Marie Kondo is a solopreneur helping her clients declutter their homes. Her basic principle is very simple: if a possession does not spark joy - get rid of it. First she encourages her clients visualise their perfect home - e.g. peaceful and airy or a creative space. Then starting with clothes (least irreplaceable), books, miscellaneous stuff and personal mementos (most difficult to part with) she gets her clients to dump everything on the floor before picking up each item from a pile and asking themselves whether they spark joy. Apparently, it's easier to answer that question with the help of the sensation of touch. "The average amount thrown out by a single person is easily 20 to 30 45-litre bin bags and for a family of three it's closer to 70 bags." Marie Kondo also teaches her clients how to fold their clothes properly and make the most of their available space. Her philosophy is to keep things simple and leave her clients surrounded only by those possessions they genuinely love. No client had ever suffered a 'rebound'. On the contrary, once they decluttered there homes, some clients suddenly lost weight; many quit their jobs and started doing what they loved. Everyone appeared happier, lighter and inspired.
While reading the book, I found myself picking up random items - a pile of magazines, an old suit, a fancy dress outfit - and putting them into a bin liner. Marie Kondo advises against piecemeal tidying up because such process is never-ending. She explains that her method works once and for all: devote a day or two to organising your clothes, then set aside a special day to go through your books and so on, but once you apply her radical approach, it means that you won't ever need to tidy your space again. Her clients typically dispose of two thirds to three quarters of the contents of their homes and never hoard anything again. My random decluttering felt a bit like tidying up my flat before the cleaner comes in (I know it seems pointless but I also know that I am not the only one doing that!). It's as if I wanted to ease the enormity of the main event.
By the end of the day I stuffed 12(!) bags with joyless junk and I am not even a hoarder! I got so much into it that I stayed up later than usual, inspired by the newfound energy and lightness. I now want to do the KonMari method properly but I do have my reservations.
Let's start with books. I am extremely proud of my collection of books, neatly organised by genre and alphabetical order. My library is my treasury, a display of my trophies, if you like. Yet Marie Kondo suggests damping all the books on the floor unceremoniously before picking them up one-by-one. "Does it spark joy?" I confess, I see what she means. "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Seebold and "Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie are not associated in my mind with joy. I did not like either of the books when I'd read them. By contrast, "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy makes me smile because it was the first book I read when I went travelling for a year. "We Need to Talk about Kevin" by Lionel Shriver is no light reading but I remember being totally absorbed by it in Goa, India, finishing the novel at night to the sounds of the furious tropical rain. While I still need to brave decluttering my whole library, one thing makes sense at once: the unread books I have on my shelf (12 of them...) need to go. "I'll read them someday" means "never". I'm much more likely to read and enjoy a book I pick on an impulse than to come round reading John Irving's "The World According to Garp" I've had on my shelf for the last 6 years. (Incidentally, if you want it, let me know, it's brand new, and I'll be glad to give it away to a keen reader.) I also have Kafka's "America" in German. I believe I bought it in 1998...
Getting rid of unread books will no doubt lift a load of gilt off my shoulders. Speaking of gilt, I happen to have a cupboard full of presents I've received but never used. It makes me feel uneasy because getting rid of unwanted presents is akin to disrespecting my friends and family. "Nonsense!", says Marie Kondo. Friends show us their love and affection with presents. Their gestures are enough to make us feel special. Surely, friends would not want us to feel guilty about getting rid of an unwanted burden? (Anna, do you remember that decanter you gave me? I've never used it. I am sorry! I'm very grateful but it has to go.)
I can see how getting rid of joyless possessions would have an impact beyond its primary purpose. Chucking away Joseph suits I was so proud to wear as an investment banker has given me a sense of closure. I still do corporate finance consulting work but I do it on my own terms. I don't ever want to feel as oppressed as I did when working for Merrill Lynch. Throwing away an expensive piece of lingerie I never wear is similarly therapeutic. Once upon a time I bought it to impress someone, but now I feel ashamed for having spent way too much money on something so frivolous. Needless to say, that man is no longer in my life. Why do I keep sailing and squash shoes when I have not done either for a decade? A certificate of climbing Kilimanjaro is just a piece of paper - it does not compare to actual memories of that unforgettable experience.
Imagine getting rid of stifling suits, leaving only those clothes you feel truly comfortable in? You don't need a stylist to tell you what makes you feel happy. Imagine selling on Amazon that business manual you've never opened? Chances are you'll feel more confident in your management abilities without the reproachful stare from your bookshelf. Remember, that a pair of shorts you never wore or a kitchen utensil you never used taught you a valuable lesson: that style of shorts simply does not suit you and now you'll never make the same mistake again. Kitchen gimmicks are just that - gimmicks. You won't be so easily seduced by another novelty next time. "Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest."
By the time I finished reading the book, I knew that it taught me a lesson for life. It's true that once you pick a photograph or a scarf, you know at once whether it brings back special memories or a sense of joy. Whenever I felt reluctant, I asked myself whether it's because of the ghost of the past or a feeling of insecurity about the future. Do I want to live among skeletons and in fear? I do not. KonMarie method is so simple and so incredibly powerful. I'm going to take the plunge and go through my wardrobe in earnest next weekend.
"Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order."