What’s all this fuss about tidying up? And who is Marie Kondo?
This is a post I HAD to write. Yes it’s the show that everyone is talking about at the minute. The new Marie Kondo series on Netflix, Tidying Up and it reminded me that I had been meaning to write a blog post about her book for a long time! Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has been around for a while now but the current show is giving fresh emphasis and clarity on how her method actually works (and helps understand that magical folding technique that didn’t make much sense on the pages). I’ve seen so much written about her on social media this week and the response to her KonMari method really does span a wide spectrum. Some love it, some hate it and others like certain bits. So I felt I should dedicate a blog post so I can bring my own thoughts on decluttering as well as collate the varying opinions I’ve seen. Decluttering is definitely an important element of interior design and something that to some degree I help clients with when I visit their homes and really comes into play when editing what will stay and go in a space.
For some she is too woo-woo, for others a bit too strict and methodical but what the series offers is not only seeing those steps and tips in action but how a normal family can take them on board to enhance their lives. You get a glimpse into the person she is and seeing her adorable and generously kind personality is definitely a highlight of the show for me.
Firstly the pros
In spite of all the many different responses to the KonMari Method, it can’t be denied that the book and programme definitely offer a fresh perspective on how we can tackle the physical mess that can accumulate in our lives. The ideas it suggests can help you feel empowered and in control to make small (or big!) changes. I think it’s important to say that if you don’t think you have a clutter problem that’s okay! There’s no point feeling bad that you aren’t on board with this current fad if you don’t have a problem but if we ask ourselves honestly, we probably do….
I think we live in a society and maybe our primeval brains are wired to hoard in case a time of scarcity is just around the corner. Even though we may feel in abundance now, if the collapse of civilisation takes place tomorrow (or after Brexit) then we might need those old shoe boxes or those 10 pillows. So actually it’s normal to hoard and we definitely shouldn’t feel guilty. We need to remember that we move through different periods of design and the minimalist neutrality (I wrote about Minimalism here a while ago.) of the 80s and 90s are being rapidly and vibrantly replaced with maximalism. And that’s a good thing in my opinion! But my point is that YOU decide how much stays or go that will depend on your personal preferences for design.
Also it’s important to say and acknowledge that there is no metric how successful you’ve been after a KonMari declutter. The measure of success is down to you and really if you are happier in your home and life afterwards that’s probably a thumbs up. This may be frustrating in some ways but taking the full responsibility for the process is empowering for me. I’ve done some of her techniques and find that it’s an ongoing process too. But the best thing is that once you know the tools and strategies, you know them for life and they become habit.
My biggest takeaways
I’m going to share the keys ideas that have helped me and my biggest takeways from the programme and book. I've always respected Japanese culture and design and the more I learn about their ways of living, the more I love their philosophy. Sadly I haven't visited the country yet (my husband did recently and is dying to go back and with the kids loving Ninjago I’m pretty sure they’ll love it too) but it’s great how the book explains how Kondo is drawing on this tradition and brings it to her signature method of tidying. Knowing where she comes from and her experiences growing up (explained in the book) really puts her technique into context.
Before I read this book last year I’d heard mixed reviews so I went into it with some trepidation. What I discovered is that it was a super quick read and the philosophy as well as the practical strategies does have the potential to be life-changing as the cover promises. Here’s what I discovered:
Tidy by category not by room and get everything out. So yes, that means you get all your clothes from the drawers, cupboards, laundry and dressing room and pile it all up on the floor. You need to see visually how much you have of one thing and you might even see clothes that go together that you never realised before. I would never have thought to do this and can really see the logic.
Put things into three piles. What is definitely going, what is definitely staying and what you aren’t sure about yet. Those decisions come later. What I love about this is that you have the instant satisfaction of getting rid of some things and you have more time to process some of the deeper emotions attached to the items on the ‘not sure’ pile.
