I awoke this morning, earlier than usual, trembling with excitement. It had been awhile since the thought of the day’s activities filled me with such gleeful anticipation. The task ahead: sorting and discarding my papers and documents. You see, I have succumbed to the KonMari method, and I am under the spell of this technique’s transformative powers.
A couple weeks ago I picked up an unassuming little book at my mom’s house: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. As I flipped through the table of contents I made little grunts and chuckles of appreciation. The chapter titles hinted at a mind that deeply understood the emotional baggage of stuff. Some were calls to action, like Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely. Another pointed to the method for deciding to keep or discard: Selection criterion: Does it spark joy? Others were straight-up rules: Downgrading to “loungewear” is taboo. This Kondo woman knew stuff. I was intrigued. My mom said she would pass the book along as soon as she’d finished it.
Marie Kondo is an interesting character. Late in the book she briefly analyzes her own obsession with tidying up. A middle child, she received a dearth of attention from her parents, and tidied up to receive approval, and also to control her own environment. She read housekeeping magazines from the age of five, and eagerly volunteered in her elementary school class for the job of organizing classroom cupboards and closets.
Her writing voice at first struck me as stern; she is uncompromising in her rules and methods. But later I came to recognize the tone of confidence born of experience. Obsessed with tidying and organizing, she has literally tried every method. Her confidence is hard earned (not only from field experience with many clients, but from a lifetime of reflection on the art of tidying).
The basic method is this: go through all your possessions by category (starting with clothes, then books, through the other categories, and ending with mementos — basically easy to hard so you learn the method with your least precious items). Hold each item and determine if it gives you joy. If it doesn’t, discard it. Most of her clients end up discarding (or donating or recycling) between half to three-quarters of their possessions. Through this process, their life is transformed, as they process and release their emotional baggage along with their physical junk.
Kondo comes from a Shinto background, and she communes with objects in an animistic sense, aware of their life and energy and their relationship with their owners. Whether there is any truth to this or not, her selection criterion (holding an object to see if it sparks joy) is deeply powerful. If it doesn’t spark joy, she suggests that you thank the object for the role it played in your life (maybe teaching you that you don’t look good in that color) and letting it go.
Kia and I read the book over the course of a few days using the “racing bookmarks” method. After only a few chapters we started the process. Together we discarded two giant garbage bags of clothing. Our six-year-old daughter wanted to do the process as well and contributed a third somewhat smaller bag. The old and worn stuff I threw away, the rest I dropped off at Goodwill.
Suddenly there is space in our drawers and closet! The piano has nothing stacked on it! Our bedroom is transformed. I am eager to continue the process. I keep thinking of things I want to throw away.
Kondo’s “KonMari” method is one I fully endorse without hesitation. Every so often I come across a “life system” that is so nearly perfect that I can’t think of a single improvement. Of course not every part of every system applies to every person (I only skimmed the section on how to organize your stockings) but the guidelines and rules she suggests make perfect sense to me. I will be following the KonMari method to the letter. I’ll do a follow up post when I reach the “click” point Ms. Kondo refers to: the moment when you have discarded enough, and now the objects in your living and working spaces are only the ones that bring you joy.