I have to admit that until a few weeks ago, I had never heard of Marie Kondo. So if you haven’t heard of her, don’t worry. She isn’t a popular singer or actress. She is even bigger than that. She is the queen of tidiness.
To be precise, the 34-year-old Japanese woman is an organizing consultant. She helps people organize and tidy up their homes. She has written four books on organizing, but like many people, I came to know her through her Netflix show: “Marie Kondo Throws All Your Things Away.”
Actually, the show is called “Tidying up with Marie Kondo,” and in each episode, Kondo visits an American family and helps them declutter their homes. She has a unique method that seems to appeal to many people. I’ve been so taken by her approach that whenever my doorbell rings, I keep hoping it’s Marie Kondo. But it’s usually just the UPS man, delivering more clutter.
Our home isn’t particularly messy, but we could certainly dispose of a lot of things and not miss them at all. Clothing is at the top of this list and, not coincidentally, it’s what Kondo tackles first when she helps people organize their homes. She gets them to put all their clothes in a single pile. Then, as they take one garment in their hands at a time, she makes them ask this question: “Does this spark joy?” If a shirt or dress does not spark any joy, it gets donated or discarded. If it sparks joy, it gets to stay in the home, even if it hasn’t been worn since 1984.
I haven’t yet put myself through this task, but if I did, I’d probably be left with just a pair of socks. My younger daughter bought me warm, comfortable socks for Christmas and I love wearing them. They certainly spark joy in me. So much joy that I feel like walking outside wearing nothing but socks. But then I’d get arrested – and that would not spark any joy at all.
My wife, Malathi, owns far more clothes than I do. I don’t think she has ever put her clothes in a single pile, but if she ever did, it would spark immense joy in me. I’d take photos and share them online. But then I’d have to find a new place to live – and that would not spark any joy at all.
After helping people discard many of their clothes, Kondo shows them how to fold the rest into small rectangles, so they can be arranged neatly in drawers and other spaces. It seems like a great idea, but to do it consistently takes a lot of discipline and effort. I’d probably give up after a week or two, unless Kondo plans to show up randomly at people’s homes and crack the whip.
The second types of possessions that Kondo focuses on are books. Many people accumulate books almost as fast as James Patterson writes them. My wife owns a thousand books or so. She is an avid reader, but if she plans to read them all in her lifetime, she will definitely set a Guinness World Record for oldest living person. Kondo apparently recommends not owning more than 30 books. But I don’t think even Kondo can get Malathi to downsize her book collection, not without the danger of having “War and Peace” flung at her.
The hardest items for people to discard are the sentimental ones – items that spark warm memories, if not joy. Photographs, report cards, wedding invitations and expired ID cards are among the many items we hold onto. They tell the stories of our lives and tossing them away is like tossing away one of our children, but without the benefit of a lower food bill. (No, I didn’t just read Hansel and Gretel to my kids.)
Kondo forces people to assess each sentimental item and decide if it still brings them joy. “These wedding photos are from 1985,” she says. “Do you really want to keep them or would you rather just keep the photos from your more recent weddings?”
In the end, it’s important for us to realize that if something does not bring us joy, it’s not worth keeping. Better to donate it, sell it or discard it, hoping that it will bring joy to another being, even if it’s just a worm in the landfill.