KonMari Your Way to Joy
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”
— William Morris, writer and textile designer (1834–1896)
A few years ago I broke my foot. We had just moved into a new house in a new city. I was carrying a pile of boxes and cardboard out the back door, missed a small step (no muscle memory yet), and fell. I was confined to my couch with my foot elevated for weeks and weeks.
Ice. Heat. Ice. Heat. Elevate. Elevate. Elevate.
I was new in town and had no friends. I couldn’t do anything. So I read. And read. And read. Which was lovely! But one of the books I read sparked a revelation in our home. I downloaded Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, on a whim, and as I sat on that couch with my left foot in the air, I consumed it — twice, back to back.
Since we had at that point moved SIX times in less than ten years, I knew we had work to do. We had not fully unpacked in any of those moves, so we had boxes that had just been moved and moved and moved again — always in the hope that THIS would be a long-term move. And we knew that at least one more move was coming, because we were in Los Angeles for a temporary work assignment — just a few years and then we would be moving again.
So I pulled out my rolling chair, and I got to work.
Now, to be clear, because I was injured, I couldn’t work Marie Kondo’s magic exactly as she describes. But I started with clothes piled on our bed. And I made those brutal decisions. “Does this spark joy?” I asked over and over and over again. That is the first and critical step in Kondo’s tidying method — the KonMari Method. Devotees of KonMari use it both as a noun and as a verb.
Despite the fact that we were in a temporary home, with Marie Kondo’s help and a rolling task chair, I made my way through that house, category by category, room by room. And we fully and completely unpacked for the first time in almost a decade. My dresser drawers were immaculate. Bambino’s toys were thinned. And we made thousands of dollars of donations to various local organizations.
It was awesome!
But that was a solitary journey, honestly. I toiled during the days when my husband was at work and Bambino was at school. And now it is time to do it all again — together. We are in a different house in a different state — our own home now. We know what this life feels like since we have been here more than a year. And so I invited my husband to sit down with me to watch “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” when it debuted on Netflix.
After just two episodes he turned to me and said, “I just want to KonMari the shit out of our house!” To which I replied: Amen!
We aren’t and will never be minimalists. But we are different people than we were ten years ago, fifteen years ago, twenty years ago. And yet move after move we have dragged things along with us out of habit. So, we are at it again starting with clothes… all in a pile on the bed.
“Does this spark joy?”
Yes. No. No. No. Yes. No.
Over and over and over again.
Central to the KonMari process, too, is the idea that items should be thanked before you get rid of them. So KonMari has become one of my gratitude practices, too. “Thank you, pink shirt I have had for far too long. I appreciate you and thank you, and now I am letting you go into the world.” Seriously. Thank your stuff. Doing so hooks into your own gratitude. It is part of the transformation!
Watching the Netflix series is a slightly different experience from reading the book. The series is not a substitute for reading the book either. If you want to truly understand how to tidy, you need to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo’s instructions, her rationale, and her methods are all much clearer in the book than they are in the TV series. And her book is short and sweet. This isn’t an arduous read. But it is important. So think of the series as a study guide: it further illuminates the concepts that she lays out on the pages of her book, and it gives you some companionship along the way — a series of cheerleaders as you work through the five stages of tidying.
The joy of the Netflix series is in Marie Kondo herself. She is a sprite — the Tidying Fairy from Japan. In each episode she descends on a home in LA, sprinkles a little fairy dust, and guides the families through her process over several weeks and months.
And here’s the thing about Marie Kondo: she genuinely seems interested in bringing joy to each home she visits in her series. Hers aren’t empty promises. Study after study shows that stuff and clutter contributes to depression and anxiety. And yet we live in a consumer society driven by buying more and more and more. But that more doesn’t make us happier people. Americans have more stuff in bigger homes than people in any other culture — but we aren’t happier.
Our stuff doesn’t make us happy.
On the other hand, that doesn’t necessarily mean we need to become minimalists. But as Marie Kondo guides the families on her show, she says, “Is this something you want to bring with you into your new life?” That’s a shockingly different way to think about stuff! That box of notes from high school — does that have a place in my future? Probably not. It is part of my past, but it isn’t part of my new life. And into the recycling bin it goes.
This is the same thinking that I apply to gift-giving and the creation of The Nice List. Is this gift something that we want to carry forward into our new life? Hopefully the answer is yes. And if it isn’t, then by all means send that item out into the world!
