Decluttering the KonMarie way – It works!

I’ve been trying to declutter for months.

No, more like years.

I tell my kids not to horde their stuff, and we spring clean every year-end. They don’t have a problem with letting go and pass on their clothes, bags, toys and whatnots to their younger siblings or cousins.

For me, I allocate time to clear out 1 cupboard or shelf at a time but end up getting rid of a miserable 10% and repacking (more like reshuffling) the rest. Of course, everything falls into a huge mess almost as quickly as it took me to put them in order and I feel so defeated I give up soon after, and leave it till the next year.

After hearing so much about the KonMarie method, I was skeptical but decided to give it a go without much expectations of success.

And the verdict is, it works!

Hang some, fold some

Start with clothes. As instructed, I attacked my wardrobe first. The big difference is, instead of clearing by location, we are supposed to clear by category.

This meant taking every single piece of clothing from all parts of your house and dumping it in one place. By the time I finished emptying out my 3 closets and giving it a nice wipe, I was ready to head down for some ice-cream and call it quits.

But the rules read: Do it as quickly and completely as possible.

No turning back. I mustered up all my energy and set my mind to tackle the mountain of clothes on the floor.

Yup, the declutter guru is right. It does give your system a shock to see how much clothes you have, and how much you don’t actually wear because it’s shoved so deep in the depths of your closet that it has almost disappeared into a black hole.

Showing the ugly side of things…

Embarrassing reality

That’s what happens when the mess starts, and you are too busy to maintain anything in order and it goes downhill from there.

Excuses, excuses!

When we moved to our new place, I asked the hubs for ample closets which he acceded to. What I found out however, was that no matter how much storage you have, your possessions will increase to fill all that extra space!

Does it spark joy? One main criteria that Marie Kondo proposed, was asking ourselves if the item sparked joy.

What kind of packing criteria was that even? However, it does make so much sense. To be surrounded only by things which make you happy and bring delight to your days. The only exception she makes is if the item is a necessity, you can keep it even though it may not spark joy.

Well, I cheated a bit and did not run my hands over every single piece of clothing as much as I was supposed to do.

What I did was to take every piece in my hands, make a quick decision and either tossed it to the keep or remove pile, all the while bearing in mind if it sparked joy.

No space? Just pile

Guess what?

I managed to pare it down to about 60% of the original volume! Achievement.

The trick for me seems to be not allowing myself to dwell on each piece. My past attempts have proved futile because with every item, I would try to decide if I would wear it again, lament about how much I spent buying it, or perhaps one of my teenagers would want to take it over soon, and most ended up in the keep pile.

This time, with this take and toss method, with “Does it spark joy?” running repeatedly in my head, I managed to go through the giant pile in less than 2 hours!

I decided what needed to be hung (jackets and work blouses) and folded the rest in the extraordinary KonMarie way, where they were supposed to stand, once folded properly.

Interestingly, this way of displaying a portion of my clothes allowed me to see at one glance every single item I owned, which made getting ready in the mornings a breeze.

Kate was eyeing my wardrobe, wondering why it looks different. I asked her if she would like her clothes folded in this special way and she said yes.

This was her drawer before, which was full, and I invited her to go through her clothes and decide if she was ready to hand any down to her younger cousins.

She flipped through them one by one and got rid of 70% of her clothes in less than 10 minutes! I was astounded how kids have a natural ability to declutter! I asked her a few times if she was sure, and she firmly said Yes. I didn’t dare open her dress closet for fear she would throw out most everything as well, which would leave her with barely enough to wear when we needed to go out!

I quietly hid the clothes she discarded in another cupboard (just in case she kicked up a fuss for a favourite piece later on) but it’s been more than a week and she seems to have totally put them out of her mind.

So much to learn from kids. It’s me who’s been having attachment issues!

Kate’s minimalist drawer

The next day, I was so inspired by my brand new ultra tidy wardrobe, I moved on to my shawls. Previously, I stacked them in 2 piles on the shelf but it becomes untidy really quickly even if I lift them carefully to retrieve those from the bottom of the pile.

