Of the various indicators of viral internet fame in 2019, having your name become a verb is surely at the apex. Following closely behind is coining a catchphrase that bestows a new identity upon a previously mundane word or experience. If you’ve “kondo’ed” your apartment in an effort to “spark joy” some time in the last three or so years, you know exactly who I’m talking about: Thirty-four-year-old organizing wunderkind Marie Kondo.
Kondo has effectively revolutionized the meaning of “tidying,” transforming it from a tedious chore into a vehicle for changing your life (literally, as the title of Kondo’s best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up promises in no uncertain terms). Her philosophy has sparked more than just joy, though, generating everything from memes to think pieces to — recently — a Netflix special, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.
I watched a few episodes and immediately understood why Marie Kondo the person is the object of just as much fascination as her signature KonMari Method™. Upbeat, optimistic and radiantly curious, Kondo’s aura could conceivably spark joy in its own right. I was immediately sucked in, eager to conform to whatever lifestyle and corresponding habits her soothing voice prescribed. But more than that, I wished I could sit down with her on a soft couch and pick her brain. I had so many questions — about joy, letting go, regret and all the other emotional baggage that comes with being a keeper of stuff. Scroll down to read our Q&A, and meet me in the comments to further discuss whether Kondo’s magic did, in fact, change your life.
How do you know if something is ACTUALLY bringing you joy?
It’s important to bring each and every item you own out and touch it. If it’s difficult for you to connect with your sense of joy when holding your belongings, I suggest starting with an item you really love – and then compare the feeling you have holding each subsequent item to the feeling you had when you held your favorite item. Sometimes you will experience impulsive, fleeting joy when you encounter an item; other times it’s more of an enduring, lifetime joy. Both serve a purpose. The important thing is to be aware of the difference.
There are some cases when an item doesn’t directly spark joy in the present but might in the future. I have had an uncanny experience with many of my clients where they will pick up an item and feel a strong spark of joy – but not really know why. Within a few weeks or months, they report back to me that the item ended up playing a significant role in their lives – one that they never could have predicted! Part of this process involves constantly honing your sensitivity to joy and developing an instinct for what items are going to be necessary for you in the longterm.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to tidying?
Putting too much emphasis on what to discard. Instead of focusing on what you want to let go of or how much you want to minimize, focus on what’s valuable to you and on what you want to keep in your life.
Did anything about the experience of going through people’s homes surprise you or change your perspective on minimal living?
I’d like to clarify that the definition of “spark joy” depends on the person. Minimal living may spark joy for one person, but not for another. The KonMari Method™ does not require minimal living. The process of professionally tidying with clients has changed my perspective in that sense. When I first started, I thought that tidying was something everyone could benefit from – and that it would make everyone happy. But now I know that there are people who are not ready to go on this journey yet, and forcing them to does not bring them happiness.
Have you ever regretted throwing something away?
I regret letting go of small kitchen scissors that my younger sister gave to me for my children’s food. I thought I would never use them, so I gave them away to another mother. But now that my children are getting older, I sometimes think those scissors would come in handy and be much easier to use than a knife! The lesson here is that if you’re not sure how an item is supposed to function, it’s important to research it first before letting it go.
Have you ever had a client who’s regretted throwing something away?
I think everyone has an item they regret letting go of – it’s hard to avoid. This could be for a number of reasons, such as deciding to let go of it early on in the process before you’ve really honed your sensitivity to joy, or because you haven’t come to recognize that functional, utilitarian items spark joy because of how they support your life. But regret in this context is a learning experience that teaches you about yourself. I strongly advise against letting go of something impulsively or because you simply don’t want to make a decision. It takes a long time to fully consider the meaning of each item, but patience is necessary in order to make a wise decision.
Do you know anyone who has a lot of stuff and isn’t worried about it?
I do know people like that. It’s not a good or a bad thing, it just stems from a difference in sensitivities and value systems. If you’re someone who owns a lot of things and doesn’t want to let anything go, I would suggest trying to organize your drawers by folding your clothing in the correct way – just once! – and see how you feel. You might be surprised to find that having an organized space actually sparks joy.
If you grew up holding onto things because they made you feel financially safe and secure, how do you downsize with that in mind?
There’s no need to force yourself to let go of items! Don’t make downsizing your goal – that’s not the point of tidying. The ultimate goal of tidying is to discover how you’d like to live in your home.
What’s the one thing you think most people should have more and less of?
Less stress, more joy.
Photo by Denise Crew via Netflix.