Last year it seemed that every client had a copy of the mega-selling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up on their bedside table. This year the majority of my new clients have never heard of it. Like fad diets, organizing trends are in one season and out the next. Though the book is charming and has a valuable message and some great tips, the KonMari method, named for the book’s author, Marie Kondo, might be unsustainable for many Americans.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up is translated from the Japanese. Kondo’s methodology is deeply rooted in that culture. Small spaces, origami, Zen Buddhism and ceremony all seemed to influence Kondo’s organizing techniques. It is appealing but ultimately too precious for Americans.
I’m told that in Japan, when you buy something mundane, for example a jar of peanut butter, it is handed to you with wrapping that wouldn’t seem out of place for a Cartier bracelet. In America, you could spend hundreds at the grocery store but still have to fork over ten cents for a bag that will fall apart on the way to the car. Truth be told, I prefer the brown bag—I can’t imagine the patience it would take to wait in line for wrapping several times a day. From the impatient foot tapping I see in line at Safeway, I don’t think I’m alone in this.
We’ve also got a lot more space to store stuff. When your bedroom needs to double as a living room, as often is the case in Japanese homes, clutter is a real problem. You can’t have two dozen books and a variety of meds and potions on your nightstand because there is no nightstand. I agree with Kondo that divesting ourselves of stuff we don’t love and don’t use is crucial to our happiness, but I also think that if you have the space, there’s no reason to ditch books you want to read and camping gear you are likely to use again. The point is to be conscious about what you have and to take care of it.
I love folding my tee shirts on end in drawers, rather than in vertical stacks on shelves, which is something Kondo recommends. For items in drawers, traditional stacks mean that you can’t see what’s on the bottom. Seeing a rainbow of tee shirts neatly folded like files in a drawer is something that never fails to excite my clients about the organized lifestyle.
For folding directions, search “KonMari Fold Shirts” on You Tube. She suggests you thank your shirt for its service as you are folding. It’s a nice meditation and keeps you in the moment, but for most of us, going overboard with anthropomorphization can get a little nutty. After all, we’re already having conversations with our cats, dogs, chickens and plants. Now the t-shirts?
In order to decide “keep” or “out” when it comes to stuff, Kondo asks her now famous question, “Does it spark joy?” I like this question when it comes to collectibles and clothing, but for practical items such as a stapler, a ruler, a hammer, and such, it is not really relevant. I’ve heard stories of people donating office supplies and tools that didn’t “spark joy” only to sheepishly purchase similar items days or weeks later when they were needed.
A pen that doesn’t write or a staple gun that jams are definitely “non-joy sparkers” and should be tossed, but a perfectly good pen maybe deserves a spot in the drawer, even if it isn’t your love-of-a-lifetime writing instrument. My definition for “sparks joy” is that an item works well and makes me glad that I have it when I need it. It doesn’t need to cure cancer or make me look ten pounds thinner.
Marie Kondo grew up with futons and bonsai. Many of us in Northern California grew up with king-sized waterbeds and giant redwoods. Take what you like from organizing books, but don’t forget to consider your own space and culture to find an organization style you can maintain.