KonMari: the joy of giving up!

If decluttering and organising are on top of your mind this New Year, then why not embrace KonMari, a Japanese method of minimalism, urges Rashmi Vasudeva

KonMari today has been bestowed with the ultimate online award – the status of a verb.

Minimalism, it seems, is thriving, in its own little corner in this land of excess. In a culture where hyperbole is celebrated and abundance hailed, celebrities wed with enough dazzle to hurt the eyes, and heaving wardrobes are proudly instagrammed, ‘less is more’ is perhaps like an oasis, at least for some.

What especially seems to have caught the fancy of these ‘oasis-seekers’ is ‘KonMari’, a Japanese method of minimalism or ‘tidying-up’, as its now famous originator Marie Kondo puts it. Minimalism is, of course, a concept that can be found in many aspects of Japanese life and is cherished as ‘Ma’ (pronounced ‘maah’), a celebration of emptiness or the ‘space between things’. Because it is in empty spaces that possibilities exist, life springs forth and meanings are able to reveal themselves.

So much is Marie Kondo a household name in some circles that her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing has sold over two million copies in its English edition and was a bestseller several times over in its Japanese version. Marie Kondo, who consults in Tokyo, has clients who are happy to be on her waiting list for as long as six months and more. KonMari today has been bestowed with the ultimate online award – the status of a verb. So, just like Facebooking and Googling, today you can KonMari yourself to a calmer life, or so believe its practitioners.

Sparking joy

In her book, Marie Kondo methodically describes a step-by-step tidying up process where she advises her readers to go through (slowly) every single thing they own, and keep only things that spark joy.

There are several hypnotic videos and Pinterest posts of Kondo methodically folding clothes, organising books, clearing out piled-up closets and neatly stacking folders in cabinets. If you are the kind to be mesmerised by Instagram’s soap-chopping and slime-sensory videos, perhaps it is time to expand your horizon. Frankly, watching Marie Kondo do her thing is riveting. And tempting to follow, especially if you have been a hoarder all your life or come from a family of squirrels.

Moreover, ‘sparking joy’ is a compelling phrase like none other in these times of ‘crazy busy’. Instinctively, you realise its enormous potential; it feels like an adventure to ‘give in to joy’ as she tells us to. You sense instantly that the concept goes beyond mere clothes and books. It taps at your core and asks you, ‘knock! Knock! Now what is joyful for you?’

Where does the appeal lie?

It is this larger philosophical narrative that first caught the attention of Dr Gagan Krishnadas, an assistant professor of Law in Mangalore. “There are two aspects to KonMari – the decision to tidy-up and the practical method to follow.”

He says what made him a fan was Kondo’s reasoning about why it is difficult for us to sort out our things. “Our stuff are our memories. This is why she advises us to sort our clothes first, because they are least likely to stir up a storm in our heads.” More importantly, she suggests sorting photographs towards the end so that we don’t get caught up in memory circles right at the start. Dr Gagan says ever since he started following the method, he has easily resisted the temptation to buy new and unnecessary stuff and has been happily donating stuff he has discarded. “It is a difficult and time-consuming process but once you begin clearing out the physical clutter from your living spaces, your mind gets liberated.”

KonMari’s great, but…

Freelance professional and mother of two, Namrata Harish agrees that the method made her experience a sense of positivity like never before. But that’s where its usefulness stopped. She came across the book when on a baby break. “There was dust and clutter everywhere in the house and I decided to simplify my life.”

Following Kondo’s advice of attacking clothes first, Namrata made a huge pile of every bit of clothing she owned. “What a massive pile that was! I then realised that I had been indiscriminately buying clothes as and when I was putting on weight, and I hadn’t disposed of the ones that didn’t fit me anymore. I would keep them in my cupboard and look at them with sadness and longing, hoping to wear them again if and when I lost weight. But I never did.”

So she disposed of more clothes than she kept and retained only those that she liked wearing and made her feel confident and beautiful. “Seeing only those clothes in my cupboard made me feel lighter in spirit and more relaxed.” However, she could neither apply the same principle to her aghast husband’s wardrobe, nor could she simply throw away her children’s clothes. “These roadblocks made me hesitate to move on to other categories of sorting... I think the method works best for individuals or those living alone as they don’t have to convince anyone else,” she says.

Travel writer Lakshmi Sharath, who just started following KonMari, says although the method is fine for organising clothes and books, the same cannot be said for sentimental stuff. “I feel she goes a bit overboard about only keeping those that spark joy.” Lakshmi feels it is imperative that those who want to follow KonMari must feel free to be choosy and not really kick themselves for adopting only some of the many practices Kondo suggests.

Learning to let go

Despite such cultural and practical difficulties, there are enough takers for KonMari in urban India for someone like Delhi-based entrepreneur Gayatri Gandhi to even establish a KonMari consultancy, ‘Joy Factory’. When Gayatri began applying the KonMari method in her life, she experienced a great sense of empowerment and happiness, which sparked a business idea in her. She conducted a survey of over 200 respondents, of whom, more than 75% said they would love a professional ‘decluttering service’. And so was born Joy Factory and Gayatri was astonished at how quickly the business began picking up. “We seldom acknowledge that clutter could be a cause of mental stress in our lives. Many studies have shown how organised and neat physical spaces inspire healthier living,” she says.

For Gayatri, one of the first KonMari certified consultants in India, the journey has been punctuated with convincing each member of a client’s family about how to only keep things that spark joy. “As Indians, our emotional attachment extends to everything from ancestral jewellery to worn-out bathroom slippers. That’s why we often have to tweak the concept to suit the Indian context,” she says.

Wellness therapist Namita Chandra though, believes KonMari, at its core, is actually, greatly in tune with traditional Indian concepts of detachment and finding the ‘golden mean’ between attachment and letting go. She mentions the Gita in which Lord Krishna famously says ‘padmapatra mivambhasa’, referring to being the lotus leaf that grows in water but remains untouched by it.

Land of clutter we might well be, but looks like there’s still enough space for minimalism of many kinds to blossom as well as flourish.

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