ORGANISATION queen Marie Kondo is everywhere; she has published two best-selling books, graced the streaming screen and inspired numerous home-goods lines dedicated to keeping everything in your house in place. It’s easy to think the KonMari method is a simple solution to a messy life.
But KonMari isn’t easy. It involves upending your entire home – by setting out all your things, then going through each pile piece by piece to determine which items “spark joy” and can be kept. Everything else should be donated or trashed, leaving you with just a few very important belongings. The process is to be completed in a specific order, not by room but by category, such as clothing, books and papers. Not only is the method time-consuming, it’s very emotional; many people going through KonMari find it difficult to let go of sentimental items, whether that’s a prom dress or a trinket gifted by grandparents.
On the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Rachel Friend, a 35-year-old Los Angeles-area mind-set coach, and her husband, Kevin, a sales manager, tackled KonMari with their two young children.
Filming for the episode lasted about five weeks, with Kondo showing up weekly to assign homework.
“That really held us accountable,” says Friend. “There was no saying, ‘You know, I don’t feel like it today’. But that allowed us to then experience what it felt like having it all done.”
Unlike the Friend family, the majority of KonMari tidiers are on their own, so when they hit a barrier, they have only her books and the advice of the Internet to help them through. (Though Kondo does have an army of consultants that you can hire for USD50 to USD100 per hour.)
If you’re thinking about tidying your home through KonMari on your own, the bottom line is that it is possible. But you should prepare for a number of challenges right from the start. We spoke with DIY KonMari-ers about the difficulties they faced as they organised – and corresponded with Kondo herself about how to overcome them.
After graduating high school, Leah Goodman, 23, of Safford, Arizona, planned on staying home while she attended college, but she knew she wanted to make a change in her not-so-tidy house, which she shares with her parents. Though all three agreed to give KonMari a shot, each had a very different experience. Goodman had no issues getting rid of her items, but her parents, both retired, struggled. “They tend to be more sentimental about things and want to hang on to them,” Goodman says.
Early on, Goodman tried to get rid of an old china set – a gift from her grandmother to her mother – that was collecting dust and breaking inside boxes. “I would get frustrated and say, ‘Mom, dishes are tools! They’re meant to be used! Why can’t we just use them or get rid of them?’” she recalls. “And she would get so upset because I didn’t consider her feelings and how important they were to her at all.”
Over time, Goodman learned to adjust her approach. When working with her mother, she more carefully weighed the emotional value of items and found ways to compromise; for the china, they put a few key pieces on display and got rid of other sets they owned that had less sentimental value. For her father, who has muscular dystrophy, Goodman took on some of the more physical aspects of sorting, such as collecting the dozens of reference books scattered about the house and presenting them to him to decide what he wanted to keep.
“I found that if I break up the process so it’s not so overwhelming, it’s easier for my parents to figure out what goes and what stays, and they’re more willing to do it,” she adds.
Kondo has seen lots of similar situations. “You can’t force another person to tidy up. The individual must want to change on their own,” she said by email. “The most effective thing you can do to influence another person is to KonMari your own things. Tidy by example. Because curiously enough, tidying is contagious!”
On the Netflix show, most participants completed KonMari in a month or two, but many people take far more time.
Middle school teacher Tyler Moore’s tidying journey started when he impulsively decided to switch bedrooms with his two young daughters. “My girls were in a small nursery, and then we were in the larger bedroom,” says Moore, 32. “I thought it was absolutely ridiculous – we were never in it.”
So one Saturday while his wife, Emily, was out, Moore started moving all the furniture around their New York City apartment. But he quickly realised it was too monumental a task. “Basically Emily came home and walked into this huge chaotic scene that I had just created,” Moore says. “It was an implosion.”
His wife went to the library, checked out Kondo’s book Spark Joy and suggested that the method could help enable the swap. With a baby in the house, Moore happened to be on family leave from his job, which gave him time to make headway. But the couple didn’t complete the process until well after he returned to work – some five or six months after they started.
“There were so many instances where I started dumping drawers or pulling things out of closets or cabinets without fully envisioning how long it would take to tackle that particular organisational task,” Moore says. “There were moments when it was absolutely overwhelming, and we were both ready to give up. If my wife and I had first envisioned the specific project or talked about how much time we realistically had to spend organising the particular area, I know that certain aspects of the project would have gone smoother.”
