You may have heard people raving online about how many bags they’ve thrown out, posessions that “spark joy”, or the quiet pleasure of folding a piece of clothing so it forms the perfect sized rectangle. These people are devotees of the Konmari Method, detailed in Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and I’ve now joined their number.
The basic premise is simple in theory, enough to be able to get the main gist from the many blog posts an articles about the book. The idea is to 1) tidy by category (not by room); 2) take out everything in the category; 3) handle each item individually and keep it only if it sparks joy; 4) discard everything else and only then organise the remainder.
What you don’t get without reading Kondo’s book is her incredible enthusiasm and earnest love for something that most of us (including me) hate doing: tidying up. The writing is repetitive, hyperbolic and almost evangelistic, but I think it’s precisely because of that you wind up trusting her even as she challenges habits you’ve held for decades without ever stopping to think about why. It’s like your friend is speaking to you and suddenly it all makes sense.
Don’t you think it is unnatural for us to possess things that don’t bring us joy or things that we don’t really need? I believe that owning only what we love and what we need is the most natural condition.
(“Hai, Kondo-sempai,” I would say, eyes shining like in a shoujo manga).
Yes, there’s a lot of bits in there that are distinctly Japanese and perhaps less applicable to a Western audience, such as the notion that inanimate objects have feelings. But regardless of whether or not you intend to greet your house upon returning from work, stroke the leaves of pot plants and put your bag into a cupboard after thanking it for its service that day, showing care and respect for your possessions is a good thing. It’s also vital in maintaining things once you’ve stepped out of the high turnover world of fast fashion, and only possible once you’ve culled down to items that you care about enough to look after.
Anyway, I’m currently about three quarters of the way through my initial discarding phase (will do another post as my One Thing for April, which looks like it might leak into May a little), and here are my top takeaways so far:
Visualise the destination
The first step is figuring out the lifestyle you want, in as much detail as possible. I have alphabetised Pinterest boards dedicated to this sort of thing, but in the end the number one priority for me? Having a house that minimises my dust allergies as much as possible. Secondary is minimalist chic, but to not lose a day to sneezing and mucus every fortnight is a big deal to me. All of a sudden it became clear that I need to minimise anything that gathers dust, and arrange things such that they are as easy to clean as possible.
Discard, then organise
There’s surprisingly little in the book about organisation methods, aside from Kondo’s suggestion most people just keep reorganising their non-joy-sparking possessions in order to fit in even more. Discarding before thinking about organisation strategies sounds logical and straightforward, but sometimes you really have to make yourself remember it. After discarding things, the job of organising is usually far simpler than it might have originally appeared.
You don’t have to keep every single thing anyone ever gave you
I am not really a sentimental person, and I don’t really like looking back at things unless it’s through the hazy rose-tinted glasses of my selective memory. But I’ve still kept pretty much every card, letter or present anyone has ever given me for the past 20-odd years, because I felt like it would be rude to throw them out. Having someone tell me that it’s okay to feel gratitude for something without keeping it forever felt like a huge relief. If you have a present that I’ve given you, please feel free to toss it (I’m rubbish at gifts anyway).
The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not ‘things’ but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. When viewed from this perspective, you don’t need to feel guilty for throwing a gift away. Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it.
Pull out everything (yes everything!)
It sounds logical to cast your eyes over a bookshelf/wardrobe/kitchen drawer and sort of mentally decide what does and doesn’t spark joy rather than taking it all out and making a mess, but Kondo specifically says that this method is WRONG. It doesn’t sound like it should make a difference, but I think it’s a scaled-back version of the Endowment Effect – sitting on your bookshelf, those books are really yours and it’s hard to let go because you give them greater value than they really have. But spread out on the floor and picked up one by one, you start to realise that actually that last Dan Brown book really sucked, you’re unlikely to ever cook anything from the book by that top fine dining chef, and you don’t care to learn enough Japanese to read that manga you bought there almost ten years ago. Actually it’s kind of like the Cheerleader Effect, where it looks attractive en masse but might only contain a few sparky gems, if any.
Everyone has things that they do because they’ve just always done them – putting away and taking out clothes seasonally, keeping every bank statement and bill, storing lightbulbs and batteries in random drawers and cupboards, leaving a trail of hairpins all over the house (maybe that’s just me). Pulling everything out and reducing it right down brings these odd habits to light, and questions why they’re even necessary in the first place. Realising that there’s actually a better way is quite a relief!
Extreme minimalism is not (necessarily) the goal
There’s a lot of numbers thrown around in Konmari, but not much about how many things people actually kept after going through the process, no boasting about getting by with only x number of possessions. The aim is not an extreme degree of minimalism, unless that’s your specific goal. The process is inherently personal and emotional, so will probably vary wildly between people with no right or wrong answer.
I sound a little derisive in some of my descriptions, but I do actually believe that the Konmari method and tidying up can be life-changing. More on that to come!