I love how she deepened my understanding of the function of rooms and how that affects our emotions. For instance she believes that hallways are the most important room as they greet you into your sanctuary on your return home and that they deserve respect and attention. She goes a step further that you should greet this space and thank your home for giving you shelter and rest which does sound a bit woo-woo but for an interior designer, this isn’t a weird conclusion to arrive at. Going one step further the garden and exterior of our home will also impact how we feel on our return home so it’s good to consider your kerb appeal too.
Touch and feel the item and really asking if it’s beautiful to you. She coined the phrase “Does it spark joy? which some find uneasy but the idea really is that you trust your intuition. If you decide to throw something away then she thanks the object for its role in our lives and then lets it go with a thankful heart.
What really helped me to get rid of some things was the idea that someone else could be enjoying them instead. Particularly with kids, the need for toys, clothes and other contraptions can pass with stages of life so why not bless that neighbour with the designer changing table you’ve been hoarding or give away those old magazines to your local hairdresser or dentist. Even giving to charity is great to think that your old things will make money for a good cause. And the best thing is there is not one thing that I've gotten rid of that I regret.
Make some money! Sell things on eBay or on a local facebook group that are in good condition. You really can make some dosh with things that are just lying around. See the end of the post for some really inventive ideas of selling clothes both in London and throughout the country that are happening soon and I will be at both with my clothes in hand!
It’s okay to be sentimental. Her advice on this is really helpful and empowering. Do we have keep everything that we were bought as a present and should we feel guilty letting go of those old wedding presents that we never used (or liked)? On the other side of the coin if something is really important and nostalgic, then there should be no guilt in keeping it either. A client when editing her room with me really felt attached to curtains even though they would compromise the design for the room to the point that she almost cried at the discussion of getting rid of them or making them into something else. It turned out that it reminded her of her previous home where her children grew up and they were a gift from a group of important friends. So they stayed and we used some creative thinking to make them work. This was a HUGE lesson for me.
The other thing that really struck me on the programme was the potential that a less cluttered home can have on our relationships. She really understands that our home space really does affect our family dynamics and I believe that this is why she is compelled to tell the world how to tidy their homes. In the first episode I found it quite emotional watching how a couple with a young family had their lives transformed with the help of Marie. It was really heartwarming and kind of unbelievable until you watch it.
The folding. I resisted for so long but once I saw how it worked on the programme Tidying Up I was a convert. You just have to try it!
Doing a renovation forces you into this tidying process. I’m speaking from experience here! Moving all your possessions around in preparation for major building work really helps you see how much you have and a good clear out is inevitable. I wish I’d known more about the KonMari method to help me at this stressful time. If you’re in the midst or preparing for a renovation here is my honest feelings before going into it and also some survival tips to get you through it.
The bits you might not like!
Firstly I would say that a few years ago if anyone asked me about decluttering I would have given them on word- storage! Now I realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t think there is one of us who doesn’t want our houses to be more tidy. Why is there always stuff everywhere? Where does it all come from? And is good storage going to fix all the problems? Storage might help but I don’t think gets to the root of the problem. This is an important point to realise, yet a disappointing one I realise.
Other difficult parts of the KonMari method is the energy and effort required of putting everything into one place to sort through. The upheaval of upsetting even room in your home is a massive and time-consuming task. There is more mess than you can imagine and quite a bit of mental effort is needed to sort everything out. Is this short-term discomfort and difficulty really worth the long-term gain?
One of the most prescriptive parts of her process that has had a lot of negativity is the recommendation that we should only have up to 30 books in our home. Yeah! Maybe books are not such a beloved thing in Japan that they are in our English society. But what about rooms that are meant to look like libraries? My compromise here is keeping books I’ve loved or learnt something from. Plus I wouldn’t advocate throwing most of your books away when there is an opportunity to get creative with them in our interiors. I love colour coding book shelves or arranging them in height order. You can also display beautiful coffee table books on picture shelves revealing their colourful front covers and stacking others on top of each other to highlight a prominent object. There are so many ideas and her technique does lack a little creativity sometimes.
