Time to 'Kondo' your life and get decluttering

Marie Kondo’s first book was such a hit that her surname became a verb. With her second book set to lead to another global decluttering frenzy, Richard Fitzpatrick decided to ‘kondo’ his life.

A FRIEND of mine grew up in Rome, in Italy, in the 1980s. She lived in an apartment, with her family, close to the Vatican. Every New Year’s Eve was carnage in her neighbourhood, because of the tradition of lancio dei cocci — people throw old crockery out their sitting room window on the stroke of midnight.

The practice is believed to be cathartic. By smashing up raggedy and useless mugs and plates, you do away with all the evil and negative in your life.

It caused mayhem, however, for my friend’s family and neighbours. Everything from bottles to washing machines were launched onto the pavement from floors above. Her parents would move their car from its city-centre parking spot to safeguard it, and they dared not take a midnight stroll.

In anticipation of this New Year’s Eve, my wife and I were encouraged to turn to the Japanese art of tidying, as devised by Marie Kondo (who has packaged her thoughts in two books. The second went on sale last week). It’s less violent than the Italian method, although it is painfully time-consuming.

Kondo lives in Tokyo with her husband and child. At five years of age, she hungrily read her mother’s housewife magazines. She became, in her own words, “an organising fanatic”.

At break-time at school, while her classmates went out to the yard playing and skipping, she snuck back into her classroom to rearrange bookshelves. At home, she methodically moved from room to room — starting with her own bedroom and moving onto her siblings’ — tidying and discarding items. She became so obsessed with her mission that she had a nervous breakdown in secondary school.

Richard in his living room
Richard in his living room

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Now, she runs a tidying empire. As well as bestselling books (her first one sold 1.5m copies in Japan, before becoming a global manifesto), she runs a consultancy, advising clients and businesses on how to de-clutter their homes and offices, and, consequently, their lives.

Her devotees, according to their published testimonials, have lost weight, increased sales at work and been spurred to divorce, as a result of following her philosophy.

Because of the divorce possibility, I approached the KonMari Method (coined from her nickname, taken from her first and last names) with trepidation. My wife insisted, for example, that we assess my pile of clothes together, clothes being the first category Kondo advises you to tackle.

She has a guiding principle: discard things that don’t “spark joy” and decide where to put what you want to keep. You organise by category, not by room, in this order: clothes, books, papers, komono (CDs, stationery, tools, toiletries, valuables, and so on) and sentimental items.

If more than one person lives in your house or apartment, you organise one person at a time. My wife, our three-year-old daughter, and I live with two dogs, Ismael and Sirena, but, thankfully, they lead largely unfussy lives.

So, with clothes, Kondo advises you gather them on the floor of a room for sorting, starting with tops/shirts, “because things worn close to your heart make it easier to judge whether or not you feel joy”.

She’s a funny one. She can be sentimental about a household utensil, like a frying pan or a hammer: “If you come across komono that don’t particularly spark joy, yet are necessary, try praising them to the hilt. Think of how they make your life easier, about their wonderful appearance and marvellous features, and tell them how great they are. As you do this, you will begin to feel grateful for how they help you and to see how they support your life. They will no longer be simply something convenient to have, and you will gradually begin to feel a thrill of joy when you see them.”

Time to 'Kondo' your life and get decluttering

. Time to 'Kondo' your life and get decluttering

She can also be ruthless when it comes to things like, say, your children’s artwork and mementos of past lovers (“if you hope to develop a relationship with someone new, the basic approach is to get rid of everything”).

I struggled hardest with her philistine advice on books.

I have about eight books on my bedside table at the one time. Kondo says if a book doesn’t spark joy for you now, it should be cast off, as it won’t in the future.

This I know not to be the case. I often scan my bookshelves before going on holiday and pick out an unread book that has languished there for years.

Once a book is read, it has been “experienced”, she also says, and it should be offloaded, which is extreme. I revisit books for work research.

Time to 'Kondo' your life and get decluttering

Books are also a lovely ‘wallpaper. They trigger memories about where you were in your life when you read them.

There is merit, though, in her advice to categorise books, which I’d never done before and which it took me a few hours to do.

I can now locate books at a glance. I also found her advise on clustering items in the one place — like papers, which took an age to sort through, and household tools — to be sane thinking.

The best of her reasoning has to do with clothes storage, which follows four rules: fold it; stand it upright; store in one spot; and divide space into square compartments.

This creates a huge amount of room, and helps you to find clothes quickly (or realise you had certain pants you never knew you had).

She talks a lot about ‘rebound’, in the language of addiction treatment, which I am already prone to do when it comes to folding clothes. It’s not easy being tidy.

My wife Michelle and I have only been living together for about six years. We live in Barcelona, having arrived in the city from different countries (she from Venezuela), so, originally, we’d only a handful of suitcases and rucksacks between us.

After a KonMari campaign, eight black bags of rubbish (and two huge bags of clothes, which we’ve given to a friendly African guy who hangs out on our street corner) piled up in our hallway, although this paled in comparison to one of Kondo’s clients, who harvested 200 45-litre bin bags from a tidying operation.

I’ve reluctantly offloaded a hundred books. What interested me most was the amount of electronics flotsam that had washed up on our shores (either broken or obsolete) in a short spell — two laptops, one tablet, one Kindle reader, two iPods, one mobile phone, one smartphone, dozens of CDs that would have been treasured 15 years ago, but are now redundant, post-Spotify, and other online resources.

Kondo’s enterprise is a frightfully first-world exercise, but — excepting some laugh-out-loud reservations — useful, given what cluttered, trivial lives we lead.

Time to 'Kondo' your life and get decluttering

Marie Kondo’s Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying is published by Vermillion, an imprint of Ebury Publishing (€14.99).


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