You might say Carolyn Fox is a bit of a neat freak. Her closets are color-coded. She loves the smell of a clean home. She vacuums every day. “Neatness allows me to feel some control,” says the 58-year-old real estate agent in New York. “It calms me down.”
As tidy as that sounds, her life wasn’t always this way. In 2008, she lived in a 7,000-square-foot home in Boston that was overflowing with expensive furniture, artwork, and clothing. She was about to marry for the third time. There was just one problem: “I found out the guy was a con artist.” He promised her a $1 million check to pay off her mortgage and never came through—which forced her to see that they’d been living far beyond their means.
Their breakup prompted a period of possession-purging that would have made Marie Kondo—the bestselling author and doyenne of decluttering, who hadn’t yet become famous—proud.
Everything must go
After discovering that her fiance’s finances weren’t exactly what she thought they were, Fox’s life changed drastically. “I had to sell everything because I had to raise cash,” she recalls. “We were living this life of Riley with fancy cars and buying everything on credit, and when he couldn’t pay the bills I got rid of everything.”
First, she sold the house they’d been living in with her two kids and his three. “I had a mortgage from another loser I was in a relationship with,” she recalls. “It was one bad boy after another.” She had an “everything must go” sale and rented a dumpster for whatever was left. “We had French windows that opened over the driveway, and I started throwing out anything we wouldn’t be able to fit into a smaller home.”
She relocated with her kids to the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston before moving to New York City. Once there, the serious purging (and reprioritizing) began.
Downsizing for happiness
“When you have a huge house, you can get away with having a lot of stuff,” she says. “But when your apartment is only 1,100 square feet, you have to be careful about what you bring in.”
When Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, was published in 2014, Fox embraced the Japanese lifestyle guru’s philosophy of finding joy through simplifying and organizing. “God, I love the Kondo,” Fox says.
In order for anything to come into Fox’s home, it has to pass a test: What am I going to take out in order to fit that in? “Our closets are small, so if it doesn’t have a place, it doesn’t have a place,” she says. “I celebrate each article of clothing, or I give it away.” If she hasn’t worn something in a year, it’s gone.
In Fox’s closets, black clothes hang with black clothes, red with red. All the hangers are the same color and type. (She stocks up on them at the Container Store.) She organizes her bras by color, too, and folds her underwear the Kondo way. “If everything doesn’t look like a retail store, the clothes don’t look as pretty or inviting,” she says. “Then I get bored and I want to buy new clothes, so this helps me save money.”
But the greater benefit is to her well-being. “My mind is so busy, and arranging my closets gives me a sense of order,” she says. So can these effortless ways to get a little more organized.
Selling once-prized possessions
Two years ago, Fox took a final decluttering step: She sold the jewelry, including rings, earrings, necklaces, and broaches, that had been given to her by all the men in her life, going back to husband number one. She sold it through Worthy, a company that resells used jewelry through online auctions. “I got great money for it, which I needed because I was starting a business in real estate,” Fox says.
Along the way, her mindset about money changed. She has a new boyfriend who isn’t a bad boy—and doesn’t buy her jewelry. “He doesn’t spend money on me,” she says, a new concept for her that caused her to realize she doesn’t need it. Instead of a Cartier or Rolex watch she once coveted, she now has a simple Apple watch—”which I love.”
Best of all? “I feel free, empowered, unencumbered, and authentic to who I am. I love who I’ve grown to be. Yes, I feel very sad for the girl who had to go to hell and back, but just maybe I needed to go through all those headaches to get to where I am now.” She has no regrets, she says. “But I’ll never let it happen again.”