When KonMari doesn’t spark joy: Five lessons learnt through decluttering with KonMari

KonMari and decluttering in general seems to be the latest fad.  Fueled by the current show on Netflix people are lining up to throw out their possessions.  There something oddly liberating about getting rid of things, perhaps only matched by the joy of purchasing them in the first place.  When we release this clutter, along with them we release years of frustration.  The frustration of not being able to find objects,  seemingly forever lost in a sea of clutter. The frustration of not knowing where and how to store excess goods, moving them in desperation from one place to another, unable to find them permanent homes.  And finally, but perhaps most significantly the frustration of not being able to keep our homes tidy.  In this way throwing things become therapeutic, and indeed makes us less anxious and stressed.

I first came across the KonMari three years ago. I had a clutter problem and wanted to use the extra time I had in the school holidays to tackle it. Through my attempts of using KonMari on and off for the past three years this is what I have discovered:

1) It’s not always wise to throw everything out that doesn’t spark joy:  My toilet brush, for example, doesn’t particularly spark joy, but it’s not something I necessarily want to let go of.  On a more serious note, even if we’re dealing with clothing, for example, I don’t recommend throwing out everything that doesn’t spark joy, at least not initially.  There are some things in my wardrobe that I don’t really love, but they do fulfil a function. If my budget had no limit I would consider replacing them, but even beyond money, it would also take valuable time to find something that fulfils that same function that I really love.  Truth be told, I’m so fussy that it’s possible that it does not even exist.  So I recommend that unless you have unlimited time and money, maybe hold onto those practical things, and consider replacing them when your circumstances permit or as you find a replacement that you love.

2) Take what she says about books with a grain of salt:  Marie Kondo recommends limiting yourself to 30 books. This one area that has been widely criticised recently and rightfully so.  Reading and books should be central to every home.  Ideally, children should grow up surrounded by books.  Being read to and seeing their parents reading is invaluable, as a former English teacher I can’t stress this enough!  Even just having books around for little ones to flip through and ‘read’ before they are able to, is something you can’t put a price on.  My oldest daughter, now an avid reader, at the age of three, carried approximately five books around the house with her at a time.  She would pile books up so high on her bedside table that I was afraid that they’d fall and crush her when she slept.  Was it annoying? Yes.  Did I love having books scattered throughout the house? Not at all.  But I was raising a reader, and that was more important to me than aesthetics, so I encouraged it and quietly placed piles of books on the floor beside her after she fell asleep.

If however, you have a ridiculous number of books, no children, and you don’t even read, then yes, its probably a good idea to get rid of most of them.  If you are not a book person, as I suspect is the case with Marie Kondo, then keep what serves a function, or what will fit in your bookshelf.  There is probably no need to keep your university textbooks from decades ago, or the highly outdated book on how to make a website.  Be realistic and practical; if you don’t love it, will never use it, ditch it.

3) The KonMari method of folding is not as great as it seems:  Don’t get me wrong, I do really like her folding.  But its not the magical solution she makes it out to be. Suffering from a severe lack of drawers I was unable to utilise this method for my own clothing, but I did trial it for two of my children.  While I loved it to begin with it was more time-consuming.  Furthermore, I found that when in a rush or one of the kids got something out of the drawer, it quickly got messed up and had to be tidied up fairly regularly.  This tidying process was also more difficult and time-consuming than usual.  So although it may work well for an adult, it does take a little longer and it needs some regular maintenance when it comes to children’s clothing.

4) Don’t feel the need to talk to your possessions:  In her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’, Marie Kondo suggests communicating with your possessions.  I can love some of my objects, I can appreciate them, but I’m not about to talk to them because somebody says I should.  It might work for some, but I’m just not a talking-to-things kind of person, and that’s ok, I don’t have to be.  As with everything in life, I adapt things to suit my personality.  I don’t believe in trying to be something that I’m not and I don’t believe it will make me more productive. On the contrary, I feel that it’s so much more difficult to do things when you are not being genuine, you’re much less likely to persevere.

