2 1/2 Years After Tidying Like Marie Kondo
Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method of tidying/organizing has taken the world by storm since her book and now Netflix show came out. Her cute personality and criteria of “does it spark joy” really resonates and inspires us rethink our homes and lives.
I jumped on the Marie bandwagon about 2 1/2 years ago when her book “The Magic Art of Tidying Up” hit U.S. bookstores. I read her book cover to cover and completed my tidying in every category over the course of a few weeks. A lot of people love the idea of Marie’s method, but wonder how it actually works long term. So I wanted to write about my thoughts on the KonMari method, sustainability, and how it works a few years out.
My Tidying Story
When I did the big tidy, I went all in - mountains of clothes and everything. At the time, we were living in a one bedroom with no kids and no space. I was starting to feel claustrophobic when every single closet, cabinet, and drawer was full to bursting even though I felt we didn’t have a huge amount of stuff. So it didn’t take long for her thoughts on only keeping what “sparks joy” to become my mantra and her book to become my “tidying bible” of sorts.
I donated bags of clothes I’d had since high school that didn’t fit my lifestyle anymore, jewelry that I’d never worn, and books I had lost interest in. Then I ran into the miscellaneous category. Do my cleaning supplies spark joy? Really? But I trucked on, considering if I truly needed something or not, and trying to understand and apply what I read. I remember telling a friend that it’s like any self-help book: you take what you find useful for you and don’t feel guilty about the rest.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I had an epiphany: maybe my shower cleaner doesn’t spark joy in itself, but I do feel joy when my shower is clean - so the shower spray enables that joy for me. Maybe you realized that right away, but for me it unlocked a new world of connections with the things I own. I think that seeing those connections has been one of the drivers of me realizing the impact that my habits and possessions have on me, my family, and the world around me and lead me to make more sustainable choices.
After completing my tidying, I felt so good! It was refreshing to let go of things that no longer served me. By letting them go, I had given myself mental (and physical) space. I felt more gratitude for what I had, and better able to take care of the things I kept.
About six months later, I looked around my house and realized that things weren’t quite as clean as they used to be. I continued to find items that didn’t spark joy anymore. Marie says in her book that once you complete tidying with her method, you never need to do it again. And I think that’s an oversimplification. You never need to do the big tidy again, but you do need to be constantly reassessing and taking care of what you have. And I think that is the part people fall short on and then run around saying that the whole thing is a sham and doesn’t work.
Right now, I own 18 pairs of shoes. Every time I open my closet door to decide what to wear, I scan each pair of shoes. And in the back of my mind, I’m asking myself if they still spark joy. Most pairs are easy and this whole thing doesn’t even form a full thought, but sometimes I’ll pause on a pair or two, pull them out, and really listen. Sometimes they go back into the closet and sometimes they don’t. I only buy clothes when I need them or have a gap in my wardrobe. I usually think about the sweater, or pair of boots, for a few days to make sure it’s something I really want and will use often. Occasionally, I will tidy a whole category when I feel like I’ve gotten lost in the weeds. It usually happens after Christmas, since I’ve just received several new gifts and have extra time on my hands. But because I have already been through the initial tidy, my piles are much smaller and most things go back into the “keep” pile.
This is what Marie’s method looks like long-term for me. The first purge of everything you own “hones your ability to sense joy.” By the end, you’ve done it enough that as you go about the business of living, you’ll sense the joy - or lack thereof - when you wear/use/look at your things.
The Sustainability Aspect
You knew this was coming, didn’t you? :) Sustainable bloggers usually have problems with Marie’s initial purge, since it involves throwing out a whole lot of stuff. I get that, but I would counter that it’s better to get rid of the things that aren’t serving you then feel weighed down by keeping them around. And Marie never says you have to throw things in the trash. You could donate them to a charity, shelter, or neighbor. You could sell, gift, or compost them. And the next time you go to buy something, you’ll be able to choose more responsibly.
In many ways, I think the KonMarie method and sustainability actually go hand in hand. Zero waste puts a focus on having reusable things that will stick around for a while. If those things also spark joy, you will want to take care of them so they last as long as possible. When your mindset shifts from ‘I’m going to buy the cheapest broom’ to ‘I’m going to buy a wood handled broom with horse hair bristles so I can enjoy using it and then compost it at the end of its life’ the difference is huge. It’s a shift to thinking about things holistically: from how something was made to how do I feel using it and what happens at the end of it’s life. And that’s exactly what sustainability is.
How Does It Work In My Family?
My closets stay pretty tidy, and just about everything I own has a place to live. My house isn’t always clean (it feels like it never is), but it is easier to clean when there is less to pick up. And cleaning isn’t as odious a chore as it once was. My husband didn’t go through the big tidy with me, and I’ve had to learn to respect his things (and messes) as his own. And now when I start getting annoyed at the pile on his side of the bed, I stop and look around to see if I’ve developed any piles - because usually the root of my frustration isn’t him; it’s that my own things aren’t being taken care of.
I’ve also tried to incorporate Marie’s principles into our daughter’s things in a way that is respectful of her. I generally only buy clothes when she needs them and have slowly started asking her to decide what she wears (“do you want to wear this shirt or that shirt today?”) so I can understand what shes enjoys wearing. I keep a close eye on her toys so they don’t overwhelm us: if she’s not playing much with certain toys, I put them away for a while. If she never shows interest in them again, then away they go to the donation pile. And if she loves a certain toy, I’m respectful of that - even if I hate it. We keep each category of toy in its own bin or bag so she knows where they go and can get to them easily. She is learning to clean up after herself and to be gentle with her things. I’ve found that it’s been especially helpful to have the tidy mindset with kids because there are so many products and toys they say you “need” and you can quickly become overwhelmed by it all.
And as a designer, I love her method for clients. Tidy, organized drawers and closets are my jam. The bane of every interior designer’s existence is when clients try to save money by keeping their old [ugly] furniture or when the amount of personal items they own is so large that you have to add tons of bulky storage instead of being allowed to streamline a design.
I probably don’t need to tell you that sometimes you have to let go of something you still love. When our car was broken into last summer, among the things stolen were a shirt I wore all the time, a caricature done of me and my daughter, and a cloth bag I loved. I will never get those things back, but I am able to appreciate the joy that they brought in the time I had them. Joy doesn’t mean white-knuckled attachment. It’s all still just stuff, and we can get along okay without it.