How to keep clutter to a Kondo minimum
Best-selling author Marie Kondo says getting rid of things that don’t ‘spark joy’ will transform your lifestyle, career and relationships
Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, with Aoife McArdle at the latter’s home on Fontenoy Street, Dublin. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Aoife McArdle’s home looks tidier than the average. There’s little evidence that a two-year-old runs around here. The wall of pink birthday cards in the kitchen is the first hint of her daughter, Clara.
“They’ll probably have to go,” she says, when I comment on the cards.
We’re waiting for Marie Kondo, a decluttering expert and author of the best-selling The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up. Airbnb has invited Kondo to offer guest-friendly decluttering advice to McArdle, who is an Airbnb host who rents out a guest room in her home to tourists.
Kondo has become a celebrity of sorts. Her book has sold four million copies across the world. However, when she comes into the kitchen, you wouldn’t know it. She is petite and very unassuming, her soft-spoken nature giving away nothing of how big she has become. She declares the card wall “very cute”, and McArdle breathes a sigh of relief.
Kondo’s method, the KonMari method, isn’t an all-out purge of your house and belongings; it’s about appreciating what you have. You shouldn’t think of it as getting rid of your things, but about questioning what “sparks joy” for you.
“The main purpose is to keep things you love around you. If you love everything you have, that’s amazing. Then you know what makes you happy and you appreciate what’s around you. If you’re maintaining it and storing it nicely, then it works,” Kondo says through a translator.
However, rather than an ongoing battle against the clutter in your house, Kondo’s method involves a reasonably fast, dramatic change. The book suggests that in no more than six months, you should decide which of your belongings spark joy for you. You must touch each item individually to help you decide, and anything that doesn’t spark joy is to be thanked and discarded, whether that involves binning it or giving it away.
Keeping a strict order to how you approach your home will keep you on track with Kondo’s method, she says. You have to start with your clothes, which will amount to the bulk of the stuff you throw away. Next up are books, then all those piles of documents, bills and other paperwork, and then any miscellaneous items. By the time you get to the last step – tackling things with sentimental value – it should be much easier, as you’ll be well used to, or perhaps more ruthless in, deciding what sparks joy for you.
When McArdle says she feels slightly silly thanking some of the rubbish – including old receipts and broken pens – piled in a bowl in the kitchen, Kondo assures her that it’s all part of the process. Thanking your things and saying goodbye helps to ease the guilt we sometimes feel about throwing stuff away, she says.
Say thank you
“Anything that comes to you, there’s something behind it. There must be a reason why you have it. It makes you feel happy for a while, so you say thank you to each one of them. If there’s no reason behind it, it wouldn’t have been there. You thank each one that has made you feel happy for a while. It’s easier to thank things when you start from clothes,” Kondo says.
McArdle is looking for advice to help her tidy away the clutter that guests don’t need to see when they stay at her home. When she points to a pile of papers in various bags in the playroom-cum-sitting-room, Kondo says categorisation is very important.
“It’s good for Airbnb hosts to have space for each category: for your own stuff, for kids’ stuff and for guests’ stuff. It’s really important to categorise and draw the line. It’s also good not to put piles of stuff with the guests if you don’t actually know what they are; it should be kept with your stuff.”
Kondo almost absent-mindedly starts stacking some bowls that lie on top of McArdle’s microwave, and Kondo’s husband, who has been taking photos of each room, starts rearranging the cookbooks in size order. “These are all cookbooks, yes?” he asks. Kondo confirms that noncookbooks don’t belong on this shelf any more.
Categorisation is key in many respects. Most people clean room by room, but Kondo feels it’s better and quicker to categorise your things into groups, such as clothes, books and documents. Even if you can’t make it through the whole house in one go, it’s important to finish each category one at a time.
What then, of items you need to keep but that don’t spark joy? McArdle points to her work clothes as being functional more than joy-inducing, and various documents as being almost legal requirements. Kondo says they can stay – she is not unreasonable – although with the disclaimer that this too is about categorisation.
“The stuff that you need might not spark joy for you, but you keep. But when you know it doesn’t spark joy for you and you realise you still need it, then it still makes you happy in a way. You realise it’s not clutter, so it’s easier to appreciate then,” she says.
As McArdle goes through the giant bowl of random things from the kitchen, she wonders how these bowls or boxes or corners of random stuff came to be. Kondo believes the reason for it is also the reason her book has become so successful.
“You buy a lot, much more than you need,” she says. “You lose what you need in what you don’t need, and that’s a huge problem causing a cluttered house. You don’t know what’s really precious for you because it’s so convenient, and you keep buying. You get lost in it.”
Most of her clients, during a five-hour decluttering session with her, will fill between eight and 20 large bin bags of stuff to be removed. The majority of these contain clothes.
Once people use her method throughout their living space, says Kondo, most feel completely transformed, lighter almost, and with a greater sense of their life and lifestyle.
“Once they’re finished, they feel more confident because they are in charge. They know exactly what they need and what sparks joy for them, and that doesn’t stop there. After going through all this transformation, there are people who broke up because they were not sure, and then they knew. Or they changed their job because they realised: this is not for me. It’s good.
“Once you’re starting from the house, you feel more confident, more aware of what you are surrounded by. It’s a total transformation,” she says.