After weeks of planting, pruning, mowing and weeding, the garden still doesn’t look really pulled together. Or maybe you have a storage shed that looks like it’s auditioning for the “Hoarders” reality TV show.
Can you blame it on a bad case of “clutter?”
In 2010’s “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo mapped out six steps for dealing with excess clutter. Offering gentle encouragements, she guided readers to purge their homes of anything that didn’t “spark joy.”
It’s more than clearing the shed. The KonMari method challenges the “more is better” attitude. That’s when we “accumulate things for the sake of accumulating them, and our sense of joy comes from having the newest, coolest and most stuff, rather than how useful that stuff is, or how it fits into the bigger picture of how we’d like to feel in our day-to-day lives.”
While millions across the globe read the book, her 2019 Netflix series, “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” may have reached an even greater audience. It aired just when we needed her most. Americans, with suddenly so much time on their hands, were tidying up like never before.
While Kondo never specifically addresses outdoor spaces, organizing your garden is not that different from organizing your cupboards and your closets.
Tidy gardens don’t have to look like the manicured extravaganzas of British manor houses. Often, simplifying a design with a few beautiful focal features is all it takes. For example, melding small garden beds located helter skelter into one yields greater visual impact and less work. When plants that were crammed in haphazardly are moved into complementary groups, the garden becomes more unified and instantly more attractive.
Most of us started out with a plan, but plants have minds of their own. Take the rose that is always a hot mess of mildew and aphids, or the shrubs that have to be pruned constantly to maintain a view. Eliminating them can leave more time to enjoy and care for the plants you really love.
When I cleared a work table of piles of mismatched plastic pots that “might come in handy someday,” I had enough room this spring to jump-start more dahlia tubers and sow seeds for cut flowers — two of my real pleasures.
Tidying revealed that I owned eight almost identical rakes and over 200 gardening books and catalogs. Keeping only the well-used favorites and giving away the others spread the joy of gardening to grateful recipients.
Before moving through the six steps, Kondo asks tidiers to acknowledge the things they already have that spark joy, or at least make their lives easier. Her philosophy is not about acquiring more, but for being grateful for what we have.
For example, I wish it were made of bluestone, but my broken concrete walkway allows me and my wheelbarrow easy access to the compost pile. It’s better than the dirt pathway I had before. While it’s not actually sparking joy, I’m glad I have it.
Get the idea? Then it’s time to proceed:
1Commit to the idea of tidying up
Admit that you have a problem with clutter, and set aside a big enough block of time to make the necessary changes. According to Kondo, people who tidy a little at a time will never finish.
2 Imagine your ideal garden
Begin by asking yourself what you want, and what’s keeping you from achieving it. Empty nesters may want a larger area to relax or entertain, and may have to give up some garden space to make it happen. Young families may want a garden that’s safe for children to explore, and choose “stepable” plants that can withstand foot traffic and over-thrown Frisbies.
After all, gardens will always be evolving works-in-progress. Our personal tastes rarely stay the same, and our needs change as we age. New plants come and go. If your old choices no longer spark joy, it’s time to let them go. According to Kondo, “To truly cherish the things that are important, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.”
3 Discard first
Kondo discovered that folks who never seem to finish tidying attempt to store everything without getting rid of anything.
Walk through your garden and storage areas and lay your hands on every plant, pot and ceramic frog. Ask yourself honestly, “Does this spark joy for me?” If not, it should be discarded or composted, or given to someone who will make use of it.
Gardeners are well-known for their heroic efforts to keep plants alive. Sometimes, the best thing a gardener can do is let a plant die, if a greater garden results. If a plant doesn’t look or behave like it should (regardless of how expensive it was), get rid of it. Letting go of a mistake is liberating. Thank the plant for teaching you something about what you really want from your garden, and send it on its way without feeling guilty.
4 Tidy by category, not by location
It won’t do much good organizing the pots in the garage only to find more pots stored in the basement next week, making it necessary to start all over again. Gather everything in the one category you’re working on into a single pile. Decide what to keep, and what needs to go.
Your goal is to discard rather than store. If you organize all your gardening books into categories, and put those you “might need someday” in a tote stashed in the basement, you’re not tidying. You’re just redistributing clutter.
Stacks of boxes labeled “Habitat for Humanity” or “Goodwill” are another form of clutter. You must clear out what you’ve already decluttered before you can move on.
5 Follow the correct order
Work on one category at a time. Suggestions are gardening tools, books and catalogs, pots, chemicals, seeds, ornaments and plants. Begin with the category that’s easiest for you, and work up to the most difficult. Often that’s anything with sentimental value.
6 Ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?”
This is the essence of the KonMari Method. You’re not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. We often hang on to items out of a sense of sentimental duty. You may feel guilty digging out a daylily a good friend gave you for your birthday 10 years ago, but if you always hated the color, where’s the joy? It’s OK to send the plant on its way. Remember, you are not discarding your friendship.
Clutter happens. I fell in love with tender succulents a few years ago. I find rosettes of plump, water reservoir leaves in every shade of green, red, maroon, pink, blue, gray and lavender simply irresistible. Steadily, my collection has grown to fill 59 pots this year. Watering and fertilizing them through the spring and summer, and then hauling them indoors in late October for the winter, is starting to feel more like work than fun. It’s too soon to say, but all these plants could be morphing from joy sparkers into joy suckers.
By eliminating anything that doesn’t spark joy, I can make my gardening life more peaceful and relaxing. Who doesn’t want that?
I’ll keep you posted ...