The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up // by Marie Kondo

//published 2014//

As usual, I’m running a bit behind on reading these trendy books, but I finally got around to seeing what Kondo’s book is all about.  While I was familiar with her overall vibe/message, it was interesting to read more of the details of her method.  However, I found myself disagreeing with her fairly frequently, as her method is quite extreme and, I think, in many ways and for many people, completely impractical.

So, in essence, the KonMarie Method involves purging a LOT of stuff – she recommends around 75% – and only keeping things that are absolute necessities and/or things that “spark joy” to you.  There were parts of this that I liked, and parts of it that I didn’t like.  In the pro column, I actually think going through everything you own and literally handling it and thinking about whether or not you need it is a GREAT idea.  Tom and I spent our first five Christmases in five different houses, so basically once a year we had to go through all our belongings and decide whether or not it was worth packing.  Now that we’ve lived in the same house since 2014, I’m amazed at how easily things pile up!!!  There are definitely areas of this house that I NEED to go through!  I also really liked the way that Kondo suggested starting with things less likely to be emotional and then working your way up – so starting with things like clothes and tackling things like mementoes and knickknacks after you have become more “in tune” with what genuinely sparks joy to you.  She also had some great thoughts on letting go of things that we’re only keeping because we feeling “guilty” about them – usually things that were gifts – by reminding her readers that those items have already served a purpose for you: they were given to you so that the person who gifted them could show you that they love you, and that gift has already done that, so you can pass it out of your life without feeling bad.  And while I’m not sure I’m ready to start actually thanking physical items for being there for me (I’d rather thank God for giving them to me) her overall thoughts on gratitude being foundational to contentment really resonated.

But in the cons column – I think Kondo is a little too cavalier with how much needs to be purged from the average person’s life.  To start with, there is somewhat a presumption of wealth – not that all of her clients/readers are wealthy, per se, but that they don’t need to be watching their pennies, because she seems to think it’s perfectly reasonable to get rid of, say, all your writing utensils and then just buy a new one whenever the need arises.  Okay, that kind of makes sense because I’m sure I have more pens than I need – but also why would I get rid of all of them and then keep buying new ones one at a time for the rest of the my life??  The same thing with clothes.  She thinks you should get rid of all the clothes that don’t spark joy for you, but then acts like all of her readers would be able to perfectly afford to replace the non-joy clothes with joy clothes.  So I’ve gotten rid of all my serviceable, if boring, tshirts and now I’m supposed to go shopping for just those few perfect joy ones??  The same with small kitchen appliances – just get rid of that blender, and then later if you decide you need one after all, you can go buy a new one!  In a budgetary sense, I’m not sure I can completely get behind her reasoning.

Next, I think Kondo gets a little carried away with deciding things have served their purpose so we don’t need them any more.  For instance, she thinks you can get rid of all your photographs because we “never look at them anyway” and they’ve served their purpose already, because the purpose, according to her, is to capture that moment at the moment – taking the photograph is just a way of recognizing that moment’s importance at the time.  What?!  First off, I actually do look at our photos a lot, especially the ones I’ve taken the time to put into photo books.  I also love looking at photos at my parents’ house and remembering bits of childhood and the past that otherwise would have been completely forgotten.  Yes, those photo albums take up a lot of space, but I’m not convinced that it’s wasted space??

It was the same with things like books.  Obviously I’m a bit obsessive about books, but I found myself wondering if Kondo actually reads???  She doesn’t see any sense in keeping books around because if you’ve read it, the book is now inside of you so you don’t need it any more.  She went on to tell a story about how she realized that she was keeping some books because they had certain passages that resonated with her, but she realized she didn’t need the whole book just to keep those underlined parts so she cut the books apart and pasted those lines into a notebook.  Of course, in the end she was decided she never looked through that notebook after all, so she could get rid of that, too.  But the wanton destruction of perfectly good books just really got to me – cutting them up meant that she had turned them into literal garbage that no one else could ever read, either.  Her whole section on books horrified me on so many levels.  I actually put down her book and went to find my husband just so I could rant to him about it!

I guess to me, a lot of Kondo’s advice felt wasteful.  Just like cutting up the books – while she does talk about giving stuff away, a lot of times she seems perfectly fine with rendering something useless for anyone else (by keeping the part you “need”) and just trashing it.  And while there is a balance of getting rid of stuff you are extremely unlikely to use again, I don’t feel like just purging your house of literally everything and then rebuying the stuff you decide you actually need is going to be particularly practical for a lot of us.

A final area that has stuck with me all this time as being just utter nonsense was the way she approached, for lack of a better word, prepping.  In Kondo’s world, you don’t need a back-up tube of toothpaste, because you can just got get a new one when that one runs out!  You don’t need an extra pack of toilet paper, because the store is just around the corner!  Why would you have more than one box of cereal when you can pick out one when this one is empty?  First off, she is obviously writing as a city person – it takes me 20 minutes to get to the grocery store from here, so yes, I do buy more than what I need at a time because I can’t just stop off at the story every freaking day of my life.  I also think that in light of the supply chain issues that are still ongoing, her advice is completely wrong.  I’d rather have a cluttered pantry with six months’ of food on hand than one that’s empty at the same time the grocery shelves are.  The truth is, you can’t always just run out to the store and buy something new exactly when you need it.  Sometimes it’s impractical to get to the store, and sometimes the store doesn’t have what you need.  I didn’t like Kondo’s attitude that stores just always are magically there and well-stocked every time you need them, and that if you have more than one back-up, you’re a secret hoarder who needs to recognize that it’s somehow unhealthy to have more than one pack of paper towels in your closet.

In the end, I think that home organization, like life, is about balance, and I didn’t find the KonMarie Method to be balanced for me.  I can see why her concepts resonate with a lot of people, but I felt like she focused way too much on just getting rid of everything as the solution to all of life’s problems.  But here’s the thing – while maybe not every single individual book on my shelves specifically sparks joy, the essence of that many books in my home does.  And yes, I do need to get rid of some of them, and I am as I read (or reread) through them, but I’m not going to trash every unread book in my home because it’s been here more than a year, like Kondo suggests.  I don’t see myself dumping my photo albums because they’re taking up precious space, getting rid of all the fun odds and ends we’ve collected on vacations, or getting rid of all my backstock of pantry items.  I also think that if you have problems with staying organized and keeping your house tidy, those problems won’t go away just because you’ve gotten rid of everything.  The mess may not be as big, but truthfully you can still make a mess even with just the necessities.  I never felt like Kondo really gave me a solution beyond getting rid of stuff.

This book was still a completely worthwhile read.  Tom and I talked about it a lot and really enjoyed debating the merits of different aspects of her method.  There were definitely some aspects of what she had to say that I found useful and have applied to my life.  But as far as this being an end-all to my organization/clutter troubles – this one wasn’t the solution for me.