Last year was a very long one for professional organizers. Some have jumped on the bandwagon, some have been openly critical, and others are just trying hard to stay above the fray. Not a day goes by but what I don’t see an article about, or at least mentioning, Marie Kondo, or someone asks me if I’ve read her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (yes, I have). And now her new book, Spark Joy, is out (no, I haven’t).
Before I continue, and for the record:
I believe Marie Kondo to be 90% just like any other organizer (with fantastic PR and timing), 5% lost in translation, and 5% unique.
My problem is not with Marie Kondo. It’s with the media hype surrounding her.
I think folks are, more than ever before, ready to hear the message of how much their lives will improve with some decluttering, downsizing, and simplifying. She’s just preaching the loudest right now. I don’t agree with everything she says, but I don’t agree with everything my NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) colleagues say in their books, either. (Gasp!) We all take slightly different approaches to helping our clients, and that’s OK.
The Five Stages of Marie Kondo
With apologies to Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, here is what I have personally been going through:
Denial – How is it even possible that this one organizing book is outselling all other previous organizing books put together? (I have no proof, but it sure seems that way!)
Anger – No, no, no! “KonMari” is not a verb! And “Kondoed” is not an adjective! Arrrgh! Why do the media act as if Marie Kondo invented organizing?!?!
Bargaining – OK, media…you can praise Marie Kondo all you like, but no blindly jumping on the bandwagon without even reading the book, OK? (Example: A Place for Everything: How To Use Labels to Help KonMari Your Home – Uh, no. She is more likely to remove a label than to add one. I know because I read the book.)
Depression – It’s so hard to know what to say about her and her book, when asked, without sounding jealous or unprofessional. And I don’t even have a competing book! (I offer information products on my website, such as Clutter Flow Charts, but not a paper book sold on Amazon.)
Acceptance – This isn’t going away, is it? A new book…a sitcom in the works (yes, really!)…an app….a U.S. consultant program…OK, well….whatever draws attention to the field of organizing is a good thing….right?
Now that I’m ready to talk about it publicly, here are just a few select ways – we’d be here all day if I addressed them all — in which I agree…and disagree…with Marie Kondo (let’s just call her MK from here on out, shall we?):
Does it spark joy? This phrase captured my imagination, as it did millions of other readers. Of course, it doesn’t apply to everything (think tax records and toilet paper). But…isn’t it just another way of saying, “Do you love it? Use it? Need to keep it?” or, “Do you know it to be useful, or believe it to be beautiful?” or, “If you were shopping right now would you buy this again?” I approve of whatever phrases work to make you stop and ask yourself: “How much stuff do I really need to keep? How much is standing in the way of living the life I really want to be living?” Is it catchy and inspiring? Yes. Unique? No. Same song and dance; different music.
“Tidying Up” That certainly sounds easier than organizing, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because once you’ve sorted, purged, assigned homes, containerized, and created a system for maintaining order it is so much easier to tidy up! It really is life-changing and magical! And any NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) member can help you do it. I could be wrong, but I believe MK’s use of “Tidy” in place of “Organize” is one of those lost-in-translation things. Even “organize” is subject to interpretation — to me it automatically includes purging unwanted and unused items, but to some it apparently just means neatly arranging what’s there. Also, we are not housecleaners! Well… except, of course, for those who are housecleaners, in addition to being organizers. Here is my take on Organize vs. Tidy vs. Clean: How Clean Does Your House Really Need To Be?
Tidy up “quickly”. No messing around. It seems that no one in the media has noticed that “quickly” means six months, according to MK (p. 35). Or that six months is an eternity if, as it seems to me, the majority of Kondo’s clients are young adults living in one room of their parents’ home. Lost in translation? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s possible to say that one person’s project was not completed “quickly” enough. There are too many factors to consider, such as the scope of the project, how quickly one makes decisions, how much help is needed and available, and real-life challenges that crop up during the project.
It’s her way or the highway. (My phrase, not hers.) I, too, think that a decluttering blitz is the best way to show quick results and create momentum in what can seem to be an overwhelming project. But that simply doesn’t work for everyone. My clients vary widely in terms of their personalities, project goals, what “organized” means to them, available time, ability to make decisions, physical stamina, and ability to pay for multiple sessions. If professional organizers can’t adapt their methods to accommodate their clients, then many people in need of help will fall by the wayside.
