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I Can't Believe It, But It's True: Marie Kondo Saved Me From a Nervous Breakdown

Photograph by Carla Wiking

I felt as though I was drowning in stuff. I could never find my keys. Important papers were lost in the rolling sea of junk mail and preschool art. If I wanted to get dressed, I had to wade through clothes belonging to a 20-something party girl, a 30-something career woman and an extremely pregnant mom, which was especially unhelpful, since I am none of those women at the moment.

As if searching for my own things wasn't bad enough, I was also constantly helping my son find the toy he actually wanted to play with buried beneath dollar bin crap or the perfect shirt hidden amongst things he had long since outgrown. Books were stacked in every corner of the house.

I felt like I couldn't breathe.

I was constantly cleaning up and trying to organize to no avail. The job was too big, and I had no idea where to start. I was truly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

It was in this state that I watched the new Netflix series "Tidying Up With Marie Kondo," she of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" fame. I needed it to be both magic and life-changing.

As I watched, I vacillated between nodding my head and rolling my eyes. Many of her methods sounded so impractical, like placing everything on the floor before deciding what to throw out. And there sure was a lot of "magical" thinking about objects having feelings. I kept thinking this will never work, especially with kids. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and what I had been doing sure wasn't cutting it, either.

In truth, it got worse before it got better. The discarding phase is long and hard and messy. I felt hot waves of shame and embarrassment as I carried bags and bags of unwanted items—and straight-up trash—out of my home.

How could I have lived this way? And yet, I also felt thrilled to have it gone.

Plus, the purging is addicting. Soon, you see things that don't spark joy everywhere, and they must go. Yet after days of work and countless runs to the donation shop, my house didn't feel much different.

I was discouraged, especially because her organizing suggestions sounded too simple (organize your pantry with shoe box lids), or like too much extra work (fold your clothes so that they stand on end). But I had committed to the KonMari, and I wasn't going to stop halfway through.

One drawer of standing up shirts later, I was a total believer.

Photograph by Carla Wiking

The concept is simple, you don't need any special organizing gear, just a place for everything.

In a 900-square foot home shared by four people, that ultimately means letting go of a lot of stuff. I think my favorite organizing tip of hers is no more stacking, everything should be stored vertically. I couldn't believe such a simple rule could make such a huge difference. It creates space and makes it easier to get things out and put them back afterward.

One month into this process, I am still working on it. We aren't quite there yet and the garage is still a disaster. But I can breathe again. Picking up the house after a long, busy day only takes a few minutes. The idea of keeping a tidy home is no longer overwhelming and totally out of reach.

Her method isn't perfect, and some of her suggestions just don't feel practical. I won't, for example, be unpacking my diaper bag each day so that it can have a proper rest. I don't see myself drying off the shampoo and putting it in a cupboard every time I use it. I also would love to see a follow-up episode on handling children's messes. My 5-year-old does not share her childhood desire for order.

Ultimately, I fear Kondo makes promises she can't keep—the biggest one being that you will never have to do this kind of tidying again. But then I doubted her at every turn and, yet, here I sit typing in a serene environment, no longer on the verge of total meltdown.

If that isn't life-changing magic, I don't know what is.

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