Six Tips for Family Documents from a Certified KonMari Tidying Expert

December 22, 2020

Marie Kondo has sold millions of copies of her world-famous books focused on tidying. Her method, called the KonMari method, focuses on organizing items by category and only keeping those items that “spark joy.” There are now nearly 500 consultants globally who have been certified by Marie Kondo in her life-changing method.

Pillar spoke with one of Marie Kondo’s protégés, Alexandria Lawrence, who is a lifestyle design expert, certified KonMari consultant and personal stylist. Through Lawrence’s company, ALSO in PINK, she helps her clients transform their home.

With so much focus on clothes, books, and other objects, Lawrence shares tips from the KonMari method perspective regarding a type of clutter that gets less attention: family documents. Here are Lawrence’s six tips for organizing family documents.

1. Put Your Past in Order

Taking the plunge and deciding to organize family documents is a wonderful opportunity to put your past in order. Using the KonMari Paper Category for inspiration, the goal for papers is to… discard everything. This is not to say that you will (or have to) discard everything, but it’s an important principle to keep in mind. The concept of “discarding everything” helps you break old habits and really consider what it is you want (or need) to keep.

2. Focus on Joy, Not Obligation or Guilt

What really changes the game when it comes to organizing family documents—or any items that enter the “sentimental” territory—is making sure you focus on joy. Always consider your motivations when deciding what to keep in your life. Ask questions like “Why is this item meaningful for me?” and “Am I keeping this item out of obligation or guilt?”

There are, of course, certain legal, financial and medical documents that need to be kept (and this is where Pillar helps to keep it organized and secure digitally). For the rest, do a “joy check.” Joy checking involves a real mind-body connection. Your physical response to an item plus practical questions, such as:

  • Am I keeping this because I’d feel guilty if I didn’t keep it?
  • Am I keeping this purely out of obligation?
  • Is this something I’m tempted to keep and hide away?
  • Is this something I want to store well and treasure? Is it important to me? Do I value having it in my life?

When in doubt, choose joy. Not obligation or guilt. You can always use a tool like Pillar to digitize the files and discard the physical copy.

3. Discard Responsibly

“If you cannot bring yourself to throw something away, keep it with confidence.”

—Marie Kondo, Spark Joy

For everything else, always discard responsibly, especially after you have digitized a document and saved it to a service like Pillar.

Shred & recycle documents you no longer want or need. If there is any sensitive information included on the document, you can scratch it out with a thick black permanent marker, too. You can also donate physical items to charity, whenever possible, even after they are digitized. Consider old family photos even: If you have a collection of old family photos you no longer want in your life, consider donating them to a local heritage museum. Any museum that focuses on local life would highly value your donation, your unique snapshot of local history.

4. Keep Only What Is Meaningful or Necessary

When it comes to family files like government records, birth certificates, marriage certificates, legal documents, financial files, health records and more, focus on keeping a physical copy of only what is meaningful and necessary. The rest can be digitized.

Family photographs are often a challenge for many people looking to tidy up their family files. Here are some ideas to consider:

  • Have a (virtual) family photo party: Make organizing your photos an excuse to celebrate. Get your family together and go through all those photos. This is a lovely way to share memories and choose what to keep together. This could even be a fun virtual event if you’re not able to meet up in person during the holidays this year.
  • Organize by Year: Lay out your photos from oldest to most recent, according to year. This is a helpful way to see what you have and assess similar photos. And, if you’re not sure when a photo was taken, have a guess.
  • Tell a Story: Life is all about storytelling. Make the most of your photos and tell a story through them. It can be a story of an event or occasion. A story about you, or a family member, at a certain age. And every story is made better by good editing. Imagine putting your photos into an album. Which images would you choose to keep? Condense the joy and only keep photos you love.
  • Create a digital record: If you value having a record but don’t wish to keep certain family documents, take photos of them or scan them in (and then upload them to a service like Pillar, where you can also easily and securely share with loved ones). Then, depending on the items, recycle the originals or consider donating them to a local history museum.

“Make good use of the things you choose to keep for the next stage of your life.”

—Marie Kondo, Spark Joy

5. Foster a Judgment-Free Zone

Organizing someone else’s things is very different from organizing your own. If possible, it’s always best that the person you’re helping is present. Then you can get a better sense of what they really value. If they hesitate about a certain item, or are unsure, ask questions and get them talking.

An important part of the KonMari Method of tidying is respecting what is meaningful for each person. It’s a judgment-free zone. Just because something is valuable to you, that doesn’t mean it’s valuable to someone else. And vice versa. When you’re helping someone else like a friend, loved one or relative organize their documents, it’s important to see things from their point of view.

If you’re helping older relatives, or younger relatives, organize and store their documents, don’t judge their choices. Create that judgment-free zone. Ask open-ended questions to get a better sense of what the person you are helping values most.

6. Honor Your Memories

Now that you and your family have chosen what to keep, it’s time to store your memories well. Store your family documents in a way that’s easy to understand and easy to access. Store your family documents in a way that brings you joy.

Do you want to create physical photo albums or scrapbooks? Do you want to create special files for each member of the family to record their meaningful memories?

For everything you and your family choose to keep in your lives, store your items well. Store them in a way that makes you want to access them. You and your family are too important for your documents and keepsakes to just sit there, gathering dust. For everything, you can use Pillar Life to safely and securely store the documents for your family digitally, too.

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