Some Alternatives to the KonMari Decluttering Method

Marie Kondo's approach might be the most famous, but it's not the only one.

Little girl in a pile of clothes
Little girl sits in a pile of clothes.

@Hanni via Twenty20 

Not everyone is a fan of Marie Kondo's somewhat radical approach to decluttering. Even I, who think her popularization of decluttering is a good thing for North America's consumerist society, feel some regret at having gotten rid of certain items. I miss specific shirts, skirts, and shoes that, in the moment, did not spark joy, but now would come in very handy.

The good news is, KonMari isn't the only way to declutter your home. There are other methods that can help you wade through the stuff and figure out what's worth saving and what's not. These approaches aren't as extreme; they allow for uncertainty and a gradual transition, which may be better for some people.

1. Four Box Method

Set up four boxes and label them Put Away, Give Away, Throw Away, and Undecided. Go through your items and sort them accordingly. The Undecided box allows for doubt and time to reflect. Just be careful not to put too many things in there.

2. "Only Handle It Once" 

This is a smart strategy for whenever you bring stuff into your house: deal with it immediately. Emails, junk mail, trinkets, as well as items that you're decluttering – make a decision right away so that you don't have to waste time and energy coming back to it later.

3. One Thing

Instead of tackling everything you own, choose one category of items, i.e. shoes, books, clothes, toys, and commit to decluttering this over the course of a year. (You can go with a shorter time frame if you wish.) This is less daunting than doing everything at once.

4. "Would I buy it Again?"

A smart question to ask yourself that may be more practical than Marie Kondo's infamous "Does it spark joy?." Asking "Would I buy it again?" is an excellent chance to reflect on the usefulness and value of specific belongings and to guide future purchasing decisions. After all, hindsight is 20/20, as they say. (Read "8 Rules for Smart, Ethical Clothes Shopping" for more advice on this topic.)

5. The One-Year Question

If you haven't used something in a year, you might want to get rid of it. You've gone through all the seasons and possible scenarios when you might need it, but if it hasn't come out of the closet or the drawer, you can likely pitch it and not notice its absence.

6. The Hanger Rule

Turn all of your clothes hangers backward and, as you use an item, turn it back the right way. After a few months, you'll have a good visual of what gets used and what doesn't. This works if most of your clothes are hanging in a closet, unless you can devise another way of tracking items. If so, apply it to other parts of your house, such as toy boxes.

7. Five a Day

You find five things to discard or donate every day. Do it for a month and you'll have 150 fewer items in your home. Three months later, you'll be 450 items lighter. (It's a less extreme version of the Minimalism Game.)

8. Use the Clutterfree App

Devised by Joshua Becker of Becoming Minimalist, this is a new app that allows users to upload a personalized description of their home for a more detailed decluttering plan. It allows people to prioritize what they want and use a checklist to accomplish it.

9. The Five-Point Scale

Professional organizer Dorothy Breininger uses a five-point scale to categorize clutter, in order to help people understand what they should keep or toss. The categories include important items, items that are difficult to replace, occasionally-used items, rarely-used items that you're hesitant to discard, and specialized items that you never use. Read more about it here.

There's a system for everyone, and you don't have to conform to Marie Kondo's idea of decluttering if it doesn't feel right to you. The goal is to create a space that not only feels and looks good, but also has what you need, when you need it.