I knew we'd reached peak KonMari when a friend of mine offered to come over and reorganize my sock drawer. She'd just read Marie Kondo's first guide to spic-and-spanning, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and she was hooked. We were at a friend's art studio, sipping red wine, when she suggested the sock-folding visit as though it were a totally normal and super fun thing she might want to do. She pulled up a photo of her own freshly KonMari'd sock drawer on her iPhone, I guess to sell me on the idea. Each pair was folded into the most perfect, pretty little bundle, and each perfect, pretty little bundle was aligned with military precision. That was the moment when I knew I had to read these godd*mn books.
Plenty of my POPSUGAR colleagues were already faithful fans of KonMari. For Anna, our food editor, it was the magic bullet that helped her to not only declutter her kitchen, but to finally stop hating it. Allie, our fashion and beauty director, insists curating her closet according to the Kondo method changed her approach to dressing and helped her rediscover her personal style. Kondo is so beloved among our ranks that we even included her second book, Spark Joy, in our POPSUGAR Must Have Box last January, the month it was released. It makes perfect sense that the Japanese tidying extraordinaire's tomes — which have sold more than 5 million copies worldwide — have struck such a nerve in this day and age. In an era of overwhelming choice and unbridled consumerism, the impulse to pare down and live without the burden (and first-world shame) of so many belongings is a commendable one. Noble, even.
I am already a person who revels in discarding and getting rid of things on the regular. My boyfriend, whose immediate reaction any time he can't locate something is to accuse of me of throwing it in the trash, can attest to that. Still, there is no method to my decluttering, no real process dictating what gets banished to the garbage pile or what gets saved. I thought there might be something a person like me could glean from Kondo's Bibles on orderliness, so I borrowed her books from a friend and settled in on my couch, ready for my life to be irreparably and drastically changed.
I read both books. It turns out they are full of useful tips and ideas. It also turns out that I hate them. As I read, a fundamental not-okay-ness with the very bedrock of the KonMari Method bubbled up in me, one I knew I would not be able to get past. Here it is: Kondo's philosophy is that by possessing the ideal belongings, even very few of them, one can also achieve the ideal life. An obsession with weeding out all the imperfect stuff until only perfect stuff is left — the things that "spark joy" — is still an obsession with stuff, when you get right down to it. If there's something really insidious about the KonMari Method, it's just how well it reinforces our wildly consumerist culture while masquerading as some kind of guide to freeing ourselves from it.
In one passage, Kondo remembers helping one client weed through her closet when the woman discovered that none of her work clothes were sparking joy. As Kondo tells it, it was only in this moment that the client realized her career didn't, either. This anecdote is obviously intended to cheerfully hype the KonMari Method's power, but instead, it left me feeling depressed for several hours after I read it. If we've gotten to the point where our only mode of self-reflection is through our stuff, we have a big, big problem.
And don't get any book-lover started on her position toward books. (Well, do go ahead and get me started, because I'm writing this essay after all, and I really want to complain about it.) The insane foundation for Kondo's philosophy on why we should discard almost all of our books is that no one ever really rereads anything. This is not the case for most lovers of literature. I share my books. I quote my books. I make annual pilgrimages to their pages. In an even more ludicrous moment, she suggests that even if you don't memorize a text word for word, you've "internalized" it — as though that's close enough. But it is not even remotely the same thing to sorta, kinda remember "the gist" of a Rumi quote or a Sylvia Plath stanza as to revisit the exact words themselves. Then there's her suggestion to avoid books with "tragic" titles as a way of somehow weeding out negative energy. Like, no. Not gonna. (Kondo doesn't treat all inanimate objects with as much scorn as books. In fact, she shows a real tenderness toward stuffed animals and even, inexplicably, a hammer at one point, encouraging readers to thank such sentimental or previously useful items for all they've done for us before sending them off to the dump.)
Even if I could get past Kondo's alternatingly strident and precious tone, and her hard-line stance on books, her "spark joy" philosophy still seems out of step with the times. To me, the word "joy" connotes a kind of over-the-top version of happiness. It's rare and not really the kind of emotion I need to feel toward a pair of jeans. My friend Sami, who ruthlessly applied the Kondo method to her own life, found herself full of regret after discarding too many of her belongings — possibly after holding her own sense of joy to too harsh of a standard. "I feel like I have nothing to wear," she moaned during a recent brunch, a brown-ish cardigan that didn't even look that joyful to me huddled against her shoulders. "I got rid of too much stuff." I'm sure Kondo would say that Sami should see this as a positive opportunity to finally fill her closet with smartly selected garments, each of which spark a deep, fulfilling euphoria, but doing that overnight just isn't practical for most of us.
Our stuff, our belongings, the things we own — they already take up a sh*tload of time and care and attention. That's a fact of modern life. But to devote even more time and care and attention to them — even under the guise of eventually getting to some magical place where we won't have to do it as much — feels like a waste to me. I, for one, wish I'd used the hours I spent reading Marie Kondo's books to reread two books I already owned and refuse to get rid of because I love them so much and they might come in handy some day.
So, no, I'm not going to be KonMari-ing my house any time soon. But I'm totally using that sock-folding trick. That sock-folding trick is genius.