Why I have problems with Konmari methods

The Konmari method of decluttering and organising has taken the world by storm. With astutely commercial timing, Netflix launched ‘Tidying up with Marie Kondo’ on New Year’s Day this year, when everyone was making their New Year’s resolutions. There is even a best selling novel, Careful what you wish for, set in the world of professional organising.  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, was begging people not to leave goods outside overflowing donation bins. Even returning new stuff is causing problems- in a typical brick and mortar store, there may be 8-10 per cent returns but with online purchases, there is a 20-30 per cent return rate, much of which may be sent on to landfill.  Returned stuff generates as much as £5 billion worth of waste as it is cheaper to send packaging and goods to landfill instead of recycling or reuse (although after listening to consumers, Amazon now has used goods stores in the US and UK).  Some luxury retailers even burn returned stuff (In 2018, Burberry incinerated nearly £27 million worth of returned clothes and cosmetics to ‘protect their brand’).

So while generally decluttering and organising are good practices, I can see why the Konmari method might not work for everyone.  In fact, in my view, this decluttering and reorganising is a singularly Western consumerist obsession (Japan, despite its Buddhist beliefs, is a hugely consumerist society today struggling to cope with stuff packed inside its minuscule homes).  Just look at how people in the West (and now in the East too) struggle with decluttering someone’s home when they die.  When I visited my village in India, I didn’t find this obsessive need to declutter there.  And it was liberating to be just so.  Mahatma Gandhi, whose 150th birth anniversary year this is, left behind just ten items when he died. He said, ‘You may have occasion to possess or use material things, but the secret of life lies in never missing them.’

Some Western fans believe this is an exotic Shinto/Buddhist practice backed by a spiritual theory. Marie Kondo’s books don’t mention any connection with Shintoism but a  ‘Chinese whisper’ connection with spirituality circulates, even a ‘theory of austerity’.  Marie Kondo actually attended Tokyo Women’s Christian University to study sociology. As a practitioner of Japanese Buddhism for over 35 years and having knowledge of Japanese culture, I know that both Buddhism and Shintoism believe in ‘dependent origination’ of material goods and a profound connection with nature. But can this joy can be sparked in mass produced goods made of synthetic materials?  In the actual Japanese version of the book,  Marie Kondo uses the word ‘tokimeku’ or “ときめく” instead of ’spark joy’. The English translation is ‘to throb’ or ‘to flutter’. It was probably easier to market a book on decluttering called ‘Spark Joy’ instead of ‘Throbbing or Fluttering’ joy!  But as research has shown, positive human experiences produce joy and well being- not material goods, whatever their origination.

Second, the method doesn’t allow for reuse, just discarding.  The stuff found in the charity shops had once sparked joy in the buyer- that is why they had bought them.  Could they not try to spark joy again by doing something creative with it? The photograph below show dresses I bought from a charity shop. While I loved the colours, I found that each item 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.  But my issue with the Konmari method is that it makes it easy to discard.  That’s because there is no reflection about why you 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. But consider, if your partner doesn’t spark joy for you, would you just discard him/her; or would you at least try to make the relationship work?

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Then is the folding method, especially the socks. Apparently the socks feel upset if they are rolled up and tucked in (also called the ‘army roll’).  So using the same logic, would clothes feel bad if they were rejected and thrown or left in the charity shop?  Who has the time to fold clothes unless you are being paid to do 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 in home organising, wouldn’t you be proud to show off your own place? In all the videos or visual contents I’ve seen of Marie Kondo, she is wearing different outfits- I wondered if she has a huge wardrobe.

Some fans of the Konmari method believe that it is a system that doesn’t need further organising or looking after.  Again, this appeals to people who want to get stuff done easily and quickly.  But people move homes, marry, have children, age and become single, ill or disabled at some point in their lives.  Lives are never constant and you get things that fit that particular stage in your life.  So the Konmari system is not a ‘forever’ system.  Marie Kondo admits that she had to change her own organisational habits once her children were born.  Even the system that worked for her older child didn’t quite work for the younger one. So this is not a system that will work for all forever.  The actor, Jamie Lee Curtis, who interviewed Marie Kondo when she was nominated as one of 2015 Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, says,

‘Decluttering is a fruitless fad. It’s a reaction to the confluence of all our technology enabled connectivity and the gnawing feeling that we are wildly out of control of our bodies- overpowered by drugs and and obesity- and as a planet, burdened by the fear that we are one tweet away from nuclear war. By focussing on the order within our homes, we’re missing the point: life is messy, and so are people.’  (Time magazine, August 5, p.50)

I’m also not impressed that Marie Kondo, having told us that we don’t need to buy anything to organise our stuff- all we need are shoe and other empty boxes- 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, was available in four Japanese-inspired patterns, priced at $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 not a spiritual matter but an organizational empire with books, TV shows, and storage solutions. While it is good that Marie Kondo has a business worth $8 million (2019), it is serious business for her, not just freely available life changing magic for us.

