In Life

Is the KonMari Method Really Life-Changing?

First of all, what the heck is the KonMari method?  It’s the term Marie Kondo uses (Kon + Mari) to define her method of tidying a home in her book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”.  Second of all, is it really life changing?  Well, let’s see… I first heard about Marie Kondo about a year ago on NPR.  The host was sharing examples of people who had tried the KonMari method and one was a gentleman who was holding onto a college textbook because his mom had passed away while he was taking that course.  Once he sat with the item for a minute to determine where it still “sparked joy” (one aspect of the KonMari method), he realized he was keeping it to hold on to the memory of his mom.  He was able to say “thank you for being there for me when I needed you but the memory of my mom is not in this book”.  My husband and I were driving in the car listening to this story and both of us welled up with tears.  Fast forward to reading her book and in 2019 seeing Marie Kondo now has a show on Netflix, meant it was time for us to really try this method.  Here are the highlights of what I learned:

1. Decide why you want to try the KonMari method

Every good experience starts with why (just ask Simon Sinek).  My why was that I feel like all the stuff in my life is suffocating me, crowding my mind, and making it difficult for me to make progress on more important things in my life.  As a UX professional, I often see websites where so much is crammed on the page and all treated equally that users become overwhelmed and don’t know where to look.  A saying I often share is that when you highlight everything, you highlight nothing.  But now I am feeling the same way with my home.  I believe I’ve been amassing material things as “retail therapy”, as a sort of addiction, etc.  So I want to develop a healthy relationship with my home and the things I have in it, in order to free my mind to focus on more valuable life experiences.  Understanding your why, as with any big endeavor, will help you stick with it and commit.  So let’s start!

2. Discard first

Marie Kondo’s first principle in the KonMari method is to discard first.  She suggests planning to work through your entire house in a concentrated timeframe, sharing that most organization efforts fail because people try to tackle only a drawer or room at a time.  The real value is making a concerted effort to do it all at once, get your house in order, and then you don’t have to constantly focus on tidying any longer!  I love that.  And by all at once, she doesn’t mean an hour or day but however long it takes to keep the focus on (i.e., 6 months for the average home).  The important thing is to start with discarding all first, because you can only see the entire space and decide on organization after you have gone through everything.  I can appreciate that, but I have found that with certain categories (like clothing), I am able to discard and then organize because I know it’s the only thing that will be in that space.  I also feel a sense of accomplishment and am motivated to continue.  I really connected with the KonMari method of discarding, because it’s actually more about deciding what to keep and that is the real trick to sticking with it!  The method says to hold each item and ask yourself if it brings you joy.  Some items will be much easier than others.  I found sentimental things like old concert T-shirts were tough as were clothes I bought but had never worn.  In both cases, she would say “thanks for the memories” or “thanks for teaching me what I don’t like to wear” but both have served their purpose.  It really helped me move forward from the past and realize that “stuff” is not the memory nor is there any value in keeping things out of guilt.  

3. Discard by category, not room

The KonMari method absolutely does not condone tidying by room; i.e., bathroom or closet.  Rather, Marie recommends discarding by category; i.e., all of your clothing or all books, etc.  She says to gather every single item in the category from your house and make a giant pile for discard decisions.  I found this an extremely valuable distinction from other methods.  For example, by pulling every pair of shoes you own from every space in your house, you can make conscious decisions about what really makes sense to keep vs. release.  It’s totally fine to break down some categories (i.e., tops vs bottoms vs coats, etc.).  And then there is a recommended order to categories to minimize emotional roadblocks:  clothes, books, papers, miscellany, mementos.  But with this technique, I found things I hadn’t seen in years buried in the back of a coat closet.  Really like it.

4. Define a place for each item

Once you’ve decided what you will keep from a given category, it’s time to decide where things will go and how you will access.  This step in the KonMari method is really important to maintenance.  When you take the item out, you need to put it back.  When clutter collects, it’s either because a place hasn’t been defined for the items or it’s too difficult to put them away.  However, now is not the time to rush out and buy a bunch of beautiful storage containers.  Focusing on the containers means you probably haven’t properly gone through the discard step!  But if you have, then organization is about making those decisions about placement and ease of access.  For example, when I organized my kitchen supplies in the pantry I used old candy boxes and shoebox lids to group like items (i.e., oils, vinegars, condiments, snacks, etc.).  I put taller less-used items in the back and shorter commonly used items in the front – defined place, ease of access.  Marie Kondo cautions against organizing by function, but it’s an extra step I did and I’m not going to lie, it’s a little magical!  I’m not quite to her goal of clear counter tops (still thinking about my bigger appliances like coffee maker), but I have made huge strides and could not be happier in my kitchen.

One note about clothes and their storage.  In the KonMari method, Marie shares her technique for folding most clothes for storage in drawers, other items should be hung.  This is one case where I don’t have that many drawers, just large shelves in my closet so I may purchase some inexpensive Ikea cabinets.  But I really like being able to see everything so that will be a requirement.  The folding technique she uses is from a Japanese principle called te-ate, “to apply hands” and is also therapeutic.  I have found that rolling loosely works a little better for me to easily see each item and also quickly return after use, but the important key is to value your clothes and treat them with respect (her point is that they will last longer if you do).  And use storage containers you already have (like shoeboxes and lids) to group items you can easily lift down from higher shelves, too.  She only hangs coats, dresses, jackets, pants, skirts, and blouses (the idea is to hang left to right from heavy to light to simulate movement up and to the right – don’t laugh, it’s psychologically freeing).

5. Conclusion

Marie shares much more wisdom and psychology in the book.  But the premise of the KonMari method is that once you put your house in order, your life can change quite drastically.  People have shared that they lost weight, started a new career, etc. When their homes were in order, they were finally able to focus on other aspects of their life and appreciate it more.  For example, with sentimental items, people struggle to release but often if they sit with the object they will realize they are holding onto the past or fearful of the future.  When you realize which issue it is for you, other areas of your life become more clear.  If you can be thankful for where you have gotten and look with hope to the future, your belongings and home can reflect that focus as well.  And while we are still working through our house, I know I am already changed.  The feeling I get with the categories we have addressed is so liberating I don’t want to stop.  Being able to spend less mental energy on deciding where things go or seeing clutter on a countertop, is like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  I’m more excited to focus on things that are more important to me, like writing!  🙂  So yes, it is life changing for me!  My end goal is to stop tidying and focus on living.

Did you read the book?  I’d love to hear your thoughts – good, bad, indifferent.  Drop me a comment below.

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