Decor and Design / Feature

Tidy home; Tidy life. Marie Kondo’s spiritual approach to de-cluttering

Remember as a recalcitrant teen, your mother bemoaning the state of your bedroom and warning in a doom-laden voice: “a messy bedroom means a messy mind”? Cue eye-rolling and hormonal temper tantrums but it turns out that Mummy had it right all along. It seems that in a world hungry for philosophy, Tidying Up may just be the new religion.

The leader of this nascent movement is a slight, dainty Japanese woman named Marie Kondo, an Organising Consultant and author of the best-selling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of De-Cluttering and Organising.

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This little tome with the long-winded title has become a worldwide smash and a bible to those anxious to sort out not only their messy homes but also their messy lives. It has sold over 4.5 million copies around the world and Kondo has become an international celebrity. She is about to publish a follow up called Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organising and Tidying Up, which includes illustrations of her special folding technique and the best way to lay out your entranceway.

Known as the KonMari method (#KonMari on Instagram to see displays from her avid followers), Kondo’s technique is principally comprised of keeping only those possessions which spark tokimeku (“joy” or literally “flutter, throb, palpitate” in Japanese). Then a place should carefully be selected for all your belongings. Everything should have an assigned spot, from your slippers to your tweezers.

An integral part of the KonMari method also asks us to consider our possessions as having feelings. How do our clothes feel squished into a crowded closet? Are they truly happy? Would they not be more at peace folded using the KonMari vertical folding method and placed neatly in a dresser? When you have decided that you no longer want an item in your home, you must thank it for its time with you, for the blessings and memories it has provided…then ruthlessly discard it.

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Rather like the biblical Saul’s conversion on the Road to Damascus, Marie Kondo underwent a spiritual awakening to the power of de-cluttering when she was a teenager. Obsessed from a young age with tidying bookshelves and her primary school classroom, one fateful day she was so overwhelmed by the perceived clutter in her bedroom that she actually passed out. Yes, that’s right. Down for the count. When she awoke, her path in life was clear:

“I was obsessed with what I could throw away. One day, I had a kind of nervous breakdown and fainted. I was unconscious for two hours. When I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely. And I realised my mistake: I was only looking for things to throw out. What I should be doing is finding the things I want to keep. Identifying the the things that make you happy: that is the work of tidying” (Kondo, 2015)

This somewhat extraordinary teenage behaviour has fed into a multi-million dollar philosophy. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Kondo also spent five years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine in Japan. Shinto – the predominant ethnic religion of Japan – is ‘animistic’ in nature. That is, it assigns essences or souls to both animate and inanimate objects. Rocks, trees and rivers are said to have spirits. Similarly, Kondo assigns the souls to everyday items in homes and is said to say a prayer before entering a client’s home to begin the de-cluttering process.

There is method to the KonMari madness. Kondo’s disciples rave about the results – not just on their environments but also on their entire worldviews and attitudes towards themselves. This is the defining search of our times. Similar to the way the mindfulness movement seeks to de-clutter our minds, the KonMari method looks to remove the detritus from our home and allow us to breathe and relax more easily. Isn’t the very heartbeat of interior design our desire to create a more pleasant and habitable environment for ourselves?

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The best philosophies are the simplest ones. That’s Marie Kondo’s magic. Why should you have things in your home that don’t spark joy? Why should your closet look like a Tasmanian devil has just been getting dressed to go down to the local disco?

Ignore if you will all of the mumbo-jumbo about lighting a candle and releasing your unwanted cushion back into the cosmos. Then it makes complete sense and isn’t far off what your mother told you. It distils a thousand different philosophies and clichés into a structured approach to living. Only keep that which you truly love in your home and treat it with the utmost respect. After all, the way we inhabit our homes is just as important as how they look.

For inspiration on how to make your home more habitable, visit Australia’s No.1 interiors show Decor + Design in Melbourne, 21 – 24 July 2016.

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