In several critical ways, Marie Kondo exists in her own, non-HGTV realm. She isn’t trying to sell anything other than a book. She doesn’t endorse products on her show or in her books. In fact, she is quite egalitarian and open. Her ideas and her system are accessible to everyone intentionally. The only tool she advocates is simple: boxes. She suggests collecting boxes of all shapes and sizes to assist with the organizational process. Boxes divide drawers into smaller spaces. They contain smaller items of clothing — underwear, bras, socks. They corral unruly kitchen utensils into neat rows in a way that ordinary drawer dividers can’t. Boxes transform a space and turn every drawer and cupboard into a perfect bento box of useful tools.
Similarly, Kondo isn’t redecorating people’s homes. Sometimes that happens as a byproduct — as homes are tidier, they are brighter, more pleasant, easier on the eye. But that isn’t Kondo’s goal. No one paints or space-plans on “Tidying Up.” Kondo simply greets the home and then helps the occupants learn to make decisions about the stuff which fills it.
It is Kondo’s simple, non-commercial approach to tidying and teaching which appeals to me most. Unlike so many American home-improvement shows, this one simply aims to teach and to help, not to sell or to encourage more consumption.
My one critique, which is a small one, is that Kondo does not emphasize recycling and donating or recirculating items. This is a missed opportunity, but perhaps this, too, is a cultural difference between Japan and the United States. Nonetheless, news reports and anecdotal reports from the last few weeks show that Americans not only are taking Kondo’s lessons to heart, but they are also donating items in record quantities to charity shops and donation centers across the country.
So if you struggle to keep your home tidy, if the stuff surrounding you overwhelms you, if you think, “I just need to move to a bigger place,” I encourage you to pick up a copy of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” — or if you prefer, try the Manga edition, “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up.” Take on the stuff in your life. Pare it down. Keep the things which truly spark joy. Thank the others, and send them out into the world.
Perhaps you will find, as our family has, that less truly means more joy.
TIPS FOR TIDYING
- It will get better! This is a messy process. If you don’t have a huge mess, you aren’t actually following Kondo’s process. But from the ashes will emerge the phoenix of your new life. Keep going!
- Track your donations. Everything you donate to a non-profit can be deducted on your taxes (up to an annual limit), but you have to keep receipts and detailed records of your donations.
- Collect shoe boxes and other small, sturdy boxes before you begin. Facebook neighborhood groups can be a good resource, unless all of your neighbors are deep into KonMari, too.
- Books. If you are readers like us, Kondo’s rule of 30 books in your house is completely unrealistic. We have several hundred, but we have been ruthless about what we keep. Set books free in the world if you won’t ever read them again. Donate them to a local used book sale. Sell them to Half-Price Books. Or offer them to your friends.
- Utilize Facebook groups to sell or give away items. But set a limit for yourself, too. If an item doesn’t sell within a week, then donate it. Often the tax deduction you would get is better than the cash anyway.
- Join a KonMari Facebook group for moral support. There are several groups out there, and the group members tend to be cheerleaders for all as well as resources with tips and suggestions when you get stuck.
- Children’s Clothing. Children outgrow their clothes so quickly, and if you buy quality clothing, like I do, there is often a lot of wear left. I try to sell Bambino’s clothing before I donate it, and I have had a lot of success. I sell on Facebook, in Facebook groups, and on Kidizen. For more on how to sell your child’s clothing, check out this post or download my ebook. The principles I lay out in the ebook can easily apply to selling any collection — sneakers, purses, etc. But don’t allow selling items to slow down your KonMari progress. I separated all of the items I wanted to sell and put them aside until I was done with the entire process, then I set up a small, dedicated spot as my “store” and figured out what and how to sell. But I set a time limit for each item, and if it doesn’t sell, then I donate it.
- Does it spark joy? Before you buy something new ask yourself “Does this spark joy?” — not just the joy of buying something new, but will that item bring you joy in your new life going forward? If not, you know what to do.
CLUTTER AND MENTAL HEALTH
According to several studies in recent years, a cluttered home contributes to depression and anxiety for the people who live there. Amongst other things, clutter makes for too much visual stimulation. It makes it hard to relax and unwind. Additionally, clutter can be a constant reminder of shame and guilt — the tidying that has not been done, the chores left for the next day.
These effects, according to psychologists, can be much worse for women than for men as women assume more traditional homemaking roles within the home — sometimes completely subconsciously. But Kondo’s method doesn’t work unless all occupants of the house are equally responsible for tidying. There is a subtle feminist message in each show as every member of the house is required to take responsibility for their own belongings which, for some families on this show, is a brand new way of life.
This piece originally appeared on my website, MidModernMama.com.