Learning from Marie Kondo: Tidying Magic for Gardeners

Learning from Marie Kondo: Tidying Magic for Gardeners

  • By Susan Martin
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  • February 2019-Vol.5 No.2
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  • 1 Comment

A couple of years ago after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, I went through my possessions and tried to “feel” how much they mattered to my well-being. When handling each object, I asked the question, “Does it bring me joy?” In addition to creating a more orderly environment, this sorting process offers a different perspective for evaluating new purchases. Which items “deserve” a spot among my orderly belongings?  After experiencing such success with my household belongings, I wondered how else this method could be applied. For example, if we tackle organizing our gardening-related possessions according to the Marie Kondo method, will we be better gardeners this spring?


The Kondo book has now been made into a Netflix television series starring Kondo herself as mentor. I really do recommend reading the book or watching the show, but some general principles can be introduced and applied right now. Divide your possessions into categories. Put all of one category together and sort through the items in one session. Pick up each object and ask yourself if it still brings you joy. Make selections based on what you want to keep, not on what you want to throw away. Live in the now. Be willing to let go of things that were useful in a former period but no longer contribute positively. Don’t think of these possessions as cast off; thank them for their service and allow them to move on to another useful phase somewhere else. Don’t put things back until the sorting and selection process is completed. Keep your chosen possessions within sight and within reach.


There are many categories for gardeners to consider: pots, garden tools, chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides, books, seminar and meeting notes, clothing, garden decorative items, floral prints, and plants.


As most gardeners realize, black plastic pots in all sizes somehow mysteriously self-procreate. Unfortunately, the more expensive concrete or glazed ceramic pots do not. Gather all your pots together and divide by type of materials. Decide which ones you are excited about using in the coming season. Keep just enough of the plastic pots for repotting divided plants from your garden. Check the recycling symbols. Many curbside recycling services won’t accept plant pots. The Ivy Materials Utilization Center (Ivy MUC) and the McIntire Recycling Center accept plastics #1–7, although #1–2 are recycled most efficiently. Lowes accepts plastic pots and plastic labels for recycling. These items can be dropped off at the garden center. Clay pots cannot be recycled but they can be repurposed. Many suggestions can be found online. Alternatively, consider donating extra clay pots and saucers to Goodwill, the SPCA thrift shop, or another charity-run store.


Small tools  Photo: Susan Martin

Lay your garden tools on the garage floor or in another suitable space. Group items into categories. Don’t save things that you intend to fix or sharpen “someday.” Keep the things you use. Make sure they’re clean and ready for next season. Get rid of multiples unless you actually use them. If you bought a second tool because the first needed replacing, don’t hang on to the original.


Gather chemicals in a pile and sort according to category: herbicide, pesticide, fungicide, oil and gas for power tools and mowers. Anything you don’t intend to use should be set aside for disposal at a hazardous waste collection site. The next Household Hazardous Waste Collection will be held from 9 AM to 2 PM at the Ivy Materials Utilization Center on Friday, April 26, and Saturday, April 27.


Books can have sentimental value, but try to be objective. If you’re now concentrating on native plants, for example, consider whether your current books address natives. Perhaps you no longer have a vegetable garden, or no longer grow roses. Gardening books can be lovely to look at, but if you don’t really look at them—be honest about this—pass them on.


Most of what we learn at educational events can be researched online. Attending educational events, however, is very useful and pleasurable. These events introduce us to new information and enable us to ask questions, exchange information with other attendees, and visit vendors. Note-taking also helps us to retain information. I discard most notes after the event and continue researching the topic online.


Gardening clothes can be difficult for me to sort. I only garden in clothes that I don’t mind ruining. This seems to run counter to the “joy meter.” For me, practicality takes precedence on this one. I just need to pare down to the essentials. Clothes that show wear can be relegated to the garden group. Each season, consider throwing out the old and bringing in the “new-old.” Sparingly. I keep gardening clothes in their own spot and this space limitation helps keep things in control. I imagine the sorting process is easier for those who invest in good-quality clothes specific to gardening.


Lawn flamingoes. Photo: Arygyriou, Wikimedia Commons

Now we can get back to the joy meter. Collect the decorative items you like to use in your garden. Put them in a pile. This pile will be a lot bigger for some gardeners than for others. First, inspect for wear-and-tear. Discard the items that are no longer attractive. Are there things you’ve been intending to spruce up with a coat of paint or some glue? If you’re excited about seeing it in this year’s garden, you’ll fix it. But if there’s no excitement factor, pass it on. Someone else will be excited about adding it to his or her garden. In fact, the Piedmont Master Gardeners would welcome your no-longer-needed garden items for the Green Elephant section of its Annual Plant Sale on May 4. See instructions on how to donate in the Upcoming Events section of this newsletter.


Gardeners tend to collect floral prints. We can’t help it. Many of us have a collection of prints, framed or unframed, that we intend to hang “someday.” Be kind. Set them free. Let them hang on someone else’s wall.


February is a good time to assess our houseplants. Which ones bring us joy, and which are relying on caretaker guilt? Getting rid of unwanted plants is much harder for some people than others. It can even be stressful. However, caring for plants requires time and energy; we should invest our time and energy in plants that continue to give us pleasure. Perhaps a friend will be interested in a particular plant. Another good option is to donate houseplants to a charity-run store.

Although more difficult in February without a garden visual, we can still review our plantings. Do we have too much of a particular type of plant? Is a plant not doing well in a specific location? Should it be moved, or is there no suitable spot in our landscape? Do we simply want to experiment with something new? Do we need to devote more space to native plants? Make notes now and have a plan ready for spring. Keep the plants that add to your love of gardening. Give no-longer-needed plants to friends or add plants to the compost pile.


Although it can seem difficult to pare down our possessions, it’s actually a “freeing” experience. We have more space to see and appreciate what we have. We are also left with the items that truly bring us joy. The process allows us to experience a simpler, more focused environment. It can also help us more thoughtfully evaluate which new items we want to invite into both our indoor space and our gardens.






  1. Carolyn

    Hi Susan,
    I enjoyed your article very much. I recently watched two Mari Kondo shows with my son and his wife. I plan to use some of Marie’s techniques in the garage when the weather improves. Good ideas from you and Marie. Thanks for reinforcement of the basic Kondo process.

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