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Marie Kondo The life-changing magic of tidying 2014.
2016 might be my year for getting excited over weird books. The Big Twitch in January and Gut in February are good examples.
I mentioned my normal views on self-help books in my discussion of Gut by Giulia Enders and how I lean towards Steve Salerno’s scathing indictment of the self-help movement.
Yet, here I am about to extol the virtues of another one and a really unusual one at that Japanese Marie Kondo’s The life-changing magic of tidying 2014.
The real strength of Giulia Enders’ and Marie Kondo’s books are that both are in areas that the authors have long experience of and are passionate about.
Marie Kondo in particular is obsessive and has been tidying since she was five years old; she probably has deep rooted psychological issues which have emerged in her tidying fetish. In the process, she has made all the mistakes it is possible to make and has had several epiphanies along the way. She has done many more than the 10,000 hours that is supposedly necessary to become a master in any discipline (explained in detail by Malcolm Gladwell, see Further Information).
I am reticent about fads and particularly fads of a self-help nature.
Despite this and despite the fact that Marie Kondo appeals mainly to women (I also normally resist ‘girlie books’ and frequently don’t get what appeals to women), I have read the book and I am convinced that the Konmari Method (modified from Marie’s name) is brilliant, logical and that I am going to try it. I am going to join the fad.
First I need for Denise to read the book, and then we must make the commitment together, and it is no small commitment (6 months at least, maybe more if we travel in between).
Who is Marie Kondo?
Marie Kondo is a young Japanese woman of thirty-one who has been running a successful business in Japan teaching women how to tidy. Her book was a runaway best seller in Japan and received very little criticism. Non-fiction best sellers in Japan rarely make the transition to the rest-of-the-world, but Kondo’s book is an exception.
Articles in the Western press on Kondo have a tendency to be dismissive, patronising and superficial, as well as sometimes appropriating. A few are relatively straightforward.
One of my favourite columnists on statistical and economic issues Jessica Irvine (discussed in Ross Gittins & the Paris Terror Attacks) has written a superficial article on the Konmari Method and appropriates Kondo’s work with economic jargon. Bourree Lam in a longer article in The Atlantic in May 2015 is similarly appropriating. What I dislike about economics is the assumption that appropriating material from other disciplines and putting it into an economic framework immediately adds value. It does not! Thought and content are required.
I am a year late in writing this article, well behind the trend, but I don’t care. I am more interested in writing in-depth articles that do add value than on reporting the latest fashion.
The Shinto or Japanese respect for objects
One of the aspects that we in the West find hard to understand, which Richard Lloyd Parry a Tokyo resident says is utterly bizarre, is that Kondo says that inanimate objects have ‘souls’ and are worthy of respect. I don’t think that this is bizarre at all, although it is very Japanese.
When we were in Japan I asked myself of Japanese habits, methods and objects, even Japanese toilets, that I admired: Why can’t we have these things at home? At the same time, I also had the opposite thought: But, at what cost? Westerners are often enamoured of aspects of Japanese culture, but they forget that there is a cost to the Japanese psyche, behaviour and thought processes that we usually cannot comprehend.
With regard to the Konmari Method, we do not have to begin to believe that our household objects have ‘souls’. Although it is not difficult to believe that some Japanese may believe that because it is a fundamental of the Shinto religion and of most animist belief systems.
All we have to do is imbue our objects with identity and respect, because only then can we decide if they are important to us or not.
Inuit (eskimo) and Indian hunters in the past would often thank the animal they had killed for giving up its life so that they could eat. I don’t think this idea is strange either. We just need to treat everyday objects that we use with respect in an animist way.
I don’t think this is so difficult. We don’t have to change any core beliefs to do this. It is just a new mode of behaviour, which might be fun.
I am reminded of The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and cartoonist Ronald Searle published in the 1950s. St Custards is an all male school in the ilk of St Trinians (Searle was the illustrator of the St Trinians books). Nigel Molesworth the narrator is a middle-of-the-road schoolboy striving to survive in an unforgiving milieu.
One of the characters Fotherington-Thomas, a sissy and a weed with curly blonde locks, skips around saying girly things like ‘hello clouds, hello sky’. But Fotherington-Thomas is a ruthless tennis player.
