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.

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Comments

  1. I love this! Agree with you 100%

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