Three central insights that only the Konmari method can provide: what I experienced
Last year in the summer, at the beginning of a three-month home office sabbatical, a synchronicity fluttered into my home, which drew my attention to the now internationally famous Marie Kondo method of tidying up. In the corresponding Netflix series “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”, the Japanese goddess of discreetly arranged open spaces rises with lotus-like authority from the swamps of American reality TV accurately folding her clients’ clothes into upright packages that can be admired in a pulled out drawer.
The striking purity of her aura, the impeccable sensitivity with which she treats her clients and the obvious intelligence of her instructions made me pay attention. And so I did something I had never done before: I bought a book on tidying up and applied the method described in it. The aftermath of this wonderful coincidence has accompanied my life until today.
In particular, three of Marie Kondo’s core ideas of deserve special attention, as they contain a dimension beyond tidying, namely the now famous “Spark Joy”, thinking in categories and the idea that the material world is alive. This now was my experience.
1 Spark Joy: Following your own intuition instead of other people’s concepts
One of the most notable features of the KonMari method, especially in contrast to minimalism, is that the selection of objects to be kept is not based on any mental concept of how much a person should own of what, but rather on which objects held to the heart convey a bubbly feeling of joy. All objects that feel heavy and dark when held to the heart are bidden farewell in gratitude, for they no longer want to be with you. (For Kondo, things do indeed have a life of their own, a kami, an elemental being, as we will see later).
By the way, Marie Kondo received this tidying method, according to her own account, from the “God of Tidying” himself (clearly a Japanese), who at the height of the discarding madness told her to focus her attention on what she wanted to keep, not on what she wanted to discard. Spark joy means: to select with the heart from the abundance of one’s own belongings (all belongings!) those things that are in living relationship with the inner temple and to give them a worthy home.
This non-mental approach also means that you don’t have to say goodbye to your own intuition to agree with someone else’s idea of how things should be. – On the contrary, your intuition will be trained and nurtured by the tidying process, even if you do not have immediate access to it. Therefore, the process is ideal for people who are inwardly cluttered and do not really know what they want, because: inner mental clutter often corresponds to outer material clutter.
I can still vividly recall the most amazing impressions I have felt when examining countless objects. A dress that I had classified as “sparks depression” after a short examination showed me the entire scene of its acquisition along with an emotional flashback. Often it was simple thoughtlessness that had spirited stuff into my drawers or had otherwise cluttered my precious temple.
In short, I became aware of all the ways in which things enter into my life and the various ways I had used to ignore my own intuitive sense.
Nowadays I have a well-curated Pinterest pinboard system for purchases of all kinds (pro tip: Pinterest allows consolidating your taste without the waste of mispurchases), an harmonious colour concept for home textiles, a newly discovered, pronounced fondness of bed linen and boxes wrapped in Florentine paper, 40% less stuff and hardly any expenses.
2 Tidying by categories: Perfection without frustration
The second outstanding idea of the Japanese Supreme Leader of Tidying (rightly so!) is the glorious thought to go by categories and not by location. In other words: first you put all clothes in one pile and weigh each item against your inner sense of joy, then all books, then all papers, then all other categories (CDs, make-up, plates, cutlery etc.) and finally: sentimental items (diaries, photos, memorabilia). The strategic placement of the latter at the end of the tidying marathon ensures that the selection flow will drown prematurely in the mists of memory.
This approach deserves our unreserved admiration, as it divides the tidying marathon into discrete steps on the one hand, and on the other hand, it makes perfection attainable. And this is what the Supreme Leader confidently encourages us to strive for: perfection, i.e. selecting all objects from all categories and giving all of them a proper home.
In fact, in Japan Marie Kondo is famous her no rebound promise. You do the big marathon only once in your life and will not rebound to the thoughtlessly hoarding vices of the past. All you will have to deal with is surface mess or, at most, depending on your taste, you can touch up one category or another, nothing more. Very, very satisfying.
By the way, paper is the uncontested number one category of death according to the general opinion of all the people I have so far evangelized into Kondo’ing their home. In fact, Marie Kondo does not assign special „miracles” to completing this category for nothing: in her experience, both relationships and one’s professional life can benefit immensely from tidying this category. Spoiler alert: All workshop notes that you do not apply have to be discarded.
I, too, have made my way through paper in a nerve-racking process and will never forget the honest-to-God therapeutic experience of finally putting all my documents in chronological order after three arduous days. And I know of friends who have overcome their irrational fear of a tax audit by confronting their papers and putting everything into proper files.
