How’s this for starters? “The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
So says Marie Kondo in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.
Have you ever tried honouring that greasy fork before spearing it into the dishwasher? Tidying — that brain-melting, repetitive nuisance that splinters the mornings, evenings, and weekends of just about all householders.
I’m not a cheerful slob, and the open plan nature of my house puts venal sins of scruffiness into theatrical high relief. Still, beyond the press front is a nightmarish world of chaos and disorder worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. I was fed up.
Sock by sock, battered sheaf by topless tube, these shameful secrets compromised my inner calm — I’m sure I developed a small tick in my left eye as a result.
The twisted ballast had become a snarling, living entity, and I noticed recently that the drawers punished by a thousand crams of the hand, foot and thigh, were fighting back. Spitting the choked contents over their rear panels, they made it impossible to shut most units flush.
I think I have found a new way, but it’s always going to ask more of me than dragging out the bin bags, tailoring my shelving and being a better housekeeper.
It demands that I examine personal truths and it may teach me the freeing experience of being in the moment for the rest of my life. The rewards of this epiphany are said by bloggers, celebrities, and a worldwide cult of devotees to be immediate and remarkable.
Marie Kondo is a young Japanese professional living with her young son and husband in Toyko. She makes her living teaching her clients and a worldwide audience of exhausted readers how to tidy — once and forever.
Her revolutionary approach Konmari (from her nickname), was outlined in her first book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying (2014, Vermillion/Ebury Press), and runs contrary to the standard nightmare of ditching obvious rubbish, defeating one room at a time, and relying on intelligent storage to swallow cartloads of middling stuff.
Having intended to review her latest treasure ‘Spark Joy’ published last month, the methods of this slip of a girl were such a slap around the chops of this veteran housewife, her voice so sensible and suffused with natural wisdom, I found I really had to start at the beginning.
Tidying expert? “Is that really a job?” she’s often asked. How do you qualify as a tidying expert? According to Marie in her first bestselling little book — which hung (neatly folded and perfectly upright) around the top of the New York Times bestsellers list for weeks — her journey to the perfectly-ordered home started at the age of five.
Her mother’s favourite magazine Esse, showed a world of tightly-contained, pared-back elegance, which the young Marie tried to emulate across the tatami-matted rooms at home. She diligently cut up milk cartons to make drawer dividers and stacked VCR sleeves to fashion letter racks.
In the early chapters of her compact and charming book, Kondo records her genuinely difficult struggles, tidying, cleaning and physically defining her things, only to find that her spaces “rebounded” (a key word in her writings), to their former confused state.
The pace of acquisition exceeded the pace of discarding. It became clear to her over the next decade that something more fundamental was going on, and the whole thinking behind tidying, and the order of the attack was skewed.
A passionate, searcher for truth, Marie found a volume of Suteru Gijyutsu/The Art of Discarding by Nagisa Tatsumi (2000, not available in English, yet). at a local market.
She was energised by Tatsumi’s emphasis on the power of releasing the unwanted thing and realised that tidying effectively depended on a new heightened awareness (seen everywhere today in the mindfulness movement).
As her theories developed, she saw that things should be kept, if not for practical reasons, then their intrinsic intimately-held value, to “spark joy”.
Earning their place, they should be habitually returned to their proper place — something, she says, most people find impossible to do. There must, she argues, be a whole new way of thinking, not simply a shift of tidying technique. It’s this mindset that takes up the bulk of her first book, introducing the KonMari method, where we free ourselves as victims of our own excess.
Getting back to her order of attack — discarding comes first and it’s a house-wide discarding of categories of things. She presents this process with the thing as a conversation, where we are in charge.
We rarely keep one category of thing in one room, while the room-by-room clean, Kondo ventures, is a soul-devouring waste of time that rarely reaches its end. Don’t focus on one drawer, don’t focus on one room — stick to the type of thing, one subject, be it clothes, paperwork, whatever.
After discarding, comes organising, and organising should not start until all discarding has finished. All storage is temporary until you finish.
It could take six months to do this work, but carried out to her advice, you will never have to do this tidy again. Yes, that’s right, never. There will be day-to-day putting away, and, perhaps, twice yearly one-to-two hours of discarding and organising, but that’s it.
A once off “special occasion” tidy, never to be repeated, that could completely alter your existence and bring you to your idealised life in your home? It’s hard not to be excited by these ideas and, having read both books twice, it appears eminently practical too.
She drills down on real life challenges, material and human, and includes some toe-curling interpersonal moments regarding, for example, the influence of mothers on creating hoarding daughters. What sold it all to me, was her words on why to keep and why to ditch.
To illustrate why I, like so many others, love these books, here’s some chapter headings for a tease (I really don’t want to spoil this read for you): “Tidying is the act of confronting yourself — cleaning is the act of confronting nature.” Another gem: “Plan storage with the idea of getting rid of furniture used for storage.” My personal favourite has to be: “The basic rule of papers: discard everything.”
What about the second book, Spark Joy? Well, treat yourself to both (they don’t take up more room than a tissue box), because, despite Kondo’s assertion that this is not a technique, Spark Joy is packed with the know-how of the KonMari method, and plenty of further incentives to keep going to the end of the super tidy.
Illustrated with delightful line drawings, she covers the minutia of everything to do with identifying things to keep (the emphasis here is important) and how to enjoy those things around you that “spark joy” when you look at them. It’s a mission to create personal scenery and rid yourself of the superfluous.
Learn how to fold knickers, store food, how to handle the sub-categories of komono (miscellaneous things) and how to put your history in order by taking on pieces that hold an emotional charge or rarity.
Her advice on how to throw out a soft toys by laying a cloth over the eyes and scattering the bags with salt to release their “spirits” did not convince my sentimental little vandal, but she stole both books away, and (drum roll) completely cleaned her room.
She told me that Marie Kondo made her realise — and the child is 12 — that throwing away things does not add up to throwing away your past. Arigat¯ou gozaimashita (thank you), a new order has begun.
The Life -Changing Magic of Tidying and Spark Joy (€19.99) are both published by Vermillion/Ebury Press. See: konmari.com