KonMari? It’s complicated

  • Naomi Shulman is shown May 31, 2017 in her Northampton home.

For Hampshire Life
Published: 1/17/2019 11:55:51 AM

The holidays are over and a deep freeze has settled over the valley. It’s cold out there, and dark by 5:30 pm; snuggling in front of the TV with a throw blanket and a hot beverage is the current mood. My kids and I are watching reruns of shows we have loved for years, like “The Office” and “Friends,” and new shows that have captured our eye, like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” In my household, this is binge-watching season.

Which is why we found ourselves clicking on “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” (Netflix), a reality series based on Kondo’s 2015 bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” What Kondo calls “tidying” bears no resemblance to how I use the word. For me, “tidying” constitutes moving all of my daughters’ stuff to the edge of the staircase and fluffing the pillows on the couch. What Kondo calls tidying is what most of us would call purging. Beginning with our wardrobes and then moving on through four other broad categories of clutter, Kondo would have us put everything in a big pile, then assess each item to see if it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, out the door it goes; only joyful items are returned in our closets, drawers, or cabinets.

I watch the show with fascination, but fascination does not equal aspiration. (I’ve watched “The Bachelorette” with fascination, too, and I promise you I do not ever want to hand a rose to one of twelve tuxeoed men lined up in a row.) Most of the homes featured do not even qualify as what I would call cluttered. You want cluttered? I’ll give you cluttered: Head upstairs to my teenage daughter’s room and there’s enough clutter to keep the tiny, birdlike Marie Kondo in a state of tidying frenzy for a good long time. My kid has already pulled everything out of her closet, but neither she nor I will be picking up each item and asking ourselves if it sparks joy. The very concept of expecting our belongings to spark joy has been the subject of countless essays, many of them mocking. Just like our relationships with people, our relationships with belongings can be ... complicated. Just imagine if we continued to extend the KonMari method to all our relationships, animate and inanimate. What would happen to the divorce rate if married couples around the world looked at each other and asked themselves if joy was sparked?

This is all to say that I’m not asking myself if my stuff sparks joy. But I’m more taken by the next step of KonMari-ing. Once an item has been held and no joy has been sparked, you don’t simply toss it into a donation bin; first you thank it for its service. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a moment to thank a piece of clothing for all it’s done for me before sending it to the great beyond of thrift shops. After watching a few episodes of people clearing
out their closets, attics, basements and garages on the Netflix series, I felt the urge to purge my closet a little, too — and this time I quietly thanked each item as I folded and tucked it into the donation bag. It felt oddly good to
do it.

My greatest thank you, however, goes not to the items I’ve donated, but to the legions of other KonMari wannabes who have also been thanking their joyless old clothes and carting them off to the thrift shops. I’m rubbing my hands expectantly in anticipation of great thrifting fun ahead. As satisfying as purging my old stuff has been, for me it’s even more satisfying to sift through the used-clothing racks and score some great finds. You might even say it sparks joy.

Naomi Shulman’s work has appeared in many publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Yankee Magazine, as well as on NEPR and WBUR. Follow her on Twitter:

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