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The end of winter is just two weeks away, and many people plan to take the season change as an opportunity for spring cleaning projects around their home and workspaces. But whether it’s an apartment’s worth of dusty baseboards, a closet overflowing with clothes that no longer fit or a refrigerator full of questionable leftovers, it can be hard to know where to start decluttering and cleaning.
We take a deep dive into spring cleaning with two guests who have embraced scaling down as a means of tidying up. Kay Keyhani is the owner of the decluttering business Tidy Paradise and uses the KonMari process, which was developed by writer and television host Marie Kondo. Christine Platt, an author and academic, coined the term “Afrominimalist” to describe her philosophy and practice of minimalism inspired by the textures, colors and cultures of Africa and the African diaspora. They join us in studio to talk about how they keep their spaces organized and share their recommendations for people looking to clean and declutter this spring.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
- Christine Platt Author and scholar of African and African American history and culture; minimalist who coined the term “Afrominimalist”
- Kay Keyhani Owner of Tidy Paradise, a KonMari-inspired decluttering business
MATT MCCLESKEYYou're listening to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm Matt McCleskey, in today for Kojo. The weather outside is still cold, but spring is just a few weeks away. The cherry blossom forecast is out today. Many people use the opportunity of the coming of spring to do some deep cleaning and decluttering of their homes. We're going to get some tips today on how to get started, and ideas for keeping your space organized and tidy throughout the year. Joining me now in studio to discuss are Christine Platt, author and scholar of African and African American history and culture. She's also a minimalist who coined the term Afrominimalism. Christine Platt, thanks for being with us.
CHRISTINE PLATTThank you.
MCCLESKEYAlso Kay Keyhani, the owner of Tidy Paradise, a decluttering business in Maryland that uses the KonMari method made famous by Marie Kondo. Thank you for being here.
KAY KEYHANIThank you for having me.
MCCLESKEYI think this is something many of our listeners can relate to. I know I certainly can. Christine Platt, I'll begin with you. What do you think drives people to clean and organize their spaces in spring?
PLATTYou know, there's something about spring that is just, I don't know, very enlightening, I think, for a lot of people where, you know, a lot of shedding is happening, naturally. So, we're, you know, taking off our big coats, our hats, our sweaters and scarves and, you know, it's just -- I think it's just the natural time of year to just sort of like, let me just shed everything (laugh).
MCCLESKEYAnd begin again...
PLATT(overlapping) And begin again, sure.
MCCLESKEYWell, Kay Keyhani, you focus on decluttering, in your work. First off, how do you define clutter?
KEYHANIClutter, how do I define it? I read somewhere that they said clutter actually comes from the Latin word, clotter being c-l-o-t -- spelled c-l-o-t -- which actually clots. So, it stops you from doing things.
MCCLESKEYLike a blood clot, almost.
KEYHANIExactly. So, it's really a stopper. So, I define clutter as something that really stops you from moving forward, doing what you want to do, achieving your goals, finding things that you need to use, you know, on daily basis. So, this is how I see clutter.
MCCLESKEYKay Keyhani, you work with the KonMari method, which was created by author Marie Kondo. Many people might be familiar with her because of the new Netflix show "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo." What exactly is the Marie Kondo method for listeners who perhaps haven't seen the show?
KEYHANIOh, okay. So, KonMari's tidying approach has two basic principles. One is that you tidy or organize your belongings by holding each item of your belongings in your hand, and ask yourself, does this spark joy? So, what does that mean? It means whether you like it, you love it, which you can translate it to, yes, it does spark joy. If it does, you keep it, and you designate a home for it. If it doesn't spark joy, then you thank it, you show gratitude, and you let it go. So, this is the first principle.
KEYHANIThe second principle is that unlike other decluttering and organizational method, KonMari's approach suggests that you organize by category rather than room-by-room, location-by-location. There are five categories, starting with the easiest to get to the hardest, and that is clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous items, including old items in the kitchen, basement and garage. And the last one, which is the most difficult one, to decide whether it sparks joy or not, sentimental items, because they're normally associated with, you know, the memories of a particular place or a person or something that really took place in your life that it's hard to let go of.
MCCLESKEYAnd that seems like perhaps the hardest thing. Getting rid of a magazine you realize you haven't read for nine months is one thing, but something that has more sentimental value is another. Christine Platt, your approach to decluttering, you call Afrominimalism. Two questions: first, what is minimalism? And second, what is Afrominimalism?