5) Don’t insist on doing it all in one lot if you feel it’s not possible:  One of the first things I knew when I started reading Kon Mari’s book is that I wasn’t going to be able to do it in one go.  Despite being on holidays, I still had kids that I had to care for.  I had to feed them, deal with their toileting and break up fights.  I also had to do some basic housework (dishes, washing and general tidying).  With 7 members in my household at the time, just the clothing category in and of itself would take me a week.

I understand her reasoning for trying to do it in one go.  It’s a great idea to ride that initial wave of excitement, to put in the hard yards early on and then enjoy the fruits of your labour.   However, for me, this all or nothing mentality was damaging. It was damaging because from day dot it set me up as a failure.  This is not only the case for mothers, but anybody trying to fit in KonMari with a full-time job, or other major time constraints will face the same dilemma.

In a response to this problem some, such as members in this FaceBook group, have generally adhered to the KonMari method but developed a program that can be done over an extended period of time.  This is very useful for those of us who can not spare so much time in the initial decluttering phase or those who have an overwhelming amount of clutter.

Systems such as KonMari offer hope.  The hope of a beautiful home, full of only well-loved possessions.  The hope of greater productivity and organisation.  And the hope of a simpler and stress-free life. It does not have to be all or nothing, take what suits your values and lifestyle, and tweak it to suit your circumstances.

KonMari is not the first program I have attempted in my pursuit of organisation.  From Getting Things Done to FlyLady, I have tried a few different programs, but the promise they initially held never came to fruition.  Each system was useful in its own way, but none of them was the perfect fit for me.  They provided inspiration, motivation and the proverbial kick up the backside but little more.  They each included some good ideas, some I have adopted sporadically over the years, but I have yet to find a perfect system, particularly one that would work for everybody.

At the end of the day we all have completely different lifestyles and circumstances, it is not surprising that there is no method of organisation that is suited to everybody.  Is it really that remarkable that I, a homeschooler and mother of 6, will not find success in the same methods as, for example, a single executive?  Naturally, these things will be influenced by the amount of free time one has, their responsibilities and the resources they have available to them, just to name a few.  So instead of getting excited by one particular method, I think a far more useful approach is to ask yourself what you want to achieve, do some thorough research of various methods and techniques, trial different things and incorporate that which best suits both your personality and your circumstances.

 

 

 

Be Good, Little Consumers

A poem I wrote on consumerism inspired by the poem ‘Be Good, Little Migrants’ by Uyen Loewald.

Be good, little consumers,
Just go to the shop,
Some retail therapy?
Keep going till you drop.

Be good, little consumers,
No money to spend?
Fear not there are methods,
Your source has no end.

Be good, little consumers
This deal’s just for you,                                                                                                                 Don’t tell anybody,
Just purchase on cue.

Be good, little consumers,
You have no time to spare,
Quick before it expires,                                                                                                            There’s no time to compare.

Be good, little consumers,
Your need matters not,
You’ll soon find a use,
Get it now while it’s hot.

Be good, little consumer,                                                                                                              Don’t forget the next event,                                                                                                      There’s nothing this month?                                                                                                      Never mind, we’ll invent.

Be good, little consumers,
Feel the rush of that bargain,
Keep coming for more,                                                                                                          Succumb to the jargon.

Be good, little consumers,
Don’t buy into the hype,
Less is not more,
Disregard all the tripe.

Be good, little consumer,
You can never go back,                                                                                                                    We have science behind us,                                                                                                          We’ll keep you on track.

So be good, little consumers,                                                                                                            Be proud, take a bow,                                                                                                                    You’ve reached savvy proportions,                                                                                              You’re one of us now.

