I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up years ago. I remember all the buzz and praise the book got and couldn’t wait to read it myself. When I finally did I had mixed feelings. Although I felt the book had tons of valuable advice, I’ll be honest, I didn’t agree with everything.
I love Mari Kondo. I think she’s the most adorable professional organizer ever. If you haven’t checked out her series Tidying Up with Mari Kondo you must go watch it…immediately. But as with all things that become insanely popular, there will always be praise as well as criticism. So here’s my take on the pros and cons of the KonMari method. In an effort to be balanced, I’m giving you five of each.
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I’m starting with the cons because I want to end on a positive note.
1. The “Keep What Sparks Joy” Standard Isn’t Realistic
In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo suggests keeping only what “sparks joy.” This is probably the best-known concept of the KonMari method and it seems brilliant on its face but it’s not that simple. Personally, I had a hard time with this concept. I have a much more utilitarian view of my stuff. I think it’s safe to say that if I like something enough to keep it and know I’m going to use it then I’m satisfied. But I don’t consider that feeling “joy.”
Also, my toilet brush doesn’t really bring me joy but I kind of need it to keep my toilet clean. Is Kondo suggesting I get rid of it? I can think of a number of really boring household items that don’t bring me joy but that I need. I mean I get her overall strategy here but maybe aiming for all of your stuff to bring you “joy” is a bit too ambitious.
2. You Can’t Repurpose Your Clothes
Another rule of the KonMari Method is that if you have clothes you don’t feel comfortable leaving the house in, you should get rid of it instead of using it as “loungewear.” I can see where this would turn into a problem if you keep clothes you intend to wear at home, but don’t. But I find this rule to be unreasonable because I have plenty of clothes I don’t wear out and feel just fine lounging in.
Some of us who have extra clothes are doing well financially but that’s not always the case. You may not have the means to get rid of clothes just because you can’t wear them to go out anymore. What if you want to use them as loungewear to reduce the wear and tear on your better clothes? What if you want to live more sustainably and use what you have until it wears out?
Maybe if you’re tight on cash and care about the planet, ignore this one.
3. The KonMari Method Gets Into the Weeds
Kondo gets pretty specific about all sorts of things in her book. There’s a special way of folding socks. She also tells you how to fold your clothes so that they stand up in the drawer because laying the clothes flat is just wrong. When it comes to your photos, you should also only keep five per event.
Did I mention that you should hang the clothes in your closet in size order and that they need to “rise to the right”? She also has a particular order for how each category of clothes should be arranged in the closet.
I’m sorry but this is just much more detail than I need. My expectations are pretty simple; I just want to be able to find my stuff…the end. If you’re already stressed out by clutter, having to follow all these rules isn’t going to help.
4. You’ll Need to Treat Your Stuff Like People
She refers to socks that are in your sock drawer as “resting.” Ok, you probably shouldn’t use the elastic of your socks to bundle them together but to say that you’re disrespecting them if you do…that’s a little weird.
She also calls her bag a “hard worker” and asserts that clothes don’t like to be squished at the bottom of a drawer. And then there’s the most well known Kondo practice which is to thank your items once you’re ready to part with them.
I understand that appreciating your items can be seen as a form of gratitude but talking to your things on a daily basis and pretending they have feelings struck me as odd. I show my gratitude for my things by taking care of them and storing them properly. I’m an introvert. Talking to people is hard enough, do I really need to worry about talking to my stuff too?
5. Her Rules Are One Size Fits All
Kondo is very clear that you should not tweak her method to suit your own personality. This is literally one of the subheadings in her book. It really is meant to be a one-size-fits-all approach to decluttering. She believes that you should declutter in marathon decluttering sessions, not gradually. She also thinks that you should strive for perfection. Her method is not for slackers.
If you don’t like someone telling you that you have to follow their method exactly to be successful, the KonMari method probably isn’t for you. Or you can do what I did — ignore this advice and just do what you want.
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Here are some brilliant nuggets of wisdom I can totally get behind.
1. Declutter In The Proper Order
This is another well-known tenet of the KonMari method. You should declutter in a specific order to have the best chance at success. That order is as follows: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and mementos. Her point here is that you’re decluttering your items based on the level of difficulty. You start with the easiest category and move on to the more difficult ones.
I completely agree with this although I think maybe books and clothes could be swapped depending on whether you’re a clothes horse rather than a bookworm. It’s also a good idea to leave the sentimental stuff for last because you may get stuck and never get to the rest of your decluttering.
2. Don’t Throw Away Other People’s Things
This should be common sense but I think many of us may forget in the midst of a decluttering frenzy. Throwing out stuff that belongs to family members can damage your relationship and in the end, doesn’t really fix the problem. Everyone needs to deal with their own belongings in their own time and trying to do it for them will just cause resentment.
I appreciate the fact that she admits to doing this to her own family. She openly owns up to her mistake so she’s speaking from experience on this one.
3. Throw Away All the Paper
This is my favorite section of her book even if I’m not able to follow it completely. Paper is the bane of my existence. So when Kondo said I should throw all of it away I did a little happy dance.
She only has three categories for paper: Papers you’re using right now, papers that need to be kept for a limited time, and papers that need to be saved indefinitely. It sounds so seductively simple. Equally important is her advice to keep papers centralized. Things start to get hairy when you let them spread all over your house. I can attest to this.
4. Declutter Before You Organize
Again, this is another piece of advice that’s fairly obvious but it doesn’t hurt to be reminded. Decluttering is the first step in “tidying up.” Kondo accurately points out that all the bins and organizational products in the world won’t help you if your house is packed full of stuff.
If you don’t declutter first, you’ll still have the same amount of stuff just in containers hidden away. She makes the point that if you don’t clear the clutter, when you buy more stuff you’ll need more containers. It’s a vicious cycle.
5. Use What You Already Have to Organize
This advice appeals to my love of sustainable living. She suggests using things you already have like cardboard and shoe boxes to organize and store what you decide to keep. She warns that buying more things when you’re trying to declutter isn’t a good idea. There’s no need to go out and buy organizing products to bring into your home if you already have boxes that will do just as well. She emphasizes functional storage over trying to make everything look matchy-matchy and pretty.
Worth the Read?
The simple answer is yes! My list of five pros is just a fraction of all the helpful advice she lays out in her book. If you haven’t read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you should. The pros of the KonMari method definitely outweigh the cons.
Until next time, happy decluttering!