Marie Kondo: Tidying with sugar on it

Who has not seen even one segment of the Netflix series, "Tidying Up with Marie Kondo"?  Hands? Anyone?

Kondo's best-seller, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up", influenced me markedly. (A summary is here.)

I followed the category sequence for tidying, mastered the folding. I still follow her KonMari principles in a low-key way; not everything needs to "spark joy"; usefulness is just fine.

Then, I watched her in action, on Netflix. In front of a mountain of clothes taller than she, Kondo murmurs, "So much!" Facing a brimming closet, the soft-voiced Kondo is very different from the forthright American, Stacy London, who would say, "We're going to keep three good jackets and get rid of the other eighteen today."

The word I return to each time I watch her is, adorable. She does not walk from room to room, she jetés, a sprite in false eyelashes, white (part of her brand image) and skirts (trousers do not spark joy for her). Her only accessory is her interpreter, who captures her soothing tone and winsome humour. I keep wondering what this would cost if I paid for it.

She has some odd notions. "Feel the energy in the garment", Kondo said, as she showed Rachel Ray how to fold a shirt. I do not believe that there is energy in a garment, unless she is speaking of static electricity.

There is a keen mind behind this demure facade; her empire includes certification of KonMari Method consultants (who charge $100/hr., minimum of five hours, a tidy sum indeed), a line of storage boxes, and more products to come.

Kondo's "Tidying Up" book is forthright about the enervating effect of overflow. On the Netflix series, she avoids serious purges. Clients learn to stow possessions in stacked, matching boxes, but they still have the stuff.  She lets her them keep sentimental items; the problem is that when you are past 50, nearly everything can hold sentiment.

One Sunday, I had the jarring experience of watching a Kondo segment back to back with the A&E series "Hoarders", which was playing at the gym.

Obsessive hoarding is considered a mental health issue, but what is the difference between the eighty-year-old man in a double-wide crammed with scrap metal and cats, and the retired woman in her large house with several rooms made impassable by trendy clothes and shoes? Economic status and a more tolerant family.

"Hoarders" is a one-trick pony of a show with a creepy, voyeuristic element; the camera tracks troubled people one step away from eviction and usually embroiled in family conflict. Pets are often neglected and suffering; it's hard to watch.

"Tidying Up" is "Hoarders" lite; the issue for Kondo's clients is wealth, not health. A Californian woman  said, "I have always loved clothes and shopping...  'retail therapy' is real for me. When I get mad at him (her spouse), I hit him in the wallet." That wallet must be pulp.

When we moved to Montréal in 2011, we divested at least 60% of our possessions, but also rented a storage unit. The plan was to keep it for a year, until we figured out what we'd need. After two unit downsizes, we emptied it last month. In true Kondo fashion, we held on to family heirlooms and sentimental objects.

Then I learned of another de-cluttering approach called Swedish Death Cleaning, a term that reminded me of Swedish Death Metal, but means "Don't Leave a Mess for the Heirs". If the term creeps you out, abridge it to "SDC".

Out with the leftover furniture, obsolete business records, and dusty cake-decorating equipment!  A custom-painted puppet theatre went to our great-nephew Olivier, an art deco chandelier to an antique dealer.

It took me most of a year to decide to sell my great-grandfather's bed, made in the mid-19th century from his own walnut trees—but so be it. After seven years of my importuning, I saw that the kids didn't want it.

It is now being dreamed in by a sweet four-year-old girl, and I feel fine.

I have Marie Kondo to thank for her advice to picture the end point I wanted: never setting foot in a storage facility again.

Whether we buy Kondo's chic Hikidashi boxes or the Ikea ones with the tiny screws that keep falling out, unless we divest unused things, we are only organizing the accumulation instead of reducing it.

Sometimes the most important clutter to deal with is what's in your head.


LmC said…
A note offering a possible explanation why Marie Kondo speaks of the "energy" of garments or items. Many of her comments are influenced by the Shinto religious beliefs in Japan. From my students I learned that although most Japanese do not consider themselves to be religious, the customs of Shinto and Buddhism greatly influence their culture and way of thinking. Thus "thanking" the item and prayer.

Although late to the March 17 post, I wondered if the knitters who commented know about "Knitted Knockers".

There are so many women undergoing surgery for breast cancer, and while some have reconstructive surgery, many do not. A knitted prosthesis, as described in the website is usually more comfortable and adjustable than the manufactured ones. They are easy to knit, and when our yarn store first brought this to the attention of local knitters, many responded.

Just saying....
LmC in N.B.

Duchesse said…
LmC: I do know about her Shinto beliefs and their influence. Energy" is a term that (for me) is a scientific concept. I have not been able to feel energy in my clothes; however, they do evoke emotion in me.