PLATTSo, it's interesting. So, minimalism, I think there's aesthetic minimalism and then there's also the practice of minimalism. So, I think a lot of people, when they hear the term minimalism, they're more familiar with the aesthetic part of it, you know. Just like all white, barren space with, you know, one cup, one spoon (laugh) sort of approach.
MCCLESKEYVery simple, yeah.
PLATTVery, very simple.
PLATTVery clean lines, yeah. So, a lot of people are familiar with the aesthetics of it. But the practice of minimalism is essentially having what you need, having what you love, and being very conscious of what you consume. Um, and I coined Afrominimalism. It's, you know, the same practice, same principles, only it incorporates sort of some elements of the African Diaspora. So, when we think about culturally, there are just certain things that may be more difficult for people from the African Diaspora to let go of.
PLATTMaybe they have, you know, an ancestor's Bible from slavery, you know, which is like -- something like that, even though it's sentimental and you may not ever, like, open it up and read some of the passages, it may be something that you want to keep because it's near and dear, you know, to your family. So, just keeping in mind and taking into consideration some of the things that culturally may differ from the aesthetic minimalism.
MCCLESKEYKay Keyhani, you've called decluttering a magical transformation. Now, what is that magical transformation?
KEYHANI(laugh) Well, based on my experience, as you go through this decluttering or the tidying, you go through two steps. One is sorting your belongings and then once you decide whether it sparks joy or not, storing them or organizing them in the right place, finding a home for them. Through the process or all the five categories that I mentioned you repeatedly ask yourself, does this spark joy, does this spark joy. And at one point, you realize that this is such an amazing process, not only physically organizes your space. You transform from clutter to a very beautiful organized living space or working space, but also, this process takes you through a self discovery journey.
KEYHANIYou learn so much about yourself by repeatedly asking this question: does this spark joy? And you realize at one point that you're applying the same principle to all other aspects of your life. So, that is how it actually turns into a, you know -- it's a transformation on not only your physical space, but also your mind, lifestyle, your outlook towards life. It's a change, you know, in mindset.
MCCLESKEYAnd I was struck -- as I was reading through the various preparation for the segment today -- thinking about using what sparks joy as a way of deciding what is and is not important, because often we rank, in our mind, what we need to do, what's an important thing to accomplish, what's an important thing to keep or get rid of. Joy doesn't necessarily come into that equation. One example, perhaps -- and this may be an extreme example, but in terms of what you keep and what you get rid of, something like your filing cabinet full of tax files. That doesn't exactly spark joy, but that is important, in its own way. So, how do you gauge something like that? What do you do with your old financial files?
KEYHANIYeah. So, obviously, not everything sparks joy (laugh) when it comes to make a decision what to keep and what to let go of. So, right at the beginning, at the starting point of the decluttering process, I always ask my clients to hold one piece of clothing that's really dear to them. It's their favorite, color-wise, everything. When they put it on, they feel great and tell me how they feel. And they pick it up, and they say, wow, I love this. You know, I love the color, and when I wear it, I feel great. So, I say this is -- I already create a benchmark for them in terms of what sparks joy.
KEYHANIBut I also tell them, when you get to the miscellaneous items such as, for example, I don't know, pliers in the garage or a screwdriver, those items, of course, necessarily, they don't spark joy, but they are necessary to have. So, you need to also ask yourself a question whether there is a purpose for this tool or item to keep. But it's important to hold that item in your hand, because if there is a purpose, there is a function for that item then you need to find a home for it. It's really important to create a system and designate a home for everything that you have at home or at your office because that saves you -- in future, increases efficiency and saves you time. When you need that item you know where to go to because you know where the home is for that item.
MCCLESKEYI'm sure it's sort of the joy in the purpose or a joy in the responsibility, I suppose, in planning.
MCCLESKEYI imagine many people in our area are thinking about organizing. A lot of folks -- particularly in the District, these days -- have moved into the city, living in smaller spaces. Christine Platt, I understand you live in a relatively -- or in a small apartment.
MCCLESKEYWhat is your approach where it's keeping things organized in a small, urban space?
PLATTSo, actually, I started with The Minimalists, which is Josh Milburn, and I forgot the other guy's name, so sorry. But I also follow KonMari's method. And one of the things that I -- you know, Kay is absolutely right. It is sort of like this magical transformation that causes you to be intentional with every area of your life. And you sort of come up with your own catch phrases (laugh).
