Marie Kondo connects with people longing to get organized, but lacking the knowledge, confidence or inspiration to get it done. Marie Kondo’s KonMari method of tidying up is catalytic and magical.
People previously paralyzed by their clutter get organized and proudly tell me about their tidy sock drawers and how their kids decluttered a gazillion Lego pieces and now regularly put them away. I encountered a shopkeeper who, upon learning I was a KonMari consultant, excitedly told me her family used their winter holiday to stay home and KonMari instead of going away. She said, “had we gone away, we would still have to face and live with the chaos when we got home.”
Imagine, the prospect of becoming tidy led her to cheerfully choose not to go on vacation, but to stay home and get organized instead. Why? Why does Marie Kondo and her KonMari method spark so much action? Why does it work? Simply put, Marie Kondo closely studied the relationship between people and their stuff and as a result cracked the code on how to get organized.
What is unique about the KonMari method?
While conventional organizing deals with what to do with your stuff, Marie Kondo has you address your relationship with your stuff. The KonMari method is more than a rule book on “how to get organized”; it is an introspective, mental and emotional process that takes you beyond the physical acts of sorting and putting your things away.
The KonMari method is self-help in its best iteration – you are guided to tune into your own feelings and make decisions about your belongings based on how you as an individual feel, rather than some external criteria. Marie Kondo refers to her tidy sessions as lessons. When you apply the KonMari method, you teach yourself how to get organized by first and foremost, checking in with yourself. This self check-in gives you the opportunity to learn about yourself through your things. These teachings from self-reflection are deeply impactful and are the key to the life changing nature of the KonMari method.
Five reasons why Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method is Magic
1. It’s Simple
I have always loved a truly good set of instructions. In 2017, I set out to cook every recipe from a cookbook written by the America’s Test Kitchen Cooks Illustrated team (à la Julie & Julia), it was no small feat. Every week for one year I made a different meal (extraordinarily delicious I might add) composed of 5-6 recipes. When I think back to how I managed to do that, given every recipe was unfamiliar, I realize it was because I was using a great set of instructions. While every menu was new, all the menus shared a similar structure. Each week I could expect helpful photos, specified meat temperatures, repeated techniques and clear guidance on what could be prepared in advance. My guests and I ate lavishly, and I was (for the most part), relaxed, ready to socialize and dine when they arrived. The thorough and consistent instructions set me up for success and allowed me to accomplish something both amazing and satisfying.
That same power, a rock-solid set of instructions, sets people up for success in decluttering their homes and their lives with Marie Kondo’s guidance from The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
The instructions in Marie Kondo’s books, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy are straightforward:
- Commit yourself to tidying up
- Imagine your ideal lifestyle
- Finish discarding first
- Tidy by category, not by location
- Follow the right order
- Ask yourself if it sparks joy
The beauty of Marie Kondo’s instructions is that they are simple: you can memorize these six principles, internalize them and apply them. Consistent with the simplicity of her method is the way in which she tells you how to execute a decluttering project – via short, easy to read, or listen to, books. Both The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy are quick reads, but a more recent publication, and an even quicker read is Marie Kondo’s graphic novel The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up. Marie Kondo makes her method simple AND accessible.
Do consider when you are ready to embark on an organizing project using the KonMari method, that simple and easy are not the same thing. Tidying up, getting organized and comprehensively decluttering one’s environment completely require effort. Cooking a gourmet menu every week for a year wasn’t easy, but it was shockingly doable, given the great instructions. Such is the case with Marie Kondo’s method – a great set of instructions makes the seemingly impossible completely doable!
2. It’s Personal
Marie Kondo’s six basic rules of tidying are essentially tidying principles. The distinction is valuable when you consider the difference between a rule and a principle. A rule is external guidance telling us what we should do, while a principle internally motivates us to do what we think is good and right. The KonMari rules come externally, from Marie Kondo, but they inherently drive the tidying process inward, making it an introspective and principled one. When you follow the KonMari method you ask yourself, “What sparks joy for me? What is my ideal lifestyle?” You commit yourself to a tidying marathon. So, when it comes down to what to do about your books, or anything you own, it is not about whether it sparks joy for Marie Kondo, it is about whether it sparks joy for you!
