Marie Kondo also known as KonMari first made waves in the early 2010’s with her exacting methods of decluttering, cleaning and organising. It was this petite fairy-like Japanese woman with jet black hair and a perfect fringe who first uttered the words “Does it spark joy”. Words that have been re-uttered by millions of people around the world as they decide what to keep and what to toss.
With a new Netflix show and graphic novel “The Life-changing manga of tidying up”, Marie Kondo is making a comeback. My first brush with Konmari was in my sister’s living room. The girl who has a love for beautiful things and an eye for finding hidden gems, would naturally have both Marie Kondo books, complete with little book tags peeking out – because just about everything she owns she’ll tell you sparks joy. I skimmed, not read those books. I was under the impression Marie Kondo was for minimalists. I’d read somewhere she was against having more than 30 books. As someone who grew up in a home filled with books, spending days in the library and still loves to be surrounded by books, the idea of getting rid of books did not spark joy; and so I decided the KonMari method was not for me…
I was wrong.
At the end of 2019 I received a copy of her latest book. Except it’s not a book. It’s a graphic novel. An elevated comic book if you will. It follows the story of Chiaki, a young woman in Tokyo with a cluttered apartment, messy love life and lack of direction. She calls upon Marie Kondo for help and much like in the Netflix series, Marie Kondo teaches her about the life changing manga of tidying up.
On the surface it appears to be a simple comic, a cute story. In reality, it’s an abridged version of her best-selling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”. I read the book in an hour and it had both myself and Feige inspired to do a major clean-up. If you struggled to read her other books which are a lot more detailed and lengthier, her latest book is perfect for you. It lays out all her tips to cleaning in an incredibly digestible and simple way. Somehow combining cleaning tips with a cute story and pictures makes the process seem easier and less daunting.
The KonMari Method of cleaning up involves 6 main steps;
1. Make the decision to tidy up
Much like any other changes or habits you want to introduce in your life, you need to make a conscious decision to tidy up.
2. Visualise Your Ideal Life
By taking time to visualize how you want your life to look and what’s important to you, you realise why you want to tidy up and you’re able to decide what no longer fits into that picture.
3. Tidy by category
Marie Kondo believes to tidy properly you need to go by category – not by room cupboard. This means if you’re doing clothing, all your clothes need to be sorted through at one time. She also has an order of categories – which she believes makes the process easier on you. She starts with the simplest – clothing – and graduates to categories that are more difficult like papers. Sentimental items are organised last.
4. Choose what to keep, not what to discard
This is a simple mindset change. Instead of focus on what you don’t like, you focus on what you do like. This is why she uses her phrase “does it spark joy”, by asking that, you’re asking yourself what you like. If it doesn’t spark joy, you know you don’t like it and it needs to go.
5. Fold upright
Marie Kondo is known for her folding methods. The book has detailed drawings of how to fold various items. According to KonMari, clothing should be stored upright – it makes it easier to see what you have and is easier to keep neat.
6. Store things where they belong
To keep things tidy, everything needs a home. Once you’ve chosen what to keep, you need to find a proper spot for it. According to Marie Kondo you should store things in categories. This makes it easier to know exactly what you have and helps you keep them tidy.
KonMari is a firm believer that having a tidy space filled with only the things that spark joy can be life changing. By letting go of what no longer sparks joy, you create space for the things that do spark joy.
Inspired to start, I tackled my bedroom first which involved two major categories – Clothing and Beauty. It was the most thorough clean up I’ve ever done, and I let go of more things than I ever have in a clean-up. In the process of discarding and choosing, I learnt a few lessons in the life changing manga of tidying up.
Go through Each Item Individually
To do an effective clean up it’s not enough to skim your wardrobe, you need to pull everything out and go through each item individually. In the past I’ve gone through each drawer and shelf separately – taking things out with the intention of refolding them neater, not discarding. I’ve also never removed every item hanging in my closet, choosing to push them around as I decide what no longer fits. Marie Kondo insists on collecting every item in a category into on area and going through each item individually. Not only did this give me the opportunity to do a closet deep clean (essential for preventing moth holes), it made me more aware of the items I was holding onto unnecessarily. When you’re holding up an item and looking at it critically as opposed to skimming your wardrobe from afar, it’s easier to decide what you still love or find useful and what no longer serves you.
I also prefer the idea of doing a large overhaul better than the one in, one out system some people use. I’d rather go through my closet every season to decide what I like and what I don’t.
