Y’all are missing the point of KonMari: it’s NOT about decluttering.
So a little while ago I went on a bit of KonMari binge (part of my overall house-organization kick). I haven’t managed to get a copy of the book, but I did watch a few talks from Marie Kondo, and also read/watched a bunch of articles, discussions, and how-tos from people who’d put KonMari into practice (these two Metafilter threads were particularly instructive).
Along the way, I noticed a fair few people — including some friends — who assume that KonMari is just another way of decluttering coupled with some Japanese woo-woo. “Spark joy”, what even? Just get rid of your stuff!
I think people are really off the mark with that.
KonMari is different from decluttering in that it’s less about getting rid of as many things as possible and more about only keeping things that serve you, give your life meaning, or that you actually want.
The translation of “spark joy” between Japanese and English is subtly different and also carries some cultural connotations that are hard to convey, so it sounds a little strange. (I don’t understand much Japanese, so I’m not well-versed to give a more accurate translation) But “spark joy” is the most important part of the KonMari process. The idea isn’t that you have to wait till the item makes you bounce with glee, because very few things really do. It’s to give yourself permission to release anything that doesn’t really serve you but you feel like you have to hold on to for whatever pointless reason.
Does its presence or purpose give you or lead to joy? Maybe you enjoy knitting, so you have quite a bit of yarn around (even so, which yarn do you prefer more than others?). Maybe you keep an altar and everything on your altar has a specific meaning. It’s up to you to decide what sort of “joy” becomes your threshold — it’s such a personal thing, only you can figure out what it means for you (which is also why KonMari advocates you organizing your own stuff: it’s not on you telling other people what gives them joy, and other people can’t tell you what’s meaningful to you).
Is it a memory that can be honoured elsewhere without needing physical possession of the product? For example, a T-shirt from a place you went to where you had a super cool time. You don’t need to keep the entire T-shirt — you could take a photo, cut out the logo and use it somewhere else. Maybe the memory doesn’t need a physical memento. Maybe you’re holding on to it solely for some kind of hypothetical future that may or may not happen— but it’s a drag otherwise. Let it go! It’s not giving you joy now.
Do you only have it because you feel obliged to do so but would get rid of it if you didn’t have the obligation? Maybe you’re holding on to old textbooks that you haven’t read in years but feel like you might need it at some point. Craft items that you aren’t likely to use anytime soon, but what if. Gifts from family members that you’re only keeping because you don’t want to offend them, but is just taking up space otherwise. Set them free — and in doing so you also set yourself free.
Is it a tool or a means to something that gives you joy, even if it’s not giving you joy directly? A very common criticism with KonMari is “well my keys don’t give me joy but I need them to get into the house” or “I hate taking my medicine but I can’t just toss them”. Sure, the item in and of itself aren’t particularly joy-inducing, but they allow you to experience joy overall. The keys give you access to a (hopefully) safe space for you to live in. The medicine keeps you healthy and able to do things that give you joy.
And about those specific rules for organizing the things you said Yes to? They seem arcane, but there is a logic to them: you can see what you said Yes to and can access them easily.
Keeping things in order, particularly in the kind of vertical-spine-sorting style KonMari uses a lot, means that you can immediately see what you have. How many times have we bought a shirt or a book and then lost track of it because it was under a pile of other shirts and books — so we never get to wear them or read them? You’ve already said Yes to them — so make use of them!
You also now have made more space for more opportunities to say Yes. There’s a common witchy-woo/feng shui-related idea about how once you clear out things you don’t need, you now have made space for good things and good experiences to come into your life. Even if you didn’t end up getting rid of that many things — not everyone’s into minimalism — getting them all organized allows you to see what you have more space for and can add into your life.
Sometimes it can even help you be more productive! If you’re the sort of artist or crafter that holds on to materials for too long because you think you might need them maybe-someday-who knows, and then get overwhelmed because you have too much and you’re not sure how you’re even going to make use of them, the KonMari approach could help you clear your creative block. Keeping only the materials that are inspiring to you averts that overwhelm, and you now feel more motivated to make something because you know you can put your materials to good use.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you end up with just about the same amount of things you had before you started KonMari-ng your life. The point is that you only surround yourself with things that you definitely want — and now you have systems to get to them and use them.
Think of it as active consent — you’re only keeping things that you say Yes to, whether it’s inherent in the item itself or gives you access to experiences that you say Yes to. Everything else? They can go — free to other people who will say Yes to it even if you said No.
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