KonMarie – Living Up to the Hype

Can tidying, organizing, or “de-cluttering” your home provide life-changing results? Marie Kondo argues that it can and will. And the millions of people who bought her book appear to agree.

Who Is This?

Marie Kondo is an organizing consultant. Fascinated by interior design, organization, and tidying from a very young age, she spent hours in her childhood trying various cleaning techniques in her family’s home. However, she became frustrated as none of the methods lead to long-term tidiness. Finally, she realized some simple truths, and the KonMarie method was born. Now she has a waiting list so long that she cannot accept new clients and boasts that none of her clients who have completed her program have “back-slid” into messiness again. To share her ideas with a larger audience, she wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

What’s the Big Idea?

The KonMarie method is often simplified into “keep only what you love” but it’s slightly more complex than that. The basic steps are:

1) Create a clear picture of the ideal version of your home. What does it look like and how does it make you feel? Ask yourself why you want these things. After thinking seriously about it, you will come to your own realization that what you really want is a living space that makes you happy.

2) Pull out all of the items you own. Briefly pick up and evaluate each one. Does the item “spark joy” in your heart? Then keep it. Otherwise throw it away or donate it as appropriate. Focus on figuring out “what you love” rather than “what you should get rid of”. Instead of doing this room by room, Kondo says to do it by item type. Start with less fraught categories like clothing and end with the most challenging items such as mementos and personal letters.

2a) A critical component of the process is this individual handling of items. The KonMarie method does not allow you to make it easier on yourself by mass-tossing things. Understand that each item you own came into your life for a purpose, even if that purpose was to teach you what NOT to buy. Be grateful to each item you give or throw away as well as the items you keep.

3) Once you have eliminated everything you don’t love, organize the things you are keeping. Be thoughtful about organization, but you don’t need fancy containers or trendy gimmicks. Make sure you have a place for everything, generally with other things of its type (e.g. electronics together).

3a) Avoid storing things out of sight. It is easy to forget hidden or packed-away items. For the same reason, store things vertically rather than stacking things on top of each other. The goal is to be able to easily see – and be grateful for – everything you own.

4) Congratulations! You have developed the skill of making honest choices based on whether something truly works for you. You have plenty of practice identifying what you love and want to retain, and gracefully letting go of the rest. Now allow yourself to apply this skill to the rest of your life. Also, you may have learned during your tidying that you tend to cling to items from the past, or that you keep things because you are afraid of future lack. Use those lessons about yourself to inform the way you act going forward.

My Take

I really, really enjoyed this book.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese women and, to someone like me who’s lived in the U.S. her whole life, some cultural differences are very apparent. Any place above where I used the word “gratitude”, understand that Kondo’s words are more like “thank this object for…” Some reviews call her book animistic which, well, they’re not wrong. While a U.S. organizer might talk about the benefits of “enjoying what you have”, Kondo focuses more on the feelings of your possessions themselves. For example, she recounts that when she unpacks her purse at the end of each day, she tells it, “You did well! Have a good rest.”

There’s certainly some privilege here. Obviously someone who is poor, or someone who isn’t able to acquire a certain type of product, is going to have a harder time getting rid of everything they don’t love. For example, as a plus-sized woman, there have been many times in my life where my clothing options were limited. I hated or was neutral on almost everything I wore but I didn’t have the option of buying a whole new wardrobe.

That said, I still love this book. I admire Kondo’s resolute insistence on this simple process that ultimately – as she keeps pointing out – depends on individuals determining what is important to them. There aren’t any rules here about owning no more than a certain number of something, or to get rid of clothes you haven’t worn in X months. Kondo appears to be a minimalist as her personal aesthetic, but the KonMarie method is not just for minimalists. If someone loves and is happy to be surrounded by many things, then at the end of the process they will still have a lot of things. They just will have gotten rid of the things that they don’t love.

I also deeply appreciate her views on getting rid of things. OF COURSE ideally you want to only buy things you love. But it’s very likely that you’ve made some mistaken purchases. Kondo says that you should stop hanging on to those items out of guild; accept your lesson, be grateful for what you’ve learned, and give up the item to a new home. Similarly, she points out that the real purpose of a gift is to convey warm feelings from the gift-giver. If you also love the item, great! But if not, accept and be grateful for the feelings the gift represents. Then get rid of the actual item.

Sharp-eyed readers may notice that I put this review under the category Success, rather than Productivity. Even though it’s presented as an organization book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is ultimately about making thoughtful choices in order to craft a home, and a life, that makes you happy.

Meant For

Anyone who struggles with tidiness, clutter, or in general having too much “stuff”. Even more importantly, people who care about it: people who are made stressed or unhappy because of the untidy nature of their homes.

Bottom Line

I borrowed this book from the library because I was suspicious of the hype. Now it’s on my to-buy list. If the “Meant For” section resonates with you, I highly recommend it.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo – 226 pages – published in English by 10 Speed Press on October 14, 2014

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