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KonMari Mania for the Military Spouse

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in the middle of a PCS (in which case, no explanation needed), you have likely heard of the new Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” A continuation of her popular books, each episode centers around a family fighting against the massive piles of stuff in their home on a journey that requires both physical and emotional change. The show has quickly amassed a large following, with thrift stores reaping the benefits!

Using a method known as KonMari, the show explores techniques for decluttering that are meant to facilitate a permanent lifestyle change, with a focus on mindfulness and gratitude. Perhaps its most well-known tenet is Kondo’s insistence to only keep items that “spark joy.”

As a military spouse who is constantly forced to make pragmatic decisions about our belongings, the KonMari method left me a little skeptical but intrigued enough to explore.

Fresh off a PCS that required some monumental purging of our things, I recently binged on all eight episodes of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” hoping to find some new tips and tricks to ensure smoother moves in the future. And while I wasn’t disappointed (spoiler: perfectly folded fitted sheets!), I couldn’t help but watch through the lens of a military spouse, imagining how this method would play out in our world.

If you’re looking for some minimalist bliss, you can attempt your own Kondo-inspired clean-out. But be warned, if you’re a military spouse, the steps you take will likely veer from the polished version you see on TV. 

Check out each of Marie Kondo’s categories with a version of her steps that is probably a little closer to reality for the military family.

Expectation: Combine all clothing into one pile. Physically hold each piece & determine if it “sparks joy.” If not, give thanks to the item for the role it has played in your life and separate it into a giveaway pile. 

  1. Dump all closet & dresser clothing onto your bed.
  2. Feel slightly overwhelmed, but in control. You can do this!
  3. Remember coat closet. Return with items you haven’t seen for the past four duty stations.
  4. Start separating. Find the t-shirt your husband bought you from his first unit and toss that ratty thing away. Yell, “bye, Felicia!” in lieu of “thanks.” Look over your shoulder to ensure Marie doesn’t show up with a scowl on her face.
  5. Make significant progress & congratulate yourself with a glass of wine.
  6. Take one sip & remember you forgot the ball gowns stored in the extra bedroom.
  7. Realize your gowns are also stored with work attire that hasn’t been touched for two years. Curse the military gods for three consecutive back-to-back PCSs.
  8. Slam the remainder of your wine & pour another. This will take a while.
  9. Observe mountainous pile that has grown twice as large as when you started. Halfheartedly attempt to tidy.
  10. Give up and inform hubby that you’re both sleeping on the couch tonight.
  11. Awake fresh eyed & ready to purge with passion!
  12. Work five hours straight & finally whittle that wardrobe down to the basics.
  13. Celebrate with more wine! And hubby! And your now-clear bed!
  14. Wake up in a panic. Tear open donation bags and reclaim old winter gear (what? Fort Drum is always a possibility!), more business-wear (you fully intend to work again as soon as you’re settled), and every evening gown (they’re expensive & another ball is always around the corner anyway!).
  15. Remember wine-fueled celebration from the night before … reclaim old maternity clothes, as well.

Expectation: Gather all reading material in one place. Choose only those that continue to serve a meaningful purpose in your life. Ultimate goal: no more than 30 books. 

  1. Clear bookshelves of all reading material.
  2. Gently tap each one to “wake it up” per Kondo’s instructions.
  3. Feel ridiculous and quit after two taps.
  4. Spend thirty minutes making a genuine attempt to reduce your collection.
  5. Suddenly remember the two other boxes of books that were never unpacked from last PCS.
  6. Locate, open, dump into pile.
  7. Find two old copies of The Army Wife Handbook & consider whether they “spark joy.”
  8. Immediately toss into donation pile.
  9. Stumble on high school yearbooks. Spend an hour and a half reminiscing and then toss aside. You’re all about living in the present now.
  10. What are you, crazy?! Pull those yearbooks back into the “keep” pile. They are hilarious!
  11. Arrange all remaining books in an aesthetically pleasing way.
  12. Applaud yourself. That was way easier than clothes!

Expectation: Gather, separate, and purge according to 3 categories: those that need attention, those that must be kept short-term, those that need to be kept forever. 

