My thoughts on Marie Kondo and “Tidying Up”

I’ve been asked my opinion on Marie Kondo’s show and her method a lot lately. So I have gathered my thoughts in this post (and also recorded two podcast episodes on it!). I’m not really a huge KonMari advocate, but I’m definitely not a complete detractor either. I think it has merit, but with a few warnings.

I have tried to watch her show both as a person who owns stuff and lives in a house, as well as from the perspective of a professional who has been doing what she does for close to 15 years now.

As a regular person, I was profoundly affected by the respect for the home, the greeting of the home as a spiritual practice, and the respect for the belongings. I have an uncluttered home, but I don’t have the reverence for my belongings that she promotes and I was inspired to change that. I actually cried when she greeted the first home, and get emotional every time. I think I’m in the minority among POs with this opinion – many of my colleagues found my admission rather amusing! But I think we could all do with more gratitude and respect for our homes and our belongings. Perhaps it would translate into more respect for each other and our environment; I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all.

I was inspired by her calm manner and the deliberate way she speaks, moves and touches things. She seems very sweet and genuine – I couldn’t help but like her. I know some don’t like it, but the cute jumping and smiling didn’t bother me at all, it was endearing to me. I’d happily allow her in my home and let her walk on my counter tops.

Conversely, I felt that if I wanted to do her method, I could, but I felt there wasn’t enough information on how to make decisions. I know how to myself as I do it for a living, but if I didn’t, I think I would have had MANY questions that weren’t answered. At one point when a woman who had insisted on keeping everything at the start of the show then later said “I don’t need to keep everything” I shouted at the television “HOW? How did you come to that conclusion? I want to know!!!”. Decluttering is ALL ABOUT DECISION-MAKING and it was not covered thoroughly enough.

I found the show a little boring at times. I was interested in the psychology but it was glossed over a bit and there was more time spent on the people on their own than with Kondo and her insights. And some processes were repeated in every episode at the expense of others.

Her paperwork system lacked a LOT in the way of detail – it definitely wouldn’t work for me. Pending, Important (what’s not important and if it’s not, why is it kept?) and Miscellaneous (shudder) as categories just don’t cut it.

There should also have been more focus on not acquiring. How to make decisions when shopping, how to talk to family members about gift giving, why we shop etc.

As professional, I like how the whole family is included – this is something I promote too as much as possible. It didn’t promote perfection as much as I’d expected and I loved how the homes were still real (and not “furniture catalogue”) when they were “finished”. I like how the people were made responsible for doing it, not anyone else. They have homework and are held accountable.

There are steps to follow, which is really helpful for viewers overall. After the first three categories it gets very vague, however, and they get left with little guidance. But steps are a good start.

It’s inspiring, even if not quite instructional enough. I got up and immediately cleaned out my bin drawer that I’d been putting off! I apologised to my house for letting it get so grotty (I’m uncluttered, but I can be rather lazy!).

Now for my professional doubts. Firstly, as mentioned previously, you can’t see them getting help making decisions. “Does it spark joy?” can’t be the only question they ask themselves as it won’t work for all items. I did see her asking some different questions but it was very brief and vague and glossed over. The most challenging part of decluttering is decision-making and it’s not done justice.

The participants are shown to be left alone when overwhelmed and distressed. This can be quite detrimental if it happens in real life.

They are working on it every day, all day for a month. This is not explained properly and some viewers desperate to overcome their clutter might think it’s a manageable time-frame. If you work and have young children, there’s no way the whole house can get done in a month, especially things like paperwork, garages and photographs.

There’s few tips on where things can go or how to dispose of them, that’s a bit thin.

It’s not very practical to put all the clothes on the bed in one big pile, or every book in the house on the living room floor. Psychologically it’s often helpful to see the volume (although for some it would just be overwhelming), but it’s not practical. Most people don’t have all day to clear it off, and then it ends up on the floor and in a mess again to be re-sorted. Also, many people who need help have no space to put all their stuff together in one spot (if you can’t see the floor or the bed, what do you do?) AND they have their stuff stashed in several places and many they don’t know about. Getting all their books together is virtually impossible. Hopefully viewers understand there are definitely other ways to declutter than the “all together” method.

It won’t work for everyone, and I wish that was communicated more. She seems so confident in her method that she doesn’t really cater for the differences in people, and the extremely high prevalence of mental illness in cluttered homes.

The charities all were happy to receive their goods. This is NOT my experience and I do many many charity runs – a few a week. Charities are overloaded and picky and often rude and ungrateful. Getting rid of the stuff is a LOT harder than it is portrayed. This will result in many homes full of things “to go”.

Again, there isn’t enough talk about acquiring. Why did they have those items? Why did they feel they were important? How did they arrive and why did they get purchased and never used? How can they stop the influx?

