Hidden in plain sight

It took me a while to notice the KonMari Method. I eventually realized that I was hearing about the same book from both Facebook friends and my knitting group, and that articles about it were sailing across my feeds. I resisted reading it for a while mainly because it was so popular. (I’m weird that way: if something gets too popular, I don’t trust it, which is no more rational than adoring it only for that same popularity.) But I decided that if I was going to discuss it with people, it would be better if I knew what I was talking about.  Reading the book itself was a good thing, both for being able to talk about it and because the articles I’d read hadn’t given me the entire picture.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Every article that I’ve read focuses on Marie Kondo’s approach to decluttering: if an object doesn’t “spark joy,” it goes, unless there’s a compelling reason to keep it (your old tax returns probably don’t spark joy, but hang onto them anyway). This was great, because I’d already been doing something like this: if an item gave me a feeling of guilt or obligation, out it went. (And it’s amazing how many things I own do exactly that, but that’s another blog post for another day.) So like many readers, well before I finished the book, I was already looking around, considering what I could toss.* But, tempting as this is,  it isn’t the way Kondo wants her method to be followed.

“Before you start, visualize your destination,” Kondo writes. Sure, her book is about decluttering. But this is decluttering in the service of a larger purpose: creating the life that you want to live, rather than the life you’ve somehow fallen into. This isn’t a secret buried in the heart of the book, available only to initiates. The title clues you in: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. We seem to notice the “tidying up” bit more than the “life-changing magic” bit, but it was there from the start. And Kondo gets to the point right away, saying on page 2: “A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.”

So why the near-complete overlooking of a major point of the book? I figure, Kondo’s purging process is so dramatic, it distracts people from anything else. She does spend more time explaining how to declutter than how to visualize your ideal lifestyle. Decluttering and organizing are pretty much the same for everyone. Kondo can’t tell readers which clothes to keep, except that they have to spark joy, but it’s a safe bet that everyone reading this book has clothing. On the other hand, lifestyle changes are specific to individuals. Beyond saying that the first step is that readers need to concretely visualize the lifestyles they want and offering a few examples, I doubt she could get more specific. That visualization is a challenge in its own right. I don’t know what it’s like in Japan, but in the United States, we ask children what they want to be when they grow up. We don’t ask them—or ourselves—what kinds of lives they want to have when they’re adults. So should it be a surprise to discover as an adult that maybe you have a job you like, but that other parts of your life are not what you expected or wanted? (What did you want, anyway?)

It’s said that sculpting is the art of seeing a statue in a block of stone and then chipping away all the bits that aren’t that statue. The magic of the KonMari Method appears to be the act of removing the clutter in your home to reveal the lifestyle that you really want. Kondo warns that if the reader skips the visualization step, there’s a higher danger of relapse. So we’ll see: how many people are aiming to change their lives and how many aren’t hoping for anything more than a bedroom closet that isn’t bursting at the seams?


*I’m using “toss” as a catch-all term for give to someone else, donate to charity, recycle, throw away, or whatever would be the best way to get an object out of my home. Rest assured that dumpsters are my receptacles of last resort.

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