By Elise Leise
No matter how much we like to accumulate stuff – garage sale finds and gifts from well-meaning grandmothers alike – a messenger from the gods of minimalism has arrived to change our destructive ways.
She is Marie Kondo, the adored and sometimes abhorred Japanese decluttering expert. And she is sure as hell going to evict most of your possessions from your house by asking one simple question: Does it spark joy?
You don’t even need me to explain what this magical method is. Kondo boasts a Netflix show, two books translated into several languages, a Japanese anime comic titled “The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story,” 2.7 million followers on Instagram, a YouTube channel, a horde of followers called – get this – Konverts, and a decluttering app that allows you to monitor yourself AND your messy neighbours. This is not just one woman’s agenda: this is a growing movement to declutter the world.
What is the KonMari Method?
In the middle of a maelstrom of your books and clothes and junk, Kondo, dressed in iconic white, crosses her legs and prepares for the task ahead of her. Unlike your mother’s advice –”just a few minutes a day helps” – this endeavour is not for the faint of heart.
Be forewarned: this method doesn’t involve buying organising boxes and sorting through your junk drawer; it requires authentic self-reflection, as “the question of what you want to own is the question of how you want to live your life.” Your possessions in the KonMari method are living, feeling beings that deserve to be thanked – and, for most of them – let go of with gratitude. Clothes are folded, not just any old way, but in steadfast triangles of order, and socks are spoken to with kindness. Sound intense?
Well, it’s supposed to be, and maybe this ‘all-in’ mentality is why Americans are so attracted to the KonMari method. You simply inquire, does this item spark joy? And if the answer doesn’t yield an immediate, exuberant YES, then it’s off to Goodwill, thereby simplifying and organising your home into a space of serenity.
Why The Backlash?
Like Kim Kardashian, Taylor Swift, Barack Obama, Elon Musk, and many others who made it onto Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People” list, Marie Kondo has achieved the unfortunate level of fame that garners jealousy, dismissal, and even outrage. There is a cohort that has fought back against the magic of tidying, culled from the ranks of parents, organisational experts, and creative personalities who cringe at the mention of orderliness.
To be fair, it’s hard for all of us to be like Marie Kondo. As Tanya C. Snyder, a D.C.-based reporter and parent of two, laments , “it may be a useful litmus test for keeping old band T-shirts and notebooks from college… [but] nowhere does Kondo provide any tips on how to initiate my 4-year-old into the cult of decluttering when she’s too busy unfolding every blanket in the house to make a bed on the floor for every one of her dolls.”
Why Can’t I Konvert?
“Being messy is neither hereditary nor is it related to lack of time.” — Marie Kondo
Yep, time for a reality check. Aspects of the Kondo method that are impossible for most of us, especially those looking after the elderly and young children, include (but are not limited to):
Folding Clothes like They’re People
Purging Once and Never Again
No matter how often you toss your throwaways, they seem to come back in new forms, rebirthed to clutter your closets and cupboards. Have kids? Those jeans won’t fit for long. But you have 15 more pairs piled up for when they grow into them. This is reality, Konverts.
Keeping All This Craziness a Secret
When your family members see you tossing out virtually everything you own, chances are they may get a little worried–okay, really worried. That’s why, according to Kondo, tidying is an exercise to be done in peace and quiet. For busy parents, this may prove impossible.
Children Can’t Konvert
There are difficulties – I repeat, difficulties – that come with one’s offspring being tiny toddlers who have no respect for their socks. They refuse initiation into the cult. And unfortunately, they do not always “have some ability to figure out if [an item] sparks joy or not” upon turning three.
Why Konverting Is Still the Answer
Just because Konverting is impractical doesn’t mean that Kondo deserves the slander and scorn that’s been thrown her way. She readily acknowledges that there’s no one right way to clean your home or live your life, she doesn’t expect everyone to do it her way, and she’s using her KonMari method not to guilt us into living like a minimalist lifestyle, but to empower us to build more serene, intentional lives. Her philosophy is equal parts physical and spiritual; influenced by Shintoism, she offers us a path to peace in a world burdened by too many possessions. “Selecting and discarding one’s possessions,” she preaches to her Konverts, “is a continuous process of making decisions based on one’s own values.”
Brava, Marie Kondo. Whether we’re Konverts or not, this mindset is a powerful tool for re-imagining happiness. It’s like spring cleaning, only instead of scrubbing your floors and washing windows, you’re dusting away the commitments that weigh you down. If we focus on that metaphor and ignore the impracticalities of orthodox KonMari-ism, we’re left with what’s essential: the idea that we have the autonomy to choose what brings us joy and eliminate the superfluous.
It’s not every day that a decluttering method comes along and changes your outlook on life. Yet it’s done exactly that for Konverts worldwide, which is what makes Marie Kondo and her KonMari method unique. Maybe we should all be asking ourselves a simple question before we make a purchase: Does this spark joy in me?