Have y’all heard about KonMari? More specifically, the KonMari Method? Apparently, it’s a cleaning and organization method. Sounds boring, right? My mom is a notorious neat freak and throughout my childhood, cleaning was always among the top priorities. I never liked cleaning. In fact, it stressed me out where it seemed to calm my mom down.
The struggle to remain consistently tidy and organized is real, not just among us millennials.
Marie Kondo, founder of the KonMari Method, organizing consultant, and author, seems pretty determined to remedy that.
The KonMari Method sounds intimidating ’cause it has the word “method” in it. It sounds hard and complicated. I never got into the whole tidying up thing until Netflix decided to go and grab my interest with a new series this month. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo didn’t look like something I’d like. I was never a big fan of reality TV and tidying seems like the most boring topic to tackle. I clicked on it, anyway, probably because my living space was looking, well, horrible and a part of me was perhaps hoping Kondo would provide some inspiration.
So what does the method entail?
I waded through a bunch of articles about KonMari, but it was on the actual website of the best-selling author and consultant that I found the proper answer for this question. It’s tidying by category instead of room-by-room or little by little. Those categories are clothes, books, papers, komono (misc. items), and sentimental items, in that order. Kondo encourages you to let go of items that no longer “spark joy,” thanking them for their service first.
It sounds overly simple, doesn’t it?
I was skeptical. The method has you collecting your items into a single area, which feels like making a bigger mess than it was originally, and going through it all one item at a time. If it doesn’t lead to that spark of joy, it’s time to say buh bye. People have praised Kondo and her method, seeing it as a tidying guide that will teach others how to be more introspective and honest about their belongings and what they truly do and do not want. In a comment section, I saw someone claim this book is a straight up self-help book in the best way possible. But for all the good reviews this method has gotten and how simple it seemed to be (even I could do it), I was still unsure about one thing.
What does sparking joy even mean?
While shifting through my own nest of hoarded items, I felt what I assume is the spark of joy Kondo talks about so often. Plenty of my belongings have a worthwhile function, serve a purpose I’m unwilling or unable to go without, or just make me feel happy and content to have, within reason. Even more of my belongings don’t have anything close to those effects on me. Those are the items I put into the Buh Bye Pile.
And guess what? It worked.
I de-cluttered every surface in my living space, every nook and cranny, every corner of my long forgotten closet. I fell in love with my living space for the first time and felt proud of it. The KonMari Method did actually inspire me to successfully tackle the initial cleaning phase. Not only that, but it helped me go forward with an attitude of “if this is going to lose appeal sooner or later, I don’t need it” during shopping trips.
But is the method all it’s cracked up to be?
There are plenty who criticize Kondo’s approach to organization.
In Joshua Becker’s article, “‘Does It Spark Joy?’ Is the Wrong Decluttering Question,” the writer denounced Kondo’s method. He admits that the phrasing of her method rubbed him the wrong way and that it “may actually rob tidying up of its fullest potential in our lives.” The three things Becker insists we get wrong when we use KonMari are that “we place our own happiness above everything else and continue to define it in terms of our possessions,” “Kondo’s suggested focus does not cull our consumerist tendencies,” and “the filter may improve the peacefulness of our surroundings, but it does little to bend the trajectory of our lives.” Instead of asking if an item sparks joy in us, he encourages his readers to ask if it helps us “fulfil a greater purpose” with our lives.
“As I see it, we should be thinking about not just what we own but why we want to own it.” – Joshua Becker
Becker’s family embraced minimalism and he credits the start of an orphan care nonprofit he and his wife started to the fact that minimalism freed up time and money for them to do so. He paints KonMari as a well-meaning effort and little else. He has one, maybe two good things to say about it. Overall, he feels his way his better.
And to some, it might be.
His article sparked a discussion.
Becker had plenty of supporters in his comment section too. The discussion was more of a debate and both sides had good points. Becker’s article, the ensuing debates, and “Marie Kondo, you know what would spark joy? Buying less crap” by Alexandra Spring all led me to the same realization:
Much of the criticism leveled at KonMari is that it does nothing to combat consumerism and is adding to pollution by preaching “get rid of it” instead of “well, don’t buy it in the first place.”
Where Becker focused on consumerism and fulfilling a bigger life goal than getting organized, Spring focused on the pollution angle. “The idea of ‘don’t like it, just bin it’ encourages the culture of disposability,” Spring said after reminding us that a lot of the stuff we de-clutter ends up in already overflowing landfills, even if we donate it in an effort to recycle. She also brought up how short-term KonMari is as we can buy something that sparks joy in us in that very moment, then decide it no longer does so a few weeks later and toss it out.
Spring did have some good points. Choosing to upcycycle, repurpose, or repair old items instead of chucking them into the garbage is always a good go-to. So is selling unwanted items on Kijiji, eBay, or Facebook. Speaking of Facebook, she mentioned looking for local swap groups or charities that would willingly take unwanted stuff off our hands, another wonderful option. Another thing I agree with Spring on? “Stop buying all this stuff. The only solution to our waste crisis is to halt the consumerism clogging our landfills, polluting our oceans and overcrowding our homes. Because what would really spark joy would be a world that isn’t overflowing with garbage.”
I would love to see Kondo tell her clients to curb their spending habits to avoid the need for KonMari cleansing in the first place!
BUT! I feel that both Spring and Becker were unfair to Kondo. They both seemed to interpret the whole “Spark Joy” part of the process as something shallow. Spring’s example of buying a shirt that we like one minute just to toss out the next was unfounded. Kondo never said that sparking joy was a whim. She always explained it as something much deeper. Kondo once said that “the important thing in tidying is not deciding what to discard but rather what you want to keep in your life.” in Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up. There was never anything particularly shallow in KonMari. Minimalism encourages you to do without, which might seem similar to KonMari. The big difference is that where minimalism focuses on getting rid of stuff, KonMari focuses on keeping the important stuff and that’s it. Hear the difference?
Despite some people saying KonMari is short term, it’s become long term in my life and guided me away from wastefulness. To me, asking if something sparks joy is also asking if I can find another use for it through repurposing and upcycling (because giving it a whole new purpose would most definitely spark joy, it’s like getting a new item), if I will use it again within the year, if I can’t do without it, if it serves a worthwhile purpose in my life. If all the answers are no, it goes to my Buh Bye Pile, which doesn’t mean getting dumped in a landfill. It means getting taken to a thrift store as a donation, gifted to someone who will want or needs it, or sold online.
Does that mean KonMari is for everyone? No! Of course not!
There was something I noticed both in people who wrote against KonMari (lookin’ at you, Becker and Spring) and those who wrote for it and all its merits: they treated their opinion on the matter like fact. Opinions ≠ fact. Never have, never will. Methods are guidelines and little else. They’re a way of going about something, but KonMari never actually claimed to be the only way.
If KonMari doesn’t work for you, than don’t use it. If KonMari does work for you, don’t belittle those for whom it didn’t work. There are plenty of roads to the same destination when it comes to things like this. If, like Spring, your main concern with KonMari is how environmentally unfriendly it might seem, than tweak the method until it is or find another one that was designed to be green.
Bottom line: KonMari changed my life and the way I see possessions. I can’t encourage you enough to find a method, KonMari or not, that does the same for you!