Sparking & Spreading Joy

What the world needs now is Marie Kondo. I mean, yes, of course…the world needs love, but also Marie Kondo, which can be kind of the same thing. Although she is getting absolutely skewered by critics, who say she really isn’t doing anything life-changing or even that admirable, I have to respectfully disagree.


One of my last set of blog posts on Magnolias & Mimosas was about my mission to apply the KonMari method of de-cluttering our home last January…before the Netflix show was a thing, but after her New York Times bestseller was starting to pop on the shelves at Goodwill. And full disclosure: I did not read the book. I read some blog posts by people who had read the book and then took what they learned and used it. My philosophy was that I didn’t need to read the book and who had time for that anyway? I had a 3200 square foot house to tidy. I just needed the bullet points.

At the end of about 3 months, we had a yard sale. We sold (or donated) about 4,000 pounds of stuff and made about $8,000. Now some of that was bulky living room furniture that looked fabulous in our first home with the cathedral ceiling and the open floor plan, but had since made moving every 24 months more challenging. The question loomed with every new house: It’s great, but will the entertainment center fit? So, out with a bunch of furniture, sound systems, molded plastic toys with enormous footprints, and so. many. clothes. Also, a lot of gifts that I had held onto because I valued the relationship with the person who had given it to me. But when I held that particular item in my hands and asked myself if it sparked joy, nothing. Not even a cricket. That was an eye opener for me and a tremendous weight lifted that I didn’t even know I was carrying. Marie Kondo had given me permission to free myself of things in our house that were taking up space and consuming energy.

Someone once said that Marie Kondo said that if you do it right, you should only have to KonMari your home once. I don’t know if she actually said that. She mentions in the very first episode that her daughters, who are very young, make organizing and cleaning difficult sometimes, but I’m here to tell you that I nailed it the first time and that there will definitely be a second time and probably a 22nd time. Not everything will have to be measured for joy, but when you stop to think about how much…stuff…is coming into our houses constantly, well there’s no way you will only have to do this once. If for no other reason, at some point we forget how good it feels to throw out and pare down. And right now, I want to keep every single school paper Blue brings home. Like all of them. The math worksheets, the daily writing assignments, the spelling tests, and this adorable picture he drew of Martin Luther King Jr. last week. They are all precious to me…right now. But as time goes on, I will be able to view them with a more objective eye and decide which ones are truly worth the space I give them. I think as Marie Kondo’s daughters grow, she may address this part of parenting. Or perhaps it will get lumped in with de-cluttering sentimental items. But even now, she is always demonstrating to her young children how to embrace what brings joy and release what does not.

I do believe the Netflix show, Tidying Up, is perfectly timed for the world we are in today. Marie Kondo has gotten a lot of undeserved flack for saying she likes to keep her book collection limited to 30 books, for being too chipper while she’s tidying, for being too…I don’t know…Japanese? She does “weird” things like greeting the house and thanking items for their usefulness before getting rid of them. But if I had read the book before diving in, I would have learned why she does this and, most likely, deemed it a worthy part of the process, too.

Kami, to way oversimplify things, is the spiritual force in animate and inanimate things, according to the Japanese religion, Shinto. There’s much more to it (and some who practice Shinto believe it is reserved for inanimate objects specifically in nature), but for the purpose of de-cluttering your home with a Japanese professional organizer, the reason we thank items before sending them out of the home, is because they have kami. This life force is also the reason we clean and organize our possessions that we have chosen to keep. By folding our clothes, by dusting our shelves, by cleaning the toilet, and washing the sheets, we are honoring the kami in each item. We can also respect how many people, how much work it took to create the things we own. Who made the ottoman? How many hands touched my arc lamp before it found its way onto the Target shelf? Just by thinking of what I own in this way, I have inadvertently started taking better care of it. I put things back where they belong and make sure they are clean before doing so. It takes a lot of work to maintain a home and everything in it. It certainly makes me think twice before bringing anything else in and helps me have gratitude for what we do have.

What the world, and especially America, needs now is a tiny Japanese woman in a wool skirt and cardigan showing us how to rediscover what is most important by peeling away the layers of junk, both physically and emotionally. Our possessions are either adding or subtracting from our enjoyment in life. Keep what sends a zing down your spine when you hold it, thank and get rid of the things that don’t and your home will always bring you joy. And you will enjoy it more with the people you share it with, which will spill over into how you interact with others outside of your home. Clutter and possessions that don’t bring us joy take up space in our houses and in our minds, making us less creative and less able to problem solve creatively. It is a weight that is unnecessary and completely self-imposed. A woman outside of our culture, who speaks mainly through an interpreter, is teaching us how to live more fully with less. She is sparking joy in Americans who take the time to embrace her method and complete the process, which is partially rooted in a Japanese religious ideology. Tidying Up with Marie Kondo is not about competing, but it is about winning; it isn’t about being judged, it’s about being grateful. We haven’t even made it through the entire series yet and she has already changed our lives so I call BS on all those couch critics.

Tidying Up is streaming on Netflix (or you can add it to your DVD mail if you’re resisting the streaming trend like my mom). Also, check out this article from The Atlantic for a fabulous description of the rest of the series and this article from HuffPost that describes the Shinto roots of the KonMari method.