I wouldn’t normally buy a book about tidying up, but everywhere I’ve turned recently people seem to be gushing about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying or the KonMarie Method, so I thought that with a baby arriving this month it might be worth a read.
It’s a very short read but as for being a “simple, effective way to banishing clutter forever”? I’m not convinced. And that’s before you get to her claims that it helps her clients lose weight, improve their skin and transform their careers…
Firstly, I found her constant repetition of the phrase “putting your house in order” really disconcerting. I’m not sure whether that’s been translated literally from the original Japanese or poorly translated by someone who isn’t familiar with every day English, but whenever someone talks about putting their house in order in my experience, they are usually referring to putting their affairs in order before they die. So far, so bleak.
I disliked the fact that the KonMarie method focuses on throwing out anything that doesn’t “spark joy”. The author writes with pride about the hundreds of 45 litre rubbish bags her clients have thrown out, the never worn clothes that have gone to the bin and how her clients have learned to eagerly await the arrival of the bin men… it all sounded incredibly wasteful. While I appreciate the need for a good declutter now and again (we’ve taken a lot to the charity shop and put it on ebay while getting the house baby ready), nothing in the book seems to get recycled, just binned. And she has a real fixation with binning. It’s like a one woman crusade to promote landfill.
As a book lover, I think her attitude towards books was the worst for me. Not only does she encourage her clients to throw out any books they don’t truly or deeply love but she counsels people that they are burdening and oppressing their families by passing on the items that they no longer want to them. I can’t speak for all readers, but I love it when a friend or family member passes on a bag of books that I haven’t read to me. And she advises people to keep their bookshelves out of sight in wardrobes, where you should also store such items as wedding albums, souvenirs and mementoes… if you insist upon keeping these, she’d really rather you didn’t.
I admit, I’m probably not Kondo’s target reader, but I have to say, I struggled to understand the deep admiration that fills most of the writing you will read about her. Instead, I was left with a deep concern for her wellbeing. Kondo seems to eagerly reminisce about how she started reading her mother’s lifestyle magazines at the age of five, before taking up compulsively cleaning the family home every evening after school. Throwing away her parents’ and siblings’ possessions if she felt they weren’t in frequent enough use. She recounts one occasion on which she had a kind of breakdown on the bedroom floor at not being able to get her room clean enough for her liking and heard a disembodied voice talking to her… throughout the whole book it seems as though she uses a need to tidy as a way of avoiding living life in the outside world speaking very critically of her family (she admits towards the end of the book that her issues with tidying may relate to her relationship with her mother). And really, what kind of family sees the older brother allowing his little sister to declutter his bedroom? Just weird.
I got the impression that Kondo’s insistence upon treating objects as people, thanking them for their day’s service, unpacking your handbag to allow it to relax after a hard day, holding them to feel whether there is a “spark” between you suggests she’s more comfortable with things than real life. While Kondo’s ritual cleaning of her handbag into specially constructed drawer compartments every evening might be viewed as eccentric, her storage of dishes on the veranda throughout the day sounds unhygienic to me (pollution? wildlife?) and as for her suggestion that shampoo bottles need to be towel dried after each use to prevent them becoming slimy… I can’t imagine wanting to live with someone who allows their surrounding to exert such control over their everyday life and happiness. Life is too short.
So while lots of people have fallen under the spell of the KonMarie method, I politely decline to jump on the bandwagon, preferring to sit in one of my reading nooks with a good view of my heaving bookshelf, mantelpiece and walls which are covered in family photos because that sparks joy in me.
For images of a client’s room before and after the KonMarie method see this Guardian article. Personally I think the before image looks more interesting… the after is like a room in a nursing home…