Sixth, 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. For the millions of hoarders around the world, discarding will be a painful exercise, not a joyful one. This journey requires sustained compassionate care and understanding.

So having read the Konmari books and watched some of the shows, what have I done myself?  First, I try to use and reuse as much as I can, which helps the environment by stuff not going to landfill or clogging up charity shops.  Second, I look at the houses of people who are like me and who I admire.  I like the homes of creative people and I see no minimalism there- instead a lot of stuff to stimulate the brain, arranged beautifully (there a beautifully produced Youtube channel called ‘Nowness’ which takes us inside homes of artists and creatives around the world).  These interiors are colourful with curated collections- and surprisingly common are lots of indoor plants.  And there are lots of books!  (Agatha Christie had a very messy desk and look how creative her output was)  I was going to get rid of most of own my books using the Konmari method until I realised how much I loved them and used them.  My home wouldn’t be my home without my books and painting materials.  Third, I believe in the easy enjoyment of a space without the need for everything looking immaculate all the time.  There is tidying, dusting and cleaning to be done, always.  But I’m not going to spend all my valuable time doing that.  So for some time, if my place looks a bit dusty or messy, I am not going to be worried about it. I am just going to enjoy it all!

Insight of the day

‘If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present’,  Lao Tzu

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This is my friend’s five year old.  While I was talking to his dad about future projects, our worries and the state of the world, this young man decided to enjoy his surroundings.  While the grown-ups’ talk was getting darker and depressive, this child found my Venetian mask and said he would put on a ‘funny face’.  As soon as we saw him, we all started to laugh.  The present moment was alive again.  I realised we were having a dinner party and we weren’t actually enjoying it.  We were drawn back to the present, thanks to the intuitive wisdom of a five year old!

Decluttering lessons: part 2

This follows on from my musings after helping to clear out my parents’ house.  There were many things that I realised and I kept on writing notes to myself as I reached certain milestones or achieved a key goal.  Most important was how was I feeling?  Did I feel good?  Did I feel sad?  Did I feel ‘lighter’?  Did I feel free? Did I feel guilt?  Actually as I moved on through the process, I felt all these emotions.  One of the worst moments of hat clear-up was finding cheques worth a lot of money, cheques that had not been cashed and now were worthless.  How much my mother had saved and scrimped; and yet so much money that was already there had simply wasted away because we hadn’t found them.  And the sadness from seeing her pristine and unread books given to her as marriage gifts now being bitten by rats which also had to be thrown out.  So from my notes here are some points-

  1. Fear of deprivation– Some of the stuff my mother was storing, like plastic bags, were not really needed- she had so many of these.  Despite feeling angry and frustrated at this, I realised that my mother’s needs to hold on to things stemmed on from her very deprived childhood.  I had to be sympathetic and understand where she came from.  But there was also a fear that my mother felt that if she let go of these things, she wouldn’t get anymore (again stemming from her childhood).  So my solution was to put all the plastic bags in front of her and ask her how many did she really want?  Could we get rid of some that were torn or dusty?  In the end, slowly, after selecting a few useful ones, my mother let go off most of the bags.
  2. Delayed action– My mother put things away for another time to do-, so one day she was going to sort out her children’s clothes.  In the years that followed, her children grew up and moved away from not only her home but also country.  Now that my mother is old, she doesn’t have time.  I wondered how much clutter accumulates because one day we are going to tackle it- receipts, clothes, etc, etc. As my parents have grown older and less mobile, the growing clutter was actually becoming dangerous to them in their daily lives.  After I explained that to her, she realised that she and we were at a stage in our lives where the things she’d saved up were of no use to either us or her and she was able to let go.
  3. Achieved function– Each thing that comes into our lives has a function.  So the purpose of the envelope is to bring to your a letter or bill.  Once that thing is has done its job, then you have to let it go. I have heard that Thoreau used to look at something once and then chuck it if it was of now use.  Now in our current age, we can’t just chuck things like that- we need to sort it out as most of our waste is not biodegradable anymore.  So we need time to do that and we should but let it go as you can.  It is now possible to recycle everything.  Give away unused presents.  This was the most useful thing I learnt about getting rid of clutter for others.

 

Happy clearing!

