Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: KonMari and Me

I think at this point pretty much everybody has heard something about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and the “KonMari Method,” named after the author. Pretty much every time I went on Pinterest I would find little references to it, and I spent an hour one afternoon reading reviews on Goodreads. After several months, the hubbub still had not died down, and I figured I needed to decide what I thought of it.

From the reviews I found and the opinions of many different people I  knew that pretty much all readers fall into two camps – either you love the method, take it and apply it to your life, or you hate it, think it’s insane, and spend large amounts of time and word-space mocking it. Knowing myself, and how much of a scoffer I am when it comes to fads like this, I assumed I would fall into this second group, and I was already plotting what pompous, sarcastic way I would shred her method. Alas and alack, it was not meant to be.

I read it at first skeptically, but after just a few pages, before I even knew how she’d done it, Kondo had somehow forced my mind to stay open. I read it suspending judgment, and sincerely trying to give her a chance to explain her entire method and the “whys and wherefores” of it, and I truly believe that reading it this way you cannot hate it. You may disagree with it and choose a different way, but if you actually listen to what she’s trying to say, there’s nothing you can truly hate her (or her method) for.

A little background on what “tidiness” (or the lack of it) looks like in my life. I love things. I love clothes that make me feel elegant, quirky, stylish, relaxed, or any other mood. I love craft paper – the scraps, the shreds, salvaged paper, found paper – and the things I dream of doing with it. I love fabric the same way – every little piece of it, whether I have a plan on using the scraps or not. But beyond loving my things, I am also a creature of guilt. I’ve practically turned it into an art form. “I can’t get rid of that. So-and-so gave it to me. I spent too much money on it. I have too many memories associated with it. I may use it.” And if I dare to try to ignore those voices, they smack me with extreme guilt and shame.

I do not consider myself a hoarder. I like to get rid of things. I’m not terribly disorganized. I’m just OCD enough that I love spending a day organizing. But where I fail is in getting rid of things in spite of guilt. I fail to ignore the guilt, ignore the I’ll-use-it-later lie and ignore misplaced sentimentality. The KonMari method got me through all of that. And I can say that, because I used it, it worked, and I’m happier for it.

Kondo explains that even though she does this professionally, it is not something she can “do” for her clients. She teaches them, guides them through it, and it gets done, but she is not the one deciding what they need or do not need. She states (and I truly believe this) that it is not something anyone can do for you. Only you know your life and your heart, and only you can decide what does or doesn’t belong in your life. She only teaches you how to recognize and successfully choose what to keep or dispose of.

She teaches one criteria by which you must judge every item in your house – a criteria that has become its own catchphrase: does it spark joy? Before I read the book, I’d heard a lot of negative criticism of this criteria. People were complaining it was too vague, others that it was too specific. Some declared it was impossible to feel joy over a pair of socks or underwear, let alone less minutiae like paperclips or toothbrushes.

But for me at least, it worked. Don’t get me wrong. I experienced no overwhelming gush of ecstasy at any point during my sorting. But I could evaluate whether something gave me positive or negative feelings. The Google definition of joy is “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” I don’t know about the “great” part, but I certainly could tell whether something brought me pleasure and happiness…yes even socks and paperclips.

For instance, I had more socks than any one human being needs, and not even just fun socks, but dingy gym socks. In evaluating my underwear drawer, I could tell having so many pairs of socks gumming up the works was an annoyance and unnecessary weight. I went through and kept the nicest of them, and yes, deciding which ones to keep brought me pleasure.

Kondo says, “…focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of…Pick [what you will keep] as if you were identifying items you loved from a showcase in your favorite store.”

The one claim she made that I had a very hard time swallowing was that, using her method, you will never rebound, never slip back into clutter again. That just didn’t make sense to me. Surely, as human beings, we will inevitably reaccumulate… But after working through her book, and listening to her logic for making such a claim, I understand how she can say it.