Organize by category, not by room. It’s true that I will ask a new client what room is bugging them the most, so we can start there. But… let’s say we’re organizing their home office, and they store office supplies there. It would be counterproductive of me not to ask them, “Where else in the house do you keep office supplies?” Because until we gather them together, how do we know how much we can purge, where best to store the keepers, and what containers would be most appropriate?
Anthropomorphizing. This is the thing I notice people joking about the most, but…I confess to doing it myself. I might say, of a pile of clutter, ”Those things must not have homes, or if they do, they must not like their homes.” Of course, what I really mean is that YOU must not like their “homes” (Too far away? Too small? Too ugly? Drawer sticks? Lid in the way? Etc.) or you would be putting them away and they wouldn’t be piling up. The problem with anthropomorphizing is that some people (those who hoard) take it way too far, and it pains them way too much to “hurt” their things by casting them off or sending them away. But I don’t work with hoarders, so it does my clients no harm. Also, I love the idea of thanking one’s belongings before discarding or donating them. My version of that, when a client seems hesitant, but on the verge of letting go, is to say, “It’s been a good friend, hasn’t it? Time to say goodbye?” I also talk about “honoring” the things they keep by using them, displaying them, and taking care of them.
Sunk cost. I forget if MK actually uses that term when she talks about it, but I do, in my Sunk Cost of Clutter series (“But I paid good money for that!” and Is it Really Worth Doing?), and this article does too: The Economics of Tidying Up.
No backsliders, ever. That’s what she claims (p.1, for starters; she calls it the “rebound effect”). Really? I’d like to know how many did not stick with her through the entire process and therefore are not included in the “no backsliding” claim. Plus, she’s young. Too soon to say never, if you ask me. New habits (of any sort) are rarely established overnight with no backsliding at all. I hope those who read the book and try to implement MK’s methods don’t let their “failures” discourage them.
Empty your bag everyday. (p.153) No. Just no. She is not just talking about emptying it of trash and loose change. She wants us to designate homes for our wallets, sunglasses, and keys and put them away every night and get them back out again the next day. I don’t know about you, but my wallet lives in my purse!
Storage Experts are Hoarders. (p. 22) Really, MK? I always tell my clients to not buy anything new until I get there, as they may already have everything they need. (Organizing Myth #5: The perfect gadget or container will get you organized.) But this is harsh. Everybody, no matter how Kondo-ized, will have something that needs storage of some sort. That does not make them, or the expert who is helping them, a hoarder.
And now the backlash begins. Example: The real reasons Marie Kondo’s life-changing magic doesn’t work for parents Ha ha, is it wrong that I enjoyed reading this article so much? Especially the last line: “So tell me again how the real problem is that I don’t fold my underwear correctly or thank it enough?” I agree that one can’t help but wonder how “Kondoed” Marie feels now that she has a little one of her own.
The media have finally started interviewing organizers to see what they think of MK. I was honored to be included in this article, which I thought was pretty fair and balanced: Is Organizing Like Marie Kondo Right for You?
This blog post about my sock drawer was not written with MK in mind, but I wonder if it would make her cringe? Is it possible she would approve of my “sending my socks on holiday” (p.81) by not balling them up? Confessions of a Professional Organizer (I’m organized enough, and not one bit more.)
The Life-Changing Magic of Doing What Works for YOU
Here’s the bottom line: Do what works for you. Her way. My way. Your way. Even if I said something helpful… but it was awhile ago, or you weren’t ready to hear it yet… and Marie Kondo said it more recently and/or better …or you think she did … (so she gets all the credit)…. just do it!
And, if you are in the mood for more reading here’s a great list: Need Decluttering Inspiration? Read These 7 Books
Yes, it includes Kondo’s book. The list was written in 2015, so it had to. It’s the law.
From my website home page:
Organizing skills can be taught…but not every organizing system works for everybody.
I can help you create the RIGHT organizing system for YOU!
Less clutter in your home, office, schedule and mind means more room for the life you really want to live.
Less clutter. More life.
Have you read the book? Do you love it.. or hate it? (There seems to be no middle ground.) Please leave a comment!
Copyright 2016 by Hazel Thornton, Organized For Life.
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