PLATTAnd so to keep my space sort of tidy and minimalist and being very intentional, you know, I have these little phrases while I'm out. So, it's like, you know, it's not a deal if you don't need it. You know, like I (laugh) tell myself this when I see something on sale, you know. Or I see something really, really beautiful, and it's more like, okay, do you love it, or is it just pretty? You know, do you love it? And so I think all of those things, like having these little mantras that sort of help you stay on track, are very helpful.
PLATTAnd then also, once you've gone through the process, like, really, you just never want to have to go through it again. (laugh) And so, you know, that also helps...
MCCLESKEY(overlapping) You want to keep it that way.
PLATTYeah, it also helps you be intentional.
MCCLESKEYI would imagine being in a smaller space, on the one hand, is a greater challenge, but on the other hand, it's more of a focusing directive.
PLATTAbsolutely. Absolutely. And I remember when I first moved into the space and I was coming from PG County, where I had -- you know, the area that we were in was actually zoned rural, so I had a lot of space, and moving into the city in 630 square feet. And I just remember thinking, there is no way that I'm going to (laugh) be able to live in this small space. Which now, two years later, with everything being really intentional and purposeful, like, it actually feel it's kind of generous, like, the space that I have. So, it's crazy. Yeah.
MCCLESKEYWe're talking about decluttering and spring cleaning on the Kojo Nnamdi Show today. I'm Matt McCleskey, in for Kojo. We're going to be taking a break. In just a moment, we'll be back with more from Christine Platt and Kay Keyhani, in just a moment. We want to hear from you, as well. Stay with us.
MCCLESKEYWelcome back to the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. I'm Matt McCleskey, in today for Kojo, and we're talking about spring cleaning and decluttering your home. With me, Christine Platt, an author and scholar of African and African American history and culture. She's also a minimalist, and coined the term Afrominimalism. Also with me, Kay Keyhani, the owner of Tidy Paradise, a decluttering business that uses the KonMari method made famous by Marie Kondo. It's based in Maryland. And we want to hear from you, as well. Ana from DC, you are on the line. Go ahead, please.
ANAHi, everyone. Thank you for taking my call. I had a question for Christine. So, I am very familiar with the KonMari method, and I love that. I've experienced, you know, the self-discovery and sort of the improved sense of your own priorities that comes with that method. But I wonder with Afrominimalism, when you see people go through that process, do you find that it's distinctly feeling for them in any way in terms of specific, you know, pain or the tragedy that is part of a lot of people's heritage?
PLATTYeah, you know, it's very interesting. You know, it's funny, because I actually look at it more in a positive sort of way in terms of -- so, for example, I don't know if you've been to my Instagram or blog, but you'll see that it's very colorful. You'll also see mud cloth. You'll see, you know, African prints and photos. And so there are mementos that, while they are maybe a painful part of our heritage, it's also very cathartic to sort of see that, hey, we've moved past that. And it's more of holding onto the memory of what my people have overcome.
PLATTSo, yeah, I find that a lot of people, once they are allowed to sort of have this creative freedom or cultural freedom from the aesthetic side of minimalism, that there is sort of the story that comes with that.
MCCLESKEYAnd what is your Instagram handle?
PLATTOh, my Instagram handle is @afrominimalist.
MCCLESKEYOkay. Well, Ana, you can check that out and learn more and look at some of Christine's examples there on the Instagram account. We have one email from Joseph, and this spoke to my situation, as well, at home. He says, do either of your guests have suggestions for parents of kids who refuse to get rid of anything? So, kids, you know, it seems like every time there's another birthday that rolls around, a whole bunch more stuff comes into the house, and it's very hard to see go back out the door. What do you think about helping your kids learn to declutter (laugh) ?
PLATTI'm going to give two examples. So, for younger kids, what I have found -- and this is actually more painful for the parents than it is for the kids, but it's sort of how you approach the letting go. And so, I have found if I tell my daughter, hey, you know what? There are a lot of kids in need right now who are in need of jeans and shoes. You know, there was a natural disaster in this particular area, there are children without toys. Fill this bag up with something that you would love to give to them. Like, the things that you think that are so endearing to them (laugh) that you spent a lot of money on, they will just very easily toss it and throw it into the bag. And I also encourage them to tie up the bag and, like, get rid of it (laugh) that day.
