I’ve been hearing about Marie Kondo for a few years now, and it was a cultural moment that I eyed with some suspicion. With her diminutive, delicate aesthetic and the quaint ‘tidying’ language used, I assumed it was a sort of Dear Miss Manners of the 21st century. And I wanted none of that. The video clips I saw of news anchors interviewing her for 2 minute segments, ‘tv’ voices thundering like bowling balls against her fastidious Japanese, always seemed somewhat absurd. Weren’t there more important things we wanted women to be talking about? Wasn’t her focus on tidying reinforcing antiquated gender norms?
This is awfully judgy for someone who once wrote off a friend in high school for going to their (my) house and messing up their (my) perfectly folded shirts. My mom had bought me a retail folding board for Christmas, replacing the sheet of cardboard I was previously using. And this was before Amazon when you had to leave the house to make those kinds of purchases. I’ve had some genuinely cool closets throughout my life, some that could have made it into Dwell, or at least Apartment Therapy. And organizing them, lovingly displaying clothes, and indeed, folding, were things I spent a lot of time doing.
I suppose I’ve gotten more ‘serious’ in the past few years, and if I’m honest, a bit cocky. A de facto “expert” in organization and design, nobody could teach me nothin’. Many friends have asked me to help them go through their closets, donate, sort, and refine. Many partners or roommates have benefitted (suffered, some might say) from my impulsive purges. When my office moved last year, I pissed off our new suite neighbor at work by redecorating the shared lobby in her absence. I didn’t lose a lot of sleep over her getting upset, I was a connoisseur! She would come to thank me.
Then Netflix made a show with Marie Kondo and a morbid competitiveness made me watch. Once I started, I was struck by a profound realization. This was waaay deeper than I had assumed. I didn’t anticipate the stealth Jedi that is Marie Kondo would creep into my psyche, ready to transform my life. I didn’t realize it would fill in some gaps in my organizing, design and overall life philosophy and make it all much, much better. I listened to interviews and read articles and ordered her books from the library. I came to really appreciate how thoughtfully she answers questions. She’s very quick to draw an insightful parallel or inspiring observation. And she’s quite funny. There was a long line of others obviously wanting to get in on the magic as it took a few weeks, but the books finally arrived and I started on The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
For the uninitiated, the KonMari method is simple, but very precise. You sort and organize by category, first piling every article of clothing or book or miscellany in a mountain. Then you hold each item to assess whether it ‘sparks joy’. You keep only those items that spark said joy. Everything else is donated, sold or discarded. Only once you’ve gone through the whole pile can you start to organize. You start with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous (komono in Japanese) then sentimental. You must go in this order, as the decisions get harder further down the list and you need to sharpen your sorting skills as you go to make possible any chance of finishing.
I didn’t mean to start the process on a Wednesday evening. I devoured the book throughout my day (which involved several hours on busses and trains) and by the time I got home, my closet was calling. I had intended to work on something else, but I thought fuck it and pulled out every garment, creating Mt. Jemma on my bed. I live in a tiny apartment, a studio plus, as the realtors say, and as I’ve mentioned already I’m well-acquainted with paring down, purging, styling and organizing.
Dude, I still had so much stuff.
By the time I was done, it was 3 and a half hours later, I had opted to donate, sell or discard more than half of my clothes, and my closet was sparkling with good energy. No longer smushed bathing suits in dark drawer corners or a jumble of shoes shoved in a dresser. No longer dresses that I haven’t worn in years getting sadder and sadder at missing all those parties. No longer forgotten tank tops, things that made me feel ‘meh..’ or even brought up bad memories.
Step 1 with Marie’s method has already helped me make progress on assessing who I want to be, the quality of life I want to live, and how my closet can support me in that vision. Am I someone who hoards things I don’t love or wear? Do I wear things that don’t make me feel powerful and alive? Heck No! Marie reminded me that true stewardship involves loving each item and giving it a proper place in my home. No item is exempt from this care. I will never again look at socks as inane potatoes.
The other piece of her philosophy that has transformed my own is gratitude. My purges in the past came from getting fed up with clutter, a sense of disgust with the past, desperation for a fresh start. I would toss clothes angrily in piles. ‘That’s IT for YOU!’ I would scream at them silently. The KonMari method includes thanking every item you touch. Thank the “keep” items for their continued service. Thank the “discard” items for some aspect of good that came from them, even if it’s teaching you what doesn’t work. It’s truly a way of looking at the world — every person, experience, belief — and holding it with appreciation… and then deciding if there’s a place for it in your life. Just as with the coral heels that never quite worked on me, not every person is meant to stay.
It’s transformative to tidy and organize in this way, and I have come to regard Marie Kondo as a genius and an icon. Not only has she created a movement out of the deceptively simple ‘magic’ of tidying, she’s done so as a subdued Japanese woman who speaks very little English. I can’t think of anything more boss than that. She doesn’t bang away to the top, clawing at others or drumming up soundbites (although there is a poetic charm to her approach). She pours into your heart like a cup of tea and raises the vibration of all those who invite her in.
Her technique works whether you have a penthouse or a small closet. It infuses the items that bring you joy with even more life and sparkle. It creates a powerful oasis of your most intimate surroundings and allows that power to rise up within naturally. And that inner surge transforms the world around you in ways both large and small. So tidy on, friends. It really is magic.