I decided to fold them and tried fitting them into a drawer and this idea worked perfectly! Not only can I quickly choose the right one to match my outfit, pulling one out does not mess the others in the pack.

Surprisingly, folding them this way also did not result in creases. As Marie Kondo explains in her book, it is not the folding which cause creases, but the weight which is put on it.
Shawl drawer

The last bit to tackle under my clothing category were my accessories and make-up. Again, I told myself not to dwell on it, and simply picked the items up one by one, make a quick decision if it was going to serve me well (or spark joy), and place under the keep or remove pile.

I threw out a whole lot of make-up that I hardly use (which is probably close to expiring) and decided not to buy anymore on impulse.

These see through pull-out boxes are from Muji and I love them because I can see everything in clear sight without pulling out every drawer to check what I wanted.

The fact that I can get dressed and ready to go in under 10 minutes keeps me motivated to maintain everything in order.

Finally, the bathroom. Kate showers in our bathroom and the counter gets over-run with odds and ends really quickly. The hubs empties his pockets before showering, and between the both of them, you can find anything between toys to receipts on our vanity counter.

Following the rules, I removed every single item onto the floor, gave it a good clean, and only replaced the necessities.
Our bathroom

After such success, I finally have the courage to attack Kate’s toys. She had acquired the older girls’ toys and I’ve been trying to give them some semblance of order by storing them in see-through boxes.

The last time I decluttered her toys was during our Chinese New Year spring clean, but I have to be more ruthless this time.

Toy storeroom

Over the past few years, I have been quite diligent in only keeping ‘good’ toys. These include construction toys such as blocks, open-ended toys, craft materials and games.

This time, I tried to abide by the “Does it spark Joy” method, and managed to put 30% to the ‘give away’ pile.

This has been my most successful declutter operation to date, and I shall take a break and tackle the other half of the house another time!

Toy shelf

There’s something else very interesting I discovered from the book. She mentioned that some of us have an urge to declutter when we are faced with deadlines. I have been doing that since I was a teenager! When faced with exams or assignments, I feel the need to de-clutter, but couldn’t understand why.

That’s what I have been experiencing these past few weeks. The more I’m feeling like I have so much to do with so little time, the more I feel I need to declutter my space.

I do feel calmer and more in control now that my environment is less cluttered.

Additionally, I have been able to practice more restraint when I’m out, and before buying an item, I will think of all the stuff I have thrown out and the piles on the floor, and will think twice about even buying a book.

Hope things stay this way.

Try it! Declutter and experience the magic.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A Day in the Life of a Mum with 6 kids

For the past 4 years, I was a stay-at-home-mum, and prior to that, I worked from home for a decade so that I could be around for my kids as they were growing up.

Now that #1 is turning 18 and not-so little Kate is in school for 4 hours a day, I can finally pursue my own work without feeling bad that I have left so many kids at home to be cared for by the helper and a hubs whose eyes are focused on the computer screen most of the day.

The funny thing is, the kids are so used to the hubs and I both being at home that they find it a novelty that mum goes to work!

When they see me coming down all dressed (instead of being in home attire most of the time), the teenagers will ask, “Mum, where are you going?”

“To work.”

“Oh wow, you have work to go to.” They are amused, and I’m sure they are (secretly) proud of me. Well, I hope.

Our Brady bunch

So how do I juggle my days now that I am a working mum?

As my own boss of an enrichment centre, I am fortunate to have the flexibility of time and can choose to work partly from home. The flip side however, is that even when I’m home, I tend to be on the computer (there is always more to do!) and Kate has pleaded with me on several occasions, “Mummy, can you stop your computer and play with me?” I need more self-restraint to block out time meant for the kids!

My weekday schedule hasn’t changed all that much as I try to fit my work schedule around the kids’ school day. In the mornings while the kids are in school, I go to my centre for training, brainstorming sessions or to touch base with my staff. I leave at 12noon to pick Kate up and spend the afternoons with the kids as they return home from school. After the younger kids have gone to bed, I get some work done before calling it a night at 12 or 1am, although some nights I’m exhausted and fall asleep while putting Kate to bed.

