You would have to be living under a rock (or a mountain of clothing) to have not heard about the new Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. As a certified professional organizer, I was intrigued by Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. And, my clients often ask what I think of Marie’s approach. I decided it was [finally] time to read her famous book.
From the discussions, I have heard or read about; I expected to be outraged by every word in the book. It turns out there is a great deal that I agree with Marie. But where I disagree, I do so strongly!
Read on for the key aspects of where Marie’s “tidying” and my tried and true, professional decluttering/organizing techniques concur, plus where they clash.
Marie: Before you start, visualize your destination.
Anne: I agree, knowing why you now want to get organized will keep you motivated and focused during the process. To help you visualize your destination, ask yourself some key questions, such as:
- Why is it important for you to be organized?
- How will your daily life be different after you are organized?
- What are the consequences if you don’t get organized?
Marie: Why does my [Konmari] course transform people? Because my approach is not simply a technique. The act of tidying is a series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another. It involves putting things away where they belong. This seems so simple that even a six-year-old should be able to do it. Yet most people can’t. A short time after tidying, their space is a disorganized mess. The cause is not lack of skills but rather lack of awareness and the inability to make tidying a regular habit. In other words, the root of the problem lies in the mind.
Anne: I disagree that the cause is not a lack of skills. In my experience working with clients, particularly my chronically disorganized clients, they have never learned organizing skills or techniques to stay organized. They have not internalized the concept of “a place for everything and everything in its place.”
First, one needs to learn how to organize before they can change their behaviors around their stuff to create habits that will keep their space organized and tidy, ongoing.
Marie: The ultimate secret of success is this: If you tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little, you can dramatically change your mindset. It is not hard to tidy up perfectly and completely in one fell swoop. In fact, anyone can do it. And if you want to avoid rebound, this is the only way to do it.
Anne: I agree & disagree with this statement. While this could dramatically change one’s mindset, organizing is not a one size fits all approach! Not everybody can move at that pace, especially individuals who have experienced significant trauma or a brain injury. In my experience working with clients, slow and steady, one change at a time produces true long-term results.
Marie’s approach focuses on neurotypical folks and not neurodivergent individuals. I do not agree that the secret is a “one-shot” avenue to organization. It is decluttering and prioritizing what is important to each person and making decisions about whether or not to keep certain belongings, that is key. I also take exception to Marie’s term “tidying.”
Tidying is what happens after you declutter and organize to maintain an organized environment. And, there is no perfect way to declutter, organize, or tidy. Suggesting perfection will cause many people not to take action at all.
Marie: Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things and some new and “easy” storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral.
Anne: I agree that putting things away or in containers or storage units does not solve the organizing issues and that keeping things you don’t use, or love takes up precious space.
Marie: Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake.
Anne: Wow, a fatal mistake? I hardly think it would be fatal to organize by location, so that’s another disagree. Although, I don’t necessarily dispute Marie’s approach to organizing by category. This can allow you to see the volume of items, such as books or clothes. It’s also easier to select what you love or use, or in Marie’s terms, what “sparks joy” if you are editing only one category.
However, it can be problematic, if you have too much of a category and gathering it all together in one place can be more work. For example, if you have 500 books scattered in various rooms of your home, physically moving them to one location, can be exhausting, even more cluttered, and could interfere with your daily activities.
Marie: I became so neurotic that focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.
Anne: I completely agree, Marie! Focusing on choosing what we want to keep is more comfortable and more pleasant (even releasing delightful endorphins) than focusing on what we are letting go of, which often brings up the emotions of sadness, resentment, and regret, to name just a few.
Marie: Tidying is a special event. Don’t do it every day. This usually elicits a moment of stunned silence. Still, let me repeat: tidying should be done just once.
Anne: Whoa, yes stunned silence! I disagree, Marie!!
Tidying or organizing is NOT a special event. It’s NOT a one-time event, and then you are done. You do need to do it regularly to maintain organization.
Marie: Getting rid of other people’s things without permission demonstrates a bad lack of common sense. Although such stealth tactics generally succeed and the items discarded are never missed, the risk of losing your family’s trust when you are caught is far too great. Besides, it just isn’t right.
Anne: I completely agree, Marie!
