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Kondo Konfusion

The decluttering business is booming and the person responsible is the petal-soft, teeny, tidy best-selling author Marie Kondo. I first wrote about Marie Kondo’s book in 2015 when it was published and later, in 2016, I wrote about people’s disillusionment with parts of her KonMari method. Here we are in 2019 and she’s back and more popular than ever with a show about tidying on Netflix. I usually love decluttering shows, but this one has me baffled.

I like some aspects of Kondo’s methodology. Only surround yourself with things that “spark joy” (although if I never hear that phrase again it will be too soon). Treat your things well. Use it or lose it. When you let go of something, be grateful for its service. Also, Kondo’s folding technique of placing things like t-shirts on end in a drawer to save space and see the entire selection, is fantastic.

On the other hand, I disagree with a lot of the KonMari method, at least in practical terms. Yes, it would be ideal if one would review one’s entire wardrobe before deciding a pair of socks won’t make the cut, but it is not very realistic.

In her Netflix show, Kondo has her clients take every shred of clothing out of closets and dressers and make a mountain of it on the bed. She then gives them their homework of looking at each item and making a decision as to whether it stays or goes. She then leaves the client with an overwhelming mess as she and her translator tiptoe out after promising to return in ten days.

After ten days have passed, Kondo returns and claps her hands in congratulations for the many garbage bags of giveaways the client has filled. The client thanks her profusely and gushes about how life changing the experience was, which is strange because the most I saw Kondo actively do for the client was hand them a shoe box and show them how to fold t-shirts. Did they cut the part where she helped them with decision making, found the perfect place for each item and put everything away?

No client I’ve ever met would put up with this nonsense. Although a ten-day organizing period is a relatively short time, leaving someone a chaotic pile to sort through is irresponsible. When there are no cameras rolling (and I can guarantee you that there is some off-camera help brought in for the TV show “client” after Kondo scoots back to her hotel), who has ten days to step away from real life and declutter full time?

I believe that a manic, “scorched earth” approach to organizing becomes, finally, too superficial and too difficult to maintain. I say superficial because after a while, it is exhausting to make those thousands of decisions and the process is bound to get less thoughtful as we try to wrap it up already. Even with hoarders, research has shown that a total house cleanout never lasts and that realistic, category by category changes are more enduring.

But it makes good TV, apparently. The drama of the chaotic piles transformed into tidy drawers and orderly shelves is an audience pleaser. Nobody wants to see a manageable sorting out of a home section by section over a few hours a month, but that’s what I’ve found ignites happiness (I will not say “sparks joy!”) in my clients.

I wouldn’t have thought much about Kondo and yet another organizing book and TV show, but friends have forwarded me article after article about her. One story in The Daily Beast stood out because it addressed the backlash against Kondo and her methods, in particular among members of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing (yes, I am a member).

Is there a little jealousy involved perhaps? Sure, who wouldn’t want to make a few million on a best-selling book, and beyond that, why does she get to wear a skirt to work and leave the scene before the real decluttering begins while we regular organizers stick around for the sorting and lifting and often leave a job covered in dust and spider webs? (Don’t worry, we love it!)