The Perfect Consumer

I have a bit of a confession to make. Something I am somewhat ashamed to admit, but I feel I need to come clean.  I love shopping.  I don’t know why I love shopping, but there is something about it….the fulfilment of a perceived need, the excitement of a bargain, and the ability to walk into a shop and to acquire whatever goods I desire.  I really can’t pinpoint exactly what it is, but there’s just something about it that I find quite exciting. I never really noticed this before.  I always knew I enjoyed shopping a little, but it took a shopping drought, brought on by the birth of my baby, for me to notice exactly how much.  After not shopping for a couple of months I finally visited a local shopping centre, and I’m embarrassed to admit I found the experience somewhat exhilarating.

I should probably point out here that I’m not a huge spender or anything.  I’ve probably just given the impression that I go throwing wads of money away on next to nothing, on the contrary, I am quite careful and even my husband says I’m pretty good with money.  I look for bargains, rarely buy myself clothes, often buy the kids discounted clothes at the end of the season for next year, and talk myself out of numerous purchases that we don’t really need.  I do, however, sometimes indulge a little more than I should, and I know I can do better.  So it’s not that I find my love of shopping problematic in and of itself, it’s just that on a personal and spiritual level I find it quite disturbing.

What I find equally, or perhaps even more disturbing is another discovery I made about myself recently – I love throwing things out!  There’s something empowering about getting rid of objects, objects that you no longer need, and more often than not, you never did.  Objects that just sit around taking up precious space, making it harder for you to clean and tidy based on the overwhelming amount of things that you have.  With each thing you get rid of you create more space for yourself and make your life that little bit easier. Curiously, the more I get rid of, the better it feels!  As I declutter more and get rid of more things I can feel a weight lift from my shoulders.  It’s liberating.

Upon reflection, I have come to realise that I have become the perfect citizen in this capitalist world; I have become the ideal consumer.  We love to buy and obtain more and more material possessions.  The next bargain, the next breakthrough in technology, the next fashion item, and the latest gadget to teach our children.  Then, over the years, we realise we have accumulated so much that it becomes suffocating.  So we go through the cleansing process of eliminating that which we do not need.  We throw away what is not worthy of keeping, ‘blessing’ others with the objects that no longer add any value to our lives.  This of course, in turn, makes room for more possessions and the cycle begins all over again.

How do you break free of this cycle?  I am not entirely sure.  However, I do have some ideas which I hope will at least help alleviate part of the problem. The first step is awareness. I know it has become a bit of a cliche, but I really do believe that the first step to finding a solution is acknowledging the problem.  Furthermore, before making any purchases I will ask myself “do I REALLY need this or will it just end up in a garbage bag, as so many things have before?”  “Is purchasing this akin to throwing money down the drain?”  Hopefully, this will help me to avoid unnecessary purchases and keep me on track.

Another area I need to work on is to focus on quality instead of price.  In search of the elusive bargain, over the years I have prioritised price over quality.   The result is that many of my possessions needed to be replaced regularly.  Not only do I end up being stuck with things I don’t really like, but I spend more time and money having to constantly replace them, often holding on to the older item, and thus generating more and more clutter.

I made this discovery a few years ago when I discovered Kon Mari. As her method dictates, while decluttering my closet I held each item, asking myself “does this bring me joy?”  It was rare that I would answer in the affirmative.  This was quite an eye-opening experience as I came to the realisation that I barely had anything in my wardrobe that I actually appreciated.  Each day when I’d try to find something to wear I had to navigate through an abundance of clothing that I never wear and don’t even like.  I promised myself that going forward I would be kinder to myself, allow myself to spend more on individual items that bring me joy, with the knowledge that in the long term I would be spending less.   In my futile attempts to be selfless, I had been wasteful.  I was spending more, buying things I didn’t like, and generating clutter.

So going forward I plan to focus on quality and enjoyment instead of quantity or price. I doubt the results will be instant, but I do hope that within a year or two I will notice a big difference. I don’t expect that I will ever cease to be a consumer, but I do hope that my role as one will become limited and that over time I can learn to live more simply.