I don’t know about you, but I approach spring-cleaning with a mix of resistance, dread and mild angst. I want to get in to the nitty gritty of the surfaces and scrub with abandon, but there were several layers in the way to get to that point. Layers of clutter, detritus, accumulation, stuff, all leading up to a sense of well, stuffocation—which also happens to be the name of a new book that came out in March.
Stuffocation by James Wallman, is the American, male equivalent of Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her book has sold over 2 million copies worldwide (it’s available in more than 30 countries) and is a runaway bestseller.
Dear Reader, in preparation for this blog, I Kondo’d my office. And the result has let me feel more spacious, more open and even more focused.
The concept of decluttering is nothing new. Oprah has embraced it, and it’s slowly been gaining steam for more than a decade. Organization consultant Peter Walsh wrote two best-selling books on the subject in 2007 and 2008, and several reality shows about hoarding followed, including Walsh’s “Extreme Clutter.”
For me, it’s the mixture of innocence and earnestness in Kondo’s passion for the decluttered life. She believes that putting your house in order can truly change your life and make you happier. Surrounding yourself only by the things you love can bring youthe serenity you didn’t even know you lacked. Her devotion to home is extensive—the first homework assignment she gives to her clients is to greet your house every time you come home.
What other home organization expert is so devotional? Kondo believes in an animism that moves through all things, from the lowly pair of socks through your abode itself. She talks to possessions the way some talk to plants—she dignifies stuff with feelings. “Everything you own wants to be of use to you,” she writes. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting others know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”
The KonMari method, as she calls it, has inspired a cult following. It’s become a verb—as in I Kondoe’d my closet—and led to nothing short of kondomania.
This is the magic of tidying up—an intimate act of self-exploration that leads, ultimately, to self love. Consider this passage from the book: “While not exactly a meditative state, there are times when I am cleaning that I can quietly commune with myself. The work of carefully considering each object I own to see whether it sparks joy inside me is like conversing with myself through the medium of my possessions.”
Faithfully following Kondo’s signature question, does it spark joy, for each object, leads one on a journey into the domestic depths. It elevates cleaning into a search for meaning, a quest for happiness, a staycation version of “Eat, Pray, Love. It could be called “Spark, Purge, Savor.”
What I admire about the KonMari method is that it feels grounded, simple, radically empathetic—and completely ruthless. That it can be all these things, and charmingly so, is the key to its success. Let’s look at a few of the salient points in her let-it-go manifesto in more detail.
A laying of hands
Get rid of everything you don’t need. If it doesn’t spark joy, pass it on. For Kondo, the spark of joy that gets communicated—or the non spark—is a tangible one. To feel it, each object has to be held in one’s hands. To declutter a bookshelf, it’s not enough to scan each book. You have to hold each book in your hand. ‘The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it.”
Keep it simple
In Kondo’s lexicon, storage is just another word for hoarding. She recommends rather than relying on complex storage systems, prune your belongings to the point to where everything fits in its allotted space. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved,” she writes.
Empathy as extreme sport
Even though you cultivate tenderness to all objects doesn’t mean you get to keep them. Kondo dresses up for her purges as assign of respect. For her, tidying is a celebration, “a special send-off for those things that will be departing from the house.” It sounds a little kooky but it actually makes sense, given how hard it is for most people to actually let go of so many of the objects they have accumulated. Before sending anything off to the oblivion, she recommends thanking the object for finding you.
Like any lifestyle guru worth her salt, Kondo has strict rules as well as loosy goosy ones. The following items should be unequivocally dumped: credit-card statements, spare buttons, user manuals, makeup samples, and mysterious cords. In order to appreciate what we have, we have to let go of everything inessential. At its heart, Kondo’s philosophy meshes perfectly with Coco Chanel’s famous statement that “elegance is refusal.” And don’t mistake the map for the treasure. “Tidying is just a tool, not a destination,” Kondo writes. “The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want once your house has been put in order.”
I love the idea that the underbelly of what we cherish requires an unsentimental discarding of everything that has outlived its purpose. It’s a delicate balance we have with our possessions—keeping just the right amount that inspires us without having so many things that can actually overwhelm us.
Once we start down the tidying path, whether all at once or incrementally, something clicks in us. The more mindful we are with our stuff, the more we can appreciate it. Less is truly the trappings of abundance.
It can feel a little forced, I know. But try it out for yourself. You’ll be excused for starting to talk to your stuff, and even if you can’t bring yourself to express formal gratitude, you can mutter a passing thanks to the newspaper as you recycle it. Now excuse me while I go Kondo my kitchen.