“No Marie Kondo - not everything in my house ‘sparks joy’, but I don’t care!”
- Credit: Netflix
Our TV editor asks can anyone really live their life following the KonMari method? And what exactly does it mean?
As I close my eyes and thank a stained flannel which someone (spoiler alert: not me) has used to clean their football boots with for its service and wish it well, I wonder – not for the first time – if this is the proof that I have finally lost all semblance of sanity.
I am, of course, attempting to follow the latest must-do trend, namely the minimalist manifesto made popular by petite tidying typhoon and 'organising consultant' Marie Kondo, the Mary Poppins of Getting Stuff Done who suggests to every householder that a clean home equals a clean mind.
Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is proving to be a huge hit for streaming channel Netflix. The Japanese tidying guru's 2014 book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, was a best-seller but it wasn't until the TV series that the KonMari method of tidying swept the world.
As the New Yorker put it, Kondo's techniques isn't about 'throwing stuff out', it's about 'transformative existential keeping'. Of course it is: I'm forever on to the kids about their transformative existential keeping ethic, especially when I can no longer see the floor in their bedrooms.
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Somewhat passive-aggressively, my mother bought me Kondo's book for Christmas in 2015 – when I say 'somewhat', I mean 'totally'. My mother is the untidiest person I've met, and while I am very definitely not a minimalist, I like order, cleanliness and serenity in my house or I am as twitchy as rabbit's septum – she thinks I am a control freak, I would rather gnaw off a limb than live with her level of tidiness. We came to a compromise when I was 17, namely I went to live somewhere else: it worked for both of us.
While I am keen on cleanliness and tidiness, I do like to have stuff – dead stuff in bell jars, strange stuff in printers' blocks, collections of tiny things on shelves, books, pictures, plants, old linen, records, glassware – which means there's all that stuff to keep clean.
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I am ably assisted in my cleanliness endeavours by the lovely Caroline, who attacks my house with vigour and vim (not actual Vim, the taxidermy would moult) every Friday for four hours which I am aware means that I am very lucky and spoilt and in no position to whinge about doing any other cleaning whatsoever because I have, effectively, outsourced my anxiety.
What Caroline can't do, however, is help me decide which objects in my house 'spark joy'.
Sparking joy is at the heart of Kondo's philosophy: 'discard everything that does not spark joy,' she instructs, either on the page or via a translator on her Netflix show, and above all, she warns, do not commit the cardinal sin of buying organising equipment, which will simply enable you to keep storing your joyless, cluttering rubbish.
The KonMari method of tidying, in a nutshell (as long as a nutshell doesn't count as 'organising equipment'), is to declutter your entire house in one horrific hit, completing the whole process in one strike so that you don't simply disperse stuff from one room into the next.
Items should be sorted by category, so for example when you sort out your clothes, you must sort out every piece of clothing you own, gathering up every garment from every room before you evaluate it. Does that greying bra with the perished elastic spark joy? No? Thank it for its service, remove it from your house and move on.
Before I impart more of Marie's wisdom, back to my laundry room (I realise how hateful I sound) as I thank a flannel. I have piled every piece of clothing I own in a heap and am surveying it without a single spark of joy: some of you may already know this about me, but for those that don't, I only wear black.
I have worn solely black since I was 12 and never deviate from the righteous path of blackness: I used to wear black on the outside because it was how I felt on the inside (man), now I wear it in the vain hope that it will somehow disguise the fact that my backside is used by astronauts as a homing device when they return to Planet Earth.
I am the only person I know to whom getting dressed in the dark holds no fear and my pathological hatred of fashion or clothes shopping means that as soon as I find a garment I can bear, I instantly buy six identical garments and then rotate them until I find something new that I like. When I look at my clothes en masse, it is like surveying Queen Victoria's entire collection of widow's weeds gathered over 40 years of mourning.
Nothing in this pile sparks joy. On the other hand, I fear arrest or white-coated professionals holding nets if I send the whole lot off to the clothes bank and am forced to walk the streets in my birthday suit. And here is the first problem of many with Marie Kondo's plan to revolutionise households: do my clothes spark joy? No. Do I need them? Yes. Does that mean they have to stay? Yes. Will I fold them into fiddly tiny tents like Kondo tells me to? No. Can my Dad eat more frogs than her dad can? Yes. BrigSta: 1, KonMari: O.
After clothes, Kondo informs us that next on the hit list is books, papers, 'miscellany' and mementoes: my entire house is made of books, papers, miscellany and mementoes. The Japanese Tidy Queen has 30 books to her name, my husband and I have, at a rough guess, about 6,000, including several entire shelves of novelty and bizarre cookbooks (including: The Pyromaniac's Cookbook, Cookin' With Coolio, Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes, The Special Effects Cookbook and Life on a Plate by Sid 'Rickaaay' Owen). THEY ALL SPARK JOY.
I quickly realise, as I scan my house and wait for the Joyless Klaxon to sound, that the only things that come into my house that don't spark joy are people, but picking them up, closing my eyes, assessing how I feel about them, thanking them for their service and putting them in a bin bag is frowned upon, apparently. Swiz.
My own obsession with order, albeit in a house which does have its fair share of 'stuff', is my way of bringing that same kind of controlled order to my mind and I think, in the spirit of transformative existential keeping, that it's for this same reason that the KonMari method has gained so much ground.
Brexit, Trump, global warming, plastic-filled oceans, poverty, rising homelessness, violent crime statistics, Universal Credit, increasing right-wing populism, religious conflicts, inequality, Mrs Brown's Boys…these are troubled times cluttered with thorny issues that none of us can control. We can, however, control what happens in our own homes, in theory at least.
And then I think about what narks me the most about the KonMari method, namely the fact that if we effect the change that our admittedly adorable tidiness guru suggests, we are simply creating piles of 'stuff' for other people to deal with: charities (which spend millions every year sending the items that aren't fit to be sold to landfill), international aid agencies (which impacts local markets) and councils (whose rubbish dumps are filled with things that didn't spark joy for other people).
It doesn't just vanish when it leaves our threshold, our newfound tidiness just moves the problem elsewhere. And with that, I finally choose a book to go to the charity shop: no prizes for guessing which one, but it wasn't written by Sid Owen.
So do you think Marie's programme is a load of rubbish, or can you attest to the virtues of her method? Write and let me know.
Five terrifying quotes from clean queen Marie Kondo
1) 'To go throughout life without knowing how to fold is a huge loss.'
2) 'If you want to lead a life that sparks joy, there is only one thing you must do, and that is to tidy your home.'
3) 'Tidying is a dialogue with oneself.'
4) 'Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type, and therefore organizing them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure.'
5) 'I have spent more than half my life thinking about tidying.'