All of my Feelings About Marie Kondo’s Famous Cleaning Method
Over New Years weekend I embarked on a cleaning mission: to clear out my entire apartment using Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method. If you don’t keep up with the latest in Japanese tidying trends, the KonMari method is a quirky style of cleaning that touts the benefits of discarding anything that doesn’t bring you joy. It made waves a few years ago when Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up hit the New York Times Best Seller List and Marie Kondo was propelled into domestic goddess status. To be honest, the whole concept felt a little new agey for me (it’s like one step down from believing in healing crystals), but one of my best friends recommended it and I desperately needed to clean out my apartment, so I gave it a go.
I’ll be real: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a weird book. Part memoir describing Marie Kondo’s strange childhood obsession with cleaning, part practical guide to cleaning out your home, and part spiritual guide. It’s sort of Thich Nhat Hanh meets Martha Stewart. It’s very specific, sort of repetitive, and all around self promotional. But Marie Kondo is a good saleswoman and I’m buying it.
I shared a lot of my #KonMariWeekend on Instagram Stories a few weeks back, but wanted to write up some thoughts now that I’m a few weeks out. In this post I’m breaking down the basics principles of the method, what I did each day, and my overall results, if you’re interested.
I won’t go into the specifics (you’ll just have to take the book out of the library like I did for those), but there are a few main principles that you’re supposed to follow pretty closely:
- Keep only what sparks joy. This is basically the main takeaway of the book – while sorting through everything, notice what objects make you light up with joy. Keep those. Get rid of everything else.
- Sort by category, not by location. Another KonMari fundamental is to avoid the mistake of sorting room-by-room. Instead gather every item of a certain genre together (clothes, books, papers, etc.) and then sort through them all at once.
- Finish discarding first then put everything away. Once you start thinking about where to keep things, you’re no longer listening to that voice that’s telling you what brings you joy. Focus on one stage of the process at a time.
- Make tidying a special event, not a daily chore. Do as much as you can as quickly as you can – don’t lose momentum. Once you know everything you own and you know you love it, cleaning becomes easier and less time-consuming.
The Game Plan
I did my #KonMariWeekend over four days. I gave myself 1 day to prep, 2 days to sort, and 1 day to get rid of everything. I’ve slowly been putting things back into place ever since, which you’re not supposed to do, but I had to go back to work eventually. Here’s how each day went…
Day One: Prep
Day one was pretty easy, to be honest. I was actually kind of nervous about committing to the process and wanted to ease into it. Sort of a cop out, but I’m still glad I took a day to mentally and logistically prepare.
On prep day I:
- Finished reading the book. Obvi this was important. Plus, I took a few notes about things like what order I’m supposed to sort my clothes in because she’s really specific about stuff like that.
- Got all my supplies together. I used: lots of garbage bags, paper bags, moving boxes, tape, and scissors.
- Did all my laundry. This is the first thing that Marie Kondo suggests you sort through so this way I would be ready to go (and wouldn’t have an excuse to keep anything).
I also worked out, made some food for the next few days, and went to bed early. Guys, I treated this event like the fucking Olympics. Prep day ruled because it was easy and still useful.
Days Two and Three: Sort
Have you ever exhausted yourself by thinking too much? Does this only happen to me? Because that’s a great way to sum the next two days of #KonMariWeekend. Going through literally every item you own and making a decision about it is really mentally taxing, let me tell ya.
But I also think this is the most meaningful part of the process. In the book, Marie Kondo references (many times) that her method changes people’s lives. Through the process of cleaning their homes people discover long lost passions, change careers, realize the unhappiness of their marriage, things like that. Although this didn’t happen to me (spoiler alert), I do understand how it could happen to someone. Bear with me.
I’m a big believer in listening to your gut and this process is a great way to tune into that. You learn what it feels like to hold something you love versus something you resent. You’re asking yourself over and over again “what brings me joy?”. It’s this process of tuning into your feelings that can easily be applied beyond the cleaning process. During my sorting days I found myself wondering if other things in my life were really bringing me joy. The food I eat? The friends that I have? The work I do? I’m pretty in tune with that stuff at a high-level, but it was really interesting to feel that same ultra-specific discernment happening in other aspects of my life. I can definitely see how someone who has never listened to their gut could be deeply transformed by this method.