My weekend. The day which has changed the most for me is Saturday. I documented our Saturday a year ago, where it was a balance between seeing to the younger and older kids’ different needs while making time for simple activities as a family.

Now, I work almost every Saturday, to personally run our weekly trial classes as our concept is new to parents and many do not understand what we do even after browsing our website. I have come to enjoy these sessions as we are on this parenting journey together, and it is always nice to get to know the parents of the kids whom we are working with.

Our Little Executives

Saturday mornings: I take Kate along with me, and she attends her class while I speak to the parents. Some days she stays the whole day with me, and keeps herself entertained by playing with the other kids at our centre, or simply playing by herself.

Meanwhile at home, the 4 older kids sleep in on weekends to make up for the sore lack of sleep on school days. My dad has learnt to Whatsapp them directly to see who is at home, and my parents will detour to the market to buy brunch over so that our helper doesn’t have to cook.

My mum will see to the needs of the kids and ensure everything is ok. She usually spends time chatting with the teens and takes an afternoon nap in their rooms. My parents have been such a life saver for the past 18 years, and even though they are in their 70s, they enjoy their role and the company of the kids.

Afternoons: Some days, the hubs might come by to my centre with #4 and #5  to pick Kate up. He has stepped up to the plate knowing that I am busy with work. Wish I had done this earlier!

There are times when I can’t figure out what they get up to when he sends across such pictures, but I’m glad he is spending more time bonding with them. Now that I’m at home much less to supervise him, #5 spends too much time watching TV and playing on the computer, so the more time in nature, the better.

Dad.. we are exhausted

This Saturday arrangement has been working well and occasionally, I get time in between my sessions to meet up with old friends for lunch to celebrate birthdays.

Initially, when I started to work on Saturdays, I was apprehensive about being away on a weekend when everyone else was at home, but it has turned out really well and Kate has been enjoying her Saturdays tremendously. Time alone with mummy. Fun times with daddy and siblings. Friends to play with or going out for nice meals. What more can she ask for?!

Evenings: I return home in the late afternoon or evening, depending on how many sessions I run, and the hubs would be fixing a nice dinner for the kids. We sit with them for an early dinner (around 6pm) and have a few small bites while seeing that they are all fed.

Once everything is settled, we prepare to head out to meet with friends for dinner, leaving the older girls in charge.

Although we have been going out much less as a family these past 2 months due to me working on Saturdays and preferring to stay in on Sundays to rest and recharge, the timing couldn’t be better as #4 has been busy with PSLE preparations and #2 has been spending the weekends catching up on sleep and studying for her O level exams which commences next week.

Occasionally, the hubs will cook up a storm or start a little BBQ and roast some nice meats, and my parents and brother’s family will join us for dinner or we might head out nearby to have dinner together.

Slow roasted BBQ ribs

Night out: It’s nice to relax and unwind from a long week over a nice dinner with 1 or 2 other couples, and there’s usually some interesting event going on somewhere.

Late night: After a heavy meal, I find it hard to sleep so what’s the best thing to do when the kids are asleep and the house is dead quiet? Besides the hottest topic everyone is heated up over these past few days..

I work. My work is akin to a hobby. I turn to it every spare moment I have, and it brings me great joy and satisfaction.

If my brain cells are buzzing, I’ll put in some heavy work like reading research papers, writing up rationales of our curriculum or doing some bookkeeping. But if I’m brain-fried, I’ll do relaxing work like blogging or sorting the kids/family admin, which is another never-ending task!

Wine pairing dinner

It may be unimaginable, but I’m happiest now than I have ever been since having kids.

I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but there was a period of more than 5 years when I did not have time to meet with friends nor go out with the hubs. It was routine, routine, routine. So much so that now as I make time to re-connect with old friends, my kids are surprised. “Mum, we didn’t know you had so many friends!” Yup, I’m accustomed to such bluntness. Is it just my teens?

Getting the 5 young kids to eat, sleep, and bathe took up my entire day and every ounce of energy. The focus was more like 95% kids, 5% work (to hang on to my sanity), 0% me, 0% fun. I didn’t know any better, but oh well, I survived and emerged stronger.

