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?

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  1. Kondo and her ilk make my skin crawl. My toolboxes are full of things that do not ‘spark joy’ in me but their absence would cause great distress. Lest anyone object that her methods are intended only for overfull closets and excessive gewgaws but not practical possessions, Kondo herself relates discarding her screwdriver (She had only one?) for sparking insufficient joy. Of course she later found occasion to unscrew something and broke her favorite ruler in the attempt.

    • Ha! On that note, Kelly and I were watching a documentary about minimalists and we noted that none of the people profiled were likely to be plumbers or carpenters! It’s much easier to be minimal when you’re a tech worker.

    • Thank you, NinetyEight! Is Kondo really a robot? I’ve always kept a neat and tidy (although not always sparkling clean, since dusting is low on my priority list!) home and I’ve never needed “professional” help to keep it that way. Maybe it’s just my personality or maybe it was because I grew up moving a lot and keeping possessions under control as a result. I also have two sons who know how to pick up their things and aren’t encouraged to blindly collect everything (but we had a stint where we accumulated way too many Legos). It’s telling that a large portion of people need others to help them organize all the stuff they’ve allowed into their lives and others who have very little. I’m glad the “minimalists” out there are happy, but I personally don’t want to live in a space that feels like a hotel room. Oh, and I love the New Yorker cartoon, thanks!!

  2. What is “thoughtstyling,” please? I tried to look it up but couldn’t find anything that seemed to fit. Are you using it as a synonym for “opinion” maybe? Thanks.

    • My friend Doug Harvey started using this word in the 1990s and it came to be a nickname for me when I’m opinionating. Doug got it from the liner notes of an obscure 1960s album back when liner notes were copious and hyperactive.

  3. The things I have KonMaried have stayed uncluttered but I really need to work on building supplies/tools/crafts. I’ve just gone and reread your post on such things and yep, I need to get to work again.

    And also I don’t rigidly follow her sorting plans. All the clothes didn’t get sorted at once! And they’re certainly not hung by size! But everything is liked (I can’t believe the sense of relief I got from sending a pair of pants I didn’t like but were ‘useful’ off to a new place) and my drawers are full of folded, visible clothing! Thanks for turning me onto Marie Kondo!

    • re: supplies/tools/crafts

      this is also still a very challenging area for me as well, but I did finally make some progress, and a HUGE donation of yarn recently. Cleaning out the closet first did help, especially when looking at additional videos of “minimalist closet” stuff and figuring out what my true favorites really were. Much of my yarn was awesome, and the patterns I had specifically purchased said yarn for were lovely. However, getting my closet stabilized really made me see more clearly which items in my queue were going to realistically become a regularly used and loved addition if made vs simply a “pretty thing”, but never used (and therefore, likely to end up in the donate pile in the future). I also had to do a gut wrenching mental weighing of what was worth more to me – opening up the space in my craft closet to get baskets off my floor and let my bedroom breathe, or death clutching yarn just because it was awesome and pricey. So, even though an individual lot of yarn itself “sparked joy” because it was awesome, I kind of needed to step back and do the “spark joy” evaluation from more of a larger category perspective before I could really make the harder choices. Ie – I liked each bundle of yarn “individually” but looking at the quantity of it busting out of my closet made me super sad. I did the same thing with my fabric and sewing pattern collection.

      One thing that I find really helps with the craft/making supplies in particular is reflecting deeply on the “SABLE” (Stash Accumulation Beyond Life Expectancy) meme used by knitters. If you actually add up how long it takes to create a particular project and then look at your supplies, the overages (and how many lifetimes it would take to make all of the “someday” projects)can also become that much more obvious. With that perspective, it can get easier to prioritize doing the projects/crafts that you love the most and cull accordingly vs constantly dreaming of all the pretty things you “could” make just because you’ve got all the necessary supplies (and then some) at the ready.

  4. I jumped on that band wagon also and yes, I found that getting rid of things became a lot easier when I became grateful for their past service, but I realized I was getting carried away. Lots of things do not give me joy to look at because they mean hard work. But I found that when I thought about having to repurchase that stuff in the future, it sparked joy to know I already had that tool/rake/shovel/canning pot/pressure cooker/etc.etc. Now if I lived in a virtual world, things would be different and I would be surrounded by less REAL stuff!

  5. Like you I fell off the bandwagon over the summer but I’ve got back into it. I’ve really tried to keep to the idea that you clear stuff up first before trying to build more storage.

    I’ll have to watch those videos. Weekend project I think.

  6. I did my whole house two years ago and it was totally awesome. Then we moved. And we moved again. And I had another baby. And all of a sudden I have a lot more stuff than I used to have. I think it’s time to start up the process again but that feels a bit overwhelming. I was hoping the one-time tidy would work for me but with 4 kids in the house, I think it is more of a constant process to send things out the door as things are coming in. Also, I think the moving is a big snag in the whole system. Each house fits things differently and it takes a while to find a place for everything to belong.

    I did actually get thru every item that first time though and I disagree with the naysayers on the useful vs. spark joy issue. My useful things did spark joy. I’m even a prepper and my water storage and my wheat grinder and my food storage all sparked joy. My socks didn’t though. So I replaced them with wool socks and now they do 🙂

  7. We are in the process of a major “decluttering” around our house because we are about to replace the floorcoverings. The action of emptying each room has spurred lively discussions in our house! We moved here 5 years ago and quickly filled our 1100 square feet, feeling like it was palatial after living in 400 square feet for 5 years! Mostly we have collected 100’s of books, because we have the room and love them! We are good stewards and acquire used books, and have invested a good amount of time hunting the tomes we wish to keep.
    So, I find your posting about the KonMari method, watch the video and I am hooked! I start with clothing tomorrow! The books will be interesting because we are attached to them! I am curious to see how many we are able to donate!

  8. I’m a Kondo fan too, but I found the interview with Nagisa Tatsumi particularly interesting, specifically the part about the Japanese attitude towards public space. I live in a city where streets and sidewalks are littered with papers and other debris, cigarette butts, and dog turds (as well as the recent trend for graffiti tags all over the place), and wonder how different it would all look if we had the same consideration towards public space as the Japanese seem to have, i.e. that it belongs to each and every one of us as opposed to no one…

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