Overall, the sorting process wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be. In past major clean outs, I often felt a pang of regret about giving something away, but anything that I loved that much I just kept even if I never use it. And that’s what I like about this method: it takes into account how emotionally invested we are in the objects we have. It doesn’t set arbitrary numbers or daily goals – you’re empowered to decide what is worthy of staying in your life, which I think makes people a lot more likely to stay tidy, too. It was a lot of work and I really had to be in the right mindset for it, but this was by far the most effective clean out I’ve ever done and I haven’t regretted getting rid of a single thing.
Day Four: Get rid of Everything
This is oddly the day that is completely unmentioned in Marie Kondo’s book. I don’t know if all the posh Japanese people who hire her just get other people to haul away all their junk, but this was definitely the longest and hardest day of them all. I got rid of 3 car loads of stuff – which is amazing if I do say so myself – but wow did it suck to move all of it by myself!
Everything basically got brought to Goodwill, which is my go-to for donations. They have a great mission, they’re everywhere, and they take donations at really convenient hours. I would have loved to give more to local charities, but honestly, I was really just itching to get all of this stuff out of my apartment so I didn’t do the research I could have. If you end up doing this, do consider donating to lesser known local charities – they need our help, too!
There’s not much to say about this day other than I was physically exhausted by the end of it. There aren’t many days in my life where I do this kind of manual labor and I certainly have a knew found respect for those who do. After dropping off my last car load (I saved books for last, which was such a rookie mistake), I came home, cracked open a beer, and made myself a steak. And it was fucking great.
Afterwards: Putting Everything Back
So, this is the part of the Marie Kondo method where I sort of fell off the wagon: once you discard everything you’re supposed to organize your home and give everything a place. I didn’t do this right away – I had to go back to work believe it or not – but it did get done over the next week.
I honestly didn’t change where I put that many things, despite Marie Kondo having lots of theories about this, but I was amazed at how much easier it is to clean my apartment now that it’s empty. Putting clothes away no longer involves a strategic method of figuring out what hangers I have available and then pushing my mountain of clothes one way or the other just to hang something up. My dishes actually fit in my drying rack. My coat closet closes entirely for the first time since I moved in. They’re small victories, but it’s nice.
And I think that’s what Marie Kondo is all about: improving our lives through a series of small, joyful, and intentional decisions. Objects are a necessary part of life – sometimes you just need stuff – so why not try to make our objects a source of joy?
When I first moved into my apartment, I literally took anything I could get my hands on. I was starting my first job, I had no money (I literally outfitted my kitchen using gift cards), and I had a bunch of family members moving at once, so I just vultured what I could from people. I ended up with a hodgepodge of things that totally weren’t me. For that time in my life, though, that was totally okay. Maybe they weren’t intentional, but those things brought me joy – the joy of having my first apartment to call my own, the joy of making dinner in my own kitchen, the joy of figuring out how I wanted to live alone.
But as I’ve figured those things out, it became time to change. Over the last year and a half, I’ve become someone I hardly recognize – confident in my career, excited about the future, discerning about who I spend my time with – and now I need a space that reflects that. Cleaning has always had profound meaning to people as the chance to start over and I think that’s why I wanted to do this in the first place. I felt new.
Does this method have issues? Absolutely. For one, it wreaks of wealth and privilege – the ability to own whatever makes you happy just isn’t attainable for everyone. I ended up keeping things that don’t bring me joy because I need them and I can’t afford to buy a new one. Sure, an entire kitchen filled with Anthropologie dishware would certainly make me happy, but that’s not going to happen right now.
I also thought it was interesting that Marie Kondo never mentions the process of getting rid of all your stuff because this was another part of the method that felt privileged, too. Either you are able to move all of it out yourself, you have friends who can take time off to help you, or you can afford to hire someone to move everything for you and those aren’t always options for people.
So, it isn’t perfect and I completely understand if this method isn’t for you for those reasons or because the whole thing just doesn’t resonate with you. I approached this at a particular time in my life with a good deal of resources and I really liked it, but I was definitely a skeptic, too. Will I be folding my socks like sushi so they can rest at night? No. But did I feel like this was an effective cleaning method? For me, yes.
My biggest takeaway out of the whole experience is that it’s made me more aware of the effect objects have on my emotions. I was shocked by how many things I resented (ill fitting tops, broken kitchen utensils, grimy bathroom products) so it felt really good to get rid of them. I’ve also noticed a change in my buying habits – I’m much intentional about buying things and don’t feel as attached to things I purchase, either. Although I don’t think I had as profound a reaction as some of Kondo’s clients, the whole process has made my whole life feel a little bit lighter and that counts as a win in my book.