There is no investigation into the WHY – why they have so much stuff, why they have trouble parting with it, why they keep acquiring.

In the show’s defense, I feel many that write off the show or Kondo’s method don’t look at it through any lens other than their own. They find it silly, so it’s silly. They find it too easy, or too hard, or too boring, or too shallow, so they tell everyone that’s what it is.

Many opinions are formed without watching the show properly, or reading the book. Many opinions are formed based on a misunderstanding of the literally translated terms and the differences in culture. There area a lot of opinions that are based on thinly veiled racism.

“Spark joy” is ridiculed by many (and I’m not immune – I’ve been known to say that for many people, everything “sparks joy”) but perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to ridicule it because what we are hearing is not exactly what she means. She doesn’t really mean joy in the sense we mean it, she means a sense of excitement, of “throb”. It’s not “does this make me happy?”, it’s more like “does it promote a strong feeling, bordering on urge or excitement, of wanting to use it?”. We still may disagree if we could translate it properly, but we should at least be aware of this issue.

I definitely do not think this show is a bad thing, and I think it can properly inspire people to live more intentionally. Of course, it won’t be for some, but as with everything else, there is never one thing to suit everyone. I love watching The Walking Dead on TV but I’d never insist that everyone should watch it, and the show itself doesn’t come under criticism for not being a show everyone would love. Why then, is Kondo’s? I think in part it’s because of her fans – they are VERY loyal and some people find that annoying. What Konverts need to understand is that what works for them shouldn’t be shoved down everyone else’s throats – it worked for you, that’s really awesome, just don’t insist it will change everyone else’s lives as well.

For people for whom this method doesn’t work on you, don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone, and there are loads of other methods of decluttering you can try. I have written a whole book just for people who find that “Does it spark joy?” is no help at all, and there are hundreds more out there, as well as professionals that can come to your home and help you in a way that works for you.

So take it as it is – a show you can choose to watch, or a show you can choose to not watch. And take from it what you will, and don’t worry if there’s only a few things, or even nothing, you can take from it.

I’ll take from it a need for more respect for my home, which compliments my existing philosophies of intentional living. I think that’s a good thing.

Future You and Past You – are you ignoring them?

Why do we treat our future selves so badly sometimes? And why don’t we trust our past selves?
 
I was just thinking about this because I decided to set myself a calendar reminder to do something (marketing stuff – boring!) once a month. I thought that was a good thing for my future self – she’ll be glad I reminded her of something she should be doing but always forgets to.
 
My first thought was “I’ll probably ignore it” (as I usually do).
 
Do you do this? How many reminders pop up on your phone or PC and you select “Dismiss all” every time without reading them?
 
My next thought was “I wouldn’t ignore someone else’s advice, why do I ignore my own??!”.
 
Doing that task monthly is a GOOD IDEA. I know it is, that’s why I want to set the reminder. But then when I get the reminder, I’ll think “Meh, whatever”.
 
I will not trust my past self enough to do what she said. I will not respect my future self enough to put in some work for her so that her SEO doesn’t drop away.
 
So I’m going to write that reminder, and schedule it. And in it I will write in caps: “STOP DISRESPECTING YOURSELF”. Maybe that will remind me of how important that task really is!

The culture of “better” is hurting us

It might be because of the hundreds of homes we either declutter or empty every year, but I am very, very aware of the amount of stuff that our culture is wasting.

Our culture of “better” is toxic to say the least. We are made to believe that unless we have a home that is in fashion, we have failed somehow. That we can’t have “ugly” things or old thing, or things that don’t match (side note: what you bought last week will be ugly to you or someone else one day but you think it’s gorgeous now – what does that say about us??).

We at Clear Space send TONS of furniture to Auction Houses and charities every month. Literally tons. It’s all perfectly usable and the supply really does outnumber the demand, which means that even quite usuable stuff is often rejected by all and ends up in landfill.

But despite the massive supply to second-hand places, how many people ever consider buying second-hand?

Most people think “Why would you, when a new one is $5 from Kmart or $15 from IKEA and it’s “modern” and pretty?

I beg you to rethink this obsession with fashion. I beg you to rethink this obsession with buying cheap stuff and replacing it frequently with more cheap stuff.

There’s some amazing secondhand stuff available if you just take the time to look. I can virtually guarantee you that a 50yo, $30 coffee table will last longer than the $250 new one you buy.

Embrace sustainable purchasing, embrace “old is new”, embrace the idea that what you have is good enough and doesn’t need to be “upgraded”.

Let’s not fall for the Culture of Better.

When Adult Children Clutter Your Life

A lot of our clients that are trying to downsize have stuff in their homes that belong to their adult children.  The stuff has been kept for various reasons. Sometimes the offspring have asked for it to be kept for them, and other times the parent has chosen to keep them to pass on one day.