How to deal with bullies

I am dealing with my 12 year old son’s bullies right now.  For many weeks, I have not seen him smile and he looked tired all the time.  He was being bullied with physical, racist and homophobic (yes, even that age, bullies use all sorts of excuses) abuse in school.  Initially I told him to ignore it and deal with it with humour.  After he was set upon by the gang of boys last week, I was livid and complained to the school.  I also found out that my son hadn’t told me about the attack because he was ashamed.  Here is what I have learnt in the last ten days-

  1. Bullies, like other people, change when they want to.  They won’t change because you want them to.  Don’t stay with a bully thinking that they will change.
  2. Bullies cannot be appeased by good humour and manners.  This brings out more of their ugliness. Do not associate with bullies- get away from them and leave them to deal with the emptiness of their lives.
  3. Bullies only listen to fear, so put fear into them by reporting it.  Transmit it widely because the only thing the bullies care about is their image and their power.  Bullies do not like reciprocal or equal relationships.
  4. Let children and all vulnerable people know that bullying is never okay and never to sit in silence.  Bullies love it when people take it without complaining. Never be ashamed of reporting bullying.
  5. Build up the broken self esteem of the bullied person with love and support.  Find other people who can support the bullied person. Build a fortress of love and teach that person to always respect themselves.

Moving away

Our early and later relationships in life can be shaped by our childhood.  People we are attracted to could be either opposite or similar to our parents or any significant person in our early lives.  It is only when we begin to move away from these ‘types’ and start to look for what makes us happy, then only we find people and things that do.  Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising expert, has started a trend to keep things that only ‘spark joy’ rather than concentrate on throwing things that we don’t like.  It is always better to go to things we love rather than run away from what we don’t like.  When we run away due to fear, we do not notice anything else- even things that might be good for us.  Its like we are running in a dark forest without the ability to pick or choose our paths.  This is a fight or flight reaction. Note that it is a reaction rather than a pro-action.  It is a situation where we are not in control.

But finding that calmness where we can decipher what is good for us or not, can take many years and decades to find.  It is only now, I find that I am much happier and able to find things and people who ‘spark joy’ in me.  It is not that I am not my parent’s child any more but it is more that I refuse to live by the past.  Of course, I wish that this had happened much earlier but then that is life. This is when it was meant to have happened and I am grateful that at least it has happened.  Now days, I am quicker to find joy and move on quickly from people that don’t bring me joy.  And strangely enough, I find that even people who I did not get along with in the past, are people I can now tolerate or even like.  By finding joy within, I am finding joy outside.

Being ourselves

Each life is precious and this uniqueness gives an person’s his or her ‘mysteriousness’- their allure. I was reading recently about Audrey Hepburn who died in 1993 at the age of 63. Her son says that when he was young, he didn’t realise his mother was a ‘movie star’ until later. She lived an ordinary life, according to him, walking her dog and eating simple pasta. For an outer life led in the spotlight, her inner life was simple- it had to be balanced. Her unique allure was her simplicity and the full life she led.

Her son, Luca Dotti, says about his mother, ‘She didn’t have to impress anyone, really. It was what she loved and how she lived.’ Audrey Hepburn was a ‘humanitarian’ at heart- doing less of acting work as she grew older and instead quietly devoting herself to to UNICEF. Since 1954, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia between 1988 and 1992. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in December 1992 (she was to die the following year). Until the end of her life, she tirelessly ‘renewed herself’ from being a ballet dancer, a chorus girl to Hollywood star and then to humanitarian activities. She also was a style icon with her unique hair style and way of dressing which no one has been able to duplicate since. Whether walking her dog or being with poor children, she was just herself. I wondered how we are always trying to be someone else, copying styles and forgetting ourselves? How easy can be it to be just ourselves? Surely being ourselves can’t be that difficult and yet, it is the most difficult thing in the world.

Daisaku Ikeda says, ‘Never for an instant forget the effort to renew your life, to build yourself anew. Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway of life itself. This is not an easy task. Indeed, it may be the most severely challenging struggle there is. For opening the door to your own life is in the end more difficult than opening the door to all the mysteries of the universe.’

Courage and fear

Like two sides of a coin, courage and fear together make the value of our actions.  The recently departed former leader of the British Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy, once said that, Courage is a peculiar kind of fear.’  Rather than being opposites, fear and courage go hand in hand.  Fear is a kind of vulnerability- the vulnerability of our mortality.

Courage or bravado can be faked.  I quoted David Tang in my previous post and he advises us to not show that we are intimidated.  Susan Jeffers said, Feel the fear and do it anyway.’  But we end up ‘fearing the fear’ and never take the next step.  That next step is the step of courage.  And in taking action anyway, regardless of fear or intimidation, is when we show real courage.

In his book, Fiercely Loyal, which is about leadership, Dov Baron says, ‘…real courage requires vulnerability. Real courage requires us to step into something where we cannot predict the outcome; something that, in some way, seems terrifying, not because we could die, although that may be part of how we feel, but because we feel we might receive the most painful of punishments–that of being rejected, disowned, and ultimately isolated….That’s why real courage cannot exist without the risk of vulnerability.’

Do not be afraid to show your vulnerability- for your courage lies in that, whether in personal relationships or in your professional world.