Marie Kondo is emphatic about individuals being responsible for their own tidying – you don’t tidy for anyone else. People who hire a KonMari consultant make their own decisions about what to keep and discard. In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo wrote, “Order is dependent on the extremely personal values of what a person wants to live with.” When a person turns inward for each decision about the item they are sorting, they are deciding based on their own values; the order that evolves from each person’s tidying sessions reflects that individual’s unique preferences and priorities.
When an individual independently decides to keep an item, it is because it sparks joy for them. The order that develops in their space is of their own making. The order that results from applying the KonMari method is unique to each person and consequently it is authentic and natural to maintain. The KonMari method is simultaneously powerful and gentle because the actions related to tidying originate from the individual’s sense of what they love and need. The process is empowering and positive.
I recall being told that it is much easier to learn to tie your shoe when you know that the end result is a bow. Good teachers will suggest, to enhance learning, that you scan a textbook chapter or read the conclusion before you start the chapter to improve your retention. Similarly, Marie Kondo asks you to visualize your ideal lifestyle before you begin the tidying process, it is one of her six principles and you don’t even need to lift a finger to do it. She wisely councils that skipping this step, means you could end up spinning your wheels because you don’t know where you are headed. Again, you can see, with the guidance to first visualize your ideal lifestyle, that the KonMari process drives you inward and turns getting organized into a personal journey. Not only are you guided to visualize your ideal lifestyle you are asked to repeatedly ask yourself why you want to live a certain way. In the beginning and the end, getting tidied up via the KonMari process, is about you, not your stuff!
3. It’s Mindful
I can get nostalgic for those colour by number paintings, from my days as an enthusiastic and rather untalented young painter, but mindless or mechanical application of tidying rules isn’t part of Marie Kondo’s organizing method and that’s kind of the point.
In day-to-day living, there are just three times when an object gets our focused attention: when we acquire it, when we use it and when it is broken or otherwise dysfunctional. Objects which fall into disuse can easily slip from consciousness and end up as clutter. Mindfulness is the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to what is happening in a given moment. In tidying the KonMari way you focus your attention on each possession for a moment to consciously consider its value in your life.
Marie Kondo stresses mindfulness to the extent that she suggests you start tidying sessions early in the day and not work with music to keep yourself focused on your tidying tasks. Tidying sessions are a continuous process of checking in with yourself on whether an item sparks joy for you. Marie Kondo wants you to set the stage well to support the conversation with yourself.
Applying the KonMari method means you will evaluate each of your belongings, albeit by category and in order, in a concentrated period of time. Consequently, being mindful, in the context of a KonMari tidy marathon, means you look at each item you own to consider the joy it brings you. In a tidying session you may find yourself in deep thought over whether you need three or five mixing bowls or shocked to realize you can’t stand the painting your uncle left you. The wonderful reward is that for the short-term intensive effort, you get long term pay off for years to come: the positive impact of going from chaos to order brings immediate satisfaction and continues to feel good each day that follows.
As happiness researcher, Gretchen Rubin, puts it, “For most people, outer order brings inner calm.” By applying the KonMari method you gain the serenity that comes from the overall effect of eliminating clutter in a space, and additionally you benefit each time you easily access the mixing bowl you need. The inner calm gained reinforces the benefits of being mindful of whether or not an item sparks joy for you. As you consciously evaluate your things you begin to develop muscle memory for checking in with yourself over whether an item is something you love or need. Repeatedly asking yourself if an item sparks joy stimulates the mind-set essential to maintaining order in your home, office or life. It stands to reason that careful consideration of what one already owns easily evolves into careful consideration before acquiring a new item. Through the KonMari method it becomes self-evident that not procuring an item in the first place is a great way to eliminate becoming cluttered (again) – a benefit to you and the environment.
4. It’s Innovative
While the magnetism of Marie Kondo’s method and the success people have had using is attributable to the combined effect of the six principles of the KonMari method, one principle, in particular, is a game changer – asking yourself if an item sparks joy. This principle drives conventional decision-making criteria for decluttering from what to discard to what to keep. Making this shift helps you in two ways: you are tidying in a positive rather than a negative framework and the task of deciding what to keep is reduced to answering a single question – “does this item spark joy for me?” Effectively you are moving from your head to your heart and asking your heart to answer just one question.
