January 2019 Newsletter

Thoughts on Tidying Up With Marie Kondo                                                                              


Have you watched this show? I got a free one-month subscription to Netflix just so I could watch the eight episodes in the first season, and I'm glad I did.

Method overview

If you're not aware of Marie Kondo's KonMari method, here's a brief summary. She has you go through your home organizing by category rather than room. First comes clothing, followed by books, then papers, then the things in the kitchen and garage and other such spaces. Sentimental items come last.

To go through any category, she has you pull out everything in that category; for example, all the clothes from everywhere in the house get piled up on a bed, the floor, or wherever. Then you touch each item and decide if it sparks joy. (That phrase is apparently hard to translate from the Japanese, so "joy" might not be exactly right.) You thank the ones that don't and send them on their way; you store the others ones so it's easy to see what you have. She has a bunch of rolling techniques for storing clothes.

So, did I like the show? Mostly yes.

I appreciated (and recognized, from my own experiences) the warm relationship Marie has with her clients. In most cases, they wound up hugging hello and goodbye. In one episode, Marie is oohing over a sonogram of a couple's baby, due in about five months.

Marie talked about her own two children, and acknowledged that her own home isn't always tidy. People often seem to think an organizer's home is perfect all the time; it was nice to hear her say that's not true.

The situations featured were typical of those that get people to call an organizer: moving into a smaller home, combining two households, dealing with the death of a spouse, etc. And the diversity was nice: two of the episodes had same-sex couples, and there were plenty of people of color, too.

Although Marie has her process, she was open to variations when it made sense. One woman really wanted to go through her deceased husband's clothes after she went through her own, so she wouldn't have to face his clothes in the closet they had shared. Although his clothes would normally be considered sentimental items and done last, Marie was fine with doing them out of her normal order, since this was obviously important to the widow.

When it came to organizing the saved items, Marie brought along boxes to separate things in drawers. She never had people go out and buy lovely matching containers (although one couple already had some); she focused mostly on the functional. But she did suggest that things you love be stored in a way that brings joy: an attractive way of displaying valued shoes, a nice box for sentimental papers.

Along with asking if items sparked joy, Marie also asked people if an item was something they wanted to carry into the future. These are both questions that many people will find useful to ask themselves.

Marie never pushed people to get rid of something they weren't ready to part with. She emphasized that the idea was to know what you have and to cherish everything you keep.

Marie also encouraged children to get involved, to choose what to keep and to learn about putting things away in their assigned spaces.

And piling all the clothes up is certainly a way to get past any denial people might have about just how many clothes they have.

But I also had reservations.

The "take out everything and pile it up" approach won't always be practical. If you don't go through everything right away, you'll be living with some serious disruption for a while. The pile might be so overwhelming that you find yourself unable to move forward. There might not even be a place to create the pile.

And speaking of overwhelm: Marie got people going with their clothes, books and other items. She helped get everything piled up, she explained how to decide what to keep, and she demonstrated how to fold the clothes. But then she left people alone to do the rest as homework. That will work for some people, but others will need someone to be there with them as they sort through things. They might know what to do and still feel unable to do it alone. That's actually pretty common, in my experience.

In a number of shows you saw people who seemed stuck. They were very attached to their clothes, their papers, or whatever — and didn't know how they were ever going to be able to part with any of them. But then, a minute later, Marie is showing up for the next visit and it's all been resolved. You never see how they got past those stuck moments, and that's a pretty critical aspect. It's like the steps were:

  1. Person feels overwhelmed and unable to move forward.
  2. A miracle happens.
  3. Person is now OK with deciding what to keep and what to discard.

Also, people on the show often mentioned how exhausted they were, trying to get things done before Marie's next visit. Exhausted people often make poor decisions.

And then there's all the folding: jeans, hoodies, T-shirts, bras, socks, etc. Even baby socks! Her folding method does make clothes visible in the drawer, and the clothes probably take up less space. But as someone who has never folded underwear in her life, this seemed a bit much. If you like her folding technique and find it useful, then go for it! But it will not be something everyone will want to do.

On the show, Marie never explains how the "spark joy" concept applies to practical things like a kitchen spatula or, as someone mentioned on Twitter, a cat litter box. However, she did explain it in an article I read:

"When it comes to things that you find necessary or useful but doesn't necessarily spark joy, I recommend changing your perspective a little bit, when it comes to the things that are useful to them. What do you make happen with them?

"Because for instance, with a hammer, it helps you build things or tongs, they help you cook. So when you look at it that way, they do contribute to the overall happiness in your life."

Summary: Look at her method and take what works.

You might buy in to the entire KonMari methodology, or you may want to pick and choose parts that work for you. Either approach is just fine! And maybe you'll just get inspired by the show and then declutter in your own way, at your own pace.