Less is less
Bestseller’s decluttering advice not meant for real life,
Sometimes, less is more. Unless you’re Marie Kondo. In which case, less is less. Or even less than that. Except when it comes to her book titles.
Kondo is a professional organizer and author of international bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, along with the just-released Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up.
Her message — and the crux of Kondo’s Kon-Mari method — is to rid yourself of items in your home that don’t “spark joy.” On the surface, it’s gentle and happy enough, but her methodology is as ruthless as it is unrealistic.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart,” Kondo writes. “Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
Kondo instructs devotees to take each item in their house in hand and decide whether or not it gives them a visceral thrill. If it doesn’t, to the landfill it goes. It’s a level of minimalism that would make even Philip Glass uncomfortable.
Think about everything you have in your home. Every scrap of clothing, book, utensil and photograph. Yes, Kondo asks that you judge each individual photograph and suggests you trash the vast majority. Five photos per vacation is plenty, apparently.
There’s a lot to be said for decluttering and downsizing. It’s cathartic. But what Kondo espouses is a little extreme. She joyfully describes tossing out bags upon bags of garbage belonging to herself or one of her clients — often 30 at a time. She suggests this will make you a happier, thinner (really?), more vibrant and more successful person. According to Kondo, it is only postpurge that you will experience the good life. As though a person who advocates gingerly towelling off your shampoo and conditioner before putting them out of sight after every shower should be telling anyone how to live life to the fullest.
Look: I don’t live in a chic little micro apartment with stark walls and immaculate white carpeting. My toilet tank is not a transparent crystalline koi pond. I have a vacuum cleaner and a microwave and a toilet brush. There are mountains of receipts and tax papers I need to keep around for six years, by law.
Many people own rakes and shovels and dehumidifiers and plungers and bags of Kitty Litter. Households with young children contain breast pumps and building blocks and diaper disposal units. As cleverly designed as these objects are, do they send a frisson of joy down your spine when you hold them? No? Then Kondo suggests you dispatch them to the curb.
The KonMari method is simply not compatible with real life and it emphasizes the worst qualities of our disposal culture. The reason we have so much stuff is because we buy too much, not because we don’t throw enough away. We need to consider this problem at the source, and practise mindful consumption. We need to be hosting clothing swaps and taking advantage of the Kitchen Library and the Tool Library. We should be posting and hunting for what we need on Craigslist and Kijiji. We should be sharing and enjoying what we already have instead of buying more and more.
It is without shame that I enjoy my lovingly curated clutter. The beautiful, colourful books on my shelf from different eras of my life. The dusty CDs and records I refuse to digitize. The aspirational skirts that don’t bring me joy as they don’t quite fit, but maybe will again. The thousands of photographs I have of family and friends and the amazing places I’ve seen.
Kondo describes how she sips herbal tea in her apartment. There is a painting on her wall and, of course, a vase of fresh flowers in the corner. It seems to me that Kondo exists in an art gallery, waiting room or mausoleum.
Not me, though. My home is where I live. Sofi Papamarko is a writer and matchmaker who lives in Toronto. Reach her at facebook.com/sofipapamarko.