Chances are you’ve heard of Japanese organizing expert Marie Kondo and her bestselling book on how to declutter your home. Her organizing tips, origami-like shirt-folding methods and philosophy of keeping only objects that spark joy have fueled a worldwide home-decluttering craze. But what about gardens?
Outdoor spaces can just as easily become cluttered with tools, broken pots, plants that should have been pitched and a mishmash of outdoor accessories. For a fresh start, let’s take a look at how to put seven lessons from the KonMari Method to work outside and, ultimately, open up more time to enjoy the garden.
1. Make this question your mantra: Does this spark joy? First, Kondo advises laying your hands, so to speak, on every object you own and asking yourself: “Does this spark joy?” If it doesn’t, and if it isn’t useful, get rid of it. While the initial purge can feel a bit ruthless, the result can be deeply restorative.
For outdoor spaces, this act of sorting and reassessing applies to tools, garden accessories, materials, furniture and plants. Look for opportunities to donate within your community the functioning tools, leftover construction materials and healthy plants no longer serving you.
In the end, you’ll create space to give items you truly enjoy, such as a simple water feature, room to breathe.
2. Declutter by category, not by area. While many of us are used to setting aside time to tackle a certain area at once — organizing the shed, for example — Kondo recommends a different approach. She says you should work through your possessions by category — tools, containers, seasonal furniture — rather than by (garden) room.
Chances are items in a category are scattered throughout multiple areas and are best assessed and purged as a group. For example, gather all of your potting supplies and deal with them all at once, getting rid of duplicates or items you no longer use.
3. Let go of the “what ifs” and “somedays.” It’s time to finally toss that half-dead plant into the compost bin and tidy up the debris of an unfinished garden project. Take the time to assess plants that have been underperforming — replacing fruit trees that produce poorly and getting rid of plants that look sickly.
4. Give items that remain a specific home. After recycling and donating, work with the joy-giving and useful items that remain and designate a specific spot for each one where it is easily accessible. Kondo recommends keeping items that are frequently used where they can be seen, rather than stashed away in storage bins.Ideally, it should be just as easy to put something away as it is to locate it later.
Set up systems now to make it easy to keep things organized in the future. For example, the easiest place to store waste bins is close to the street, concealed by a structure or clipped hedge. Designate a spot for the bins so that putting them away in the future will take minimal effort.
5. Redefine your garden style. By this point in the process, your outdoor space will appear much cleaner than when you started. Take advantage of this to rethink your garden’s planting plan, furniture arrangement and the overall feeling you’d like to create. Perhaps it’s time to heavily prune a mature tree to open up a view of the sky or adopt a more calming color palette than in previous years.
6. Respect your remaining stuff. The best way to avoid acquiring new tools, furniture and containers is to take care of the ones you already have. Kondo encourages her readers to treat possessions with a respect one might reserve for a living being — thanking tools for the purpose they serve, for example. While this may be a step further than you want to go, follow Kondo’s advice for taking care of items that serve you well by oiling shovel handles, sharpening blades and dusting off pots.
7. Embrace “less is more.” It’s amazing how much better your outdoor space will look and feel once you’ve decluttered and organized. Enjoy the open, empty spaces in your garden and resist the temptation to fill them up. Before acquiring new plants or accessories, remember Kondo’s underlying philosophy of having only material things that spark joy.