A tiny perfect 29-year-old Japanese woman has arrived in the West to explain how we can all fix our lives from the outside in.
Her name is Marie Kondo and she believes that putting your house in order will not just transform your space, but allow you to feel more confident and give you “the energy and motivation to create the life you want. You will have the courage to move on from the negative aspects of your life; you will recognize and finish a bad relationship; you can stop feeling anxious; you can finally lose weight.”
Those are some serious results to be gained by simply organizing the cutlery drawer. But Kondo takes an ecstatic, quasi-spiritual approach to cleaning. Unlike most decluttering experts, she espouses a love of objects, rather than a hatred of them.
This is a woman who thanks every item she owns for its “service” before she goes to bed at night, a habit which is not borderline obsessive compulsive at all. Definitely not.
The trick, apparently, is to limit the amount of stuff in your life to only things you truly love.
Organization gurus (and they are legion) have been preaching the physical and psychological health benefits of colour-coding your underpants for years now, but the difference with Marie Kondo is that she has become a global celebrity by doing so.
Her three books on tidying have sold more than two-million copies and have been translated from Japanese into Korean, Chinese, German and English.
The British press recently hailed her as “Japan’s queen of tidying,” and “the maiden of mess,” reprinting her spring cleaning tips far and wide.
The most recent of her books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, is out in English this month. Kondo also has a popular Japanese website, a series of instructional videos that teach “the best way to fold for perfect appearance” (the Gap method is correct), and a booming Tokyo consultancy which, according to her book jacket, helps “clients transform their cluttered homes in spaces of beauty, peace and inspiration.”
The “KonMarie method” of decluttering is deceptively simple but gruelling, sort of like Tracy Anderson’s approach to getting fit: First, examine every single item you own, object by object (you are meant to do this all at once, even if it takes you several days). Then decide what you want to keep (only things that truly “spark joy” are allowed), and lastly, designate a place for everything and stick to it.
Kondo does not believe in complicated storage systems, downgrading unworn cloths to “loungewear” or keeping books that you are not absolutely guaranteed to reread again (which is basically all books, period). On the other hand, there is an entire chapter on the importance of “Treating Your Socks and Tights With Respect.”
Reading Kondo’s book, I felt almost sick with nostalgia for the anal-retentive, 20-something fusspot I used to be.
For years I was a little like Kondo, living alone in my little city flat, placing my handbag on its special shelf as I came in the door, picking specks of lint off my spotless dove-grey armchair. I’d eat a two-egg omelette and drink a thimble of fine wine before washing up and tucking myself into hand-pressed linens, all the while thinking, “I wish I was/could be less anxious/end this bad relationship/lose weight.”
Then I met a messy man with a messy son and had a messy baby and the rest is, well, let’s just say it’s like a chaos bomb hit my formerly orderly life, but not in a bad way.
I do long for my former tidiness and feel vaguely ashamed by the fact that I just can’t be bothered to put my clothes away at night (they pile up on the bedroom chair until, usually about once a week, I am overcome with self-loathing and shove them all in the laundry hamper regardless of whether they need washing).
But the truth is, I don’t actually believe tidiness makes us happier.
What it does, I suspect, is make us marginally better behaved, and there is actual science to back this up.
Last year, researchers at the University of Minnesota published a study that reported participants in a study on messy and clean desks were much more likely to give to charity and choose healthy snacks after working in a clean and orderly environment.
However, when the participants were asked to come up with new uses for ping-pong balls, the messy deskers were more innovative, and they also made more original choices when asked to choose between different product designs.
The conclusion of the study was that being exposed to tidiness encourages people to do what’s expected of them, whereas disorderly environments may stimulate a release from convention.
The irony, of course, is that my tidy world was thrown into disorder when I did the most conventional thing of all (i.e. marriage and children). But I’m hoping the crumbs that are perpetually stuck to the bottom of my socks will someday have a beneficial effect on my creativity.
In the meantime, I’m developing my own housekeeping method to rival Marie Kondo’s. Like the KonMarie method, the McLeah method will be simple yet counter-intuitive. It has only three steps.
First you look around your house; second, you lower your expectations; and third, you select a book from a random pile and read it.
Ah, domestic bliss.