If there’s one thing you need to watch to start off your 2019 right, it has to be the new Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Kondo, known as the best-selling author of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” goes to the US to find cluttered homes and families who are in dire need of her help. As an organizing consultant, she created what is now called the “KonMari” method, which involves more than just a physical cleanup. Her book has been published in more than 30 countries, making her probably the world’s first decluttering celebrity, and already her show is inspiring people all over the world to rummage through their excess physical and emotional baggage. Here are some takeaways from the show:
The purpose is not to “throw away” stuff
When Kondo was young, she had quite a bit of an obsession with tidying up stuff, especially the books in their classroom. She became consumed by this activity, so much so that she eventually got exhausted and fainted. She said, “I realized my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying.”
From the surface, there really is nothing quite groundbreaking with her method: pile up all your things in one space and sort them out, separating things you really need from those that you don’t. But what makes her process so unique is that she “cleans from within” and is driven by the mindset that every little thing has a purpose. Perhaps influenced by the Japanese animism or ethos of mindfulness and giving value to hard work, Kondo isn’t just throwing stuff in the bin. Kondo herself spent five years as an attendant at a Shinto shrine, trained to perform mundane tasks to sacred cleansing.
The KonMari Method
“I’m excited because I love messy!” Kondo exclaims at the start of the show while opening a drawer full of unfolded clothes spilling all over. It’s not really something you would say when confronted with the gargantuan task of facing your inner and outer demons: the stuff you have acquired over the years and why your disorganized, chaotic room or house came to be that way.
Kondo says the process should start and end in this order: (1) clothing, (2) books, (3) Komono (the big areas like kitchen, bathroom, and garage) and lastly, the sentimental items.
“The ultimate goal of tidying is really to learn to cherish what you have so you can achieve happiness for your family and live comfortably,” she says.
In the first episode, she meets the Friend family (yes, their last name is Friend), a young couple with two kids, and a big, cluttered home. They share the reasons for their daily stress: work, raising two kids, and the fact that one of them hates doing laundry.
Kondo began unexpectedly by asking for a moment of silence with the family and knelt down, eyes closed, saying, “I want us to quietly communicate with your house and thank it for protecting you.”
This act of gratitude is the core of her philosophy: thank each item, touch it, and if it sparks joy or a warm feeling, then keep it. And when you let go, say thanks for all the work it has done for you.
Here we can see elements of what makes the Japanese culture quite distinct: respect everything and everyone. For instance, they have a simple act of saying Itadakimasu (roughly translates to “thank you for the food”) before eating, and after, Gochisosama-deshita (a word of appreciation to the one who made the meal).
At one point, the wife mindlessly threw one shirt into the bin, and Kondo told her, “Please be nice to every item.”
Tidying up is serious business
Don’t let Kondo’s tiny frame, cute fringed bob, and sweet smile fool you. She may be a walking ray of calmness and speak of ideals in a soft manner, but she means business.
You really need to go through every little thing in your house and take no shortcuts. Once you are left with the basics and necessities, you need to put them in boxes and organize them in such a way that every thing is visible. This way, you know where to find stuff when you need it and don’t have to buy the same item when you already have it. This encourages less waste and helps prevent you from being a hoarder.
“Only when you are confronted with how much you have, then you’ll know what to do,” Kondo says.
What makes her show different from other reality makeover series like “Queer Eye,” “Restaurant Impossible, or “Hoarding: Buried Alive,” is that she gets every person in the house involved. The wife has her own tasks to focus on as well as the husband. They were even asked to look for fun ways to get their kids to fold clothes. There’s no one bossing around, no task bigger than the other. It’s a communal experience.
Unlike the other shows where people from the outside turn one house upside down with a big reveal awaiting the homeowner at the end, Kondo says that no one knows their possessions better than the ones living in it, which is why they have to go through the whole process of letting go. And it’s not a mere “challenge” that can be completed in say, three days. It took the couple weeks to purge themselves of unnecessary stuff, and another few days to organize.
We can learn a lot just by listening to Kondo’s tenets, which are always lovely to hear, something like, “When folding it’s important to convey love to your clothes from the palms of your hands.”
But more importantly, these hold universal truths. “Can you treat your belongings with respect? Can you be thankful with what you have and mindfully let go of things that you don’t need?” Perhaps we can apply these to people, too.
All photos from Netflix.