4. Instead of cleaning room-by-room, bit-by-bit, tidy up category-by-category.

A common approach to tidying up is tackling one room at a time. Clean the bathroom one day, the kitchen another, and then work your way to the bedroom and living room. The problem with this technique is that categories of items are rarely confined to one or even two rooms. You have clothes in your closet, but you also have jackets draped over the sofa, and hanging by the front door. You have make-up in the bathroom, but there are also some in your bedroom, and maybe some has even found its way into your miscellaneous drawer in the kitchen. When we tidy up by room, we are unable to take stock properly of what we own. We could have items in duplicate and triplicate and risk repeating the same work of organizing things over and over. Many of us have far too much stuff, and the room-by-room technique prevents us from coming to grips with that fact.

The bit-by-bit approach to cleaning is also demoralizing because the work is never finished. What is more, it does not get us any closer to developing a mentality of tidiness. It’s a reactive, damage-control technique that is never-ending.

A major flaw in organization techniques is that they only take people halfway. This perpetuates a negative spiral, with chaotic clutter and helplessness waiting at the bottom.

Instead of room-by-room or bit-by-bit, go category-by-category. This way you know how much of each item you actually own, and you can better evaluate what is essential and what is superfluous. The categories of clothes, books, papers, komono (i.e., miscellaneous), and sentimental covers the range of items pretty well. Not only is it important to tidy up category-by-category, but also to observe the specific order. Here it is again: clothes first, then books, papers, komono, or miscellaneous, and, finally, sentimental items.

Starting with clothes and finishing with sentimental affects is best because clothing is usually the simplest category. Contrary to common wisdom, it is preferable to start simple rather than going straight for the most daunting task, so that the wins will build more readily. By the time you arrive at the more difficult tasks, they will not even seem difficult.  And again, for each item in these categories, the question is, “Does it spark joy?”

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