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Six steps to organizing a cluttered garden and shed using the KonMari Method from Marie Kondo. Includes how to approach tidying the garden with categories ranging from garden tools to garden plants. Use this technique to get control of your garden clutter in the shed, greenhouse, seed store, and in the garden itself.
The photo just below is of my small garden shed some years ago. No joke. Well, I did joke about it to myself and make all kinds of excuses as to why it looked like a hoarder’s warren. If you’d had asked me at that time what the solution was I’d have said that I needed a bigger shed. Sound familiar? It was so hard to get organized at first because I kept thinking that there would be a time to use this item, or that this other thing would come in handy. Or, I can’t get rid of this happy little plant that clearly needed composting or rehoming. I had to take control of the situation and this is how I did (and still do!) it.
Marie Kondo, the author of a popular organizing book, calls her technique the Konmari Method. It’s brilliantly simple in helping to tidy and organize the home and focused on the idea of keeping items that give you joy and letting go of items that don’t. I’ve been using it myself and have literally got rid of van loads of things. Furniture, clothes, books; so many things. Some have been recycled, some I sold online, and other things I’ve given away. What I realized through the process is that the same method can be used to tidy the garden.
The Benefits of Garden Organization
Using Konmari in the home is mainly about creating the ideal home you want to live in. Full of precious things that you love and free of clutter. Outdoors it takes on another tone — creating a beautiful and thriving garden that you, your family, and local wildlife can enjoy. Clear the clutter and unloved plants and your dream garden can begin to shine through!
Another reason to organize the garden is that making efficient use of space can make you happier. Clearing your potting table gives you space to grow more seedlings. Getting rid of that old gnarly patio set gives you space to put in the hammock you’ve always wanted. Digging up a plant you don’t like gives you a place for one you love. Giving away hand tools to a beginner gardener helps spread the joy of gardening. Joy is something that Marie Kondo talks about a lot and we’ll get to that a bit later.
Using the Marie Kondo Method in the Garden
It’s best to work as quickly as possible when using Konmari to organize. Set aside a weekend to get to work and stick to the steps outlined and explained below. It will be much easier than if you were trying to organize without a method. You also need to prepare yourself to be ruthless. Achieving your goals often means sacrifice. Fortunately, you’ll be sacrificing superfluous, unwanted, broken, and unused things and making space for an inspiring and productive garden!
- Commit to Organizing the Garden
- Imagine the Ideal Garden You’d like to Have
- Get Rid of the Things you don’t Use, Need, or Want
- Organize by Category
- Follow the Order of Categories
- Does it Spark Joy?
Categories for Using the KonMari Method in the Garden
Step four of the KonMari Method involves working your way through a list of items, beginning at the top and working your way through. They begin with the least emotive items and finish with plants, tools, and objects that have sentimental value. Some of the categories you’ll need to look at in your shed or storage area and in the garden and organize them into one area first. Also, if you feel less possessive over your gardening books then feel free to move them into the same category as gardening magazines. I’d also recommend doing a general rubbish clean-up as well focusing on removing litter & plastic.
- Gardening clothes, garden gloves, and footwear
- Gardening magazines and clippings
- Seed trays & pots
- Larger plant pots, planters, and hanging baskets
- Misc gardening items: twine, plant tags, plant labels
- Plant supports and bamboo
- Gardening Substances: plant food, chemicals
- Plant protection: cloches, netting, fleece
- Watering and irrigation items
- Composting and mulch materials
- Buckets and harvesting trugs
- Garden features and furniture
- Gardening tools & equipment: rakes, trowels, shovels, etc.
- Gardening books
- Seeds and bulbs
- Plants: houseplants, container plants, plants in the garden
- Photos and gardening notes
- Last…anything with sentimental value
Step 1: Commit to Tidying Up the Garden
If you’ve read this far then I think you’ll be able to do this step easily. Committing to tidying and organizing is a big deal. It means accepting that you have an organization or ‘too much stuff’ problem and committing to getting it sorted. What I realized in my own process is that clutter can be just as much about mental clutter as it is about having too many things. I wanted to break free and reduce my collection to essentials, truly useful items, and things I loved.
Next is actually following through. Setting aside time and not procrastinating. Jump right in and start sorting your shed, garage, and garden of everything that’s standing in the way of the garden you want. This brings us to step number two.
Step 2: Imagine the Ideal Garden you’d Like to Have
Is your dream garden a vegetable patch with rows of greens and pumpkins plumping in the sun? Maybe it’s a traditional English Cottage Garden resplendent with roses, hollyhock, and a lavender hedge. Some people might want a garden for entertaining — a fire pit, covered patio set, and outdoor kitchen.
Keep this in mind as you wade through all your gardening gear and plants. Picture how your garden could look and think about how happy it would make you. Get your pen and pencil out and sketch. Look on Pinterest for inspiration, and create a goal. Once you have that in mind, tidying and organizing what you have now will help you create your dream garden. If some of your things don’t fit in the picture, it’s time to send them on their way.
Step 3: Get Rid of Things you don’t Use, Need, or Want
Remember what I said about being ruthless? Discard rather than store. If you put everything ‘you might use one day’ in a box and stash it away in the house you’re just redistributing clutter. Face it, you’ll never crack open old gardening magazines from 2009 if you haven’t done so already. You also don’t need to store extra pots and trays that won’t get used. I don’t even want to get started on plants still in their garden center pots from a year ago, or two.
