I love the subject of clearing clutter. For me, and most others, outer order contributes to inner calm. I feel this phenomenon in my own life—the effect of decluttering exhilarates me in practice and fascinates me in theory. And I find the relationship between possessions and happiness fascinating as well.
So I was eager to read Marie Kondo’s blockbuster bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I found it thought-provoking, and I gleaned some great clutter-clearing tips from the “KonMari Method.” But, I also discovered I have some profound disagreements with it.
I’ve come to believe deeply that we all must find our own way to happiness and good habits.
There is no magic, one-size-fits-all solution. Just because something works for you—or Marie Kondo—doesn’t mean that it will work for me. We can all learn from each other, absolutely, but there’s no “one way” to achieve anything. You indulge in moderation; I abstain. You exercise in the afternoon; I exercise first thing in the morning. You like lots of abundance; I like simplicity. No one’s right, and no one’s wrong. It comes down to what’s true for the individual.
And, Marie Kondo does indeed argue for the one best way. But here’s the thing: if you read five pages of her book, you know that Marie Kondo is an extreme, idiosyncratic personality—which I love and makes the book much more interesting! But what works for Marie Kondo isn’t necessarily a great guide for what works for everyone else.
As she describes herself, she makes it clear that she’s a simplicity-lover, who likes to take big steps, who’s a sprinter, and a person who doesn’t feel strong emotional attachments to possessions. (Though at the same time, she shows a strong feeling of animism, which I found intriguing.) But some people are abundance lovers, and some people like to start small, and some people are marathoners, and some people have strong emotional attachments to possessions. So her guidance may not work for you.
Here are the seven “KonMari Method” concepts I disagree with:
1. Putting every item in a category on the floor in the middle of a room as the first step in clearing clutter.
She says if you’re cleaning out your coats, take out every single coat; if you’re clearing your bookshelves, take out every book. In my experience, this can easily become overwhelming and lead to even more clutter that lasts a longer time, because people bite off more than they can chew. Know yourself.
2. Having a joyful relationship with every item you own.
She recommends asking yourself whether or not an item “sparks joy.” This is a terrific suggestion and can be very helpful. But I don’t think I can realistically expect to have a joyful relationship with every item in my apartment. I find it exhausting even to contemplate having an emotional reaction to so many common objects. It’s true, though, that for many people, “spark joy” has been a revelation. Know yourself.
3. Solitude and quiet when clearing clutter.
For me, that works very well. But for many people, it’s helpful to have a clutter-clearing partner. Another person can help with the grunt work, give advice about what to keep or discard, and can make the chore more fun. Know yourself.
4. Taking everything out of your handbag...every single day.
This would not be a good use of my time or energy, and I don’t think it would achieve anything. On the other hand, many others have followed Kondo’s suggestion with great success. Know yourself.
5. Doing a giant purge, rather than tackling a little clutter each day.
Some people like to start big, and some like to start small. It’s exhilarating, and highly productive to tackle a big, one-time goal—and the subsequent clean slate is powerful. But it’s also true that we can get a lot done by doing a little bit each day over the long term. Know yourself.
6. The best time to start is early morning.
That’s great if you’re a morning person, but I doubt that’s true if you’re a night person. Know yourself.
7. Folding is the best way to store most clothes.
She’s a big proponent of folding—and she has a very particular method of doing it. I myself just can’t handle that high of commitment level to folding. Know yourself.
Use what works for you.
The problem arises when you beat yourself up for not being able to do things the “KonMari” way, aka, the right way. Though when it comes to clearing clutter, there is no right way, only what’s right for you.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Marie Kondo’s book. I found it thought-provoking, helpful, and engaging. The minute I finished the book, for example, I got rid of a million coats.
But here’s the thing, it seems so obvious to me that there’s no one “right” or “best” way to change habits. So why, then, do so many experts assert that they’ve found the one true way?
There’s something about human nature when it comes to getting advice—we love to be given the true plan, the precise template that’s going to reveal the exact directions to success.
And when it comes to giving advice, it’s easy to assume that because some strategy works well for us, other people will use it with equal success. But it’s always a matter of the individual.
I learned many little things from Marie Kondo’s book, and there was one big thing I learned: that we should remain grateful to our possessions for having served us well, for embodying someone else’s affection for us in the form of a gift, or for giving us a thrill upon purchase. An “attitude of gratitude,” even for inanimate objects, makes us happier. And I know that I’ve never let go of an old laptop without taking a moment to think, “Farewell, my old friend, we’ve had some great times together, but now it’s time for you to rest.”