So…*deep breath*…I had bed bugs.
Insert Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York” here. I’m a REAL New Yorker now.
Almost two months ago, I took a few hours out of a weekend to wash my laundry and my sheets like an adult. Before putting the sheets back on, I decided to turn my mattress for some 300-level adulting. I lifted the mattress up to begin to flip it over, and there it was: a bug.
I screamed, immediately ran to the kitchen, grabbed some paper towel and squashed the gross little thing. Some of my blood came gushing out. EWWW EWWW EWWWW EWWWWW EWWWWWWWWWWWWW.
After a few quiet screams, I managed to pull myself together, continued adulting and get on Yelp. Soon I had an expert’s confirmation that it was, in fact, a bed bug and I made an appointment with an highly-Yelp-rated exterminator for the earliest available appointment.
The actual extermination process was over in a few hours (thankfully, the exterminators assured me the bed bugs were very few and that I had caught them early), but what really interrupted my life was the “processing.” I had to put every piece of fabric — clothes, blankets, curtains, rugs — through the dryer at the highest heat for an hour, and everything that was in my bedroom that wasn’t fabric — books, records, shoes, decor — had to be sealed in special bags with special bed bug-killing chemicals for at least a week.
After I had spent a whole day running back and forth to the laundromat and shoved all the bags out of sight in my closet, my bedroom consisted of a recently decontaminated bed, a bare bedside table, a bare bookshelf, an empty set of drawers and a very big pile of very hot clothes, sheets, curtains and other fabrics. Given the fact that I had recently found a bed bug full of my blood in there, I wanted to spend absolutely no time in my bedroom. At all. Ever.
Until KonMari saved me. There’s a good chance you’ve heard of The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, the self-help guide to improving your life through decluttering by Japanese “tidying guru” Marie Kondo, a.k.a. “KonMari.” Her unusual “KonMari method” of tidying consists of gathering all of your possessions together in a pile by category (clothing, books, papers, komono or miscellany, and sentimental objects) and picking up each item one by one and deciding if it “sparks joy.” You keep everything that makes you happy when you touch it, and throw out everything else.
I had KonMari-ed my life almost a year earlier, and while I’d found parts of it a little New Age-y (you speak to each item, you throw it away, and thank it for what it brought to your life), it worked: I got rid of almost a dozen bags of stuff that I didn’t love and cleared up a lot of space in my tiny bedroom. And by tiny, I mean TINY: it’s about seven feet by six feet and fits my bed, a bookshelf and very little else, though I do have a closet — rare for Brooklyn, where I live.
Coincidentally, around the time I got bed bugs, I was reading Marie Kondo’s new book Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art Of Organizing And Tidying Up. A sort-of-sequel to The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up, Spark Joy expands on certain aspects of the KonMari Method, giving detailed diagrams for Marie Kondo’s specific instructions on folding and clarifying how to figure out which not-so-joyful-items, like cleaning supplies, “spark joy.” Because I had a giant pile of clothes in my thankfully-now-bed-bug-free room, I decided to try out the KonMari folding method, which the diagrams helped me understand for the first time.
After getting so good at the folding method that my clothes looked like a cute little store display, I decided to go for it and use the KonMari method to sort through all my belongings again. I started with clothes, both because that’s what KonMari recommends and because those were already “processed.” In fact, I’d already begun to KonMari some of them without even realizing it. Instead of figuring out if they “sparked joy,” I’d used what I’ll call the “is-this-worth-spending-the-time-and-money-to-process-or-should-I-just-throw-it-out” method.
About halfway through going through my shirts, I really got into it and began happily discarding stuff. Holey sweaters, threadbare socks, scarves that I never really liked: gone. But the last time I used the KonMari Method, I apparently did it right. While I’d gotten rid of about a dozen bags of stuff last time, this time I got rid of only four bags (Before you lecture me about landfills, I donated, sold or gave away everything that was in good condition).
Marie Kondo says that once you discard everything that doesn’t spark joy, you’ll discover that everything you own will fit somewhere perfectly. To my surprise, I discovered that her advice was right. I moved my bed to try to clear the bedbug memory out of my mind and found a whole new way to arrange my room. I threw out a cheap bedside table with flaking paint, a set of plastic drawers I’d used to store makeup and hair products and an old, grimy suitcase. Even though these were just a few things, I found they made all the difference. I switched the location of my shoe rack and my dresser. I stacked the items in my closet storage more neatly. I decided to keep my fold-out record player folded up when not using it, and I repurposed the nightstand I’d used to display my record player as a bedside table that also stored my makeup.
I also found inspiration in Marie Kondo’s decorating tips. She suggests looking through interior decorating magazines and thinking about what ties together the photos that “spark joy.” For me, this meant going through photos on Tumblr and on Apartment Therapy; the commonality in the photos that I loved was lots of light and fresh flowers, so I went to the bodega and bought a few cheap bouquets because who has the cash to buy expensive bouquets?? Not me.
Marie Kondo also suggests repurposing things you like but don’t use into storage, so a cute clutch that I never used because it was too small to fit my wallet became a “sexcessories” case. Looking at that cute little clutch, knowing that it’s filled with neatly arranged condoms, makes me feel like a stylish, sexy AND responsible adult. Marie Kondo also advises making your closet a space of secret joy, decorating the inside walls with boy band posters or pages from comic books or postcards — things that you’re too embarrassed to display otherwhere. I decided to throw out all of my magazines except for the ones that I was currently reading or had written for. Before taking the giant stack of old Vogues and ELLEs out to recycle (the BUSTs all stayed), I cut out cool photos from them and made a collage on the inside of my closet door. Now, I smile every time I open my closet.
Currently, there’s a KonMari backlash going on. A parody book called The Life Changing Magic Of Not Giving A Fuck came out around the same time as Spark Joy, the February 2016 Vogue contains a short anti-KonMari essay, and another parody book, The Joy Of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over The Place, will come out in May 2016. I’ve read one parody book, an excerpt of the other and more anti-KonMari essays than I can remember and I disagree with them all.
I think everyone can get something out of the KonMari method, and it’s especially helpful if you live in a small space like a New York apartment. While not everyone might get as much out of the KonMari Method as I did, if you’re not happy in your space, I’d suggest giving it a try. I’ll always love Marie Kondo for helping me transform my bedroom from a creepy bedbug cemetery to a cute, flower-filled place to chill.
Images via Facebook/Marie ‘KonMari’ Kondo and BUST/Erika W. Smith
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