The Japanese cleaning expert, Marie Kondo, has been getting a bit of public and media attention in the Western world in the last few months, in connection with the release of her Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”
The thing is, though, Miss Kondo has been around for some time now already, and released a pretty well-received book back in 2011 titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
As you might expect, if you’ve seen her show, the book contains a pretty quirky mixture of metaphysical suggestions, pragmatic tidying advice, smart strategy, and culturally specific nuance.
Here’s a review of “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
Treat your belongings as if they have a soul
When Marie Kondo’s show aired on Netflix, many people were intrigued and surprised by her ritual of greeting each home she entered, and “thanking it” before setting to work. In her book, she not only mentions this ritual of hers, but says that she does it every time she returns home after work or any other outing.
This isn’t exactly a typical Japanese tradition, and many Japanese viewers of the show have commented that they’ve never heard of such a thing before.
What the “home greeting” does have in common with broader Japanese culture, however, is that it seems to be rooted in Shintoism, and the belief in that religion that everything has its own soul of sorts, known as “Kami.”
This theme plays out over and over again throughout Marie Kondo’s book. For example, she says that every time you’re about to dispose of a belonging, you should first thank it for the service it’s done for you, invite the spirit to return to you in a new form, treat it with respect, and then get rid of the item.
As for the belongings that you keep, she also refers to them in an anthropomorphised way, and talks about the fact that treating them with dignity, and thanking them regularly, causes them to last for longer and embody a more positive energy.
Clearly, this isn’t a very common way of looking at things in the Western world. If, for example, you need Wedding Ties, that’s a pragmatic concern, not the beginning of a relationship with your clothes.
There’s obviously a pretty specific Marie Kondo spiritual worldview in all of this, but regardless of your own spiritual ideas about the metaphysical nature of pillows or socks, treating your belongings in this way probably will actually help you to appreciate them more, and help them to last longer.
At the very least, you’re not so likely to throw your stuff around every day, and take it for granted.
Imagine you lived in a small Japanese apartment
It’s worth mentioning that a lot of what Marie Kondo recommends is clearly informed by the fact that she originally designed the system in order to help de-clutter small Japanese apartments, rather than the larger and more spacious homes found in many other places.
While the basic principles of the book are likely to be useful to all kinds of people, in all kinds of situations, some of the more specific comments about how many books you should keep, or how often you should get rid of old clothes, are likely not going to be especially relevant for anyone who lives in a larger home.
Don’t feel pressured to conform your lifestyle to a particular template, especially if the template is based on a culture and environment that you don’t share. The point of utilising the system is, after all, to improve your quality of life, not cause you to develop an unnecessary degree of paranoia.
The “spark joy” concept – its benefits and drawbacks
Marie Kondo’s fundamental guiding principle for figuring out which items to keep and which ones to get rid of, is the “spark joy” concept.
In other words, you should handle each item physically (simply looking at, or thinking about them is no good) and, when you touch them, you should pay attention to whether or not they create a “spark of joy” within you.
Items that “spark joy” stay, and those that don’t, get disposed of.
There are some benefits to this principle, of course. If, for example, you handle a particular ornament or item of clothing and find that it makes you feel terrible, it’s probably a good sign that you should get rid of it. Likewise, if an old memento makes you feel happy, why would you get rid of it?
But there are certainly drawbacks to this concept as well.
For one thing, you’ll almost certainly need to hold onto some things that don’t actively “spark joy.” Like the contents of your medicine cabinet, for example.
For another thing, what “sparks joy” today may not be identical with what sparks joy tomorrow, what sparked it yesterday. Maybe you’re just in a particular mood at that exact moment in time?
By all means. use this principle, but it’s probably best to take it with a pinch of salt.