Is Marie Kondo’s Advice Really Life-Changing?
A new Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” is a mashup of reality show and how-to. It’s a continuation of the principles of Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her years of experience helping people clean out their homes.
There’s a reason why her book has endured, when so many other books about cleaning or minimalism have fallen off the radar: her KonMari system works.
Her method revolutionizes decluttering. If you have too much stuff, there is hope. You can go category-by-category, see what “sparks joy,” and get rid of everything that doesn’t.
I followed the KonMari system to clean my home a few years ago. You can get the gist of her method from articles, but the book is a short read, and I found it well worth it. (I would refer back to my copy, but I gave it to someone else so she could declutter. She, too, read it and gave it away.)
Did the book change my life? Yes. Not in the “sell all your belongings and live in a monastery” way, but it definitely changed how I look at cleaning and organizing.
When I was growing up, I was frustrated because I didn’t know what to do with clutter. Cleaning didn’t come naturally to me. Then came Marie Kondo, who said that this was normal. No one is born knowing how to keep a tidy home, just like no one is born knowing how to cook risotto or play music. You have to learn.
An important concept: Kondo doesn’t tell people to go out and buy a lot of organizing stuff. So I didn’t, and found that I didn’t need to. Having big plastic bins around is just an invitation to keep junk forever. She recommends a shoe box to store most items.
One criticism of the new show is that it isn’t jaw-droppingly, life-changingly entertaining. But think of the premise: she’s helping people clean out their homes. By nature, it’s not going to be as riveting as Shark Week. Rather, it’s a window into the world of tidying, for those who are interested.
As she recommends, I started with the first category: clothes. Most people know their clothes won’t be around forever. Clothes rip, stain, or get lost. They stop fitting. So it’s easier to purge them. I got rid of what I didn’t like to wear. If I bought new pieces, I made sure I could work them into outfits. Now I rarely need to buy clothes, and they fit into much less space.
I’ve seen people protest on Twitter that the KonMari method tells people to purge books. Why, they demanded, is someone telling them to get rid of their books? But there’s no mandate that you must get rid of a certain amount of stuff. If you like everything in a category, you can keep it.
When I decluttered, I pulled a few books that weren’t bringing me joy: required-reading type books from high school, old textbooks, or cookbooks people gave me that weren’t really my style. I was happy to show those to the donation — or recycle — bin.
I had the hardest time with the “Paper” category. I got rid of a lot, but I could probably go back and purge half of my papers. Do I really need a record of my kitty’s first physical? Or notes I took from several degrees ago?
One of the requirements in my field is that I must frequently attend trainings, which always have lots of handouts and reference material. Kondo’s advice was that if you didn’t learn the material at the training, you aren’t going to learn it from paperwork sitting in a drawer. I purged a lot of stuff from my work desk, keeping only the most valuable paperwork.
And you know what? Going through and touching each packet or piece of paper was helpful. When someone needs a form at work, I can usually grab it in seconds. No more sifting through lots of useless or duplicate stuff. Emergency information is where I can find it right away.
Yes, I donated a lot of stuff. But more importantly, I also started thrifting. I became more careful about what I bought, and whether or not I needed something new. I’m interested to see if the show leads to an increase in donations; that would certainly be good news for thrifters.
The biggest worry I hear about decluttering is: “What if I need the item later?” Well, I went through my entire house and only ended up needing one book later — and it was available from the library. Most of what we have is replaceable. And if it isn’t, and it gives you joy, keep it.
People sometimes have anxiety about getting rid of “heirlooms.” I say, feel free to get rid of bulky stuff like furniture, unless your family happened to pass down a 1700s hand-painted table. If it’s from the 1970s, you’re safe to toss it. Outdated decor? Similarly, it can go.
I’ve kept all the jewelry both of my grandmothers gave me. None of it is valuable, but it’s sentimental, and it doesn’t take up much space. I still keep lots of photos. Don’t throw out autographed photos of the Beatles and you should be fine.
The method is life-changing, but maybe not in the way you think of things as life-changing. It isn’t like a winning lottery ticket or falling in love. It’s simply a way to clean, and think about your life, and make space for what really matters.