After 18 years, I finally have balance.

Family time with the children, yet ample time away from them which is just as important.

Work which I enjoy; both meaningful and mentally stimulating, and working with passionate, like-minded educators who bring energy to my days.

Time with the hubs, good friends, and adult conversations where we chat and laugh ourselves silly, as I have almost forgotten how it feels to enjoy the company of friends without my thoughts constantly revolving around the kids.

I become more ready to take on the new week.

I am in a good place now.

For that, I am thankful.

For more glimpses into our days, this is how my week looks like. It does get pretty crazy around here! The last time I documented my weekday was 2 years ago when Kate was 2, and looking back, things have changed significantly.

Next up on this blog train is Dorothea, a mum of two boys, aged 6 and 4. She writes about life, love, parenting and faith at A Pancake Princess, and is also a regular contributor to The New Age Parents, an online magazine. These days, she also enjoys crafting customised artwork and holding watercolour / calligraphy workshops, and goes by the name of Dottishop. Meanwhile, most of her time is spent chasing make-believe dinosaurs, making messy art, breaking up fights and picking crumbs off the floor – and she wouldn’t have it any other way.

Thank you for hopping on board this blog train hosted by the inspirational Justina of Mum in the Making. Click on Day in a Life blog train to take a peek into a day in the life of other mummies!

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~

A new era in Education

Ever since starting my enrichment centre 3 months ago, the focus of my days have taken on a new dimension. Besides seeing to the needs of my kids, I’m immersing myself in rich research and surrounding myself with other people’s children. Life couldn’t be more enriching!

During our September holiday Astronaut camp, I was hanging around making sure everything ran smoothly. Even though I wasn’t teaching them, the kids came up to me with comments and questions.

I was drawn in and became more and more involved, as it was impossible to resist these innocent faces and incessant questions, and found myself thoroughly enjoying being with them.

As an incidental discovery, I’ve found the answer to a contradiction which had baffled me for years. At every PTM, my daughters’ teachers would tell me how well-behaved they are, what a delight it was to teach them, and all of them won model student awards.

Yet at home, they came nowhere close to this brilliant picture painted and the hubs and I concluded that they had the Dr Jekyll-Mr Hyde syndrome.

Now that I’m on the other end, I tell parents what a pleasure it was to have their child with us, how well-behaved and well-mannered they were, and the parents are surprised and divulge that such is not the case at home.

Ah! I’m concluding that children know how to be on their best behaviour in front of teachers they like. I had some of the P1 and P2 girls coming in half an hour before camp started because they wanted to see if there was anything we needed help with. Such sweet darlings. It is such a joy to teach other people’s children! I’m one of those mums who find it impossible to teach my own kids. Tempers will flare and the relationship risks being ruined, so I don’t even try anymore.

What’s that machine?

When you have a bunch of riveted, absorbent minds watching you (notice how Kate is the only one not bothered with me) knowing that what you say and what you do will have a great impact on them, that knowledge and responsibility is at once astounding yet humbling.

Of all the sayings I’ve come across about teaching, this one struck me greatly.

“To teach is to stand on hallowed ground.”

How sacred. We have the potential to mold hearts and minds.

Memory work
Children at every age present so much for us to marvel at. The pure emotions of the little ones, the wide eyes and the quick smiles. The inquisitive minds of the older kids and their desire to do their best. Facilitating them, encouraging them to work together, to go beyond their comfort zone, seeing them grow in a short span of a few days, there was a tangible reluctance all around when it was time to part.

Besides the holiday camp, Kate has been following me down to my centre and she enjoys the weekly classes. Although I wish our team could churn out curriculum fast enough to include #4 and #5, I’m glad that at least 1 of them gets to benefit from this whole new approach towards learning.

After 10 years of disappointment at our education system for being mostly concerned with teaching to the test (although now I understand the constrains), and believing that there must be more that can be done to impart real education to our children alongside content delivery, I am finally heartened to discover that there is a way, and we can bring that to a new generation of children.

