There are a couple of drawers with miscellaneous things in them but we know what to do. And we still fold our clothes the KonMari way, which really works especially for children’s clothing,” she says.