My Marie Kondo Obsession

Update: Root Simple reader Ruben left a comment with a very funny New Yorker cartoon about Kondo.

It’s the time of year, after the excesses of the holidays, when folks, including ourselves, start thinking of paring down. And when it comes to decluttering, the current reigning champion of the subject is, of course, Marie Kondo. She is both loved and loathed. Her philosophy, no doubt, splits many partners sharing the same abode.

Personally, I’m a fan, though I have to admit stalling out in the middle of her sequence of decluttering actions (I promise to start up again this year!). What I think Kondo understands that other decluttering experts don’t get is that we imbue objects around with supernatural qualities that makes stuff hard to part with. This, at least in part, reflects the influence of Shintoism on Kondo’s work (she worked at a Shinto shrine in her youth).

If your Marie Kondo fandom is as obsessive as mine (I proposed to Kelly that we put up a portrait of Kondo in the house) you will enjoy the NHK video above that introduces you to Kondo’s mentor Nagisa Tatsumi, author of the Art of Discarding. Once you declutter you’ll need to clean. To that end, the video features a segment on Japanese cleaning expert Keiko Takahashi. Sadly there’s some audio problems in that bit and the interwebs don’t yield any other information on Takahashi (too common a name to Google). If Root Simple had the budget you can bet we’d be flying a crew over to Japan to shoot a web series with Takahashi. At least you get to see her DIY, foaming stove cleaner tip.

Last night, in our nightly YouTube hole viewing experience that’s part of Kelly’s recovery process (and mine too!), we watched Kondo take on an American family with kids:

As usual the kids and the man of the house seem to have disappeared while the decluttering was taking place. In fairness, Kondo addresses this issue. She suggests soldiering on in spite of reluctant housemates in the hopes that your new clean habits will be infectious. I suspect there will be some grumbling in the comments about this thoughtstyling.

Perhaps my Kondo obsession reflects an attachment to the idea of decluttering rather than to the practice itself. My office sure could use some work! While things aren’t too bad in the rest of the house, but there’s always work to do. This includes, of course, not accumulating stuff in the first place.

How are your cleaning plans or actions going?

Tody: An App that Helps You Clean

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This will be another post for fellow members of the untidy tribe. Members of the tidy tribe will find it as unnecessary as those warning stickers on buckets and ladders. But we’ll let the tidy tribesters go on with their advanced cleaning tasks: Polishing brass? Dust bunny witch hunts? Chastising the untidy?

Back to us untidy folks. Let’s say you’ve taken the sage advice to clear the decks, as I discussed in my last blog post. You now have a clean slate, a vast playa on which to party with your broom and mop. But, as will come as no surprise to tidy tribe members, we untidy folks need a push. That’s where a simple little iPhone app called Tody comes in.

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Tody gives you a room by room schedule for tasks such as cleaning the bathroom sink, dusting the living room and wiping down electronics. You can create your own custom tasks. For instance, I made a reminders to change the cat’s water and sweep the front porch.

Setup is simple and the app suggests common sense cleaning intervals (which you can also customize to your own taste). The app generates a daily to-do list and has a kind of red, yellow and green color warning system. The interface is clean and simple, like a well tended house. Other apps that I tried had too many reminders, cluttered interfaces, distracting ads and annoying notifications. We untidy tribe members are easily distracted from our cleaning tasks and don’t need an app that offers temptations to sit on the couch and slack off.

Tody is well worth $3.99. An extra $2.99 a year gets you a family sharing plan that will let you chastise your spouse/kids/housemates via their phones.

Tidy tribesters who have read this far are, no doubt, wondering why it is that we untidy folks need an app and can’t simply look around the house and see those magazine piles or dirty toilet seat. Just remember that we untidy folks lack the visual acuity to see messes, kind of like how dogs can’t see things that aren’t moving. We need all the help we can get.

Tody is only for the iPhone. If you’re an Android user, feel free to suggest cleaning apps you’ve tried in the comments.

The Secret of Tidiness Revealed

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I have a theory that the world can be divided into three types of people: tidy people, untidy people and hoarders. I’ll leave hoarders out of this discussion since that’s a confounding problem requiring years of psychological counseling. That leaves us with two remaining tribes: the tidy and untidy. Both view each other with great suspicion and confusion.

To the untidy person, the secrets of keeping a neat house seem as exotic a skill as singing popular hits in Esperanto. To the tidy person, untidy people possess a dim level consciousness, perhaps on the level of a mollusk–able to sense that something is wrong but lacking the limbs or neural networking necessary to pick up those piles of mail or dispose of that tangle of obsolete computer cables.