‘Does it Spark Joy’ Doesn’t mean Perfection
I never fully got that phrase before. It seemed silly. Furthermore, I always countered not everything has to spark joy, some things are just practical. Old race t-shirts don’t necessarily spark joy, but they’re useful when you’re doing messy tasks like painting or gardening, where you don’t want your nice clothes to get ruined.
The thing is, when you hold a piece of clothing up and say aloud “but does it spark joy”, you actually realise what items make you smile looking at them – whether it’s because they make you feel your best, are beautiful or you know you wear them all the time. It becomes a barometer for deciding what to keep and what to let go of. For items that weren’t an obvious yes or no, asking that question helped me decide if I wanted it or not. Not all the items were pristine, an oversized t-shirt that is strictly for home only but one that is so comfy and makes me smile every time I wear it, sparks all the joy. A bookshelf full of books makes me happy and so they stayed; but old textbooks that spark no joy were donated.
I also kept some old t-shirts, leggings and shorts for messy tasks; but whittled it down to what I would actually use.
“Does it spark joy” is a phrase I’m using not only when deciding what to keep, but also when deciding what to bring into my space. It’s made me a more thoughtful consumer as I consider a lot more carefully if I truly like something and need it before purchasing.
The more you throw away, the easier it becomes
In the beginning it’s hard letting go of things. You used to like it, you may need it, maybe it’ll have a comeback. I found the more I let go, the more I wanted to let go of things and the better I felt. In fact, when I was putting things away, I ended up getting rid of even more items. The process also makes you want less. You realise how good it feels to just have what you need and what you truly love, rather than just having things for the sake of them.
Use what you Have
Tidying up does not need to involve going out and buying fancy storage boxes. In fact, Mari Kondo is no fan of storage, she calls it a cosmetic solution. One of her tips was using old shoe boxes as drawer dividers to store socks or underwear or other small items neatly. To reorganise my closet, I used what I had – buying no new storage containers but rather seeing how to use what I already had more effectively. This meant that some of my clothing are folded on top of each other and not stored upright – as she prefers. But I’m using what I have and it’s working for me.
You Change, and that’s ok.
So many of the items I ended up discarding were things I was holding onto. I used to wear them all the time. They’re in perfect condition. They were expensive. It wasn’t just that I hadn’t worn them in years. It was that when I actually looked at them, I no longer liked them. My style has changed and this means that while some items I continue to love for years and years, others have an expiration date. It’s ok to change your tastes and get rid of that top you wore all the time 5 years ago. This applies to beauty products, books and nick knacks. You change, you can let go of what no longer serves you.
Apply it to Your Life and Circumstances
Whenever I’ve read any book that teeters on the self-help side, I’ve found that it’s best to look at it within the context of your life. What you want and what is practical for you. Following someone’s method blindly without thinking about how it fits into your life doesn’t work. Not in the long run. Marie Kondo starts by asking people to visualise their ideal life. No one’s ideal is going to look the same and you need to apply things to your own set of circumstances.
I used most of her folding techniques but also looked at the space I had and how storage worked for me. Some of my clothing are folded on top of each other, and whilst I hope the one’s at the bottom aren’t suffering as she believes they do from the weight of the others on top, it works for me.
I organised my hanging up cupboard according to category and not her swooping method of longest to shortest. When I’m looking for a dress or shirt or jacket, I want to look at all my options in that category easily, not what is the longest and shortest.
For any clothing items that I’m not yet ready to let go of, I make an effort to wear them in the coming weeks. This results in either me rediscovering an old love or deciding as I put it on that it no longer sparks joy.
Your Life may not magically Change but you may discover lost things
De-cluttering makes you feel physically good. Living in a space that’s tidy and organised also feels good. But don’t tidy with the hopes of your life magically changing overnight. Things take time and cleaning up your space is the first step. I would not say my life has changed, but I did experience some magic in the process. One of the tips in the book is to empty purses and bags before storing them. Aside for discovering a dozen half empty tissue packets, forgotten lipsticks and old receipts, I found my beloved iPod that had been missing for two years. Ironically it was in a bag I’ve using recently, a bag that I had searched many times before for the iPod. It was stuck in a tiny hidden pocket I discovered after patting the bag down to make sure I had got every item. So maybe there is a little magic in tidying up the KonMari way.
Zissy is the co-founder of Nutreats. She likes to make things, do things and wear things.