All Marie Kondo is saying to you is look up from your usual pre-occupations and say ‘hello clouds, hello sky’ occasionally.
My relationship with tidying
I seem to be making these confessions on a regular basis. I won’t go into the details but I am hopeless at doing what I call janitorial tasks. That is, tidying up after myself, domestic tasks, realising that the janitorial stuff is part of the job. I used to resist entirely but have gotten better (what a splendid word) in recent years realising that it is easier just to do the washing up or the cleaning, than to agonise over it.
Still Denise says I can walk over something or ignore stuff lying around for days before I pick it up. However, I have always wanted to be better and when I do get sick of the mess, I actually go about it in a thorough and meticulous way, that is, over-doing it.
Fritz Heider defined a theory of balance in the late 1940s, which in personality terms, i.e. subjective/objective, externaliser/internaliser, means you strive for balance, to be what you are not, or at least admire the opposite of what you are. My behaviour above is quite explainable by balance theory.
In concrete terms, we moved out of a home we had rented for 12 years (100 m away from where we are now). In the process we put everything into storage having got rid of a vast amount of stuff. We became homeless for three years, while we travelled and lived out of a suitcase (outlined by my travel articles, for example, What travel costs 4: eight months in Europe).
The ‘housie’, we moved into (which we love) is small by Australian standards: an upstairs downstairs duplex (114 sq m) with three bedrooms upstairs. It is probably large by Japanese standards. Our friends lured us into purchasing one of these early 1960s duplexes, originally owned by the university, to be nearby. We call it the old age ghetto.
Fortunately, most of our stuff fitted-in, though we still had to get rid of much. Living out of a suitcase and not seeing our possessions for three years helped. But, we are very conscious that living in our little ‘housie’ demands some discipline, because it is easy to clutter and we like the relatively clean lines we have achieved in some places. For example, I sit on the toilet contemplate the bathroom and sigh ‘ahh!’ with contentment at the minimalism.
When we were in Japan staying in Hiroshima, Toyo our hostess took in our clothes from the balcony and folded our underpants and socks in a special way. When Penny mentioned the Kondo book to us some months back, we were easy converts to folding our socks and underpants. My sock drawer used to look like a bomb had gone off in it. Now the drawer is a delight. Folded socks and underpants (not Kondo folded) are positioned vertically in the drawer. I do need two layers, which is probably not ideal. And, they are not colour-coded to date. That is all we have done.
Penny from up the road, who lives alone, loaned me the book. Hence I am ripe for the Konmari Method, I can see the benefits and I hope we’ll try it and succeed, but there are two of us. Watch this space (if an article never appears we failed). Our other friends also just up the road are quite negative about tidying.
The Konmari method
A brief overview
We’ve covered the Shinto respect. You begin by discarding by category (not by location). The categories are ordered from easy to hard.
The first category is clothes. You begin by gathering all your clothes (including shoes, handbags etc.) in one place on the floor and take each item in turn, treating it with respect. While holding the item you ask yourself: Does it spark joy? If the answer is no, discard.
Once discarding is over the remaining items are stored, ideally in one location (but in as few as possible) and the storage is defined by the house. You should not purchase expensive storage solutions but use what you have. Storage experts are hoarders, Marie Kondo says.
The moment you start you reset your life. You aim for perfection but the steps are simple and you should not be surprised if you emerge from the process a different person. The process should be done quickly but it will take six months.
1 Pearls of wisdom
- You can’t tidy if you’ve never learned how (who taught you?).
- Tidy once and properly. Tidy a little each day and you’ll be tidying forever.
- Make tidying a special event.
- Don’t change the method to suit your personality.
Comment: The last point extends beyond the Konmari Method. We as humans can’t avoid meddling. I’ve noticed in my lifetime that when someone has developed a method through painstaking research, experimentation, experience and a deep understanding of theory, everyone applauds at first and jumps on the band-wagon. Then, they begin to change things. The process becomes polluted and when it no longer works, it is discredited. Despite the fact that there is nothing wrong with the original, lazy people who didn’t understand the theory and didn’t think that the method applied to them have destroyed it. I’ve seen this with Search Conferences (participative organisational change workshops), educational methods, such as indigenous literacy, even with self-help methodologies. Kondo’s point here is massively important and is possibly the leading cause of failure.
