by Margaret Cabaniss
I’m not sure what I expected from Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (which I mentioned the other week); given the title and the breathless reverence some people have for it, I think I was anticipating something lofty, revelatory — basically genius on every page. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through it at the moment, but so far my reaction has ranged from “yeah, that’s good advice,” to “huh, I’d never thought of it that way before” — with the occasional “wait, what?!” thrown in for good measure.
Below, in no particular order: the good, the bad, and the hilariously weird.
First things first: I have to give Kondo credit for laying out her KonMari method quickly and simply (you can easily read the book in an evening or two). It helps you focus on her main takeaways: Keep only what “sparks joy.” Move quickly so you don’t get stuck in an endless decluttering loop (she recommends taking no more than six months to go through every item in your home). Organizing starts only after you get rid of the things you don’t need. You pretty much never need to keep an old credit card statement.
She offers some great practical advice, too — for instance, sorting items by category (clothes, books, papers), rather than location (bedroom, kitchen), to make sure you’re really seeing everything you own and not just shuffling piles from one room to the next. Then there were the occasional gems that really helped me reframe the whole idea of organizing — like the idea that “we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of,” so that we can really focus in on and appreciate the things we love.
There are definitely plenty of tips and tricks here that I’m making mental note of. But.
Not everything Kondo advised resonated with me. Even her central premise — “keep only what sparks joy” — didn’t seem quite complete. My blender isn’t exactly something beautiful to behold, but I need it, and I’m not buying a $500 Vitamix anytime soon, so it stays. Looking at my wardrobe, I wouldn’t really miss my (very small) collection of conservative knee-length skirts, but I need something to wear to work, so those stay, too.
I get that Kondo’s larger goal is to have us think in big-picture terms of what makes our lives better; in fact, her mantra is probably a great one to use while shopping, to set the bar high for anything new that comes into our homes. But, well, I can’t afford to throw out and replace everything less-than-completely-magical in my home right now, and I’m not sure that “sparking joy” is ever going to capture things like spare light bulbs that we occasionally just need. I think that’s why I’m drawn to William Morris’s slightly more practical philosophy (which I mentioned last time): “Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” — though, a la Kondo, if they can be both at once, so much the better.
Then there’s Kondo’s habit of anthropomorphizing every item in your home. I actually like the idea of taking a moment to be thankful for the things that have served me well or brought me happiness over the years before letting them go — but I draw the line at considering the interior life of my gym socks. Kondo sounds physically pained when describing the “potato-like lumps” of rolled socks in a client’s drawer, and how she went on to reprimand the client for not giving the socks a proper vacation by laying them out flat in the drawer so they could rest from their grueling day’s labor…
Yeah. At this point, if she had just said, “Fold, don’t ball, your socks; they’re easier to sort and the elastic will last longer,” I would have been totally on board. But I just can’t take seriously any advice that admonishes me to heed the tiny pantyhose screams currently emanating from my sock drawer when making fold vs. roll distinctions.
There are other passages that are just plain weird-slash-hilarious:
- On keeping the spark alive with your out-of-season clothes: “Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of ‘communication’ helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.”
- On the inhumane treatment of our coin brethren, so thoughtlessly thrust into junk drawers across the nation: “To actually see these coins, stripped of their dignity as money, is heartrending. I beg you to rescue those forgotten coins wasting away in your home…!”
- Quoting (positively!) this letter from a satisfied KonMari customer: “Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”
I’m not sure whether these gems can be explained by cultural differences or Kondo’s special breed of obsessive organizational habits; either way, they’re pretty entertaining — and they actually end up making Kondo more endearing, because…well, she’s a little crazy.
Bottom line: Kondo makes some great points. Her simple, straightforward (dare I say uncluttered?) approach to organizing does help you mentally prepare for the task at hand. And decluttering is nothing if not a mind game: Overcoming the urge to hoard, fighting the fear of missing out, coming to grips with what will truly make us happy by its presence in our homes — it can be scary stuff. I wouldn’t go into the book expecting miracles, but if you can take the things that are useful, skim over what isn’t, and laugh along at the rest, I think it will prove a handy little guide.
Of course, I haven’t started any actual decluttering yet, so we’ll see if I change my tune… How about you? Anyone else read the book yet or tried her method?
Image: Margaret Cabaniss