In 2011, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo hit bookstores, introducing the world to one woman’s method of keeping house. Then, in early 2019, it became a Netflix series: Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. This brought Kondo’s signature KonMari Method of organizing to the masses.
The purpose of the KonMari Method—and all tidying, if we’re being honest—is to manage your belongings so they work with your life and don’t add stress. However, Marie Kondo’s techniques aren’t for everyone.
What Is the KonMari Method
The KonMari Method is an intensive program to declutter and reorganize your home. It’s meant to lead to a less cluttered lifestyle in which you keep only those things that “spark joy,” as Kondo puts it, and things you absolutely need.
The rules are as follows.
Rule 1: Commit yourself to tidying up.
Rule 2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.
Rule 3: Finish discarding first.
Rule 4: Tidy by category, not by location.
Rule 5: Follow the right order.
Rule 6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.
The first four rules are self-explanatory. The fifth means that you should go through your belongings in a certain order, the one she lays out: clothing, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos. The idea is that it’s easiest to decide what clothing doesn’t “spark joy” (Rule 6), or make you happy, and tougher to do that with your mementos. You work your way through your things, from those that are easiest to make decisions about to the hardest.
Once you’ve gone through your stuff this way, simply keep your home decluttered and you’ll have a less stressful life.
Problems with the Method
There are several reasons why the KonMari Method isn’t for everyone:
It’s based on emotion rather than logic
It’s more about discarding than organizing, and it can feel like Marie Kondo wants you to throw out most of your stuff.
It takes up a lot of time up front.
You may not feel emotionally or physically up to handling so much at once.
So, what are the alternatives?
Narrow Your Categories
You can take the spirit of the KonMari Method but change the execution to work for you. The first way is to narrow down your categories. Her broad categories of clothing, books, papers, miscellany, and mementos mean you’re dealing with a ton of stuff at one time.
Try narrower categories like, “my clothes in this closet,” “my son’s books in his bookcase,” or “my coffee mugs.” These will take less time to complete, but each time you finish a small category, you’ve accomplished something.
Whether or not something sparks joy can be nebulous; if that’s your only question, you may throw out things you actually need. Some household necessities simply don’t spark joy. No one looks at a bottle opener, a toilet plunger, or dish soap and feels a burst of happiness, but you need those things. If you need it, don’t get rid of it.
An extension of this is to ask yourself if you’ll just replace the item if you throw it out. Maybe your one sweater doesn’t spark joy, but when autumn rolls around, you still need it to keep warm.
Do some things take up more space than they need to? Perhaps the best example of this in modern society is CDs and DVDs. Switch to streaming, and you don’t need these physical items at all. The same goes for old papers, photos, and so on. Scan them and save the digital images.
Maintain Your Decluttering Momentum
The appeal of KonMari method, for those who can undertake it, is getting the bulk of the work done at once, yet even Marie Kondo says this is a lifestyle change. You need to keep up with it.
Once you start decluttering one small category at a time, or one part of a room at a time, don’t give up. Do another section in a day or two, and another a day or two after that. Meanwhile, keep up with housework. In time your home will get less cluttered and more livable.
30 Day Purchasing Hold
Decluttering your home is great, but what happens when you start making new purchases? It’s fine to get new clothes, books, and so on, but it’s important to do so mindfully.
For 30 days, commit to purchasing only what you need. Do you need a book for a class you’re taking? Then you can buy it. Do you want—but don’t necessarily need—that new novel by your favorite author? Hold off on getting it during this period.
This exercise will be tough, but it’s meant to help you learn to enjoy what you already have, and to teach you that you have enough. After the 30 days have passed, think before you buy. Chances are you’ll find yourself saving money and maintaining a decluttered home.