But I think I’ve discovered the secret to tidiness thanks to the loose lips of a member of the tidy tribe (thank you Caroline!). Tidy tribe members will laugh at the obviousness of this, but here it goes. The secret is a daily, perhaps twice daily, ruthless sweep of floors, counters, tables and desks. No random objects shall be allowed to be where they don’t belong.

Tidy tribesters are like ruthless cops, taking the nightstick to messes, slapping handcuffs on piles of old magazines, locking up things where they belong. No Miranda rights. Stuff’s just gotta be put away. The result? Clear surfaces and floors makes for easier cleaning. That’s it.

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We’ve seen and tried a lot of housekeeping schedules and schemes. In my humble opinion they are too complicated, hard to stick to and, in the end, doomed to failure. Clearing the deck, on the other hand, is both savage and simple.

Marie Kondo, the reining prophetess of getting rid of stuff, would likely argue that de-cluttering is a necessary first step towards tidiness since it’s hard to clear the deck if there’s no place to stuff the stuff. But some future, hypothetical de-cluttering exercise might also be used as an excuse for inaction by the generally idle members of the untidy tribe. The chicken and egg timing debate between clearing the deck and de-cluttering may be the only real nuance in my tidiness theory. I’ll concede that some measure of sending stuff to the thrift store first may be necessary for the more wayward members of the untidy tribe.

What do you think? Tidy tribesters–are you laughing? Untidy tribesters–are you weeping/making excuses/confused/skeptical? And I haven’t even touched on the issue of a tidy person living with an untidy mate!

The Root Simple Anti-Subscription Box

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The Apocabox

Concurrent with the worldwide success of decluttering author and guru Marie Kondo has been a puzzling trend: subscription services that will send you a box of random crap. Averaging around $20 USD a month, these services will send you everything from dog toys to sex toys. You don’t get to choose the contents. Birchbox sends you beauty supplies. Blue Apron sends you food. Apocabox has you covered for the zombie apocalypse. You can even get 12 months worth of moss.

Marie Kondo would not approve. But I suspect she might approve of a new service offered by Root Simple: the anti-subscription box. For just $100 a month I will come to your house, while you’re at work, and remove a box of random crap. You don’t get to supervise, edit or comment. I have the final word. My guiding principle will be William Morris’ dictum, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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My new uniform.

When I told this idea to Kelly and a visiting house guest they accused me of attempting to “disrupt” and “Uberize” the “legacy industry” known as burglary. I suppose corruption could enter into my scheme if I tried to resell the stuff I remove from people’s houses. To get around this I promise to donate all goods to the Salvation Army.

If you like this idea you can help fund the anti-subscription box’s parent company: the Root Simple Institute for the Present. If you don’t like this idea, as Marshal McLuhan was fond of saying, “I’ve got others.”

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I’ll Need This Someday: Clutter Control for Artists and Creatives

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For the past three weeks two heavy French doors are blocking access to my work bench. Kelly spotted them on the street and we grabbed them for the garden shed she wants me to build (a project, admittedly, that I’m dragging my heels on). Lest I blame Kelly for my workshop clutter, it should be noted that the doors are next to four columns I grabbed from anĀ old house that was being demolished. The columns and the doors are now part of a category of stuff all creative people know about: “I’ll need this someday.”

It seems to me that there are two basic types in the artist/maker/gardener world: those who sketch out an idea and then go find materials and those who start with the materials and then, only later, figure out what to do with. Then there’s the folks who accumulate materials and then never do anything with them.

Of course, life isn’t so black and white. Most of us probably fit somewhere between those three extremes. But lately, especially with the good results I’ve had using the free 3d modeling program Sketchup, I’ve come to the conclusion that, at least in my own case, I might be better off drawing up a design first before scavenging for materials. The universe, I’ve noticed, tends to cough up stuff when you need it, especially in our highly wasteful consumer culture here in the U.S. Facebook is also useful for putting out a call for materials. And, if I can’t find it in the street or through social media, I can always buy used materials at our local ReStore, which benefits Habitat for Humanity.

The same principle applies to new technology. I just heard Kevin Kelly discussing his latest book and I really like his advice to only buy technology five minutes before you need it. That way you don’t end up with things you don’t need and you also have the benefit of having the latest version.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t address the aesthetic triumphs of those who are expert scavengers, such as our neighbor Doug Harvey who turned the ever present street headboard into an art piece. Then there’s the time I passed up the chance to grab the Olive Motel’s Art Deco sign, only to see it later in a fancy boutique with a $3,500 price tag.

What kind of creative person are you? Do you have a “I’ll need this someday” pile?

When you’ve been blogging for ten years you sometimes duplicate subject matter. It turns out the Kelly already covered this topic in a more detailed post: De-Cluttering for DIYers, Homesteaders, Artists, Preppers, etc.

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