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Can Tidying Your Home Really Spark Joy?

Can Tidying Your Home Really Spark Joy?
Reading time: 7 min

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or a pile of clutter), you’ve probably heard of the KonMari Method. Created by lifestyle guru Marie Kondo, it’s taken the world by storm with its mixture of practical advice (for example, fold your socks to better preserve the elastic) and inspirational philosophy (make sure your belongings truly spark joy). The technique has spawned two best-selling books that serve as a testament to its effectiveness; not only are KonMari practitioners enjoying organized homes, many say that they really are happier as a result of following Kondo's method.

What Is the KonMari Method?

Spark Joy - Marie Kondo

The KonMari Method is the brainchild of Marie Kondo - a lifestyle guru and author of two best-selling English language books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. The books both center around the Japanese art of decluttering. Of course, Kondo is far from the first person to preach against excess, but her method is unique in that it centers not on getting rid of unwanted items, but on keeping the wanted ones. Marie Kondo’s method encourages its practitioners to focus on the items that bring you joy, so you’re better able to appreciate the things in your life that truly add value.

One thing Kondo is very clear on is that her method is not about setting limits or identifying the ideal number of each item to own. In the New York Times she explains: “Rules that adopt concise numerical values may appear to be more practical, which is why society often imposes specific standards on us, such as the amount of money we should earn, the ideal body weight we should maintain or the recommended quantity of food we should consume each day. But what makes one person happy, comfortable and healthy varies for the next, so your individual gold standard can be determined only through your own perspective.”

It makes sense, then, that the KonMari Method is not all about minimalism. For example, one of Kondo’s pieces of advice for practitioners is that a well-organized closet can hold more belongings. The emphasis is placed on making sure that the items you own genuinely make you happy, and that you take the time to find places to store them that keep them in sight and in mind. As the age-old adage goes, a place for everything and everything in its place.

Sparking Joy

Spark Joy - Japanese Bedroom

The first step in following the KonMari Method is to decide what to keep and what to discard. Kondo’s advice on this is simple: hold each item in your hand and see whether it “sparks joy”. She describes the sensation of joy as a very physical and visceral feeling that should be easily identifiable. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably not there. This straightforward and instinctive approach is evident throughout the method, and is one of the reasons it seems to have had such success. It's easy to follow, and it's tailored to each individual person rather than creating a definitive list of 'good' and 'bad' items.

When sorting through your belongings, Kondo suggests splitting them into categories rather than location. For example, don’t start with your closet, start with your clothes. Not only does this help you build up a better idea of what you already own, it also helps you incorporate them into your lifestyle rather than just your room.

Get Organized

Spark Joy - Organizing

Once you’ve narrowed your belongings down to just the items that spark joy, it’s time to begin organizing them. To Kondo herself, this is half the fun. Her childhood stories certainly make her sound like a classic Type A personality. She recalls that as a schoolgirl she would rush back into her classroom during break times in order to arrange the bookshelves, while her classmates would head outside to play.

Both of Kondo’s books offer plenty of advice on particular organizing techniques. One key one is that you should stack items vertically instead of horizontally (so that they stand up by themselves), so that you can see them more easily. It is, after all, easy to forget what you have, and this technique makes them more accessible. She also emphasizes the importance of folding your clothes with love, in order to really appreciate and make the most of them.

Her advice extends far beyond clothes and accessories as well. She talks about keeping books off your bookshelf and instead separating them into nightstand reads and display books, explaining that she believes that this approach brings books back to life. And for home offices or desk spaces, she recommends going through and clearing out old papers that often get held onto but never looked at. The same goes for sentimental items such as mementos and even photos. Again, the central question to bear in mind is: does this item spark joy?

So, Does It Work?

Spark Joy - Couple relaxing in their home

According to Marie Kondo’s many followers: yes.

Kondo's waiting list is testament to her method’s popularity, and it’s taken particular favor with Hollywood’s elite. The likes of Kate Moss and Jamie Lee Curtis have raved about the technique, while Busy Philipps said: “I feel like a huge weight has been lifted” following her trial with it. Kondo’s success also led to an appearance on the American chat show The Ellen Show, where she demonstrated some of her techniques to the host with the aid of a translator.

Even fictional characters are getting onboard with the KonMari Method. In the recent revival of Gilmore Girls, the family matriarch, Emily Gilmore, surprises everyone by giving up her lavish lifestyle in favor of more minimal living. She describes the method to her daughter, Lorelai, explaining that she’s getting rid of everything that “doesn’t bring me joy”.

One of the reasons that the method works is that it presents a one-time solution to clutter rather than an on-going battle. Kondo explains that over the course of six months (or sometimes less), her clients organize their homes in a way that can permanently transform their relationship with their belongings. She also breaks down the method into subject categories, so that sentimental items (the hurdle that often hinders spring clear-outs) are saved until last, when the client has a clearer perspective.

Getting Started

Spark Joy - Marie Kondo Books

If KonMari’s philosophy and its many supporters have inspired you to join the movement, the best place to start is with Kondo’s books: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the more recent follow-up, Spark Joy. There’s also plenty of advice on her website and app to help get you started, as well as a forum where practitioners of the KonMari Method can ask questions and offer each other support and advice. The easiest place to start is by finding or customizing your own KonMari checklist, which serves as a useful guide.

Whether it’s the cathartic experience of sorting through old memories or the simple joy of an organized and beautiful home, there seems to be something in the KonMari Method that’s really resonating with people. And with the season’s changing, it’s the perfect time for a spot of spring cleaning!