Why We’ve All Gone Cuckoo for KonMari

updated May 4, 2019
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(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Whether you love it or you’re so sick of hearing about it, there’s no denying that The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has impacted a great many people. But the book’s overall message isn’t new—we all know how good it feels to shed things. What Marie Kondo has given us, what’s changed so many of our lives, is the language that empowers us to do what we’ve wanted to do all along.

The title itself is tantalizing, holding out the promise of something concrete we can do that will change our lives. Unapologetically, the book promises “magic,” and we buy into it because on some level we already believe that if we could just control our stuff, things would be different. (They are.)

Poised for the life change, we’re next told that tidying up, or decluttering, is a one-time event. We’re pumped. We’re primed to go through all the things, because the daunting task is chunked into bite-sized exercises: we will declutter by category. Suddenly it seems less overwhelming and our zones are defined. We aren’t shuffling clutter around the house; we’re getting it out.

Probably the most powerful phrase of the book is “spark joy,” and for good reason. Kondo’s criterion for keeping something or letting it go cuts through all the guilt, the fear, the sentimentality, whatever emotion is keeping us bogged down with stuff or paralyzed by indecision. Her words give us permission to go with our gut feeling. This saves time, so much energy, and allows us, ultimately, to be happy with every single thing we own.

Not only does Kondo’s language empower us to choose to own only that which brings us joy, but she also supplies us with words that help us part with the things we would have kept for other reasons. “Thank you” and “good-bye,” I’ve learned, are powerful words when they are applied to things—and to the meaning those things have accrued or what they’ve come to represent. By speaking to our objects, we break our unhealthy ties with them, gently.

Bolstered by the language that embodies both a perception and a method, we keep going. We even re-fold the clothes in our drawers. We ride the high of being in control. We KonMari everything. Yes, there’s a verb for that.

What we’re left with is Michelangelic, the beauty that’s left when everything that doesn’t belong is chipped away.