Tidying the Inner Mind: The KonMari Method

It all began with a meme and the internet’s instant outrage that someone would have the audacity to suggest throwing out books. How can she? Who does she think she is? 30 books! We’re only allowed 30 books! The reaction to episode 5 of Marie Kondo’s show, “Tidying Up” was swift and biting … and viral. Even Ed, who isn’t on Facebook or other social media platforms, asked me how my “book loving pals” were reacting to Kondo and her crusade against books.

Instantly curious, I did a Google search. I wanted to know who this so-called monster is and what her deal is against books. What is this new minimalist trend and why does it hate books? What I found wasn’t a monster at all, but an intelligent, kind, respectful woman who NEVER suggested getting rid of books and limit your collection to 30. I found a woman who approaches the items her clients’ lives and the rooms and house that hold them with respect, compassion, and honesty. From what I read, the KonMari method wasn’t minimalist at all. Far from it.

I watched a couple of episodes of the show and was instantly hooked. How she approaches each room, item, and person is obviously based on something more than the quest for a clean home. Her approach to tidying is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese beliefs: Shinto and, as she states in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, the belief that a tidy, clean home brings good luck (7). Yes, I started reading the book. I wanted to understand the philosophy behind the KonMari method. The show is only a brief summary of her philosophy, focusing on respect for the home and the objects within, which, as everyone has repeated a million times, must “spark joy.” It also focuses on her methods which include following a set order of action, tidying by item types (not rooms), deciding what to keep or toss, and folding clothing. Oh that magical folding!

While reading her book, it slowly dawned on me that the KonMari method has really nothing to do with cleaning and organizing your things. It’s much deeper than that. What gets lost in the show and in the deliberate “misunderstanding” of her methods is that tidying has more to do with your inner self and its association to the stuff in your life. She explicitly states this in the introduction and again on pages 20-21. She writes, “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming” (2-3).

Throughout her show she tells her clients to hold an item and ask, “does it spark joy?” Is this who you are right now? Can you see this item in your future? If not, thank it and put it gently aside. If so, keep it. Even useful items like cooking utensils are sorted through and then organized according to daily use and type. For Kondo, inner turmoil and issues in your life can be greatly reduced by tidying your home, because it forces a person to look inside:

If you can’t feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows your to confront the issues that are really important. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your home has been put in order.

And maybe this is what rubs folks, especially Westerners, the wrong way. Piling your stuff into the middle of a room and confronting each object and its associations is hard enough; but to focus on the pile of stuff in your mind is downright terrifying. As I sit here and type this, there are a bunch of my Mom’s books that I kept after she died. Why? I have no idea. They sit hidden on two lower shelfs of my bookcase that are blocked by a file cabinet. I don’t want them, but yet I keep them because I haven’t wanted to deal with my Mom’s death. It’s been hard enough. I also have a bunch of pedagogy books in a clear storage bin that I want to give away … but won’t. None of these books — Mom’s or the pedagogy books — spark any joy and they aren’t needed for my career anymore. I can’t see them coming with me into my future. Yet, my untidy brain isn’t letting go. According to Kondo, tidying my books will help me move into my future. Keeping one or two of my Mom’s books that I really love will keep her close to me. The KonMari method forces us to focus within because that’s really where the tidying comes in. It really isn’t about the items themselves.

It dawned on me that the KonMari method could also apply to our finances, the way we shop, and my own diet and exercise. The same questions of “does it spark joy?” Is this who you are right now? Can you see this in your future? can be applied here. I started to do this when I mindlessly grab a snack. I bring myself back into my mind and ask, “seriously, does this spark joy? or are you bored? are you frustrated? do you just need a drink of water?” Usually I grab a snack because I’m bored or frustrated. As a result, I’ve been planning mid-afternoon snacks that will force me to take a break and really, truly enjoy the moment (aka spark joy). A yummy pot of floral tea, a 1/4 cup of mixed nuts, a pear, and 1 oz of cheddar cheese made me deliriously happy the other day. My snack became a special experience. It sparked joy.

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As for finances and shopping, Ed and have created a budget and rebooted the Modern Gal’s World War II Ration Project, a project I devised in 2014 (more on that in a later post). I’m embarrassed by the amount of food we have in the house, and yet we just keep buying more instead of eating what we have. Not only are we focusing on keeping within budget by using World War II rations, we are examining the foods we eat mindlessly. We are adapting the KonMari method to how we fill our shopping cart. Granted, we only have a set number of ration points. How we spend them is subjected to much inner reflection. Do we really want to spend 20 points on a box of granola bars when we can make them from scratch at home? Wouldn’t making granola bars together be a fun activity that will bring us closer together and spark joy? Yes. Yes it would.

As for tackling my stuff, I was introduced to the KonMari method just as I was finishing cataloging my book collection with LibraryThing. Have I applied KonMari to my books yet? No. Will I? Yes. I did, however, tackle category 1: clothing. Here’s the before:

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In my next post I’ll show you the results, which are astounding! As for the next category, books, it will need to wait until Spring Break when I have enough time to pile everything into one place and go through each book, one-by-one.

Until next week!

