Marie Kondo might be the most famous Japanese person since Mr. Miyagi. Her 2011 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has been published in more than 30 countries and she was listed as one of Time’s “100 most influential people” in 2015, a year after the book hit shelves in the US.
Now, Kondo finds new fame after her binge-worthy super-hit of a show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” hit Netflix at the beginning of the year. Since then, her methods of organizing, which she calls the “KonMarie Method,” have blown up on social media and prompted a wave of thrift-store and used-bookstore donations. She’s become a cultural phenomenon.
Growing up in a Japanese household, my sister and I practiced a lot of the things that Kondo teaches. The idea of only keeping things that “spark joy” and making sure everything had a home was taught to us by our mom from a young age. My mom even folds her clothes in that weird, efficient way so that you can see the logos, and they’re easy to pull out of the dresser drawers.
Before I moved back to Greensboro last summer, instead of packing everything we had into boxes, I insisted that my partner and I sort through every single thing we owned to see if it “sparked joy,” or was something we actually needed, before taking them with us on our move.
But even with the allure of tidiness, the essence of the show isn’t really about being tidy; it’s about what your belongings — and your relationship to them — show you about the kind of person you are, and who you want to be. It uncovers the nuances and dynamics of relationships and reveals our value systems. We are what we have.
In the show, Kondo leaves the families with tidier homes, but along the way, they all confront something about themselves through the process of sorting, keeping and discarding.
My grandma passed away about a month ago, and when my mom went back to Japan, she was tasked with decluttering and sorting through my grandma’s many possessions. It took her the entire two weeks she was there, and my aunt is still cleaning up after her. My grandma grew up during WWII and because of that trauma, ended up keeping and holding onto so many things that didn’t serve her like used paper towels and hundreds of scraps of paper. In the process of sorting through all of the clutter however, my mom found pictures of my grandparents and remembered my grandmother through her more precious belongings. She brought back a ring and a scarf my grandma wore for me to keep.
The allure of Kondo’s method isn’t necessarily about getting rid of stuff. Instead, it’s about realizing how much value we prescribe to the objects we have. It makes us actively think about how our things are a reflection on who we are as people, and what that ultimately means.
In the past week, I’ve binged a half-dozen episodes of Kondo’s show, and I’ve taken several trips to the dollar store and Target for all kinds of bins and boxes.
Maybe it’s because it’s the new year but you might find that tidying your home gives you a new perspective on life.
Plus, it’s pretty fun.