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The Guru of Tidiness Comes Calling



Transformation is imminent. I have Kondo-ized my home. 

The story begins with a phone call from a friend in Virginia. Lynn was very excited about a bestseller titled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up  by a young Japanese woman named Marie Kondo. Lynn had read the book and done the work and was delighted with it. “This would be a great blog topic,” she said.

She also knew I would be personally interested. Lynn had been my neighbor about 20 years ago and had taken note of how much I love housekeeping. I guess this is a bit unusual, but it may be due in part to having had 25 different homes since college. Making each one a pleasant place to live has been an enjoyable challenge, and I like to stay on top of the detail myself. There are degrees of tidy, however, and I found myself eager to learn more.

Marie Kondo

Marie Kondo

I am not alone in this matter. Marie Kondo’s book has sold two million copies worldwide. This is big. In the developed countries, a tidal wave of consumption has flooded homes with useless clutter. The popularity of this book is one sign that this may be changing. Instead of stuffing our garages to the ceiling and renting more and more self-storage, older Americans are beginning to sort and discard with the help of professional organizers. Within this profession, however, Kondo is unique.

Fascinated by clutter from the age of five, Kondo brings to the task of tidying up a mindfulness that really may be life-altering. She promises that creating order one category at a time through the KonMari Method will magically change life for the better. What’s more, there will be no rebound.

Since I was already famously tidy and not a big shopper, how could this affect me? Well, I soon realized that there was a dark secret lurking in my lovely home–in closets, drawers, and cabinets. Out of sight, I was a bit of a slob. I achieved enlightenment in this matter through my socks.

In Kondo’s imagination, every item is animated through the purpose it serves and its history. She pointed out that socks do hard duty on the feet, and they need to rest when not being used. Being balled up and piled into baskets must have been very stressful for mine; and when I pawed around looking for the right color, this must have aggravated the problem. My penance was to take them apart, roll them up gently, toe first, and stand them on end, shoulder to shoulder in communities of the same color. In the process, I was mortified to discover that I had more than 75 pair. In this one area of clothing, I was not only insensitive but also profligate. I must have been suffering from some form of sock anxiety, but I have been healed.

I nested my sock overage in the bottom of the first bag of clothing to be donated to a charity. Next I moved to my drawers and and meticulously refolded all the contents to be kept. After that came my closets. Hanging dejectedly on the rack was one item after another that was no longer “me,” that was associated with unpleasant memories, that was unbecoming, dated, or no longer appropriate for my lifestyle. Poor things. Imagining new appreciative owners, I moved them all into the light and began to prepare for transfer.

With books, mementos, knicknacks, and other household goods that aren’t ready for the trash, this “What if?” thing comes up to stymie discard. Kondo disables that by instructing the reader to focus on those items that create a “spark of joy.” This helps us recognize what makes us happy and what things we will want and need in the future. It also serves to identify things that represent an unhealthy attachment to the past. This came up with regard to my piano.

In the bench was a collection of music I had composed during a troubled time in my life years ago. I was proud of these compositions, amazed that I could actually do such a thing, and I often played them. However, they were all melancholy and burdened by sad memories. Imagining Kondo’s encouragement, I finally retrieved the binder in which I had kept this music, removed all the sheets, and put them in the trash. It felt great.

Later, an odd discovery revealed another benefit of Kondo-izing. At the end of a day focused on the kitchen, I suddenly realized I couldn’t find another binder containing recipes collected over decades. I had no memory whatsoever of having dealt with it, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. In a state of dismay that evening, I sat down at the kitchen table with a glass of wine to think. And then suddenly I decided, “Let’s just go with it.” Maybe this was a Freudian discard. Time to cook up something new.

In conclusion, I have found the KonMari Method of tidying up fun and edifying, and I am jubilant over all the sludge unloaded. My home feels brighter and more serene, and I love the fact that the order always apparent on the surface now also resides in all of the hidden places. Mari Kondo, the charming little “guru of tidiness,” has left her mark. The story is not over, either.

Near the end of her book, the author makes a statement that made my scalp prickle. She points out that people indifferent to order would never pick up her book. “You, on the other hand,” she says, “have been led by fate to read it, and that means you probably have a strong desire to change your lifestyle, to gain happiness, to shine.”

Oh, my. As the agent of fate, what has my friend, Lynn, done? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.



3 Responses to “The Guru of Tidiness Comes Calling”

  1. Ann Karlstrom

    How can this be? All the sisters in the same mode! I read your blog just after I had been downstairs to pick up some bags (of which I have many!) to load up for Goodwill. I can guarantee that we have more than anyone to get rid of. Too many places to store things. Poor Clea when we die!
    I have heard of that book–some time ago. I will never meet her standards, but I will try, and so will Paul.
    But, Ellen, I can hardly believe you have anything to get rid of. You are the original discarder! But 75 pairs of socks? Well, we all have our secrets.

  2. Elizabeth Robechek

    Oh, Ellen,
    You’ve done it again! Met me where I am. . . .

    Unknowingly and life-long, I’ve a bit of Kondo’s DNA. I remember in the mid 80’s when ill and a couple friends came to help me with some house work and laundry. Still can see their exchange of rolled eyes peering into the socks and underwear drawer. . . . .seeing all the socks and undies rolled up and standing very much like Terra Cotta Warriors from China. . . . .

    I first heard of Kondo’s book in a NYT article while in Florida earlier this month and knew immediately, I could, both, have written it and would learn something new in reading it, which I will do once April busyness is complete!


  3. Kate

    For one reason or another, I am in the same mode, but I may need that book to make the leap . . .