2 Discarding things
- You need to start by discarding things all at once. Do it right don’t get distracted by time or memories.
By this she means you need to get everything in one category together in one place and ideally work through it in one day and take out the garbage bags. (Some things may take a few days but it should be a continuous process.)
- Before you start, visualise your destination
This is a type of vision statement, it can’t be too general. Kondo gives the following example of a young client who lived in a messy 7-mat room (3 x 4 m). Her vision was of a more feminine lifestyle: she wanted to come home to an uncluttered room, like a hotel room, with a pink bedspread and a white antique-style lamp. Before going to bed, I would have a bath, burn aromatic oils, listen to classical music, do yoga and fall asleep with a feeling of unhurried spaciousness.
- How to choose: Does it spark joy?
You pick up each item, respect it for what it is and what it has done, and then ask the question. Discard anything that doesn’t satisfy the joy criterion.
- Tidying is a dialogue with yourself
Kondo says don’t let your family see before you’re finished. But, also don’t fob your old stuff off on your family. She also has advice when you find it difficult to throw something away. Reassess its role. Maybe it has immense sentimental value, but its time is past.
3 How to tidy by Category
She advises sub-dividing clothing into the following sub-categories to increase efficiency:
- Tops (shirts, sweaters, etc.)
- Bottoms (trousers, skirts etc.)
- Clothes that should be hung (jackets, coats suits)
- Handbags etc.
- Extra items (scarves, belts, hats, etc.)
- Clothes for specific events (swimming, uniform etc. — gym, bushwalking)
Folding clothes is the key to storage once you’ve discarded. (The best way to learn is by the videos in Further Information). Clothes must be stored upright or vertically and not in stacks. Arranging clothes is the secret to energising your wardrobe.
- Treat Socks and tights with respect.
- Seasonal clothes: there is no need to store off-season clothes elsewhere, that is, there should be room for all your clothes in one place.
The remaining categories in order are:
(Again all on the floor in one place) with the following sub-categories:
- General (pleasure)
- Practical (reference, cook books)
- Visual (photos, art etc.)
With unread books, Kondo says percipiently: Sometime means NEVER. Books to keep are from the Hall of Fame only.
Comment: For me books are going to be difficult. On the positive side I have decreased my books on at least three occasions in the past five years, by about two-thirds in total. However, unlike some of her clients and as you’ve seen from reading my blog, books are very precious to me as a resource for research, academic pursuits, reference and collectibles etc. Nevertheless, I’ll try and I’m sure I’ll be able to whittle them down some more. I got rid of some hard to find academic books gathered over years when we moved, as soon as I found that the National Library had copies. Magazines are not an issue for me.
- The rule of thumb is discard everything.
I think Kondo is exceedingly cogent here. Most people store papers that they will never use. In Japan attending courses is common and keeping seminar or course papers, as if they are a precious resource whilst never reading them again, is the rule. A similar thing applies to out of date warranties and appliance manuals, used cheque books and credit card statements etc.
She suggests the following sub-categories:
- Study materials
- Credit card statements
- Warranties (electrical appliances)
- Greeting cards
- Used cheque books
Comment: I’ve thrown away or got rid of an immense amount of materials over the past five years. But again as outlined by my blog articles, some things in the list are useful for forensic accounting, statistics etc. I am not ready to get rid of such things. The paperless office and the rise of e-statements have helped immensely, but to this time banks do not keep records for more than 2-3 years. And, if you lose or are defrauded on a credit card, the records of transactions on the old card disappear almost immediately. In Australia you cannot access them again, I’m sure the situation is the same elsewhere.
Komono (miscellaneous items)
- CDs, DVDs
- Skincare, make-up
- Valuables (passport, credit cards)
- Electrical equipment
- Household equipment (stationary, writing materials, sewing kits etc.)
- Household supplies (expendables, medicine, detergent, tissues etc.)
- Kitchen goods/food supplies
- Special interest, hobbies etc.
Comment: Each item is a minefield. I can take some reassurance that some are exclusively ‘girlie’ items, but not much.
- Small change (coins)
Comment: I try with this category, plastic bags of coins for parking in the car, paying for gym in coins. But, I don’t try hard enough.