PLATTAlso, another thing for, like, birthday parties, one of the best birthday parties we ever had was my daughter's eighth birthday party. And what we did was we asked all the children to, in lieu of a gift, bring canned goods for the local food bank. Oh, my goodness, their parents were, like, you know, they were going in our cabinets (laugh). I mean, they brought so many canned good for us to donate. And I had them sign a card for the Interfaith Food Pantry in Bowie. And they had just as much fun running around the backyard and playing, and my daughter didn't miss anything. And out of all the birthdays that we've had, and all the money that we've spent, that is still the most memorable birthday for her and I.
MCCLESKEYLet's turn now to Jim from Bethesda, Maryland. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JIMYeah, I wanted to ask, you know, your experts there, isn't it just as important to look at the other end of don't buy so much stuff in the first place? When you're going over the stuff that you're throwing away, you should ask the question, why did I buy that? And instead, it doesn't really help you so much you throw away 100 pounds of stuff and just go out and buy even 50 pounds of other stuff. Save your money for retirement, education, buying a house, the things that really matter, instead of -- I think that is, not to mention is, I think, a very important part of this.
MCCLESKEYYeah, thank you, Jim, for your call. That makes me think of the birthday party, Christine Platt, as well, in terms of not buying it in the first place.
PLATTYeah, and that's the thing. Like, once you go through that process developing, like I said, a mantra, you know, and, like, seriously, mine is, like, it's not a deal, if you don't need it. Because that used to be -- that was how I accumulated so much stuff in the first place. I would see something that was 50 percent off, 75 percent off. I'd be, like, oh, my God, what a good deal. It's not a deal if you don't need it, you know. And everyone has a different, I would say, like, area that is a struggle for them. For some people, it's clothing, for others, it's shoes. You know, for some it may be, you know, toiletries. And, like, you have to develop the mantra that once you've decluttered, once you're tidied up, what must you do to not get in that space again? He's absolutely right.
MCCLESKEYWell, Jim, thank you for your call. Kay Keyhani, what do you tell people if a couple comes to you, domestic partners or spouses, and one person has a different idea about decluttering than the other?
KEYHANISo, most of the times, one of the partners or couples in the household, they contact me. So, the other one is either supportive, or is not onboard at all. They just think that, you know, when something's not broken, why fix (laugh) the clutter? So, it's really important to realize that clutter is an issue that is really negatively affecting your life. And when one partner, you know, contacts me, my suggestion is that you really lead by example. Put your energy and time organizing your own belongings and gradually try to influence and help the other members of your family to follow and, you know, start tidying.
KEYHANIBut it's really important that you lead by example. And when they see the change, the transformation in your life, they also are influenced by that, you know, tidy space and living space that you created. And, you know, gradually, they're going to actually follow the steps and become, you know, tidy.
PLATTYeah, I was going to say, it kind of goes back to what you were saying about starting, you know, with the least challenging, heading up to the most challenging, and sometimes, you know, I have people just asking like, where should I start. And I'll say, if it's really a struggle for you, start with your spices, you know, like one simple area. And once you accomplish, right, like, it just keeps flowing and you want to keep doing more.
MCCLESKEYThat one spice jar that's been in the cabinet for about five or six years, and you've never used.
PLATTOh, my goodness. Yeah, and you shake it, and it's like solid, yeah (laugh).
MCCLESKEYSo hard. (laugh) That does seem like relatively low-hanging fruit.
MCCLESKEYLet's go back to the phones, now. Brenda from Silver Spring. Brenda, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BRENDAOh, hi. Thank you so much for your programming. Presently, as I'm listening, I'm trying to sort through these beads that I have, and I'm a crafter and an artist. And I collect things that I foresee in the future. On other ends, I can get rid of a clothing piece, or whatever, and I'm not sure how to minimize all of these clasps and fabrics and things that I collect.
MCCLESKEYSo, some things like clothes or other things you might be able to do, but when you're particularly with this activity and this hobby that you love, it's harder.
BRENDAIt's harder, because I foresee it as maybe a visual aspect in my future drawing, or my earrings that I create. So, I don't know what to do about that. That's really hard.
MCCLESKEYWell, I'd like to ask both of you on that. Kay Keyhani, you first. What do you do when you're looking at something, and it may not be something now, but when you see the possibility in it for later?
KEYHANISo, I think just asking questions, you know, whether this is -- in this case, this is something that probably is a hobby. I'm not sure whether it's also career-related, you know, income generating or not.