For some Marie Kondo provokes a sense of comparison and pressure to follow this trend. Maybe you like your mess. You have to discern where you are on your home journey and what you need to improve the quality of your life. From someone who has been living in a lot of clutter and mess thanks to two renovations and unfinished walls, I can really testify the effect the mess has on your mind. You struggle to relax at home and those happy hormones, well they’re just not very happy.
Also I think it’s important to acknowledge that it’s okay to have an attitude of reusing and recycling and keeping things for a rainy day or craft projects. I guess the key is to consider what will bring you more joy - seeing the mess where you are keeping these things or the joy of finally using them. Again the buck ends with you!
‘Does it spark joy’ for some is a very twee expression and possibly ludicrous to some when considering maybe your socks or necessary items that might not be that beautiful. I personally don’t have a problem with it and think it’s not actually a bad perspective and like how it gives understanding about how items enhance our lives (or not). I think it’s difficult to judge some of these myths that are floating about until you’ve read the book and got a deeper understanding of the intention behind this phrase. And if it’s helpful, maybe beckon the inspiring William Morris to help you instead which has a very similar ethos to Marie Kondo…
On a personal note...
After all, as this is an interior design blog I need to consider Marie Kondo through that lens. I found it quite weird watching the programme as the way she visits people’s homes and private spaces is very much like my own experience doing Room Service. It’s such a joy to be invited into someone’s home to help through creating vision for the space as well as decluttering and refining furniture/items and it was a strange reflection to see this from the other side on the programme. However I think it’s important to go one step further. The visual tidiness of a space may affect our minds but so does the aesthetics of a room. The colours and patterns that you surround yourself also has a profound effect on your emotions and well-being so it’s It’s good to remember that decluttering and interior design go hand in hand. A brilliantly designed room can’t sing if it is too cluttered and a decluttered room with no personality only takes you part of the way to true contentment in that space.
A fun idea to try and really get creative with the items and artwork you already have but that might not be sparking enough joy for you is a little styling tip I learnt from Interior Stylists Maxine Brady and Laurie Davidson from the Secret Styling Club. They often empty out all the things out of their room and then put them back in in a different way, maybe borrowing bits from another room etc. I cannot wait to give this a go as I really think it could switch up our rooms just be re-using and re-imagining what we already have.
So there you have it. A little delve into that book that you’ve probably heard about but never read. It’s advisable to read the book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying as well as watch the show Tidying Up to get an accurate understanding of Kondo’s intentions and motivation behind her philosophy. I’ve always loved the psychology of why things work and why people behave in certain ways which is one of the things I love about her approach and I think it’s fair to say I am a fan! I didn’t think I would (and really tried not to be) but I am. I have to admit that some of the concepts are harder to implement than others (I don’t practice what I preach on the whole hallway situation but I’m trying!) but in my experience, things that require some effort are always the most rewarding (like decorating).
It’s a no-brainer that decluttering the space around us will actually have a profound impact on our thoughts and emotions and at the end of the day. The idea that re-organising and creating an inspiring space around us, can actually change our life is at the heart of my own business and beliefs. Interestingly this is what the great architects were aiming for when they built those grand cathedrals, that the actual design and detail (not just the grandeur and proportions) could bring people closer to God and their spiritual destiny and in the same way colours and patterns can bring us joy or revolt us. So mull it over, give Marie a try and let me know how you get on. I have a feeling that you’ll have a lot to say...
Yours in colour and creativity,
P.S. I’m excited to share a local event that I’m attending next month to make a little bit of cash out of my clothes that are in great condition but that don’t ‘spark joy’ anymore! Check out all the information about The Bear Frock Exchange below. If you’re not in the London area then check out Fashion Re:Boot headed up by Erica Davies and Ciara Elliott who travel the country doing a very similar thing (I’m heading o the Peckham one on Thursday 7th February so might see you there). Waste not, want not!
Disclosure: This isn’t a sponsored post and all photography by me (apart from Marie).