Stop being such a hoarder!


Stop being such a hoarder!

By her own account, Marie Kondo was an unusual child, poring over lifestyle magazines to glean organising techniques and then stealthily practising them at home and school, confounding her family and bemusing her teachers.

As she writes in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising, which comes out this month in the United States and is already a best-seller in her native Japan and in Europe, she habitually sneaked into her siblings’ rooms to throw away their unused toys and clothes, and ducked out of recess to organise her classroom’s bookshelves and mop closet, grumbling about poor storage methodologies and pining for an S-hook.

Now 30, Marie is a celebrity of sorts at home, the subject of a TV movie, with a three-month waiting list for her decluttering services - until recently, that is, because she has stopped taking clients to focus on training others in her methods. Last week, I brought her book home to practise them.

Interpreting the theory

What better moment to drill down and ponder the fretful contents of one’s sock drawer? Let me explain. Marie’s ecluttering theories are unique, and can be reduced to two basic tenets: Discard everything that does not “spark joy,” after thanking the objects that are getting the heave-ho for their service; and do not buy organising equipment - your home already has all the storage you need.

Obsessive, gently self-mocking and tender toward the life cycle of, say, a pair of socks, Marie delivers her tidy manifesto like a kind of Zen nanny, both hortatory and animistic. “Don’t just open up your closet and decide after a cursory glance that everything in it gives you a thrill,” she writes. “You must take each outfit in your hand.”

‘Sparking joy’

“Does it spark joy?” would seem to set the bar awfully high for a T-shirt or a pair of jeans, but it turns out to be a more efficacious sorting mechanism than the old saws: Is it out of style? Have you worn it in the last year? Does it still fit? Alone in my bedroom, with the contents of both closets strewn over every surface, I fondled stretch velvet pants and enough fringed scarves to outfit an army of Stevie Nicks fans, and shed a tear or two for my younger self. (Where did the time go?)

Sparking joy,” I realised, can be a lexible concept: That which is itchy, or too hot, is certainly joyless. So is anything baggy, droopy or with a flared leg. Tidying is a dialogue with oneself, Marie writes. Of course, after 10 or 12 hours of this, you get a bit silly. You forget to thank your discards. By 9 pm, I had lost Marie’s book in the layers of clothing, hangers and shoe boxes. And my glasses, too.

How to distinguish one black turtleneck from another? Why would anyone buy purple tights? What is joy, anyway? At 1 am, my daughter appeared, raised an eyebrow at the piles still obliterating my bed and offered up her own.

But I was ready to fold, the primal act of Marie’s method. You can find You Tube videos of her technique, but it’s not so hard: Fold everything into a long rectangle, then fold that in upon itself to make a smaller rectangle, and then roll that up into a tube, like a sushi roll. Set these upright in your drawers. And pour your heart into it, Marie urges: Thank your stuff, it’s been working hard for you.

“When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly,” she writes, “we are, I believe, transmitting energy, which has a positive effect on our clothes.” She proposes a similarly agreeable technique for hanging clothing. Hang up anything that looks happier hung up, and arrange like with like, working from left to right, with dark, heavy clothing on the left: “Clothes, like people, can relax more freely when in the company of others who are very similar in type, and therefore rganising them by category helps them feel more comfortable and secure.”

Such anthropomorphism and non-dualism, so familiar in Japanese culture, as Leonard Koren, a design theorist who has written extensively on Japanese aesthetics, told me recently, was an epiphany to this Westerner.

In Japan, a hyper-awareness, even reverence, for objects is a rational response to geography, said Leonard, who spent 10 years there and is the author of Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. “Think of the kimono, and the tradition of folding,” he said. “There is also the furoshiki, which is basically a square of flat cloth used daily to wrap packages.

Folding is deep and pervasive in Japanese culture. Folding is a key trategy of modular systems that have evolved because of limited living space.” My weekend was lost to Marie. After three days, I had given four bags of clothing and two bags of shoes to the
Salvation Army, along with two dead computers. Two-thirds of my fridge - jam dating to 2010, undated tubes of tomato paste - ended up in the trash. I filled two 60-gallon trash bags with miscellaneous garbage: shirts with ink stains on the pockets, old clippings, appliance warranties, credit card statements.

For Marie’s instruction on sorting papers is perhaps the most liberating of all her maxims: Just throw them all away. (She is equally ruthless about buttons.) “There is nothing more annoying than papers,” she says firmly. “After all, they will never spark joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.”

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