Tidying Up with Marie Kondo
I admit, I am somewhat of a garbage person. I don’t really know how to be tidy—I keep a DustBuster and some Clorox wipes in my dorm room, but I usually put off hardcore cleaning until the signs of dirt are too extreme to ignore. In terms of organizing, my dresser drawers are categorized, and my bookshelf is roughly alphabetized, but beyond that everything starts to fall apart. Netflix’s latest hit series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo seemed like the perfect antidote to my cluttered life and my tendencies of letting a mess grow and grow until it spills out of laundry basket and garbage can. By now, nearly everyone has heard about Marie Kondo, her organizational skills, and her quasi-catchphrase of asking whether something “sparks joy.” She is by no means new to the organizing scene—her 2011 book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing was an international bestseller. But her Netflix special has allowed people like me to watch her techniques in action and learn something about how to get our lives together while we watch on our laptop screens.
Kondo’s famed KonMari method consists of organizing items according to five categories: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and mementos or items of sentimental value. Part of Kondo’s technique is rooted in Shinto practices—she takes time to thank the home of each client and encourages the homeowners to express gratitude towards their belongings, even the ones they get rid of. Touching each object is her way of determining whether it sparks joy, and rather than simply purchasing and accumulating objects, Kondo encourages clients and viewers to love what they have and appreciate what all those things have given them over the years. People turn to Kondo and her tidying up magic for a variety of reasons: for some much-needed aesthetic and organizational revitalization, and also for help in simply sorting through the chaos of their lives. One couple on the show spoke of wanting to feel like “adults” with a space of worthy of visitors; another wanted to cultivate a warm atmosphere for raising their toddlers. It’s not a simple makeover or home renovation show with a dramatic “before” and “after” where the walls are repainted, and all the furniture and decorations are swapped out—it’s more about learning and understanding how to cultivate a lifestyle of purposeful ownership.
After watching all eight episodes on Netflix, I was motivated. I needed to put everything I had learned to use. I was on campus for break, so I decided to try out the Marie Kondo method in my dorm room. My 90-square-foot room is very different from the homes that Kondo visited on her show—I have much less stuff, obviously, but also much less space to hold all that stuff. While my dorm room is only a temporary living space with a portion of my belongings (the rest of my items are scattered across my bedroom or my basement at home), Kondo’s teachings still apply. I started with clothing. Owning too many clothes has always plagued me. My dresser is typically exploding with free t-shirts from campus events and clothes I brought from home but haven’t worn all year. I was able to set aside a small pile of things to eventually donate. Going through all my books was a much-needed reminder that some of them were overdue at the library. It also encouraged me to re-discover some of the titles on my shelf, including a few novels that I promise myself I will finally read (I’ve already made two attempts at Ulysses and now I will finally conquer it!). The most significant category for me to deal with was paper—I found a pile of notes not only from last semester, but last year (I still don’t know why I thought I’d need my Shakespeare lecture notes), along with old handouts and syllabi, too many CVS receipts, and random post-its. None of these papers actually sparked any joy, so to the recycling they went. Digging through my desk drawers for miscellaneous and sentimental items, I found a collection of Polaroids that my roommates and I took at a school formal, along with the card my mom sent me for my birthday. It felt nice to find these small reminders of things that make me happy: tidying doesn’t have to be an entirely exhausting or frustrating process!
Marie Kondo has truly tapped into the zeitgeist of a generation – people now are focused on optimizing their lifestyles and taking care of themselves and their spaces. She’s become a meme, and I have even heard some friends use her name as a verb to describe a fiendish cleaning spree. I live for the many the “spark joy” jokes that have popped up on my social media feeds—throw out your thesis books if they don’t spark joy! Throw your boyfriend out if he doesn’t spark joy! Throw yourself in the garbage too if you’re not sparking joy in yourself! Perhaps the emotion of joy is a bit too extreme to apply to most of our household items. Of course, my textbooks and cleaning supplies and acne treatments will never spark joy in the same way that my favorite books or family photos do, but they are still satisfying and useful in their own way.
One of the most moving parts of the Netflix series was simply watching all these people learn to appreciate everything in their home and re-discover cherished belongings—one couple found their wedding photos in the garage, and in another episode, some siblings thanked their favorite items of clothing for all the good times they had brought. Kondo’s focus on gratitude and mindfulness is a refreshing counterpart to the organization/renovation genre of reality television. I used to be addicted to shows like Hoarders that had a very tough-love approach to tidying—namely, packing everything up in garbage bags and getting rid of as much as possible. Kondo instead focuses on re-discovering why you have the things you have—your favorite outfits, your beloved books, your family photos—and transforming your space into a home where everything is cherished (or at least serves a purpose) rather than remaining as a place to just store mountains of items.
We’ll see how long my newfound cleanliness lasts. At least upon first glance, my dorm room looks more or less the same as it did before. But it feels like Kondo’s technique is as much about the internal as it is about the external signs of organization. The insides of both my desk drawers and my head feel much more streamlined already. Whether or not it’s in the context of cleaning out my closet, putting my course notes in order, or visualizing my future and priorities, focusing on what sparks joy is a philosophy making that transition into (real) adulthood feel less like garbage and more like something to look forward to.
By Katie Duggan
Princeton student, feminist film enthusiast, and lover of all things spooky.