Love the Knitted Knockers project! (I am happy that there are so many options, including going without prostheses.)
Susan Thorburn said…
swedish death cleaning resonates with me. when my 93 year old mother went into care it was my job to clear out her house and get it ready to be sold. she had a 3 bedroom place which didn't look at all cluttered till you opened the closets. oh, lord, what an accumulation! i don't think she ever got rid of anything but rather just found space for it in her large closets. there were clothes in all 3 bedroom closets + the 2 hall closets, many of which hadn't seen the light of day in years. there was kitchen stuff not used as she rarely cooked for herself. the whole time i was dealing with the stuff one thought kept ringing thru my head, "i will never, never do this to my kids!" now i engage in ongoing "tidying," regularly culling clothes and unused appliances and kitchen gear. i hope it will be enuf that my kids will have a relatively easy time of it when i pass on or go into care.
LauraH said…
Although I consider myself a non-accumulator, there is is still a lot of stuff in my house. Another pare-down has been looming for a while, your post may give me the impetus to get it done. Oddly, sometimes it's not the decision to let something go, it's the what-to-do-with-it that takes all the time and energy.
Duchesse said…
Susan Thorburn: I have already adopted one of the SDC ideas. Spent 2 days sorting all of my family "ancestral mementos" like photos and papers into one storage box (the kind you buy in a housewares section). These have meaning to me but probably not so much for my children. They will know they can pitch the box if they want. An upcoming post describes what I found when I went through my mother's boxes.

LauraH: Spring cleaning! You know the options re what to do with it, but perhaps like me and that bed, it is a wrench to finally say, That's it. But now that it's done, very satisfying
Jane said…
I can relate to every word you've written. We Kondo-ed my eldest son's bedroom over the weekend. Actually my husband had to do it. The Halloween costumes, the childrens' books, the hobbies, the school work... My heart hurts. He has lived in Montreal for five years now. He doesn't want or need this stuff. He has a new life.

My 88 year old MIL lives in a 4 bedroom house. On 5 acres with outbuildings. She has never gotten rid of anything. I dread what's in our future there.

Also, Marie Kondo is adorable! -Lily
Duchesse said…
Jane: It's hard to give up those sweet childhood mementoes, that's why we hung on to the puppet theatre. (Sometimes there is an extended family member with a child the right age, so the things can go there.) But your MIL, uh op... going to be epic.
Kim said…
Similar story here: My MIL was moved into a senior's residence about four and a half years ago at the age of 94. Her huge house had been in her family for almost 100 years and no one had thrown anything out ever (or so it seemed). To complicate things my BIL was a bit of a hoarder and had plenty of space to put the stuff he "collected". Once she was settled, we set a firm date to put the place up for sale and planned how to get it cleaned out. It took months and involved the services of a company that specializes in this type of thing - but we did indeed get everything cleared out and the house sold. My husband and I have downsized but could still do better with what's in the house - I don't want my kids to have to go through what we did.
Angela Pea said…
My husband and I are about to face the clearing of his mother's house, and are already at odds over her stuff. I've live in the keep the home purged camp; he's in the keep everything forever amen. I've actually broached the subject of SDC with him - I absolutely love the concept - and he turned green at the gills. I am not looking forward to any of this.

And Yes! Ms. Kondo is adorable. :)
Duchesse said…
Kim: On 10/2/16, I posted my interview with an estate planner, Penny Schneider, who provides the service you are speaking of (thank you!) If we don't want our kids (or other heirs) to go through that plodding work, and spare them the expense of an estate planner, we can handle things differently ourselves.

I have seen so many downsized homes in which which the owners merely stuffed their old furnishings and decor into a smaller space. When the new home is smaller, that visually overloads a room.

Angela Pea: See Kim's comment! If there is a lot he wants to keep "forever", there is the storage facility: it is sometimes the price to keep the peace. Way more of a problem if your husband wants to live with the objects. Warm wishes for a peaceful resolution.
Gretchen said…
Hand up here-not seen, not read, not bought into her school of thought. I have little problem getting rid of most stuff I determine unnecessary, but minimalism seems just as absurd as hoarding. I don’t want my children to have to sort through my things or keep them for emotional reasons, and so if they set it all ablaze, I would be more hurt by that environmental impact. My problem is not knitting and collecting more sweaters than I have a right to for myself and others, and deciding what books are worth keeping and which are library check-out only. It’s all just stuff. Maybe-gasp-even my beloved pearls.
Jean Shaw said…
wait--knitted knockers? Brilliant idea. I'm sorry that we didn't know about that for my Mom, who had her surgery in 1973 and had an ambivalent relationship with her prosthesis. (Although I cherish the memory of her muttering, "Now where is my bosom?")

