imilar to the multitudes of Netflix viewers I, too, fell into the “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo” frenzy after watching the hit reality show with the Japanese tidying “expert.” I will confess to having purchased her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” a few years ago and let it gather dust as it added to the out-of-control collection of books on my shelves. But the TV show was easy, entertaining, and let’s admit it, we all feel better about our messes after seeing what other people have hidden in their closets.
But why stop with the house? (Or hey, why start? We know horse people basically live in the barn.) I will spare you the details of my neatly folded tee-shirts and get down to the good stuff: tidying up the tack room.
There is a tried and true method to Marie’s madness: she organizes by category, starting with clothing. If an item “sparks joy,” then you keep it. If it doesn’t, you can thank it for however it served your life, and let it go. After sorting clothing she moves on to books and paper (my nemesis), miscellaneous, and finally, sentimental objects. Every single one of these categories can easily be applied in the barn as we all know they’re grounds to letting dust collect, literally and figuratively. Let’s take a deep dive into Marie’s madness and find the joy in your life, riding-style. But first, remember these rules:
RULE 01: Commit yourself to tidying up.
RULE 02: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
RULE 03: Finish discarding first.
RULE 04: Tidy by category, not by location.
RULE 05: Follow the right order.
RULE 06: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
Photo by Erin Gilmore.
Tackle the Closet
I’m the first to admit that I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to riding breeches. Marie has a rule for sorting clothing: if you haven’t worn it in a year, toss it or donate it. I’ve got breeches dating back to my teenage years, and after two kids and too many bagels, well, it’s not gonna happen. So into the donation box they go. Same for the roughly 8,000 pairs of jodhpurs in varying sizes, colors, and cute patterns that I purchased basically the minute I discovered I would have a daughter in my life. Toss the tattered old stock tie and the yellowed rat catcher shirt, but hang on to the expensive Pikeur dressage coat while vowing to spend more time at the gym. (It’s called balance.)
“Clothing” can extend to your horse, too. Turnout sheets, winter rugs, stable rugs, stable sheets, scrim sheets, quarter sheets, rain sheets, coolers: let’s admit it, most horses have better wardrobes than their owners.
Photo by Erin Gilmore.
Books and Paper
So about the books and paper. To begin with, I won’t be letting most of my books go. I’m an equine journalist and use those books as reference material. Pony Club rating certificates, a dressage test with a 10 for the halt, and a program from my first schooling show might fall into the sentimental category, but 1,000 crumpled day sheets, outdated Coggins tests, and piles of old tack catalogs can go in the recycling. I won’t even admit how many horse magazines take up space in my house, tucked away in file boxes, baskets, shelves, and — well, never mind. Some things just don’t need decluttering now, do they?
The Mysterious Miscellaneous
The miscellaneous category can get a little dodgy in a barn. I unearthed bandaging cottons that I made out of sheet cotton covered with cheesecloth for a Pony Club rating back in the 1990s that ultimately a family of mice turned into a nice cozy bed. I also found an overgirth with frayed edges (does anyone actually use overgirths anymore?), old rub rags stained with hoof oil wadded up at the bottom of everything, rusted studs, expired Fura-Zone ointment, decades-old sheath cleaner. Does anybody remember Tanbark galloping boots? I scrimped and saved for those as a teenager, but there are better options on the market now. Have I made Marie proud yet?
Photo by Erin Gilmore.
Avoid Becoming Sentimental
Perhaps I shouldn’t even get started on this section. The now see-through tee-shirt that I bought at my first Kentucky Three-Day event in 1988 is still in a bin in the back of my closet, somewhere behind the boxes of photo albums filled with the horses and ponies that have been in my life over the years. And of course if you compete often, the ribbons do pile up. If you’re crafty you can probably head over to Pinterest for some ribbon quilt patterns, or you might make some trendy household items out of things like old bits, spurs, and stirrup irons.
Honestly, I think it’s kind of pointless getting sentimental about a lot of stuff in the barn because your life literally depends on the functionality of your riding equipment. It’s imperative for your saddle, bridle, boots, helmet, stirrup leathers, etc. to be good quality, up-to-date, and in good working order. There are things that are simply not worth hanging on to for sentimental reasons.
Photo by Erin Gilmore.
Time to Get Organized
With the sorting done, it’s time to get organized. Marie is big on tiny boxes for organizing all your stuff, and I can thank Pony Club for the collection of little bins that turned my tack trunk into one of the only organized aspects of my life. There are medical kits (both human and equine), a tool kit (if anything breaks in the house, it’s off to the barn I go for a hammer), an emergency kit with flashlight, duct tape, and so on. If I ever become a “prepper,” blame it on my Pony Club days. For all of those useful little things that “spark joy,” grab some boxes and organize to your heart’s content.
For the rest of the stuff, give your thanks for the joy that it has brought you, and get rid of it. Whatever doesn’t end up in the garbage bin can be donated or resold (so that you can buy more stuff for your horse). Tack and apparel that are still in good condition can be donated to a local Pony Club or riding school, or if you have the patience for that sort of thing, you can post items for sale on eBay. I recently found a website called www.usedhorsestuff.com: after filling out a form, they sent me a postage-paid packet that I can fill with clothing and return to them to sell. So with the best intentions, I took all of the riding clothes I’d sorted out and I stashed them on the floor of the guest room closet with the empty mailing packet sitting on top of the heap. Maybe someday I’ll get around to taking it to the post office. After I thank it, of course.
Read this next: Five Questions To Ask When Choosing A New Barn
Feature photo by Meghan Bacso.
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