Tidying by category however comes with another important advantage: it allows for a sense of closure after each category. When I’m done with the box of CDs, I am done for the moment and can relax into my break. A feeling I cannot remember ever having tidying by location. Also, my partner’s stuff does not bother me anymore, because it is in a category of its own that is not my responsibility. In other words: tidying by category helps setting up healthy boundaries between oneself and other people and staying out of their business.
Thinking in categories also organically extends to all other areas of life: I have arrived at tidying my finances and spark-joy-ifying my diet by now.
3 In the realm of the Kami: When things come alive
Often ridiculed in the media you find Marie Kondo’s special attitude towards the material world. According to Japanese Shinto, all material objects and elements of nature are animated with kami, i.e. with elemental beings or spirits. These spirits react to the presence of the person who is in contact with them. She is therefore treating all material objects with loving consideration and gratitude, paying attention to the sense of heaviness in her own heart indicating whether the ensouled object wishes to remain in her household or leave. She also greets her clients’ home in a special prayer and introduces herself before she starts working.
Everybody admires Japanese aesthetics and the intense presence of the sanctuaries of Japanese culture, which are cultivated with so much dedication and precision, be they gardens, swords, tea cups or fine foods. This dedication actually has its origin in this sense of the living nature of the material world, to which this subtle attentiveness is responding. Marie Kondo herself has served in a Shinto shrine for years and remarks on this philosophy in her first book.
We may only know such a devotion from fairy tales or indigenous peoples, where individual objects are given a high symbolic value. The famous sword Excalibur or many a holy vessel immediately comes to mind. However, one does not have to reach into the mythical realm to get a feeling for this feeling connection to the world of matter. A few cherished items can inspire a similar feeling.
What if your living environment was populated by such items and you lived in a home like a temple? Do you actually feel the presence of the objects in your home?
I for my part can say that I felt only spots and zones of my apartment before the process and now I can feel the whole apartment. This is also due to the fact that everything has a home now and the categories are stored separately.
Marie Kondo recommends that all objects in a category and of the same material should be stored together. So all clothes and home textiles together, books and paper together and yes: something like electrical appliances together. Household appliances, kitchen equipment and laptops are still separate in my household though, but in three concentrated storage areas and way less scattered.
Every item must have a home so that there is no doubt where it belongs when it is lying around. However, it is not just to be stored, but settled so to speak in a village of its own kind. I cannot say why, but this principle intuitively convinced me when I stood in front of the piles of things from the different categories and perceived their distinct material quality. I personally feel this reduces the noise in the apartment.
Special attention is also paid to things like money that must not be lying around in coins, but stored inside the wallet which in turn at least deserves a beautiful plate as a throne of its glory. Likewhise, bras and underwear are stored in lofty display to thank them for their intimate service. Finally, there is the actual holy of holies of the apartment, the personal power spot, which Marie Kondo expressly advises to design with love.
Points like these are of course optional and pure recommendations (from an undoubtedly divine source), but it is worth paying attention to these details. For they strengthen the living connection with the material world. Much like paying attention to what sparks joy, properly thanking objects to be discarded and bidding them farewell, meditating on the essence of the perfect joy sparking life-style before tidying and greeting the living presence of the house. It does not matter that this connection is lost again and again in everyday life, the impulse to return to it has been set in place.
The fruits of wisdom: self-worth and manners
It is obvious that this way of dealing with the material world promotes such a deep appreciation of one’s own livelihood and person, it actually amounts to a therapeutic intervention. One client told me that if he went one step further in tidying and beautifying his home, it would radiate more self-worth than he did. Of course, I encouraged him to take that step and relax into the expanded sense of self-worth.
At the same time, all aspects of the KonMari tidying process, focussing on what sparks joy, grouping things into categories and respecting the living presence of the material world, all promote a clear, non-judgmental, non-interfering and therefore truly noble attitude towards life and other people. This gentle attitude also radiates from the genuine joy with which Madame Kondo guides her grateful clients through their tidying journey.
Probably no media hype has ever been as deserved as the the one about the wisdom of Marie Kondo. Tidying is the ideal for a comprehensive clarification and visionary reorientation of one’s life and the healing of body, mind and soul.
You are struggling with the initial meditation and need inspiration or guidance for what comes up? Then you will find support here.