  1. Gaze upon miraculously small pile.
  2. Locate PCS binder & realize every important paper has already been filed.
  3. Find gratitude for constant moves & rookie mistakes. You don’t need Marie Kondo helping you see the error of your ways; the wayward birth certificate that held up preschool registration five years ago was the slap in the face you needed. 
  4. Munch a chocolate croissant while happily shredding your small pile of mail. 
  5. Make minor adjustments to PCS binder as needed.
  6. Shoot dagger eyes at hubby when he nonchalantly hauls in a giant-sized tote of incredibly important and completely unorganized military papers.
  7. Remind him that Kondo insists each partner work separately.
  8. Kiss him goodbye and head out to lunch with a friend.

Expectation: Declutter the miscellaneous items from every part of the house. The show focuses mostly on the kitchen and garage but this detailed list specifies additional facets of Komono: office & family, pantry, bath & laundry, tools & garage, children, animals.

  1. Print off checklist so as not to forget anything.
  2. Feel blood pressure instantly rise.
  3. Procrastinate for days while “mentally assessing” what needs to be done.
  4. Begin with pantry. Praise yourself for having so few expired items.
  5. Shush hubby when he you reminds you it’s only because the last moving company refused to pack non-perishable goods.
  6. Walk into office/guest room/storage area for unopened boxes from last PCS.
  7. Just as quickly walk out. That’s a hard nope.
  8. Move to linen closet. Toss cheap towels from the time your HHGs were six weeks late. The memories attached to them have never sparked joy. 
  9. Toss old comforter set with the missing top sheet and decorative pillows. If you haven’t found them by now, you never will.
  10. Discover hubby’s reflective PT belt he’s been missing behind box of baby-proofing gear that doesn’t fit cabinets in current house.
  11. Consider donating box. Reconsider when realizing another PCS is approaching & they may be necessary!
  12. Begin tackling garage. Give yourself mental pep-talk: We downsized this PCS. This is a one car garage. It looks worse than it is.
  13. Pull out several totes to begin sorting.
  14. Realize each one is full of pro gear.
  15. Give up. 

Expectation: Using the concept of “spark joy,” focus not on elimination but on deciding what you really want to keep.

  1. Begin with photographs.
  2. Make pile of all loose pictures in the house. Commit to arranging them chronologically.
  3. Praise yourself for quick progress.
  4. Realize said progress is the result of having failed to print actual pictures for the last five years.
  5. Spend two weeks deleting and organizing digital photographs. Feel sentimental over squishy baby rolls. Secretly hope you’ll need those reclaimed maternity clothes again.
  6. Collect all trinkets and decorations from your travels in one pile.
  7. Feel rare moment of gratitude for the blessings of this military life.
  8. Use “spark joy” to make tough decisions about items that serve no functional purpose.
  9. Become weepy at the realization that we attach so much emotion to our things because they are what make our round-robin of houses into homes.
  10. Consider sending Marie Kondo a letter telling her about your epiphany of gratitude and praising her for her genius. 
  11. Find box of promotion certificates and awards that have never seen the light of day.
  12. Encourage hubby to ditch at least some.
  13. Move on to children’s artwork. Slowly make way through large pile.
  14. Repeat x3 to make any significant progress.
  15. Become weepy again at throwing away the discarded art.
  16. Pinterest ways to display your favorites.
  17. Promptly forget and store away kept items until next clean out.
  18. Check on hubby and his awards. 
  19. Discover he has hung them lackadaisically up and down stairwell.
  20. Make mental note to “lose” most of it during next PCS.

Congratulations, Mama! You did it! 

Your step-by-step process may look slightly different than mine, but let’s not kid ourselves, it’s likely just as bonkers and outside of official KonMari rules. Sorry, Marie! After all, there is nothing “by the book” about this military life. 

But remember, KonMari is less about the physical act of tidying and more about a shift in mindset. So maybe, just maybe, the process will have you realizing that what really sparks joy for you is this wild adventure called military life. It can be stressful. It can definitely be messy. But like KonMari, if you approach each task with mindfulness and gratitude, all your hard work will be worthwhile. 

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