By Marni Jameson
“What are you doing?” DC calls from the next room. I’ve been in my closet longer than it’s taken Michigan to count votes.
“Sparking joy,” I holler from behind a mound of castoffs the size of a Volkswagen.
“Need some help?” He thinks this sounds fun.
“I have to change my life first.”
DC’s gotten used to my idiosyncrasies, which include spurts of maniacal cleaning, organizing and redecorating, but this time is different. It merits an explanation.
I had just joined the half of the world population who has read Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” (Ten Speed Press).The quirky little manual started as a spark in Japan, spread as a small flame to the United States two years ago, and is now a worldwide wildfire, selling more than six million copies in 40 languages.
Now people from Poland to Peru are “kondoing” their homes. Yes, her name has become a verb.
Kondo herself is as adorable as a pair of pearl earrings. (I emailed her for an interview and didn’t hear back, then discovered she lives in Tokyo, doesn’t speak English, and only gives interviews through an interpreter. She’s excused.)
At age 32, she has already made Time magazine’s list of 100 Most Influential People, all because she turned her neurotic childhood obsession with cleaning, sorting and tidying into a home-organizing business in Japan, then a method, and now a phenomenon.
Since I am at least in theory a downsizing expert, as I, too, have a book out on the subject, I figured I should find out what all the Kondo-magic fuss was about.
While my mantra on saving or tossing stuff boils down to need, use, love, hers is even simpler: Does it spark joy. I decided to apply her KonMari Method to my wardrobe, which is where she says to start, to see how the advice worked.
The technique involves holding hold every one of your belongings in your hands – that part is essential — and asking: Does it spark joy? If it does, store it with love and care. If it doesn’t, say a sincere and ceremonious goodbye, then jettison it.
The question forces brute honesty: Yes, I love the silk paisley dress that cost a mint, but it would really look better on someone tall, blonde and skinny. Sniff. And those jeans, well, maybe if I were a teenager.
Four bags of clothes later, I felt, if not better about myself (Lord, I have wasted a lot of money), at least honest with myself.
As we plunge headlong into the season where we buy and receive more stuff in three weeks than we do all the rest of the year combined, I thought this a good time for all of us to reassess our stuff and our relationship with it – starting with me.
Kondo’s book helped me hit my reset button, and gave me a fresh lens to look through. But before you get the book or give it as a Christmas gift, heed this warning: Some devotees, called Konverts, extend her method to all the junk in their lives and really clean house. They purge dead-end jobs and energy-sucking friends. Hence the “life-changing magic” part.
One woman got rid of her boyfriend. He wasn’t sparking joy.
Here are some of Kondo’s guiding lights:
- Tidy once. And tidy all in one shot. This involves only two acts, deciding what to discard and what to keep. Don’t worry about where to put things until you’ve gone through everything.
- Ask the magic question. Hold items one at a time and ask each whether it sparks joy. Don’t think about whether it’s in or out of style, or if it fits, flatters or cost a lot. Just take a gut check. Joy is the only goal. “What’s the point in tidying If it’s not so that our space and the things in it can bring us happiness?” asks Kondo.
- Work by category. Don’t clean a room at time; clear a category at a time, and in this order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany (komono), and, last, mementos and photos. Start with the easier stuff, because you will get better as you go.
- Apply the physics of folding. Think of a basket of laundry. Now picture the items in the basket folded. The mass is smaller. Folded clothes take up less space. You can fit two to four times more clothes in the same amount of space if you fold them instead of hang them. Fold precisely, and, rather than lay items flat, store them standing up, so you can see edges.
- On books, keep the collection small and to only what you will truly read.
- On papers. Discard them all. “They will never inspire joy.” Okay, she allows a few exceptions: currently in use, need for a limited period, must be kept indefinitely.
- On mystery cords. Toss them. They will always remain a mystery, and are easy to replace.
- On letters. They fulfilled their purpose the moment they were received.
- On sentimental value: The hardest category, by far, are mementos and photos, which is why you do this last. “We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now is more important.” Yup.
- The promise: “Tidying dramatically changes one’s life,” says Kondo. That is the magic art of tidying.
Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016). You may reach her at www.marnijameson.com.