The Hidden Cost Of Marie Kondo-ing Your Entire Life
A year into her KonMari journey, Karen Yossman has discovered there’s more to decluttering than simply 'sparking joy'
Of all the self-improvement fads that have gripped the nation this month — among them Veganuary, Dry January and “clothes sobriety” (a moratorium on retail therapy) — none could possibly be more wholesome than “KonMari”, the decluttering method conceived by Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, whose new Netflix series has had viewers reaching for bin bags in droves.
After all, how far wrong can you go with a philosophy predicated on keeping only the possessions that “spark joy”?
Let’s start with the hidden expense. When I first embarked upon my KonMari journey (which Kondo suggests approaching as a sprint, but was more akin to a painstaking ascent over a Himalayan mountain of junk), I decided that winter clothes no longer sparked joy — Kondo’s litmus test — and accordingly binned all my thermals, trousers and most of my jumpers. Which was fine until temperatures began to plummet.
Because while in many ways KonMari does indeed deliver on its promise of domestic nirvana, in which having a dedicated place for every last biro and hair bobble results in a kind of metamorphic serenity, it doesn’t always mesh well with daily life, particularly when you have kids. A Facebook group dedicated to KonMari is littered with anecdotes; one woman discarded her eldest’s newborn items and then discovered she was pregnant with twins.
Viewers of the series have also been left horrified by the revelation that the KonMari method must be applied even to books. Kondo says she has pared down her own library to 30 tomes — and encourages fans to discard her book, too, when they have finished with it — which prompted a violent backlash on social media, with one writer labelling her a “monster”.
Perhaps the most contentious aspect of Kondo’s philosophy, however, is her belief that “couples can deepen their ties through tidying”. In the series, which follows eight households, almost every episode concludes with the couple relieved of marital tensions, along with their clutter. “Tidying together is a great way for couples to see if they share the same values,” Kondo says.
Which is all very well if your partner is prepared to join you on your journey; quite another if he has firmly pitched his tent (along with all his other worldly possessions) in Hoardersville. “My biggest regret regarding Marie Kondo is buying her book for my wife a couple of Christmases ago,” bemoans one male acquaintance. Not that men aren’t susceptible, too. “My DH [darling husband] read Marie Kondo and has gone over to the dark side,” confessed one bewildered woman on Mumsnet. “Nothing I do in terms of folding or storing is right any more.”
Even if you can persuade your partner to KonMari their belongings (decluttering another person’s stuff is verboten), there’s no guarantee that what sparks joy for them will spark joy for you. Kondo’s manual doesn’t include a contingency plan for learning to live with someone else’s junk.
It’s not just spousal tensions that can arise from KonMari: I hadn’t anticipated the hurt feelings of generous family members, particularly grandparents, after I asked them to stop buying things, especially for our son. We actually went abroad at Christmas, in part to avoid the mindless gift-giving, much of which ends up in the charity shop. If you think that sounds ungrateful, I’ve come across some devotees who have asked friends and family to refrain from sending even birthday cards, which “clutter up” their “joy-sparking” living room.
Unsurprisingly, a minority go to even further extremes. After attending a Kondo seminar for The Telegraph last year, I met Scottish occupational therapist Clara Moore, who was so inspired by Kondo’s first book, four years ago, that she decluttered her entire life in a weekend — “including my marriage, because my marriage did not spark joy for me”.
She soon decided her job wasn’t sparking joy either, and retrained as an accredited KonMari consultant — even carrying out a professional decluttering session with her ex-husband, in their former marital home.
Fortunately, the only casualty of KonMari for my family, thus far, has been our bank balance. In the spirit of minimalism, we turned up for our Christmas break at a beachside resort with only one small suitcase between the three of us. Unsurprisingly, we quickly ran out of clothes, so it was spend the festive season handwashing them or send them out to be laundered. Suffice to say, the resulting $285 bill did not spark joy.
— The Daily Telegraph