The first category is the most difficult one to deal with because it’s not often voluntary on the part of the parent. I find that my clients have a conundrum – do they store the stuff for their child even though it impacts on their life, or do they risk upsetting or inconveniencing their child by asking for it to be removed?

A lot of parents will feel guilty for requesting that the stuff be taken away. I hear things like “they don’t have much space” or “it will cost a lot to ship it”. They are still looking after their kids, and I can understand that. It’s not helpful though!

I notice that the parents assume responsibility for the items rather than assigning responsibility to the owners of the items. They forget that they are grown-ups who are quite capable of looking after themselves. I love it when the children are helpful and immediately help by removing the items, but I do get disappointed when others unhelpfully drag their feet, refuse to act and make their parents feel guilty. I want to say “They have sacrificed so much for you! Help them live a clutter-free retirement, please!”.

My advice is always pretty consistent – ship it out! If the adult children can’t afford to transport it, they need to choose to de-own it. If they can’t fit it in their homes, they choose to de-own it or pay for storage. They are the ones that need to be making the decisions but either way, it needs to leave their parent’s house.

 

 

What’s your “Getting Home From Shopping” routine?

When you arrive home from shopping, laden down with bags, what’s the first thing do you do with the stuff?

a) put the bags on the nearest horizontal surface
b) put the bags in whichever cupboard they fit
c) unpack the bags and put the stuff whenever it fits…
d) unpack the bags and put all purchases in their homes, culling existing items if the new ones don’t fit.

Most of my clients have the habits of a, b and c. They’re not wrong, lazy, messy or stupid ways to do it, but they are unhelpful. They cause clutter, waste and disorganisation. They are also a result of excess acquiring.

Firstly, if you don’t have room to put your purchases away then perhaps you need to cull more and buy less. Secondly, if you aren’t excited about using the item (and instead leave it in the bag to be lost in the clutter) then perhaps it wasn’t really needed and was bought on impulse.

Sometime a habit is a by-product of another habit. The unopened bags are a result of not shopping mindfully and intentionally; fix the shopping habits and you will fix the bag issues.

It requires more than decluttering

There’s always a lot of talk about decluttering as the Solver of All Woes.
 
We’re told that if we throw out a lot of stuff, we’ll be happy.
 
That’s not incorrect per se; I truly believe that with less stuff comes less complexity and stress, but decluttering is a medium-term benefit, not long-term (and organising is short term!).
 
By decluttering, we are ridding ourselves of all the things that weigh us down and complicate our lives. But if that’s the only thing we do, then we’ll have to keep decluttering forever, and we’ll still have big impact on our environment and culture.
 
What is better, is a change in acquisition habits over the long term.
 
What we don’t buy today, what we don’t get given as gifts, what we don’t grab on sale, what we don’t “save” from kerbside waste, will not need to be decluttered later.
 
The items we choose to repair instead of discard, to purchase from ethical and sustainable suppliers, to buy based on the material’s end-of-life destination, to buy second-hand, will not end up in landfill at the same rate it will for lesser quality goods.
 
So yes, declutter, but also please, put into action some new habits and lifestyle changes so that in five years time, you’re not still decluttering madly nor sending a lot of unnecessary items to landfill.
 
Some habits to try could be;
* only buying what you need
* avoiding sales
* saving up for things instead of using a credit card
* largely ignoring clothing and decor trends (they’re just there to make you consume more and then you produce more waste)
* buying fewer items that are higher quality, repairable, and are produced ethically and sustainably
* giving experiences as gifts
* not accepting “free stuff”
* buying second-hand when you do need something
* showing your love with presence instead of presents
* avoiding the “disposable” mentality
* keep things until they fall apart or are no longer serving you, not just because there’s a “newer” version
 
You don’t need to be “perfect”, and do all these things (I certainly don’t always) but any small attempts you make now will reward you and our planet significantly in the future.

There’s nothing wrong with who you are right now

You know, I don’t subscribe to the “achievement” agenda. The “be your best” and “overcome mediocrity” war-cries.

I’m tired of all the “You can do better, you can have better, you can be better” motivational lines.

I am sick of everyone feeling like a failure because they aren’t the best. When did just living a mediocre or modest life become disdainful? My Dad didn’t climb the corporate ladder. He pretty much had the same job for 30 years. Others rose above him, and he kept working in his lab or in the field, quietly, brilliantly and unassumedly. And one day someone named a building after him (much to his embarrassment!).  You don’t need to appear to be the best to have an impact on the world (you also don’t need a building named after you either, it was just an example of people admiring and appreciating you even if you aren’t “out there” or rich or famous).