Komono 2 (miscellaneous items)
Disposables ( you kept ‘just because’)
- Mobile phone packages
- Unidentified cords
- Electrical appliance boxes
- Broken TVs and radios
- Bedding for the guest who never comes
- Cosmetic samples for trips (you just don’t take away with you)
- Latest healthcare products
- Free novelties
- Your parents home is not a haven for your keepsakes
- You need to give up memories that you have moved beyond
- You need to value what you have now
- Cherish who you are now
- You need to give up photos and memories you no longer need
Comment: I don’t have many sentimental photos (some I don’t want to get rid of). But I do have a large number of photo albums of travel and these are not just holiday photos. In recent years, I have thousands of photos again of high quality most of them in digital form. I have winnowed my photographs and spent hundreds of hours sorting and valuing them. Though my photo archives are still huge. But, I have used my photos professionally in my art and also in my other life. Some I’ve sold. I have virtually become a professional photographer in the last ten years.
Again consult the blog for verification. Hence though I will go through the Konmari process on this. I doubt that it will generate much discarding, though it may well help get rid of extra-numerary prints and may make me really analyse and sort my negatives.
These are hundreds of simple items, tooth brushes, cling film, toilet rolls etc.
Reduce until something clicks
What is the perfect amount of possessions? It will vary from person to person. But, as you go through the categories discarding, you will reach a click point and suddenly find what your true values are.
- Follow your INTUITION and all will be well!
4 Storing things for an exciting life
Discard first, store later
- The amount of storage places you have is just about right.
Designate a place for each thing
- The essence of storage is designating a spot for every last thing that you own.
- Storage: pursue the ultimate simplicity
- Clever solutions and miraculous storage designs are almost always impractical to use. They serve only to gratify the designer’s ego.
An example is given of a lazy Susan cupboard device, which takes up a huge space. Kondo says that one doesn’t need to frequently access items stored at the back of a cupboard (but this frequency is used in a limited sense only, items of the same type sorted into those in front and those in back).
Comment: In Canberra we have Howard’s Storage World and IKEA both of which offer such solutions.
People realise that they have too much stuff. Why do we have too much stuff? Because we fail to grasp what we actually own. Because our storage methods are too complex.
- Don’t scatter storage places
- Store all items of the same type in the same place.
- Don’t scatter storage places.
There are only two ways of categorising belongings by type and by person (e.g. Denise and Tony).
Keep categories to a minimum
- By keeping to those used for sorting: clothes, books, documents, komono.
- By categorising even more loosely: e.g. cloth-like, paper-like and things that seem electrical.
- Define separate storage places for each family member.
- Start by sorting your own things, leave communal things to last.
Forget about flow planning and frequency of use
In terms of the Konmari Method this is not relevant, especially she says as the Japanese house is invariably small.
Never pile things
- Vertical storage is the key (not stacks).
No need for special storage items
- Shoe boxes are good, basically any square box or container of the right size (Apple product boxes, iphone, ipad, tend to be good too!).
A quick list of other things:
- Best way to store bags is in another bag.
- Empty your personal bag, handbag, wallet every day.
- Items on the floor belong in the cupboard.
- Keep the bath and the kitchen sink clear.
- Decorate your cupboard with your favourite things.
- Unpack and de-tag new clothes immediately (don’t leave wrapped for later use).
- Don’t underestimate the noise of written information. Labels and instructions.
- Appreciate your possessions.
5 The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life
These are mostly homilies for you to consider rather than to do:
- Put your house in order and discover what you really want to do.
- The magic of tidying dramatically transforms our lives.
- Gaining confidence in life through the magic of tidying.
- An attachment to the past or an anxiety about the future.
When we can’t let something something go it comes down to: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future (or both).
Learning that you can do without
Not that you never regret discarding something (expect it to happen at least three times during the Konmari process) but you can work around it and find that it is not life threatening. Also you do not search high and low for something you know you have but don’t know where it is!
- Do you greet your house?
A two minute ritual when first entering a client’s home based on Shinto.
In essence tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions and the house they live in.
- Your possessions want to help you (energy).
- Your living space affects your body.
- How to identify what is truly precious.
- Being surrounded by things that bring joy makes you happy.
- Your real life begins after putting your house in order.