 

  8 comments for “Tidying the Inner Mind: The KonMari Method

  1. 30 Jan 2019 at 12:57 pm

    I’m glad you wrote this. I have only heard really severe reductionist reviews of her work and that she advocated getting rid of basically everything, and I felt really critical of that approach–I’m glad that isn’t the true story. Personally, I have always felt like a sort of museum curator (before the word became jargon) in keeping books and items that are really time capsules, actual sort of magic items that were in existence at certain times in the world and as such contain that energy in ways nothing else ever can, and it has been really creepy to me when indeed all those worlds got destroyed, people dead, places paved over, wonderful ways of life smashed off the map. I keep a lot of stuff from the past as memorials to those destroyed worlds and to who I was then, and who and what others were. I also doubt that me giving away or selling certain things will result in those things being treated with respect, so I still have a lot of stuff that I have not yet gotten rid of–this is when I wish there was a next generation of kids in the family who would want and respect the stuff, but there isn’t. That foolish fad for a while about getting rid of any clothes one hasn’t worn in six months or so always seemed so harmful to me, the way that libraries actually got rid of books older than ten years in NJ where we lived for a while–THE OFFICIAL TOWN LIBRARY HAD NO BOOKS OLDER THAN TEN YEARS, and nobody saw any problem with that, because of course one can learn everything needed from the brain drool of the last ten years…

    I guess I keep what I want, feel guilty over some of it in some ways, feel stuck in some ways, and do my best to respectfully move it along. The lack of respectful recipients is the Number One Reason I don’t pass a lot more along.

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    • Franny
      30 Jan 2019 at 1:19 pm

      Read her book. I think, as a spiritual, pagan-type, her methods will really rock with the things you already do. And look at her Shinto practice, especially the idea that every object — animate and inanimate — has a spirit that must be honored. The things that no longer have a place or purpose in your life, you thank and put aside gently. The things that create spark, a fluttering, etc. stays. You care for it and display it in a way that honors it and creates joy within your home. What I really, really love about her practice is that she greets each home. The series does a good job highlighting this practice. She connects with it and cares deeply for it. She asks her clients to thank it for all that it does for them. This focus on gratitude is simple, but mind-blowingly life changing. I’ve been trying to do this every morning and it most certainly puts me in a gracious, receptive frame of mind.

      As far as reviews of her work, the best review is the one you do yourself. From what I’ve been reading, Westerners, especially Americans, have been deliberately misunderstanding her and her method. I agree with the Bust article I linked to within my essay: it’s racist. Sure, having a Buddha statue in your yoga studio is perfectly fine, especially if it’s filtered through a Western re-reading. BUT, a strong, intelligent Asian woman who writes a book about tidying! Well, that’s too much. In Western thought, Asian women should be demure, quiet, weak, available, and non-existent except when “needed.” Marie Kondo is none of these things. Sure, she’s gentle … but she is gentle like a flowing brook. Eventually it will erode the strongest rock.

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      • 30 Jan 2019 at 1:23 pm

        Our house is full of buddhist stuff, so it’s kind of like when a vegetarian writes a book and non-vegetarians get all worked up about it, or people calling themselves members of some religion misunderstanding and misinterpreting what the original person said or did or intended. Everyone can just really take or leave what they like or dislike. I may get the book sometime. Thanks for the input, since the impressions I had gotten of it were extreme and dire. It just sounds misunderstood and that people commented where they didn’t know much. Good luck with your clearing out.

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  2. 30 Jan 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you so much for eloquently putting into words what so many people missed about the Konmari method.
    I saw the memes, I binged the show, never read the books.
    I really don’t see how people can mistake it for minimalism, or the ridding of things arbitrarily…. hmm.
    A real lesson in judging a book by its cover for those Konmari hating “book lovers”, haha!

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    • Franny
      30 Jan 2019 at 1:40 pm

      So true and thank you! Take a look at her first book, the one I mention here. It’s a quick read and I bet you could get it in the library … well, after everyone else reads it. HA!

      I have to say, it’s been really fun — and enlightening — looking at my stuff again. I’m sure some collectables will find their way to eBay, while others will be taken out of storage for prominent placement. My sister is getting my Mom’s books and beading stuff. Me, I’m keeping her embroidery, sewing, and knitting stuff. And cookbooks! Oh those cookbooks!

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  3. Lainey
    30 Jan 2019 at 3:11 pm

    This is a great post. I love this book, and though I haven’t applied KonMari to every single thing, the items that I have tidied up have definitely shown me how to be mindful of what I purchase. And I love that it is very clear that this is a journey, and that as our lives change what sparks joy also changes. When you are ready, this is a good tool to reflect on what you are holding, thank that for what it brought and set it aside to make room for things you love.

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  4. Debra She Who Seeks
    30 Jan 2019 at 4:25 pm

    I just heard a great interview yesterday with Marie Kondo on CBC radio — if you want to hear it too, just go to this link and click on “listen” near the top of the article:

    https://www.cbc.ca/radio/q/tidying-guru-marie-kondo-talks-big-messes-shintoism-and-viral-fame-1.4996230

    Yes, her entire philosophy is based on MINDFULNESS, which is a quality and a discipline that is in woefully short supply. In a consumer society like ours, mindfulness is actually an act of resistance to the dominant culture, because consumerism requires MINDLESSNESS in order to thrive! The more we don’t think, the more we consume (whatever that is — food, clothes, items, whatever).

    I look forward to hearing more about your WW2 rationing project too!

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  5. 5 Feb 2019 at 11:43 am

    The best part of the show for me is the transformation of people’s relationships with each other. There are all kinds of methods for tidying and decluttering — from what I understand, she is one of many experts in Japan — so that can’t really be the difference here. But the intentionality and respect, that’s the kicker.

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