A Professional Organizer’s golden rule is, never throw away anything without first asking permission from the owner and this could hold true with well-meaning family.
Marie: I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.
Anne: This is the most controversial of Marie’s statements, and I heartily disagree! We all have several items in our homes that do not bring us joy but that are utilitarian. Take the handy Plumber’s helper, for example. It’s not beautiful, I don’t love it, it does not spark joy, but when I get a clogged toilet, I do need it.
People are enchanted by Marie’s simple “spark joy” notion as an easy way to get out from under their clutter. But easy is often just a quick fix, band-aid approach.
Marie: The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (misc.), and lastly mementos. By starting with the easy things first and leaving the hardest for last, you can gradually hone your decision-making skills, so that by the end, it seems simple.
Anne: Although I disagree with Marie’s approach to decluttering by category rather than location, I do agree that mementos should be the last category to work on. Mementos are emotionally-charged, making them much harder to deal with. And, I agree that starting with the easy things first does develop the decision muscle, making it easier to choose which mementos to retain and which to release.
Marie: I hear of methods that recommend tidying in time to a catchy song, but personally, I don’t encourage this. I feel that noise makes it harder to hear the internal dialogue between the owner and his or her belongings. The best time to start is early in the morning.
Anne: I disagree. Marie, what works for you may not work for others. Many of my clients prefer to have music on while decluttering, as it helps them focus. Where for others, like Marie, it would be a distraction. Starting early in the morning may not be ideal for everyone.
It is essential for the person doing the organizing to have the methodology that works for them.
Marie: The goal is to fold each piece of clothing into a simple, smooth rectangle. The key is to store things standing up rather than laid flat.
Anne: Here, I agree and disagree. Personally, I love folding my clothes the Konmari way and storing them vertically in my dresser drawers. It saves space, and I can easily see each garment. For many people a win would be getting their clothing in the dresser drawers, hanging in the closet, or at best, in the vicinity of their bedroom. The Konmari folding and storing vertically approach can work for the neurotypical but not likely for the neurodivergent.
Marie: Sorting Papers: Rule of Thumb—discard everything.
Anne: I disagree and so does the IRS. Marie, that might work in other countries, but the USA, not so much. In fact, the Internal Revenue Service recommends keeping tax filings forever!! Receipts and documents related to our tax filings are to be retained for a minimum of 3 years. Of course, now they can be scanned and kept electronically, but they should not be discarded!
Marie: Presents are not “things” but a means for conveying someone’s feelings.
Anne: I agree. What I communicate to my clients is, once a gift is received, you are free to do with it what you choose, it’s yours. The object isn’t the gift. The gift is the act—someone thought of you and wanted to express their thoughts in a tangible object.
Use it, love it, or regift it.
Marie: When in doubt, ask your house and the item being stored what is the best solution for where and how to store. When you are choosing what to keep, ask your heart; when you are choosing where to store something ask your house.
Anne: I disagree and that’s pretty “out there” for me. I know many of my clients would look at me like, really, that’s all you got! Our things should be in as close proximity as possible to where we are going to use them and accessible based on the frequency we access them.
For most of our belongings, the best solution for where you store something is based on where you use it the most.
Marie: The reason every item must have a designated place is because the existence of an item without a home multiplies the chances that your space will become cluttered again.
Anne: I agree. We are on the same page on this one, Marie!
Marie: It’s a very strange phenomenon, but when we reduce what we own and essentially “detox” our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well.
Anne: I agree this phenomenon can occur. After decluttering and organizing their homes, I have witnessed my clients drop weight they have been trying to lose for years. Others let go of toxic relationships. Our home and environments are often an outward physical reflection of our internal self and state of mind. And, that is precisely why organization and uncluttered surroundings are so vital!
Overall, Marie’s approach is quite simplistic, which, again may be alluring to some and effective for neurotypical individuals, but it will likely be lesser successful with neurodivergent individuals. The method needs to fit the person, not the other way around. In my new book, Mastering the Business of Organizing, I go into more detail on this issue.
If you feel the need for professional support, a clutter therapist or organizing expert, I would be happy to help you make your home or office the environment you dream of.
Anne M. Blumer, Certified Professional Organizer
503.706.3502 anne [at] solutionsforyou [dot] com