When my FIL moved in with us ~5 years ago and we redid the basement into an apartment for him, we had to get rid of roughly 30% of our stuff. It was a blessing in disguise. I continue to evaluate and refine the process--it's a never-ending one, apparently.
Mardel said…
Love that closing line -- "Sometimes the most important clutter to deal with is what's in your head." That perfectly encapsulates the problem with anything that I have struggled with letting go of. I've downsized a few times now. And although I am renovating, and adding a small addition (200. sq) feet, I still have considerably smaller space than my former house. I do not want a house that is weighed down by stuff. Mostly it easier to let go of things, to see what works for me, and what is just not quite right, unless it is something that is still cluttering up some hot button in my head.

Duchesse said…
Gretchen: Could you say more about your thought that "minimalism seems just as absurd as hoarding" ? I'm struggling to understand why refusing to acquire unnecessary possessions and consume without cease is absurd; I suspect I am missing your point.

Jean Shaw: Yes, it's a process. The result of not pruning can be seen in some of the comments of readers faced with cleaning out someone else's accumulation. At the same time, if someone loves something that is not especially useful, like a collection of travel fridge magnets, I say fine, and enjoy.

Mardel: I just reread the post in which I interviewed Penny, the estate organizer, who said there are two types of value, sentimental and monetary, and to ask ones' self why something should be kept. I just discarded boxes my mother's sentimental possessions, keeping a small selection. That took me a decade because (even though I don't believe she would know) I thought if they meant something to her, they should to me. So I photographed them, and then discarded them.
Anne D said…
Hoarding is, indeed, a mental illness somewhere on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. My sister-in-law was a hoarder. I, two sisters, and a crew of paid helpers cleaned out her home after her death. It was a shocking experience. To better understand how this happens, I read a very good book on the subject - "Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things" by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010. Mostly hoarding has been snickered at, not studied, but it is a real illness and can be treated, though it takes a long time. The experience of cleaning out my SIL's hoarder home irrevocably changed my relationship with things.
The problem here is that there is also a material problem. There is no "away" when throwing stuff away. At present even very poor people are weighted down with stuff - junk from the dollar store or even scavenged junk. When working at a tenants' association we had to deal with such cases of people who would be evicted. By the way, now there are self-help associations for hoarders.

I've divested myself of a huge amount of books and other things, but it is physically difficult. They have to be carried to the écocentre (not near a métro station) or to charity shops - I've taken very nice collections to the latter, who were most appreciative.

A friend in Brooklyn had to deal with the huge accumulation in his widower father's home in Washington DC (where the latter had moved for work). The entire large basement was full of dubious stuff, and the house itself with only slightly less dubious stuff (at least not mouldy).

My major problem with Ms Kondo is that she does not appreciate books and posits 30 as a normal book cohort. I have at least that many who were given to me or signed by the authors, friends living or dead. There are instructions for rehoming them, but I intend to keep those as long as I live.
Duchesse said…
Anne D: Thank you for your heartfelt personal example and the book reference. I knew hoarding was associated with OCD and often part of a constellation of other health issues. (Scientific American:

Duchesse said…
lagatta: Kondo says in her book that she keeps •her collection• to "thirty books at any one time", but that is not prescriptive. She wants people to keep what they love.

We have no car, and I dispose of things regularly: carry items (on foot or by bus) to the donation centre, put bigger things on the street (gone in hours), post on Freecycle specifying must be picked up; give to someone who can use it. But a whole apartment full, such as you deal with with your tenants association, is daunting. The sheer scale makes it a whole different level of work!

A real problem is disposal of large furniture, especially painted or varnished wood— hard to recycle because the solvents have penetrated the wood, or upholstered pieces.
Your great grandfather‘s bed is exquisite. I’m sorry you had to let it go but it sounds like it went to the right home. The little girl who will be sleeping in it is a very lucky little girl.
Oh, I do that too, every week, but this past winter has been impossible! There are obviously also psychological problems as well as terror of losing their homes among the people I was working with. We had a fellow (with obvious problems) whose balcony was overflowing with stuff including an artificial Christmas tree - and he has no children. The firefighters stepped in.

I had an antique brass and iron bed that was in bad shape; put it out and it was collected within an hour.
Wendy said…
I’ve been working, slowly and only somewhat surely, on my Swedish Death Cleaning for a couple of years. It’s slow going. In my defense, when I married husband number two he had been fairly recently widowed by a “collector” of everything. Husband is fine with getting rid of most things, but would rather haul it to the dump than donate to charity. I hate to toss something that may be useful to someone else.
I love that you were able to give that beautiful bed to someone who appreciates it and perhaps knows something of its history. I think that may be the key to passing on the more valuable or special items. Knowing it has found a good home is a good feeling. That said, I feel a little lighter with every bag and box that goes out that front door!
(The first time I read of S.D.C., I immediately liked the idea. Then they said it is usually started around the age of 50! After my initial gasp, I had a good laugh. Never too soon to start, I guess.)
Duchesse said…
Wendy: Good for you! I too prefer to donate usable items.

re age 50 and SDC: that's around the time when many of us lose members of the older generation and get stuck with the clean-out. The time when we vow, "I'm not foisting this on my family."

