Organizing tips for back to school from expert Marie Kondo.

By Suzanne Rust

“Keep only what sparks joy.” According to Marie Kondo, organizational guru and author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, this is one of the most important principals when making a clean sweep. With the chaos of the back-to-school season upon us, we could all use a little joy, right?

I was recently invited to an event eBay was hosting to celebrate its partnership with Kondo. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. Not only did the hope of de-cluttering tempt me, so did the new eBay Valet service, which allows you to easily sell your unwanted goods and find some money where you least expect it. (Perfect for all that back-to-school shopping.)

In the beginning of the school year, my household runs like a tidy, well-oiled machine, but at some point, all too quickly I’m afraid, it turns into a disorganized rust bucket: Closets and drawers seem to implode, school permission slips go missing, etc. I fear that many of us know the routine, so here are some abbreviated versions of my favorite tips from Kondo that I plan to implement this weekend. Okay, maybe over the course of a few weekends.

Set Yourself Up

The KoniMari Method suggests tidying all at once (meaning taking out everything from a particular category to sort and toss) and in this order: clothes, books, documents, miscellaneous (such as the kitchen area) and finally items with sentimental value. Kondo discourages people from cleaning room by room, which is what most of us tend to do. It’s a technique that she claims will make you “spend the rest of your life tidying.”

Keep Only What Sparks Joy

Again, I love this concept. Kondo says that if something truly sparks joy, you will not agonize over whether to keep it or not. She suggests confidently keeping these special items, even displaying some of them in your home, “regardless of what anyone says.” This could produce some interesting decor results …

Thanks, and Goodbye

Resist the urge to hold on to something because “it might come in handy.” If it only seems like it should make you happy, but really doesn’t, Kondo says to “thank” the item and say goodbye. She claims that an attitude of gratitude will help you feel better about your decision as well your outlook about the items you do plan on keeping.

Above All Else, Discard First

Before you worry about how you are going to organize the stuff you decide to keep, get tossing. Don’t pause, don’t stop and don’t quit until you discard all of your unwanted items. Kondo says to keep a photo or have an image in mind of the kind of space you want to live in and it will change your approach toward the whole cleaning process.

Tidy Your Own Spaces

This is a great season to get the whole family to organize. When working through your piles, each member should have his or her defined space to keep the items from getting mixed up. Yes, it will look like one big mess at first, and it will take some time to weed through, but apparently it works. And a heads-up for parents: Kondo encourages us to let children choose what brings them joy.

The Final Purge

By the end of this experience, you will probably have bags of items that you no longer want. (I’m hoping that I will.) Decide which ones you’d like to donate to charity, and which ones you might like to sell. The professional selling service eBay Valet makes things easier—as in you send in the item, the service labels it, photographs it, and notifies you once it goes online. It will even track the item for you and let you know once it’s sold. Go to for more details.

For the big picture, check out Kondo's book. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organzing, $13, eBay.

May the de-cluttering odds be forever in your favor! Let us know your organizing tips in the comments section.

Illustration Credit: Jackie M. Graham