Kondo suggests visualising your endgame right off the bat to help manage your expectations. “Before you start, you must clearly envision what you would like your life to be like after you have finished tidying. What does your ideal room look like? What do you want to do in your tidied room?” she says. “Try writing it down, or clipping photos and pasting them inside a notebook. By creating a visual for your objective, your tidying goal will become clear. This will allow you to follow through with your commitment.”
Lauren Tingley, a 40-year-old teacher in Red Bluff, California, didn’t grow up in an organised household. “My mom is a borderline hoarder, so I grew up with a tonne of stuff,” she says.
Now raising her own children with her husband, Tingley realised she needed to change the way her house was organised. She stumbled upon Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and took it to heart. “I felt really inspired and thought, ‘Oh, yes, this is going to solve all my problems!’” she recalls.
But soon after starting KonMari, she realised it wasn’t going to work with her lifestyle; she had two young children and a full-time job that took up the majority of her time. And although her husband was supportive of the tidying, he pitched in only with the garage, which was primarily his domain. After emptying her entire wardrobe onto her bed – the first step of KonMari – Tingley found herself swamped with interruptions. “I couldn’t dedicate three straight hours to go through everything. It was like, ‘Oh, I need to go make my kids lunch. Oh, my son fell down outside. I need to go tend to that’,” she says. “I only really got through my closet and my son’s dresser before I realised I could do this with everything still in the closet, just looking at a section at a time.”
Folding clothes KonMari-style was a no-go, too. “It’s so inspiring because you go on Instagram and see these people’s drawers,” Tingley says. “I feel like that can’t be real because my stuff doesn’t all match like that!” Although she initially set up her dresser à la Kondo, she now hangs most of her items, a method she finds easier than folding.
“When I first read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I made the mistake of thinking that it would work exactly how the book said. The solutions seemed so straightforward and the impact so profound that I believed that the process would be easy,” Tingley says. “Unfortunately, I didn’t consider how much someone’s lifestyle impacts the decluttering process. In hindsight, I should have read through the book and modified her suggestions to fit my lifestyle from the start.”
Those modifications would have included moving at a slower pace to accommodate her busy schedule, as well as tackling the five KonMari categories in a different order. Rather than starting with her clothes, some of which “were some of the more difficult items for me to part with,” Tingley says that “looking back I would have started with something quick and easy, like my medicine cabinet or pantry”.
Kondo doesn’t advocate veering too far from the path. “There are some aspects of the KonMari method that should remain constant, such as tidying by category and not by location,” she notes. Instead, she suggests reorienting your definition of tidiness. “My life definitely changed when I had children,” she says. “I used to be a perfectionist when it came to tidying my house, but it became difficult to maintain that standard once I had my first child.”
But for some people, like Tingley, acknowledging that KonMari isn’t quite the right method for them is perfectly acceptable; at the end of the day, she did end up with a tidy home. “I like to say KonMari created the inspiration of what could be possible,” Tingley says. “I do think that being mindful of our objects is a good overall philosophy.”
After you’ve spent months upending your home, you’re finally left with a tidy space – but the clutter will creep back. And that’s OK.
The Moores now have a daily tidying process to keep things in shipshape, and they do a larger organisation session seasonally. “Just because your home is untidy, that doesn’t mean that you have relapsed or didn’t fully execute the process,” Moore says. “Tidying has now become a normal rhythm to our life. We just have to put things back in their original location.”
But they still struggle with their children’s belongings. “We’ve learned that for the most part, the amount of items that Emily and I need is fixed. We’re not really changing sizes, and we don’t have a ton of new items coming in,” Moore says. “The girls’ things, on the other hand, are a different story. Each holiday, birthday or major life event invites us to once again return to the process in order to maintain tidiness. Staying on top of toys is a constant battle, and we try our best to clear things out before that new flood of things comes in.”
Even the Friends, who were guided through the process by Kondo herself, have to tidy up regularly. “Once everything has its place, you already know what to do,” Friend says. “It’s never going to be as intense as the first round.” When clutter starts to pile up, the family does a mini-cleanse. She says their whole mind-set has changed.
That kind of thinking can go beyond an organised home. “The [KonMari] method is one that, once complete, can certainly apply to other environments … from relationships to career,” says Kondo.
The latter was certainly true for Moore. Though he started as a teacher, he had veered onto the administrative track. “As my ability to discern what sparked joy with material objects grew, I was able to transfer it to other aspects of my life,” Moore says. “I said, ‘Emily, I am not at all happy with what I am doing,’ and she asked, ‘Then why are you doing it?’” Moore has since returned to the classroom to teach, a job that does spark joy for him. – Text and Photos by The Washington Post