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The KonMari method is tidying guru Marie Kondo’s simple yet revolutionary approach to tackling clutter in your home. In this article, we break down the method into usable steps and evaluate whether its recent criticism is warranted.
Marie Kondo first released her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, in English in 2014. ‘Spark Joy’, an illustrated guide to tidying has since followed. Her series of books have now sold over 10 million copies worldwide, the first has been developed into a Netflix show and has helped Kondo develop a lifestyle brand and a band of trained cleaning consultants.
Many chalk up the success of the KonMari Method to simplicity; the concept of tidying by category, rather than location and only keeping things that truly make you happy. Her radiant personality also makes her rather likeable. Unlike many TV programmes that put cluttered homes (and their owners) under the microscope, Kondo comes across as kind, graceful and compassionate in the popular Netflix series.
As we become more considered in what we buy, reflecting on the impact of fast fashion and clothing production on the environment, as well as the waste we generate, the KonMari Method of focusing on what we truly love can be a useful tool. In addition to creating order, it can help us feel gratitude for what we have and make us more conscious of what we buy going forward.
The KonMari Method: Rules of Tidying Up
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by category, not by location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
1. Commit Yourself to Tidying Up
The KonMari Method encourages you to tidy as completely and quickly as possible, finishing each category, rather than reorganising now and again or a little each day. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, she notes that, “the more time it takes, the more tired you feel, and the more likely you are to give up when you’re only halfway through”. Generally, she says, completing the process ‘quickly’ takes around six months.
2. Imagine your Ideal Lifestyle
To begin, Kondo encourages you to imagine the life you would like to have in the future. Items that don’t make you happy and don’t fit this vision of your ideal lifestyle are to be removed. She encourages you to ask yourself why you envisage that lifestyle.
3. Finish Discarding First
Starting with your clothes, take everything out and make one large pile. Kondo explains how collating everything creates a sense of shock that is important for spurring you on to discard items. It’s important to finishing throwing everything out before putting things away.
4. Tidy by Category, Not by Location
Kondo’s method focuses on tidying by five different categories, rather than by rooms of the house.
The KonMari order of tidying:
- Komono (miscellaneous items)
- Sentimental items
To make it easier, she suggests breaking down each category into further subcategories. For example, tops, jumpers, jeans etc. if you are organising clothing.
The komono category is one of the largest and contains a great variety of items. The KonMari Method suggest the following order to tackle komono, or encourages you to take one subcategory at a time:
- CDs and DVDs
- Valuables (credit cards, passports etc.)
- Electricals (cameras, wires etc.)
- Household equipment (sewing kits, writing materials etc.)
- House supplies (things that will be used up, like tissues, medicine etc.)
- Kitchen goods/food supplies
- Anything else remaining that does not fit into clothing, books, paper or sentimental items
You may need to create extra categories if you have certain hobbies that require a lot of equipment, such as skiing or cycling.
5. Follow the Right Order
The order is important with the KonMari process. By the time you reach the sentimental items, you are more in tune with what sparks joy for you. This means it should be easier to declutter your more meaningful possessions.
6. Ask Yourself if it Sparks Joy
The KonMari method involves physically embracing each item and determining whether it sparks joy for you. If it doesn’t, it’s discarded (ideally donated or recycled in some form). Before being discarded, each item is thanked for its purpose.
If you find something that doesn’t spark joy but you’re finding difficult to throw away, Kondo explains that it’s due to an attachment to the past or fear of the future. Either way and however painful, an important part of the process is facing these possessions.
“If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and ours fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us.”Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
Important Tidying Tips from The KonMari Method
- Use smaller boxes within larger boxes and drawers to create compartments. Sort items by size into the divided boxes so everything is easy to find.
- Every item should have a designated space which it always returns to.
- Store vertically wherever possible to be able to see everything at once in a drawer, just like books on a bookshelf. This means it’s easier to find items and more difficult to accidentally overbuy as you can quickly see how much you already have.
- Don’t scatter items that are the same in different places. Organise the same items together in one set location.
- Be considerate with hand-me-downs. Only give items to family members if they are in good condition and are something they would like and need. Kondo warns of ‘forcing things on to your family members because you can’t bring yourself to discard them’.
- Don’t keep clothing for loungewear or pyjamas that don’t spark joy. Kondo explains, “it doesn’t seem right to keep clothes we don’t enjoy for relaxing around the house.”
The KonMari Folding Method
Kondo’s penchant for vertical storage is particularly important for clothing. The KonMari folding method allows you to neatly see everything in your drawers at the same time. This makes it easier to choose what to wear and means your previous folding efforts weren’t futile because you don’t need to rummage to the bottom of the pile.
Worried about extra ironing? In her book, Kondo explains ‘it is not the number of folds but rather the amount of pressure applied that causes wrinkling’ and that piles of folded clothes act like a press. Highly tailored clothing or delicate fabrics, however, are best hung up.
Does the KonMari Method Work?
It’s claimed that none of the clients Kondo has personally helped have reverted back to their cluttered ways. In the book, she states, “Remember: the KonMari Method I describe in this book is not a mere set of rules on how to sort, organise, and put things away. It is a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person.”
However, some have criticised the Netflix show, including the Guardian’s Jack Seale, who claimed that it’s “dangerously close to being a show where a woman just tells people to tidy up” and that Kondo “barely does anything to help”. That might be because the the show intentionally doesn’t reach the dramatic heights we’ve come to expect from programmes like ‘How clean is your house?’ and other daytime entertainment about hoarding and clear outs.
But for those who miss the ‘life-changing magic’ in the KonMari Method as portrayed on Netflix, it’s recommended to read Kondo’s book for deeper context. In her own words, “the process of assessing how you feel about the things you own, identifying those that have fulfilled their purpose, expressing your gratitude and bidding them farewell is really about examining your inner self, a rite of passage to a new life”. Those who only see the method as getting your house in order are perhaps missing the true benefits of the process.
Another critique of the KonMari method came when people heard she keeps only around 30 different books and recommends throwing out books during the decluttering process. She has since explained that tidying is a personal preference and that 30 is a number that works for her, but doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. In fact, in her own book (in which she even says the reader can discard it if it doesn’t spark joy in the future), she importantly dismisses these sort of ‘yardsticks’ for tidying. These are akin to previous mantras for tidying, such as, ‘if you haven’t worn it in a year, discard it’ and so on. She encourages creating your own tidying standards, rather than relying on criteria set by others which are, in her view, too impersonal and result in ‘rebound’.
Kondo has also since clarified in an interview with IndieWire that when she says throw out unwanted books, she doesn’t mean literally burn them or put them in the bin. She confirmed, “I always recommend donating them, so if that’s part of the misunderstanding, then that’s certainly being mixed up.”
The KonMari method allows us to focus on what we love, rather than items that cause negativity. This, coupled with the likely knock-on effect of being more selective when shopping, makes Marie Kondo’s method all the more appealing as a way to help us reduce our environmental impact, especially when buying clothes. What is particularly refreshing is that Kondo believes that you can have as much or as little stuff as you want, so long as it all sparks joy. Her method, therefore, calmly holds your hand and guides you towards the realisation that you might need to change how you think about consumption. This is without forcing you to adopt a singular definition of perfection – something sometimes critiqued of minimalism.