Clutter Conflict

Marie Kondo is the originator of the Konmari method, a tidying and decluttering system which has many adherents. She is also the host of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo on Netflix, where she and her team go to the houses of people with poorly organised stuff and helps them see their floors again.

She also makes some people lose their minds on Twitter over her edicts about getting rid of books.

My Cluttered Life

I am not now, nor have I ever been, any kind of minimalist. I accrete hobbies and collections like a caddis fly larva making its shell: I like my stuff. My stuff is my memory.

But my stuff drives me crazy because there’s piles of it everywhere and I can’t always find what I need. It drives my wife crazy because it’s in her way and presses down on her psyche.

My stuff is both a protection and a weight; an anchor and a barrier.

A Respectful Process

I have yet to read Marie Kondo’s book, but her Netflix show is notable to me for the level of respect it shows to its participants. The people on the show are ready to clear stuff out or to move on with their lives in some important way, and their problem is that they do not know how to work through all of their possessions.

They are overwhelmed and Konmari is a set of tools they can use to approach the task.

But Marie Kondo herself does not order or hector; she is flexible in applying the method. When someone is not ready to work on a class of items because they are stuck on another then she will relent. There is no overt blaming or shaming for having a pile of clothes that actually reaches the ceiling, nor a wall of baseball card boxes that obscures the sun.

Some Areas of Concern

The most effective criticism of Konmari that I’ve seen is that it is a system born of privilege: those who can afford to apply it are those who can afford to buy the thing that was discarded when they need it later.

I agree entirely with this criticism. I hang onto things because they might be useful later all the time, and sometimes they are useful later. But there is also an implicit assumption about any hoarding, that there is space to live in amongst the stored necessities* — if you have a smaller home then Konmari might be helpful in learning to make better use of that space.

And then there are the books.

Most of the harshest criticisms I have seen are about Konmari’s requirement that you only keep things that spark joy, including books, but that books are better in volume: to borrow Napoleon’s phrase, quantity has a quality of its own.

My reaction to that is: maybe don’t do that then.

I see Konmari as a set of tools, and you don’t have to use all of those tools all of the time. I have a table saw in my workshop. It terrifies me whenever I use it, but sometimes it is the right tool for the job. Most of the time it is another assembly table, though, because not every job needs it.

The same applies with particular areas of your possessions which you do not want to be rigorous with: you choose not to apply the tools. I mean, for me, books and comics and games fall more into the “sentimental items” category anyway, and maybe that’s the key here — books are more than just things; they are cultural and personal memory.

Personally, I like to know what I have so that sorting through the books has survey value**, but if the search is part of your process then who am I to judge.

Where I Am

I am not in a place where I am ready to go full Konmari on my life, but there are elements of it where I need to winnow.

There are also aspects of the tools that I like a lot, such as the vertical folding of T shirts to make them visible and more effectively use drawer space (or luggage space). So at some point I will be going through my clothes to dispose of stale and no longer wanted items.

But books and games and comics… That is both a daunting and deeply unsettling prospect. I will need to be sure of my goals going in.

[*] this is also a fundamental cruelty of being poor: you only get good prices on things bought in bulk, but that requires both that you have the money to spend on large quantities and that you have a place to store what you don’t need immediately.

[**] I do not currently know all that I have.

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