The Konmari method of decluttering and organising has taken the world by storm. Using this in an astutely commercial manner, Netflix launched ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ on New Year’s Day this year, when everyone was making their New Year’s resolutions. Charity shops, streets, and recycling centres have become clogged with donations of clothes, books, and home furnishings that have failed to spark joy. In the US, in some shops donations were up 66 per cent over last year in the first week of 2019, and one even saw a 372 per cent increase! In Australia, the charity, Lifeline, is begging people not to leave goods outside overflowing donation bins. While decluttering and organising are good, I have some problems with the theory behind it and why it might not work for everyone.
First, some believe this is an exotic Shinto/Buddhist practice with some spiritual theory behind it. But as a practitioner of a Japanese Buddhism for over 35 years and having knowledge of Japanese culture, I disagree. Both Buddhism and Shintoism believe in ‘dependent origination’ of material goods and our profound connection with nature. However, it is doubtful if this ‘affection’ can be applied to mass produced goods made of synthetic materials and whether such stuff can produce joy. Marie Kondo’s books don’t mention any connection with Shintoism but a whole ‘Chinese whisper’ mythology has come up, even a ‘theory of austerity’. In the actual Japanese version, ‘tokimeku’ or “ときめく”. When directly translated to English it means, ‘to throb’ or ‘to flutter’. It was probably easier to market a book on decluttering called ‘Spark Joy’ instead of ‘Throbbing or Fluttering’ joy! In the end, as research has shown, human experiences produces joy and well being, not material goods, whatever their origination.
Second, this stuff in the charity shops had once sparked joy in someone, that is why they bought them. Could they not try to spark joy again by doing something creative.? These are dresses I had bought from a charity shop. While I loved the colours, I found that each had a small defect which I fixed with the minimum effort using whatever I had in the house. For instance, the pink blouse had a flap at the neckline that kept flipping up. So I ‘weighed’ it down by sewing on some pearly buttons. Surely the people who had dropped these off at the charity shop could have done these tweaks as well? Anyway, it was my gain. The point is that with Konmari method, it is very easy to discard, but not be creative. That’s because there is no reflection about why you had bought the product in the first place. Instead, by just holding it and feeling this so called joy emanating from the thing, you can decide to keep it; or throw if you didn’t feel the joy. There is no critical thinking involved so it makes it easy, especially when you can buy again. If your partner doesn’t spark joy in you, would you just discard them or would you at least try to make it work?
Then is the folding method, especially the socks. Apparently the socks feel upset if they are rolled up and tucked in. So using the same logic, would clothes feel bad if they were rejected and left in the charity shop? Who has the time to fold clothes like that, unless you are making a living by doing so? Having tried it, I now just put smaller items like underwear in the box while larger items are either hanging or rolled up. Another thing that someone on Youtube pointed out is that no one has seen Marie Kondo’s own home- we only see her going to others’ homes. If you were the expert, wouldn’t you be proud to show off your own place? Especially as she has now become a mother, it would be interesting to know how this has changed her lifestyle.
I’m also not impressed that Marie Kondo, having told us that we don’t need to buy anything- all we need are shoe and other boxes lying around, is now promoting decorated boxes that she designed. Her method, if followed properly requires you to buy more stuff from Marie Kondo herself. The Hikidashi Box Set, available in four Japanese-inspired patterns, was priced for $89 until it sold out last summer. Where is the Japanese method of secondary or multi form use and Wabi-Sabi, the love and enhancement of imperfections? Then to become a Konmari consultant, you need to pay more money to do the training. This is serious business, not just life changing magic.
Fifth, and this is my biggest problem with the method, is that it won’t help serious hoarders. This is because hoarding is considered a mental health problem. For a hoarder, everything sparks joy, everything is important and useful. I know, because I have a close member of my family who will keep packaging of every kind, used match sticks, used notebooks, etc. Funnily enough, this person also suffers from regular constipation. For such people, counselling by trained therapists will help. This requires sustained compassionate care and understanding. For the millions of hoarders around the world, discarding will be a painful exercise, not a joyful one.