Marie Kondo Is Right — and I Hate Her for It
Caryn Solly for The Active Times
All I wanted to do was clean out my closet on a holiday weekend — not plumb the depths of my soul. In summer 2018, my curiosity got the best of me when cruising the library’s available audiobooks. There, I saw Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” first published in the United States in 2014.
My spouse had actally bought the book, and its sequel, “Spark Joy,” during Kondo’s first swing through the American zeitgeist, before 2019’s massive Netflix hit “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” and he never looked back.
I saw irony in the collection of two books that seemed intended to inspire people to shed their belongings and reduce consumption. I also sniffed something I didn’t like. Life-changing? That’s a bit grand, don’t you think? Looking back now I see that Kondo is life-changing; I was just feeling vulnerable, confronted with my own shortcomings as a steward of “Things."
Diary of an Untidy Kid
When I was a teen, my mother gently reminded me that keeping my clothes on the floor wasn’t the best way to take care of them. She asked me to collect the many half-drunk soda cans I’d littered through the house.
Now, as a married grownup, I have snagged a spouse who has an enormous willingness to do housework. In fact, I hate housework so much that I once hired a cleaning person to rescue me from my own kitchen. (I never called said cleaning person again. I was too ashamed.)
Alas, I kept a pile of gently-worn clothes on a chair, like all good people who have more hoodies than they need.
And so, after years of resistance, when my library hold for the “Tidying Up” audiobook came in, I downloaded it and gave myself over to the possibility that I could have a sustainably tidier home.
1,000 Coffee Filters
Photo Credit: Caryn Solly
Right off the bat, “Tidying Up” made sense to me, even if some of Marie Kondo’s rules for living took time to reveal their wisdom.
Kondo says to put all of your things of the same kind in one place. I resisted at first. I need a Chapstick in every room! This process has illuminated that, for peculiar things, I have far more than I will ever need or use. What household of two people needs six nail clippers? Other items I had in excess: vanilla extract, coffee filters, cotton pads and toothpaste — both travel size and regular size.
She also says that, despite the thrill of Costco, we do not need to stockpile items for future use. When I run out of something, I can simply just replace it. Theoretically, when I bring that shopping into my house, the Konmari method says to take things out of their packages and put in their homes immediately, which makes them more available for joyful use.
Konmari as a Spiritual Experience
Speaking of, another “Tidying Up” guideline is that everything should have a home, a place where it always returns when not in use. I certainly know where to find nail clippers now that I put them all in the same place, thank you very much. Without this organizing principle, stuff gets lost. If I spend a few extra seconds now, returning something to its place, I will save Future Me precious time, by not looking for lost things or stepping over things I hadn’t put away.
If one is willing, Konmari can be a spiritual journey, where spiritual is an experience that connects mind and body, thoughts and feelings. Kondo asks people to treat their belongings with respect. It reminds me of an outdoorswoman who once told me that we should take good care of the gear that takes care of us. Kondo asks us to thank the items that we are parting with. She prompts us to ask whether we’re surrounded by spaces and items that “spark joy,” which is a beautiful lens through which to approach, not only our things, but even our whole lives.
Marie Kondo Has My Number
As I continued to listen to Kondo’s books and evaluated my belongings, I started to turn on Kondo. Her sensibleness broke through with a heaping side of arrogance. The audacity to claim to be “life-changing,” to have the secrets to unlock joy, was too exaggerated on its face for me to take it seriously. Her stories about being a child who preferred organizing classroom bookshelves over more traditional school activities came off less as a precocious child and more of an obsessed human. I wondered about her well-being and hope she is taking good care of herself.
And yet, I carried on.
Fast Fashion and Climate Change
Photo Credit: Caryn Solly
More seriously and broodingly, when I dug into what I own, when I dumped it all onto the bed or the floor, as she instructs, and I considered it, I was not pleased.
I thought about how much waste I saw, the environmental impact of that waste, the working conditions of the people who made the clothes, the money I’d spent unwisely. In the first episode of Marie Kondo’s “Tidying Up” show, Rachel, a married mother of two small children, expressed guilt and shame when looking at her pile of clothes. It’s enough to make you stick your fingers in your ears and LA-LA-LA.
It may now be time to be grand myself, but without a strong sense of self, style and morality, Marie Kondo could send you into an existential spin! Am I ready to shed the shackles of consumerist culture, the parade of pleasure pings? Ready to consider human suffering, our changing planet? To check my privilege?
Tidying Is Like Jogging
I ended my manic weekend of Marie Kondo upheaval with a great sense of self and accomplishment. However, the evaluating didn’t end. It is a daily practice, like physical fitness. The home is ever settled, resting. It is a lifestyle change — life-changing — to keep moving, always tidying. I feel incomplete. A pile of like items grew as I optimized, until I had a strangely tall pile of empty wicker baskets doing nothing on the desk. Corners of rooms are squeezed with camping gear, musical instruments, art supplies and old electronics that have odd shapes to know how to keep them accessible, yet stowed.
When operating on high-level Konmari practice, I never felt at rest. Every time I stood up, I took two or three items with me, to return where they belonged — and once those were “home,” I’d see even more stuff that needed to be returned to its place, or an even better place.
Take That, Marie Kondo
Photo Credit: Netflix
Since adopting Kondo’s methods, I have been able to enjoy hobbies, like sewing, where before it had felt like too much of a pain to haul out the machine, set it up somewhere, find all my accessories, etc. I mended five items of clothing in one evening, which had been sitting in a paper bag for years.
By letting these spiritual parts of the Konmari method into my life, along with the pantry-tidying tips, I can get what that magical pixie Marie Kondo knows I can have: my best life. Meanwhile, there are lesser ways to clean up your act. My spouse read the Konmari books before giving them to me, and he has been rolling his socks like sushi and stacking his shirts vertically ever since. He says he didn’t feel terribly moved by Kondo’s joy-filter or other spiritual views on stuff. But he said he likes her tips on how fold things smaller. He’s been doing it for over three years, and it seems to work for him.
In the process of tidying my home, I’ve identified what is important to me, and I continually seek to create space that reflects my values.
Marie Kondo content needs a warning label! Wield this slim tome with care! Proceed with caution! I just wanted to clean my closet, not become a more aware global citizen with a lifetime supply of nail clippers and a side of checked privilege. But here I am. It turns out my life was one of the many things I needed to clean, even if I didn't know it.