The entire method hangs on doing your entire home in a very short period. In reality, she allows six months, which seems generous to me. No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to be able to do everything in one weekend. The idea is that KonMari, done thoroughly and rapidly, brings about such a dramatic change so quickly that it alters the way you think about possessions. The difference is so stark that you never want to go back to the way things were before, and equipped with your new mindset and skills, you can keep from doing so. The claim isn’t that you will never need to get rid of anything, or never need to organize an area ever again. The claim is that it will never get out of control again, because you will be dealing with things much sooner and automatically. This I can vouch for. Instead of seeing something I know I don’t really want/need and making excuses to keep it, I immediately deal with it, keeping more from piling up.

It wasn’t always comfortable or easy. There were times I had to stop for a while and let my mind clear. There were times where I was filled with self-disgust at how much utter crap I had bought and saved. So many, “What was I thinking?” moments. So much frustration at the thought of money wasted. It was even painful at times, as I had to admit idiotic life decisions. But I was prepared for that.

“The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront out imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past. Many times when confronting my past during the tidying process, I have been so ashamed, I felt like my face was on fire…The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. It is dangerous to ignore them or to discard them indiscriminately as if denying the choices we made. This is why I am against both lettings pile up and dumping things indiscriminately.”

But even in spite of the painful moments, the overall effect was incredibly freeing. I filled a large trashcan with garbage, and I also filled the spacious trunk of our family car three times…from two rooms. It was truly shocking to see how much I had that I didn’t love, didn’t need, didn’t even want. I let go of I’ll-use-it-laters I had no intention of using. I let go of projects I would never finish, and sometimes never even start. I let go of gifts that people had given me I had kept for no other reason than that. I let go of clothes that I had kept simply because they were still good and I’d paid for them myself. I let go of pieces of my past I didn’t want to remember but was afraid to lose. And with every category of items “tidied” I was more determined to make it all the way to the end.

I’m fairly convinced after reading the book and reading many negative reviews and blog posts – and not only negative, but some positively venomous – that most of the true “haters,” have a basic misunderstanding of the method, or simply don’t want to do it. So they say that “joy” is stupid. Doing it quickly means a weekend (not what she claims – she says six months). She’s a childless spinster therefore it won’t work for anyone else (that’s just mean! – as well as ignoring the fact that she’s KonMari-ed clients with families). I have problems with the book, but none of these are them.

Do I think the method is infallible? No. Is it for everyone? Probably not. As a matter of fact, I take major issue with three or four points in Kondo’s book. I spent an entire day railing to anyone who would listen about how awful a few points were. But I do think everyone, if they tried, could get something amazing out of this book. Every single claim, every rule, and every plea is thoroughly explained and backed up with logic. She doesn’t go the path of the minimalists and lecture the reader like a child, or force you to follow lists of what to keep and what to get rid of, telling you what you need like she’s your mother. She gives you reasons for what she said, and makes you understand why you should at least hear her out. She is encouraging, and warns you of emotions that may make it all more difficult (for me, it was guilt), and then helps you continue in spite of that.

Like I said, my “sparks joy” experience as I went through everything was no overwhelming feeling of ecstasy. But I could tell that the amount of possessions I had, was an unpleasant weight. As I weeded through, judging whether I felt positively or negatively about something, choosing what I really loved and needed in my life, piece by piece that weight gradually lifted. Once you’ve gotten rid of what you don’t need, don’t want you can truly see and enjoy what you have. The clothes that are hanging in my closet are all clothes I love now – that means anytime I pick an outfit, I can’t really lose. I already love all of it. I can look at my shelves and be happy with how it looks, instead of frustrated and embarrassed by the mess. That’s when I felt joy much more strongly.

Again, I did have several problems with points of the KonMari method, and I plan on doing a separate post next week addressing those. Here I simply wanted to give a book review and talk about my experience putting it into action, and that took long enough. I honestly cannot encourage you enough to at least give this book a try. If you’re anything like me, it may be exactly what you need.

Part II can be read over here.

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