In the process, I have been learning a lot (embracing life-long learning!), reading voraciously, and picking the brilliant minds around me. My dear partner, Michelle, never fails to inspire me with her passion and dedication towards the development of children, and her generosity of mind to share with us her special gift of deciphering every child’s learning needs and identifying how gaps can be closed and potentials stretched, so that as a team, everyone grows along and becomes strengthened as educators.
Patterning activity

Our activities may look random, but each activity is backed by scientific research and careful thought has been put into designing it for the best learning outcomes, while disguising it as play as that is the form kids learn best.

Take for example this activity at last week’s session, where Kate was developing her sequencing skills. It might look simple, but patterning and sequencing is such a critical skill. By encouraging kids to spot patterns, they can create and use patterns to make sense of the world where there is none; by providing order in chaos.

All about patterns. Patterns are one of the first ways we see predictability, hence allowing us to make educated guesses. In school, patterns are essential for Math (basic patterns), Science (life cycles), English (reading) and social relationships (cause and effect), to highlight simple examples.

Do you know that out of all mental skills, pattern recognition is said to have the highest correlation with general intelligence? Imagine that.

Ever wondered why IQ tests and the GEP tests are full of patterning questions?

Although patterning is taught in school, here it is taught as a skill, instead of being part of a subject.

Therein lies the difference. As such, our children understand that patterns exist in an infinite number of situations, vis a vis being exclusive to a particular subject. They also come to the realization that their actions can affect and impact patterns, and create or break them. Powerful realizations.

The problem in schools is that we teach too specifically, hence students are not able to apply theories across subjects and their knowledge does not expand past the classroom walls.

Mastering pattern recognition requires persistence and practice, and the younger the child starts, the better. Experts go so far as to predict that the younger the child is able to observe patterns in his environment, the stronger their future thinking skills will be. (I’m going to expect great things from Kate!)

Besides that, with each activity, not only are we developing the essential skills, we incorporate positive learning habits and encourage a growth mindset; core tenets of our approach. Kate’s teacher noticed that whenever she is presented with a task which she found challenging, she would use avoidance tactics and ask to go to the toilet or ask for permission to look for me (what a convenient excuse).

Her teacher makes a conscientious effort to guide Kate to adopt a different approach to facing challenges, and by gradually building up her confidence and sense of achievement by small successes while praising her efforts, Kate will be on the path to a more positive learning attitude.

Analogies worksheet

When Kate moves on to K1 next year, she will work on analogies, which is more than just an advanced form of patterning.

What is analogical reasoning? Analogical reasoning is one of the quickest way we learn new concepts and make sense of things by comparing them to what we already know. It is a core cognitive skill that contributes to general fluid intelligence, creativity and adaptive learning capacities.

In fact, studies have proven that analogical reasoning is a significant predictor of mathematical reasoning. Thus we can think of these as the building blocks for a strong foundation in academic studies. More compellingly, analogical reasoning may help students become more innovative, adaptive and intelligent; qualities our children require to forge ahead in future.

I don’t know if this fascinates you, but the fact that there are activities which can be done and approaches which can be applied to shape our children’s brains and learning in such a powerful way, simply blows me away.

It is as though I have uncovered some hidden treasures that I have almost lost hope searching for. The more I am discovering, the more I want to delve deeper, and the journey is doubly exciting with a team of like-minded educators as we deconstruct findings and reflect on the processes.

Looking back on how my life has unfolded, there were times when I was in two minds about whether to go back to work as an occupational therapist or become a stay-at-home-mum and relatives talked about how my overseas education was ‘wasted’ as I stayed home to care for my 6 kids. Fortunately, my parents were 100% behind me and never once complained.

On hindsight, education is never ‘wasted’ and coupled with the experience and wisdom gained through my parenting journey, I am where I am today, and although never planned, it feels so right doing what I do, and everyday I am energised and ready to go! Life has turned out marvellously.

I have also had the opportunity to meet some of my readers and work with their children, and that has been wonderful as well.

More: Reviews of our holiday camp.

~ – a blog on parenting 6 kids in Singapore ~