MCCLESKEYWe can ask Brenda. Is it something you do as a career, or is it a hobby?
BRENDAMore as a hobby. However, there are times when I do sell some of my items that I create...
MCCLESKEYSo, a little bit of both.
BRENDA...but it's not my goal. It's a little bit of both.
KEYHANIYeah. So, I think that just asking yourself, you know, how often you use the particular bead, and, in general, just sorting through them, go through the sorting process, anyway, and organize them by category and designate a home, whether label them, so you could actually easier locate the beads that you're looking for rather than having everything unorganized and in a clutter. So, that's my answer.
KEYHANIBut if the question is about having difficulty of letting go of something that maybe has sentimental items, or like that, you need to ask some, you know, probing questions. When was the last time I used it? If I keep this, when am I going to use it again? How much does it cost me to replace this? How easy it is to replace this? How fast and easy is it to replace this? So, just asking some questions may help you to decide whether to keep that item or let it go.
MCCLESKEYWell, thank you for your call, Brenda. Betsy, also calling from Maryland. Betsy, you're on the air. Go ahead with your question.
BETSYHi. Yes, part of my anxiety in parting with things is what happens to them on the other end. For instance, I know fewer and fewer things are being recycled. I mean, landfills are a big thing. When I go to Goodwill, the piles are overflowing with people getting rid of things. How do you come to peace with what happens to it after you've let go of it and not taking on some of that as guilt?
PLATTYes. That's a really, really good question. I try to be very, very intentional with where I, you know, donate my items. So, for example -- and this also goes back to, you know, oftentimes, like, you're concerned about what happens to it. Some people are concerned about how much they paid for it. Like, there are all these reasons that can trigger you holding onto something. And I have found that if you're very intentional about where the item is being donated, for example, work clothes going to Dress for Success rather than to a Goodwill pile, it's easier to let go. You know exactly that those clothes are going to help women in need who are getting ready to, you know, get back on path with their career.
PLATTThere are also a number of organizations that are accepting of donations. I know there's a T-shirt organization. You send in your old T-shirts, they somehow repurpose them and refabric them and, you know, make more T-shirts. So, I feel like because this has become such a critical area, there are a lot of different ways that you can be very intentional about where your items go, so that you can have just less anxiety about letting them go.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Betsy. I want to ask you, Christine, you mentioned spices that you perhaps haven't used, a minute ago, as one thing that would be easy. You just mentioned clothes, as well. In terms of clearing our your closet, finding things that maybe you love, maybe I love this shirt but I haven't worn it in five years. So, how do you make that kind of decision?
PLATTYou know, I actually went in, like, cycles. So, I did not have this approach where I had to do everything in one day, right. And so, literally, like, almost every season I will go through and kind of see, like, okay, you know, I thought that I really loved this, but I didn't wear it for an entire season. So, I must not love it that much. And I think that takes a lot of the pressure off in terms of, like, having this, you know, perfectly organized closet within a weekend.
MCCLESKEYYou know, in my house, with piles of books, also my wife and I are both book people...
PLATTI really wanted to talk about that.
MCCLESKEY...which book wins? And if it doesn't win for three years, you know, get it from the library, if you really interested in it some other time. I mean, do you all find that that's another thing people tend to accumulate?
PLATTYeah, and I actually sympathize with the creative. You know, as a writer, my struggle is pretty journals. Like, I would love, (laugh) I love beautiful journals. And I had to, like, tell myself, just what Kay was saying, like, I mean, how many more journals are you going to buy until (laugh) you use the ones that you have? You know, and like putting a moratorium on, like, I am not buying any more journals until I am done using the journals that I have.
MCCLESKEYI have a stack of books at home that are aspirational reads. I haven't quite gotten to them yet (laugh). Kay Keyhani.
KEYHANII, you know, related to what Christine said about, you know, I declutter my closet oftentimes, or not in one sitting. Believe it or not, I have KonMaried my house, I'm on the third round. So, once you go through the process and once you -- actually, as I said, it's a transformation, it's a behavioral change, you learn so much about yourself. So, once you go through the process of does this spark joy or not, you're constantly and continuously finding yourself decluttering. You know, you never stop decluttering.
MCCLESKEYI'm Matt McCleskey, in today for Kojo Nnamdi. We've been hearing from Kay Keyhani and Christine Platt. Thank you both so much for joining us on the Kojo Nnamdi Show.
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