Podcast 113: Konmari method pros and cons

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This is Podcast 113 and it’s about the Konmari method, Marie Kondo’s magic way of tidying up. There are pros and cons to the method. I’ll talk about why it might not work for you and why that’s okay, and how you can tweak it to suit you.

What’s good about the Konmari method? She wants you to take everything you own out and examine it. Hold it in your hands. Experience it. From her perspective, you are investigating to see whether it sparks joy.

In my view, you need to do this in order to consider each possession thoughtfully before making a decision to keep it or not. I believe that everything you own has an effect on you, however small it might be. Each item has a bit of a pull on you, a draw on your energy, because it’s taking up space in your home and in the back of your mind. You are responsible for maintaining, cleaning, repairing and storing all these things, not to mention remembering where they are when you want them.

Now, I know that sounds kind of woo woo, but here’s how I know it’s true. Whenever I finish decluttering a space with a client, the client invariably feels lighter and freer. Really, every time. They may not have been consciously aware of the burden of their clutter, but once it’s gone, boy, they can feel it. They sigh, as if a load’s been lifted off them. So that’s my reasoning behind sorting through absolutely everything.

Clients sometimes tell me, oh, we can skip over that drawer. I know what’s in there. I’m going to keep all that stuff. When they say that, it can mean one of several things. It can mean that the drawer contains items they feel they can’t give me a good reason for keeping and they’re worried I’ll challenge them.

Or the things in there spark emotions other than joy that they don’t want to experience right now. Or they’re not prepared to make decisions about these particular items. Or they actually believe they have vetted everything in the drawer, which most of the time turns out not to be true.

All those reasons are versions of the burdening effect of clutter. Kondo writes about thanking your socks at the end of the day for their service and some readers have been put off by treating their socks as if they’re alive. But I find that people do have strong feelings about their possessions, good and bad.

There are the ones that spark joy and the ones that spark dread or anxiety. Joyful possessions are easy to identify. The others, not so much. That’s because we don’t usually want to dwell on those negative feelings. We learn to navigate around the feelings and the stuff to live our daily lives.

It’s usually the aggregation of stuff that causes those bad feelings, not individual items, so that makes it confusing. You don’t generally pick up one book or one coaster and realize, yes, this is the thing that’s causing clutter in my house! That item needs to be considered in the context of all the other items so the total quantity of items can be reduced to only the items that spark joy.

The other main thing I think is good about the Konmari method is the focus on joy. Of course, the problem with that is our lives are filled with things we simply need to have around, joyful or not. Things like toothbrushes, paperclips, TV remotes and sponges. The spark joy test needs to be accompanied by the usefulness test. My question to clients is twofold: do you need it? Do you love it? Everything you keep should fall into one of those categories. Let’s call that the Konmari Plus method.

What I don’t like about the method is its impracticality. Most people aren’t in a position to go through everything they own in one fell swoop. I think her folding techniques are verging on OCD. Having to empty my purse everyday would mean spending an unrealistic amount of time and effort to put back together each morning. It’s unlikely that your home will stay decluttered forever after doing the Kondo technique once.

However, each of these points does have some reason behind it and you can tweak them to make them work for you. Here’s how.

It’s perfectly okay to do your decluttering over time. Of course, the results will be more dramatic if you spend many consecutive days on it, but if you can’t, you’ll still be fine. If you have a plan to follow and a commitment to execute it, you’ll be successful.

I do fold garments in drawers so that they stand upright. I like this method because nothing gets forgotten by being invisible at the bottom of the drawer. I can see all my athletic tops at once, for example, so I can easily pick the one I want. My folding method is merely adequate, though. I don’t spend any more time folding a t shirt than I would if I laid it flat in the drawer. It looks tidy-ish and that’s fine with me.

I believe in regular purse decluttering. For me, the trigger to declutter is when I have trouble finding something in there because a mass of receipts, tissues, gum wrappers, business cards and whatnot has built up. That inspires me to dump it out and get rid of the junk.

This is an example of organic decluttering. Instead of decluttering on a schedule or doing it all at once, you recognize when an area needs purging because it’s become inconvenient or hard to use. I find this method more motivating because I can start right away solving the problem I just identified.

Finally, your home will probably not stay uncluttered. Lives change, needs change, lifestyles change. That’s okay. If you have embraced decluttering, your attitude toward things has probably changed though. You’ll be more appreciative of the organized space you’ve created. You’ll be more discerning about what you allow into your home. You’ll be more mindful of your patterns of acquiring. Those mindshifts will help a lot in maintaining an uncluttered home.

What you can do now: set aside an amount of time that works in your life, that doesn’t require you to bump other activities or stress you out. Try the Konmari Plus method. Ask if each item inspires joy. If it doesn’t, then ask if you truly need to have it for practical or legal reasons, not just because it might come in handy someday. Limit needed things to what you need now.