The antique bed problem was that it needed a custom mattress as it was not a standard size- main reason why family did not take it. I gave the buyer a list of suppliers and prices so she knew what she was facing, as well as its history.

re your husband's former wife and her possessions: My mother had a friend, Maggie, who had her portrait done, and requested an impressive diamond and sapphire necklace be painted on her. The portraitist asked her to wear it; she replied "I don't have one, I just want my husband's next wife to tell that cheap SOB she better get one too."
LHL said…
If anyone has any ideas about how to dispose of folk art from New Guinea, Africa and the San Blas Islands it would be appreciated. We have managed to empty two very full parental homes, but are left with these items. We've donated hundreds of Mexican masks and other folk art, but these remain in storage despite many attempts to find new homes.
Duchesse said…
Long answer but such an important question. Since you have made "many attempts" you've probably done things I am suggesting—but sometimes its' a matter of exposure and thinking beyond the immediate community.

- Auction as a lot- use a local auction house an an online site like LiveAuctioneers
- Place them with a consignment shop that specializes in decor items
- Contact a dealer in folk art; be prepared for a lowball offer, sigh
- List, e.g., Kijiji, OfferUp, eBay and be patient. Dealers often check these sites.

Donate, with benefits:
- Church or charity auction or bazaar: Donate; some will issue you a donation receipt

Give away:

A. Find someone who'd love it; make it your mission
Example: Young adults decorating a first apartment; or an African-American cultural centre who would love the African pieces.; a school who wants to decorate the lounge; a young professional looking for a way to make a bland office interesting; the public area of an assisted living centre; a halfway or resettlement house. (Folk art is terrific for such places as it is not as fragile as works on paper.)

Think broadly, speak to friends. A very satisfying route!

B. Free range
Leave by the curb (in clement weather) for someone to take. That is often a distasteful suggestion to the owner, I'm sensitive to that. But many times I have admired, say, a charming print someone has, and been told, "I picked it off the street!" There is a certain serendipity to it.

I live in a condo building where there is a specific area for persons to leave things to give away. You'd be surprised at the nice things that have been offered.

C. Online
We use the online site Freecycle, which has a local offer/request board. We have had some pleasant experiences. I have also had one slightly negative one, a no-show, but that wasn't a big deal... someone else took the things a few days later. There are similar organizations in many locales.

Sometimes, try as you might, no one seems to want it. Give yourself credit for trying and donate it to a thrift.
tess said…
For LH:

Also contact Natural History, Outsider Art museums for donating ethnic/folk art.
Many people would appreciate seeing these.

Try listing on Etsy or Ebay.

Good luck finding homes for these.

Gretchen said…
Duchesse, my minimalism comment was relating to the idea of a set number of items (10-piece wardrobe, 20 books, 4 place settings) and the rigidity of that kind of mindset. That’s just as bonkers as the woman who I saw once with 200 pairs of jeans. I’m a huge fan of the Swedish death cleaning and letting go of things you have no use for, that you don’t enjoy, and don’t need. Getting rid of things just for the sake of getting rid of them sets one up for just replacing them later. One needs to find what works for them, and have a plan for what happens when we all leave the mortal coil. No leaving it for others to figure out.
Lori Wong said…
I read Marie Kondo's book back in 2015. I had dealt with my MIL's house after she passed away in 2014 and she had been a hoarder. It was very upsetting and I determined that I would not leave so much junk for my heirs to deal with. Reading about Ms. Kondo's method was a great experience and changed the way I look at my possessions. Unfortunately, my husband was raised by the hoarder and is just now coming around to the idea of letting go of things he does not use or need. Patience is required!
Duchesse said…
Gretchen: Thanks for the detail. I have done the 30 item wardrobe thing as an experiment just to see what it is like, but kept all my other clothes. ( Learned how much I really wear and how much is filler.) Some people seem to like the certainty of a prescribed number, or the challenge og getting it down to whatever, kind pf like weight loss. My experience is that once I pared back,inot hard to live the one in, one out approach. ( Not for pearls though.)

I too do not want to leave a mess for others, and it is not just about the future; I actively enjoy living with the spaciousness and order.

Lori Wong: Did you notice on some of those segments there is often someone eager to declutter and a partner who resists? (Remember the doctor with the garage crammed with her daughters’ clothes (since they were born) and toys which they no longer used? She was deeply anxious about «  having to give it up ». I saw that for some persons, possessions are proxies for love, security, identity—among other needs.

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