KonMari decision making is emotional, not analytical. When the emotion evoked by an item is joy than the decision to keep a thing is affirmative, otherwise you are encouraged to let it go. Simple. The KonMari method is an escape route away from self-trapping, complex, thought processes (you know – “Aunt Charlene gave it to me, it cost a fortune, I may use it again . . .” the list can be endless). Thinking, rather than feeling, your way to a decision to keep or not keep something will have you pulling your hair out trying to hypothesize about endless possibilities of use or need! But the answer to “does this spark joy for me?” is simply yes or no. Reducing the complex to the simple is a hallmark of breakthrough innovation; Marie Kondo delivers that simplicity in the form of a single question that anyone can ask them self any time to reduce clutter in their lives.
Unfortunately we may be programmed to see letting go of something as a loss regardless of what is gained in letting the item go. This tendency is referred to as the status quo bias. The status quo bias identifies that people often have a preference for their current state of affairs, to the extent that they perceive any change in that state as a loss; deviation from that current status in the form of an item in their environment being discarded means decluttering presumes loss.
My status quo bias shows up big time when I am faced with a beautiful and nearly new pair of shoes that were comfortable in the store, but after I get them home and wear them, I find they are uncomfortable and may, in fact, spark pain. I can’t wear the shoes but am loath to discard them as they are new. I feel I will lose the money I spent on the shoes. The obvious truth is the money I paid for the shoes is a sunk cost, already lost by the fact that I can’t wear the shoes, but my status quo bias makes it harder to see that truth. When I ask myself if the shoes spark joy, the answer is undeniable. No. Donating the unwearable (for me) shoes to a charity so that some one with a narrower foot can enjoy nearly new shoes and I avoid clutter is in fact a benefit rather than a loss for me.
5. It’s Transformational
If you have spent any time on line looking at photos or videos of people applying the KonMari method you will have undoubtedly seen humongous piles of clothes, books, papers or whatnot. When you KonMari your space you touch everything; you scour your home for like items and assemble them in one place so that they can all be evaluated for the joy they bring to you in a relative way. Essentially you start with the premise that everything can go, what stays is what has a place in your heart. When you are done you have consciously decided to keep each item that remains in your space. Sorting by category or subcategory means that nothing escapes your review or gets neglected. Long put-off decisions get made and what remains is only that which serves you and brings you joy.
Not only does Marie Kondo insist that you begin sorting a category or subcategory only after you have all similar items collected together, but in addition, she asks that you tackle getting organized as an intensive marathon, rather than something that you do little by little over time. This mandate to declutter with concentrated intensity, means you set aside designated periods of time over a short interval to get everything organized! Picture multiple 5-hour tidying sessions over the period of a quarter or half year. The marathon approach leverages momentum and has the tremendous payoff due to being able to see a dramatic contrast in the before and after view of one’s space. Kondo believes that approaching decluttering as a marathon is the primary reason her clients don’t rebound and fall back into clutter – they are empowered by the observable transformation of their own environments.
A great example of the benefit of undertaking a tidying marathon vs. tidying bit by bit was shared with me by a 3rd grade teacher, who applied the KonMari method to her classroom. The teacher said she had spent a few hours every free Sunday for the previous three years in her classroom working to get organized for each upcoming week. She found that she would end up “just pushing things around” and continued to be frustrated by failing to get notably organized. After a 25-hour KonMari marathon, which took place over two long weekends, her classroom was transformed. The effect of being completely organized in a short period of time created a seismic shift in her environment, and she has found it easy to remain organized. She blissfully reclaimed her Sundays and has no expectations of losing them again.
Classroom before and after
When I work with clients, I share with them that projects have precise beginnings and endings, but that programs go on indefinitely, and that they want to treat their KonMari work as a project. Setting aside a designated time to completely focus on a comprehensive organization project transforms your future upon the project’s completion – you gain time, serenity, confidence, pride, peace, happiness and freedom when you shift from chaos to order.
Marie Kondo’s approach takes you to the core of your relationship with all your things. Beyond encouraging you to tackle your clutter with concentrated effort for long term results, you learn to evaluate your belongings and make intuitive choices based on what brings you the most joy in your life. The KonMari method explains how to mentally focus, comprehensively collect and then make decisions about your possessions. You make intuitive choices based on where you find joy in your life. Once you are done sorting and setting aside discards, what remains in your space is distilled joy – a powerful ingredient in any life! In the KonMari method you face your things, and, in the process, you wind up facing yourself. You make important self discoveries and you transform your future. Kind of like . . . magic.