You don’t need an Instagram face or body. You don’t need to look 20 years younger than you actually are (as one of my friends put it, if there’s nothing wrong with being 40, why is there so much ‘wrong’ with looking 40?). Your loved-ones won’t look back on their photos and see your Mummy Tummy or bald spot. They’ll just be happy to be setting eyes on someone they love.

The only thing I think we should be more of is compassionate and kind. And even then, if you don’t want to be, that’s noone’s business but yours.

You’re good enough. You’re loved already. You’re part of something wonderful already.

You don’t need to set lofty goals, be the best, be the first, be the only. You don’t need wealth, just some security. You don’t need to be extra fit or have an extreme approach to life.

Just stand outside with your face to the sun and try to argue that you need to be, do or have more. You have so much already.

The “zone” method of decluttering

When we help clients downsize their homes, or help with an estate clearance, one method we advocate of cluttering and sorting the home is to use zones.

When it’s us that’s clearing the home, we help the client create an “unwanted” zone, where they put everything they don’t want.  Given that we are experienced at knowing what is sell-able, donate-able or just recyclable, we encourage them to not throw anything away, but just to put it in the Unwanted Zone. Then we go through it and sort it into where it will ultimately end up.

But you don’t need us to do this. If you have a large clearance to do, you, too, can also use the zone method. When your Unwanted Zone is full, you then ferry things off to the charities, or the auction house, or other family members and then you go back and start filling it again.

If you work systematically through each room in the home, leaving the wanted items where they are and putting the unwanted items into the Unwanted Zone, you also eliminate a lot of double-handling that can come from shifting items from room to room, or re-sorting something you’ve already gone through.

 

 

7 reasons why paying full price is a good thing

I openly advocate paying full price and avoiding “bargain hunting”. Of course, people ask me why on earth I would possibly want to do such a crazy thing, so here’s why!

1) It makes you stop and think before you buy. It puts in that little delay that gives your mind a chance to catch up with your heart. We buy on emotion and justify later with logic. We need to short-circuit that. We need to think “Do I really NEED this?” before “Oooh! 40% off! How could I NOT buy this? I’m sure I’ll find a use for it”.

2) You value the item more. You aren’t going to spend a lot of money on something you don’t value, and you don’t value something you don’t spend a lot of money on. You will care for it, repair it instead of discard it, love it, nurture it. It will last longer.

3) The item will be used. You are far more likely to use something if you have paid full price, because you are less likely to compromise. Shoes are half a size too small and not in your colour? Well that’s okay because it’s 40% off and therefore only $35. Then they never get worn because they hurt your feet and don’t match anything you own. But if you’re spending $140 on a pair of shoes, you’re not going to walk out unless they are absolutely bloody perfect.

4) You buy less items because you are spending more on each one. Your home is therefore less cluttered. Less clutter equals less maintenance, equals more time for rest/play.

5) You can’t use the bargain to justify the purchase. You have to use something else to justify it. It makes you more accountable. It makes you think hard about the item, its value, its usefulness, its versatility, its quality.

6) You become more discerning about ‘cheaper’ items. You question discounts, you question manufacturing ethics and the environment. You become a more responsible consumer and when we have more responsible consumers, we have more responsible suppliers.

7) You buy intentionally. You don’t only buy on Black Friday (or if you do, it’s something you placed on your “want to buy when it’s on sale because I’ve thought long and hard about it and don’t have to rush to get it” list months before). Your trigger to purchase isn’t a sale, or a rack, or a sign out the front, or a catalogue. Your trigger to buy is a NEED.

The need for a “good home” – is it holding you back?

Why do we tend to NEED our unwanted belongings to “go to a good home”? What is the rationale behind that?

I think this is something we need to unpack, because it holds us back from achieving our goals.

Why does it matter what happens to belongings that we no longer need or want? What is it that makes us care? Is it something to do with our sense of self? That by discarding something in a “careless” way challenges our sense of who we are?

Or is it because we project our history into items? Or because we personalise our belongings and treat them as though they have feelings?

All of the above?

Are these valid beliefs? Are they truths or are they fabrications? Are we creating an obstacle?

Just think. If you didn’t care what happened to your stuff once it left your house, how much more free would you feel? If you didn’t need it to go to a “good home” (what does that mean anyway?), then how much clearer would your home be?

I’m not saying it’s a wrong belief or feeling (there are no such things – we feel what we feel), but I’m saying it’s well worth unpacking and looking at it from a different perspective. Because although it might not be wrong, it certainly can be unhelpful.

Oh, and on the “good home” thing. Is it currently IN a “good home”? Is it being lovingly stored, used, admired? Or is it shoved in the back of a cupboard or under a pile of clothes? So if you don’t give it a good home, why is it so important that it goes to one?

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