Another reason that getting rid of garden clutter is important is to help wildlife. If you have so much stuff that you don’t value it as much, then it can easily be overlooked. That’s what I found when I walked around picking up litter at our allotment garden last year. Sure there were plastic bottles, but most of the litter was from abandoned gardening items. Plastic plant pots were big but even more worrying was garden netting. Left loose and unattended it can snare and kill garden birds and small animals like hedgehogs.
Step 4: Organize by Category
An important part of the Konmari method is to organize by category, not by location. We tend to tidy based on room or area but you don’t do this when you’re doing a deep cleanse. You tidy based on a list of different types of items given to you below.
What you’ll do is pile everything you have of that category together and then start organizing. Choose what to keep and what to let go of. Remember to be ruthless and not to store things ‘away’. You’ve got to use it, or lose it.
When sorting through your items you should also think of better ways of organizing them. Keep everything of type together, for convenience, and create ways to keep track of things. Marie Kondo is the QUEEN of meticulous organization. Everything is laid out, stored, and folded perfectly, down to underwear.
When it comes to garden organization I think it comes down to clutter-free sheds, gardening bags, garages, and storage solutions. One of my favorite solutions is to keep a few of my favorite tools in a mailbox in my allotment garden. You could also hang tools from the shed wall, keep plant labels altogether in a jar. The organizing ideas are endless.
Step 5: Follow the Order of Categories
The categories listed below should be followed in order. They reflect the easiest categories to make decisions on and end with the most difficult. If you start looking at other things while you’re organizing then you will get distracted. Distraction will end in wasting a lot of time, getting bored, and throwing in the spade for the day.
If you come across anything with sentimental value, anything at all, leave it for last. These are the most difficult to make decisions on and they are often the things that will lead to distraction. This includes looking through old letters from gardening pals or reminiscing over the garden fork your granddad left you.
Step 6: Does it Spark Joy?
The last step in the KonMari Method is one you might find a little cheesy but seriously give it a chance. Hold each item that you’re not sure about whether to keep or discard. Think about its usefulness, whether you’ve actually used it, and if it brings joy. That last part is key.
Imagine putting on your favorite pair of shoes or writing with your favorite pen. If an object or tool gives you that same feeling then you should definitely keep it. If it doesn’t then you can pass it on. Marie Kondo thanks each item for its usefulness before discarding it which I think is such a great idea. For me, I can see it over time affecting how I would even bring things into the home or garden in the first place.
Case Study: Organizing Seed Trays & Pots
After I published my video on garden organizing I had someone get in touch. She asked:
“I am inspired to declutter! However, I have a hard time knowing how many plastic pots and seed sowing trays to save. I like to start my seeds indoors each year. So I have a hard time letting them go, in case I run out!! Any suggestions?”
What I’d do is first tidy and get rid of what you know you won’t use first. Especially anything broken or damaged. If you’re still unsure, organize all your pots and trays now and then keep track of what you use and don’t use over the course of the spring and summer. At the end of the year, you’ll probably have a collection of things you never end up using and can just get rid of them. Recycle, give away, or whatever you choose.
Case Study: Seed Storage Ideas
One of the biggest categories to organize for us gardeners is seeds. Before I had my seedbox I had seeds stashed in drawers, cupboards, the glove compartment, my garden bag, various pockets, and more than a few other random places.
Going through seeds can be one of the more fun and difficult categories to organize. First of all, having them all in one place is usually an eye-opener! When I go through my seeds I tend to look at them several times. In the first run, I quickly create a pile of ‘Want to grow’ and ‘Don’t want to grow’. Everything in the latter category goes into a bag and I save it for our next seed swap. That way I can pass them on to others who actually want to grow them.
Next comes storing your seeds in a way that works for you. You can store them based on type, by sowing date, or even alphabetically. There are all kinds of seed storage ideas and when I only had a few seed packets I used to use a a photo album. After my collection grew I upgraded to a simple plastic tub but plastic baggies work well too. I have a lot of seeds now so currently use this brilliant photo case for them. It’s so easy to find seed packets and to store them away again.
Though there are many ways to organize a seed collection, I organize them by type of vegetables. Tomatoes, herbs, cucumbers, peas, carrots, beans…they each get their own storage container. When I used the plastic tub I organized seeds by planting dates and that worked really well too.
Bonus Step: Avoid Buying Things You Don’t Need
This last step is my own addition: avoid buying things you don’t need. This is perhaps the only way I can stop the clutter from making a come-back after I get everything organized. I say to myself… If you want it but don’t need it, don’t buy it. No place to plant that on-sale azalea? Don’t take it home with you. If you have two pairs of secateurs floating around somewhere but you’re not sure where they are, don’t buy another pair out of convenience. Oops, you accidentally cut the power cable with your hedge trimmer. Try to get it fixed first rather than buying a new one. It’s hard work being disciplined with yourself but the reward for it is that you save money and reduce clutter.
I’ve added this last part because Marie Kondo doesn’t touch on why we have so much stuff. Our culture is a very consumer-driven one where we can buy most things whenever we want. Unfortunately, the effects of this are waste, debt, environmental destruction, and clutter. We need to train ourselves not to bring unnecessary stuff home in the first place.
Well, that’s it, my two cents on how to use the KonMari Method in the garden. I’m very interested to know if you’ve tried it yourself and what your experience has been. Do you have any further tips or ideas? If you’d like to get the book, you can get The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up online. I also explain how to use the Konmari in the garden in the video below.
More Ways to Reduce Waste and Tidy the Garden
- 12 Seed Starting Ideas using Recycled Materials
- Eco-friendly Ideas for Gardening on a Budget
- Two Ways to Make Newspaper Plant Pots
- March Garden Jobs for the Vegetable Garden