Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

Declutter your life Marie Kondo style to boost your finances

Zach Holz explains how the latest minimalism craze can benefit your savings as well as your well-being

Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her subsequent Netflix series — Tidying Up with Marie Kondo — is encouraging Americans to declutter and destress. Courtesy Netflix
Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her subsequent Netflix series — Tidying Up with Marie Kondo — is encouraging Americans to declutter and destress. Courtesy Netflix

Half my Facebook feed appears to be devoted to Marie Kondo and her Netflix show these days, where she helps Americans tidy up their houses by getting rid of anything that doesn’t bring them joy. For some people, it’s their first introduction to a larger movement of minimalism that has become increasingly popular lately.

As far as I understand it, minimalism is the process of stripping out the aspects of your life you don’t absolutely need. This largely goes for products you have accumulated over the years in the course of an average “need to buy stuff so my life is comfortable and not boring” existence. After all, you don’t want your home to look like a depressing hospital room, with bare fluorescent lighting and cold, white walls.

Eventually, this normal process fills up your living space, and can even outgrow your home. In the US, my native country, over 33 million American families have run out of space in their homes and have to rent self-storage space to avoid becoming overwhelmed by all their stuff; it’s a growing $38 billion (Dh140bn) business.

The UAE's classified sites are also a great way to turn that stuff into extra money as are the myriad community Facebook groups.

Zach Holz, The Happiest Teacher

That pursuit of more, more, more is not limited to the US; it also characterises many others around the world, including the UAE. So much of people’s lives here is about shopping at the malls. It's easy to see why; they are incredible places with ski slopes, fountains, cinemas and everything else you could imagine. Even if we avoid the malls, we have e-commerce making continuous accumulation as easy as a push of a button.

Until recently, I also had way too much stuff for an apartment of my size. A lot of it was just sitting around, not doing anything, cluttering up my space and stressing me out. Every corner was stacked high, boxes on chairs with magazines on top. There were cupboards that wouldn't close, where lids to pots and pans slid out every time I got something out of them.

I felt claustrophobic just being in my living room. Every extra item was shouting at me, and it felt overwhelming. Like many, I am an expatriate and with that comes a little uncertainty. My job could always end, and I may have to move on to somewhere else. The amount I owned taunted me, making me feel trapped because I had no idea what I would do with all of it if I had to leave.

When I was younger, I could pack all my important possessions into two suitcases, making me feel free and flexible. Now, halfway through my 30s, there is no way I could move without an entire shipping container.

Japanese tidying expert Ms Kondo inspires her followers to arrange their socks and tights in a drawer in small boxes. Photo: AFP
Japanese tidying expert Ms Kondo inspires her followers to arrange their socks and tights in a drawer in small boxes. Photo: AFP

In many ways, minimalism is a push back against the excess of stuff. While I appreciate Marie Kondo's idea of going through everything you own and only keeping what brings you joy, personally, I stick by the "have I used this in a year" rule. If I haven't used it in a year, I donate it, sell it, or throw it out. For clothes, there's a donation bin in a nearby building that goes to the needy. For electronics or kitchenware, the cleaners in my building light up when you give it to them. The UAE's classified sites are also a great way to turn that stuff into extra money as are the myriad community Facebook groups.

To fight the suffocating amount of possessions I had accumulated, I took a week and every evening I went through an area of my apartment deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Decluttering reinforced why minimalism can be so fantastic for your personal finances.

First, if you know you don't want more stuff, it keeps you from buying more. If you think about how much you have when you're contemplating a purchase, you're more likely not to buy, which is great for your bank account.

Second, going through your belongings reminds you of what you have, which again keeps you from buying more. I found two pairs of trousers I loved but thought I'd lost forever, tucked away behind a suitcase. Now I don't need to buy replacements.

Third, I sold a lot and that money went straight into my investments and savings.

Now, I can breathe easily when I come home. Less clutter lowers my blood pressure, so not only is it cleaner but I live a happier, healthier, richer life. And if I need to, I can pack my belongings up and move to another country a lot easier. I may not be able to fit my stuff into two suitcases, but I could probably do four.

Dubai schoolteacher Zach Holz (@HappiestTeach) documents his journey towards financial independence on his personal finance blog The Happiest Teacher

Updated: February 21, 2019 02:10 PM

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