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.
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:
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!