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Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter

(Source: theatlantic.com)

In the U.S,. my grandparents and mother responded to the trauma they’d experienced by holding on to things. My grandfather was a collector who was prone to hoarding. He’d often find random trinkets on the street and bring them home, and he kept everything, from books to receipts to costume jewelry. My grandmother and my mother were more practical, saving and storing canned foods, socks, and pantyhose. In my home, we didn’t throw out food or plastic bags, or clothing that was out of style but that still fit us. We saved everything.

Today, when my mother comes to visit she still brings bags full of useful items, from Goya beans to cans of tuna fish and coffee: things she knows will last us for months and months. It doesn’t matter if I tell her we just went to the store, or that we have plenty of food, or that I don’t need any more socks or underwear. A full pantry, a house stocked with usable objects, is the ultimate expression of love.

As a girl growing up in the U.S., I was often exhausted by this proliferation of items—by what seemed to me to be an old-world expression of maternal love. Like many who are privileged enough to not have to worry about having basic things, I tend to idolize the opposite—the empty spaces of yoga studios, the delightful feeling of sorting through a pile of stuff that I can discard. I’m not alone in appreciating the lightness and freedom of a minimalist lifestyle. The KonMari method, a popular practical philosophy for de-cluttering your home, has tapped into a major cultural zeitgeist.

Since the Japanese “professional organizer” Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  was released in 2014, it’s become a New York Times bestseller and sold over 3 million copies. Kondo’s tips on de-cluttering have been featured everywhere from The Today Show to Real Simple to The Guardian, and have inspired the follow-ups Spark Joy, an illustrated guide to tidying things up even more, and Life-Changing Magic, a journal where you can ruminate on the pleasures of owning only your most cherished personal belongings.

At its heart, the KonMari method is a quest for purity. To Kondo, living your life surrounded by unnecessary items is “undisciplined,” while a well-tidied house filled with only the barest essentials is the ultimate sign of personal fulfillment. Kondo’s method involves going through all the things you own to determine whether or not they inspire feelings of joy. If something doesn’t immediately provoke a sense of happiness and contentment, you should get rid of it.

Kondo seems suspicious of the idea that our relationship with items might change over time. She instructs her readers to get rid of books we never finished, and clothes we only wore once or twice. She warns us not to give our precious things to our family and friends, unless they expressly ask for them. She’s especially skeptical of items that have sentimental value. In her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo says,

Just as the word implies, mementos are reminders of a time when these items gave us joy. The thought of disposing them sparks the fear that we’ll lose those precious memories along with them. But you don’t need to worry. Truly precious memories will never vanish even if you discard the objects associated with them … No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel in the here and now are most important.

Throughout Spark Joy, Kondo includes adorable minimalist drawings of happily organized bathrooms, kitchens and closets. Sometimes she even includes drawings of anthropomorphized forest animals lovingly placing items into drawers using the KonMari method.

More Info: theatlantic.com

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