- Tidying increases good fortune (I think she means this metaphorically)
What can I say, the ultimate sceptic is converted without trying. In my series on the Death of Osama bin Laden particularly one and three I said that the story by Seymour Hersh had the ring of truth, while that of the Obama administration did not. Similarly, with the Konmari Method as an experienced analyst it has the ring of truth while most self-help books, despite the hype and the persuasiveness, do not. I don’t have to believe those amongst friends and acquaintances or the endorsements on the Internet to make my decision. The whole of my experience of processes, which is extensive, tells me that the Konmari Method has the ring of truth and almost certainly works. I can’t imagine a higher endorsement until I’ve tried it myself. And, at this point in time, I can’t imagine it wouldn’t work unless I don’t follow the system properly. This is an amazing admission for me that failure is more likely to be my own fault. Yet, I am also self-analytic enough to admit it if it comes about.
Congratulations Marie Kondo you are a valuable human being!
Key Words: Marie Kondo, tidying, Konmari Method, Japanese, discarding, categories, locations, storage, folding clothes, respect for objects, does it spark joy, reset your life
Malcolm Gladwell Outliers: The story of Success 2008.
10,000 hour rule Malcolm Gladwell
The 10,000 hours that is supposedly necessary to become a master in any discipline
Respect for objects
Richard Lloyd Parry The Australian Decluttering Queen Marie Kondo’s Tidy Mind 16 January 2016
Informative but also patronising.
The Compleet Molesworth by Geoffrey Willans and cartoonist Ronald Searle 1958.
Nigel Molesworth and the characters of St. Custards
My relationship with tidying
Fritz Heider Balance Theory
The Konmarie Method in Detail
Folding Information the Konmari Way
Goop provides a guide to folding with short loop videos and text explanations.
Marie Kondo folds a perfect sock and underwear drawer (1.31 min)
Marie Kondo How to fold short sleeved t-shirts (1.07 min)
Lavendaire How to fold Socks and Stockings (1.13 min)
Lavendaire How to fold T-shirts and tank tops (2 min)
Lavendaire How to fold Pants (1.06 min)
Lavendaire How to fold Sweaters (1.53 min)
Lavendaire How to organise your clothes (4.33 min)
Lavendaire Overview of the Konmarie Method (7.16 min)
A practical mum folds the washing (10.38 min)
Root Simple has a really cool cultural video of a Marie Kondo folding class in Japanese.
I couldn’t find any Marie Kondo devotee with any method for folding dress-shirts. I suspect that they are meant to hang. However, Real Simple again gives folding instructions for a dress shirt and with the double folded method you could imagine storing vertically. I think this and other areas are perhaps one area for experimentation. I think I prefer my non-Kondo but Japanese underpants and sock folding method, for example.
TM Lewin offer a more formal method of folding a dress shirt for space and travel, but this method stacks. Although only about 2 shirts at a time. Definitely, non-Kondo.
A long talk by Marie Kondo about her method
Marie Kondo Google Talks The life changing magic of tidying up (42.15 min)
Writing about Marie Kondo
Wikipedia A basic background
Barry Yourgrau The New Yorker The Origin Story of Marie Kondo’s Decluttering Empire 8 December 2015
A relatively straight account, though with a dismissive tone, gives some more background to Kondo, and includes comments from some unmannerly but perhaps relevant Japanese who disagree with her.
Tracey Moore Jezebel The Backlash Against Konmari and de-cluttering is stupid 2 June 2015 is a good rant against the backlash. The article is satire but Moore intuitively sees the truth in Kondo, whether or not she’s going to do the de-cluttering.
Press articles in general tell more about the media than about Marie Kondo
About the method
Allie Merriam Popsugar Why This Controversial Organising Method Is Exactly What You Need 29 January 2016
This is a nice little article with excellent photos.
General media articles
Those that tend to appropriate
This is the worst example of an economist appropriating Marie Kondo without adding much value or content.
Bourree Lam The Atlantic The economics of tidying up 13 May 2015
Jessica Irvine The Sydney Morning Herald The economics of decluttering: how I learned to ignore sunk costs 5 February 2016.
Irvine follows the same sunk cost example utilised in Bourree Lam’s longer article but the article is both superficial and trivial.
The video is almost a perfect example of mass-media’s ability to trivialise. The article is not much better though it tries to make itself seem important. It’s a very minor example of appropriation.
(posted in Chiang Mai, Thailand)