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.

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

 

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?

Letting go without context

Some people struggle to declutter because they need context. Without it, they feel they can’t let go.

By context I mean that someone is decluttering their study and they find an egg-flip. The person doesn’t know if they have any other egg-flips, or how many they have, so they can’t make a decision to discard that egg-flip. They keep it, and then weeks later have the same dilemma when they find another egg-flip somewhere else. Was it the same one? Do I only have one? Or do I h…ave more, and can I safely donate this one? Usually the uncertainty is too high so they choose to keep it.

There is one obvious solution to this – declutter by category. Grab all your egg-flips, put them in one place and then declutter. Marie Kondo has borrowed this method for her book and it can be very helpful.

Unfortunately, it’s only helpful for people with low-to-medium levels of clutter or for relatively organised homes (ie, all your items are contained to one to three rooms per category, like clothes or toys). It’s completely useless for people with high or hoarding levels. I mean, how on earth do you find all of your batteries in the whole house when you can’t even open the cupboards or see the floor?

So my poor clients are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They can’t discard because they fear discarding too many or the wrong ones, and they can’t find the rest to help facilitate the decision-making.

The solution I recommend (understanding how hard it is) is to just forget the context. Forget the others, forget the maybes, just declutter as much as you possibly can, knowing that if you make a mistake, you’ll still be okay and your main goal of being in control of your belongings is more important than trying to avoid having to buy a $3 egg-flip from KMart.

That’s the key – knowing you’ll still be okay no matter what choice you make. Because you will, I promise.

Decluttering affirmations

Some decluttering affirmations for you to use when things get tough:

 

I am enough. I don’t need stuff to define me.

I have enough. I am blessed with all I have.

If I make a mistake and cull something I regret, I’ll still be okay.

I am safe.

People are more important than stuff.

Culling is not wasteful. Keeping things without using them is wasteful.

I’ll be okay. Everything will be okay, no matter what I do.

 

These are useful things to remind yourself of when you’re trying to reduce your belonging and finding it a bit difficult.

5 Clutter-Enablers to Keep Your Eye On

I was with a  client recently and I was holding a catalogue that she asked me to toss in the recycling. I looked down as I tossed it in the bin and I saw a product on the back and my first thought was “Oh! That looks handy!” and started to think about where I’d put it and who’d use it in the house and where.  My next thought, thankfully,  was “For goodness sake, Rebecca, you don’t need a jigsaw-puzzle mat”.

But still, I was sucked into creating a need in my mind based on seeing a picture of something. I didn’t need nor want a jigsaw mat until I saw it. Sucked in, Mezzino!

So it got me thinking about ways we accidentally allow need to be created in our minds where it didn’t exist before. Here’s some of them that might be familiar:

1) Home shopping networks and catalogues – the culprit that got me.  There’s one here in Australia that is particularly enticing because it has clever gadgets that spark your imagination. The issue is that they are very specific products, made for narrow purposes, which means you have a lot of products doing just one thing each. There are common things like avocado slicers (which slice nothing but an avocado) or garlic crushers (again, just for garlic) or more unusual items like an egg cuber (makes a square egg, of course). They create need where there is no real need (got a knife? There’s your avo slicer and garlic crusher in one!).

2) Sales. Marketers know very well that when we shop we buy stuff based on emotion and we justify the purchase with logic (after the fact most shoe saleof the time). And when we shop in sales, the weight of emotion is stronger. We get a kick out of getting something for nothing. For getting something for less than what someone else may have paid. Then after the purchase, there’s more logic to back up the decision – “But I got $200 shoes for only $100!”. Nope. Discounts are not a real thing. They are something that masks the fact that you spent $100 on something you probably didn’t need. Something you won’t really use and will eventually have to discard (which can hurt for some). So you didn’t save $100, you wasted $100. Of course, you can buy stuff on sale, and you can save money, but only if you intended to buy that item before you saw it, and you were prepared to pay full price. That’s the only time you actually save money on a sale.

3) Charity auctions. You can accidentally spend money on things you don’t need because you can justify it by the thought that the money is going somewhere good, or that you were going to buy something like that anyway. Be careful; if you have clutter issues, it’s best you just make a donation.

4) “Clubs”, party plan and purchasing schemes. I had a client that was part of a scrap-booking group. There were three tiers to membership, each involving a compulsory purchase of materials each month. She felt like she’d be letting down the organiser if she dropped down a tier or two, but didn’t want the stuff and it was literally filling up her house. Any time you’re required to make a purchase in order to fulfil a commitment, run away!

5) Shopping as entertainment. When you shop for the fun of it, you are more likely to impulse-purchase. You are more likely to buy things just because they’re on sale or cheap, or they’re pretty. Shopping is a helpful activity when it’s done mindfully – when you know what you want and you don’t buy anything that’s not on your list (mental or otherwise – I always have a mental list of things I need, and sometimes write a specific one for that particular shopping excursion).  If you deviate from the list, you’re probably collecting clutter.

Do you know of any other sneaky clutter-enablers?

 

Five habits of clutter-free people

Here are five things that clutter-free people make a habit of:

1. They acquire mindfully; only buying something if they know they need it and have identified a specific use for it. They happily pay full price because they know it’s of value to them (unless they find it’s conveniently on sale when they go to buy it) and avoid sales and being enticed by discounts. They only acquire something if they know where they’re going to put it, and that it fits there easily.

2. They have hobbies that either don’t require a lot of stuff, they set boundaries around how much of the hobby stuff they can have, or they limit their hobbies to a small number (like one or two). Or all of the above! They are satisfied without trying to do everything all at once.

3. They are okay with letting things go. They put themselves first and don’t keep things out of guilt or obligation. They don’t take everyone else’s problems on as their own. They have their emotional needs met by a small selection of sentimental possessions only, rather than keeping them all.

4. They don’t have a fear of missing out. They know that they’re always missing out on something, so why fight it? They are comfortable in the knowledge that they can’t have and do everything, and that if they tried, it wouldn’t result in happiness.

5. They base their self-worth around things other than their belongings. They know that even without all their stuff, they’ll still be okay.  Their happiness does not depend on having things. They trust that if culling something means one day forgetting something, that they’ll still be okay. They trust that even if they one day regret culling something, they’ll still be okay.

Perhaps you can see ways you might be able to create some clutter-free habits, too?

Churning (or: Why You’re Getting Nowhere)

Sometimes you think you’re working really hard at trying to gain control of your clutter, but you find you make no progress.

deck-chairs-on-TitanicYou are constantly sorting and organising, tidying and moving things around in an effort to gain order and be able to find your stuff when you want it, and have clear surfaces, but you don’t get anywhere.

No sooner do you clear a spot than you turn around and it’s full again.

“Whhhyyyyy??!??!!?” I hear you wail….

Here’s why – you’re just churning, or as my best friend puts it, “moving deck chairs on the Titanic”

Churning is the act of sorting, categorising, grouping into piles or sections and then having to do it again when the piles all merge together after a few days or weeks.

You need to stop churning and face the reality that the only way you’re going to gain control is to reduce the volume of your possessions. That means letting go of things you don’t need, use or love – and even some things you do.

Unless things actually leave the house, it’s just churning and you’re going to get nowhere.

freelancer web developer