The first time I heard of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the KonMari method of housekeeping, I was intrigued. I am, after all, a wreck when it comes to keeping house, if there was some new house keeping innovation, I wanted to hear about it. People were gushing about this book. Calling it life changing, revolutionary, even spiritual. That’s one hell of a cleaning book! People described to me its revolutionary message to the world, “Keep nothing that doesn’t bring you joy!” They’d say, half a gasp, half reverence.

And I’d be left blinking. That’s it?

That’s it, folks. It’s an entire book about how you shouldn’t keep hanging on to shit that isn’t immediately useful or pleases you in some way. Okay, okay, I’m making this assessment based entirely on reviews from the devoted desciples of this book, I haven’t actually read it. But everything everyone has ever told me about this book can be summed up thusly:

Don’t keep shit you don’t use or like. Keep the bare minimum of those things you do use and like. Less stuff equals less mess.

I understand she goes into the how’s and why’s of this in more depth and flowery language. I understand she beautifully describes little rituals she has with cleaning and organizing. I still fail to see what’s so revolutionary about this philosophy.

I get that not everyone knows this stuff instinctively. I certainly didn’t all my life. But Marie Kondo is not the first person to say this. She’s not even the first person to write a book about it. Minimalism has been around forever. So why is everyone flipping out over this book? Is this really news to this many people?

Apparently it is, because I hear about this book everywhere. I cannot turn around without hearing about the KonMari method. “Have you heard of that revolutionary new book where she tells you to get rid of things you don’t like that much?” I feel like they’re trying to introduce me to the good word of their lord and savior, Marie Kondo.

Does the KonMari mania bug you? How about some less bougie minimalism resources to pique your interest!

The book responsible for all this KonMari enthusiasm.

And, I’m sorry, but no duh. I’m not the type of person to label myself a minimalist, but it didn’t take much for me to realize that hanging onto junk makes my mess problem worse. That’s why one of my new kitchen rules is “All junk mail will be put in the recycling immediately”. And yes, I thought up that rule without having read the Kondo book first. I know, impressive, huh?

Note that I said “makes my mess problem worse” and not “is entirely the cause of my mess problem”. Why? Because it’s not the sole cause of my mess problem. Not even close. I appreciate the advice to get rid of shit I’m just not that into, but I’ve been doing that for years. Goodwill, freecycle, bulk pick up week, and I are all very intimately acquainted, thank you very much. My house is still a mess. Why that is is the subject for another blog post.

I thought at first this KonMari thing would blow over, and fall comfortably into its place in the minimalism movement. But it only seems to be getting more and more mainstream. And with every new person telling me I have to read this book about how getting rid of as much of my stuff as possible would just totally change my life for the better, I started feeling really annoyed with all this KonMari stuff. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it felt really … classist.

Maybe for people who’s material net worth has always been relatively secure, getting rid of stuff is a life changing experience. I have something of a different perspective on it though. I started learning about the life changing magic of getting rid of stuff as a child, during the multiple downsizing garage sales we would have when we came on hard times and needed the money. I learned about it in pawn shops as we liquidated our VHS collection to cover the bills in the gaps between paychecks. I learned it as I watched my mother sell the last gift her father gave her before he died, a set of golf clubs, for not even enough money to fill her gas tank. She bawled as she did it. She’s never talked about golf again.

Look, it’s not like I think you should hold on to everything because if you’re poor you don’t get much. Given how much I had to move in my lifetime, I know the value of keeping your load light. It’s just that seeing a bunch of rich and middle class people gush about how freeing it is to choose to do something that fell somewhere on the scale between frustrating obligation and heartbreaking trauma for me most of my life is … well … patronizing as shit. And if it feels that way to me, I can’t imagine how it must feel to those who have less than I did growing up. While Marie Kondo is bragging about owning fewer than 30 books and trying to convince her readers to get rid of their own, there are people in this world who can only dream of owning a single book. It’s like that part in the Hunger Games when Katniss and Peeta are horrified to find that while people are starving in the districts, the people in the Capitol are binging and purging food for kicks.

Not to mention the fact that this shit doesn’t even work for people without certain means. I had one KonMari enthusiast explain how wonderful it was to only have 7 pairs of underwear for her child. Well, that’s all well and good if you own a washer and dryer and have all the time in the world to run a load of laundry whenever you want, but what happens if you can only wash clothes at a laundromat that’s an hours bus ride away, and you only have time or can only afford bus fare for one trip every two weeks? What happens if in that period of time your kid spills something on his underwear, or God forbid, gets sick, and goes through more than one pair a day? Sometimes it makes more financial sense to have more of something rather than less.

Of course, I’m not trying to say that because there are poor people out there, everyone should be grateful for every piece of garbage they acquire, and cling to it like cold death because someone else might be grateful to have it. Clutter may be a first world problem, but it is still a problem, and it can be an agonizing one. I too have been guilty of keeping every freebie trinket and business card I picked up at that trade show, or having a closet stuffed full of clothes I will never fit in again, and shoes that might come back into fashion one day. I get it. I really do. I also stumbled across some writings (in my environmentalist pursuits, mostly) that taught me what stuff was important to keep, what stuff I would be better off disposing of, and most important of all, what stuff you shouldn’t bring into your house in the first place.

Any clutter problem that can be solved by getting rid of things is ultimately a consumer problem. If you have a bunch of shit you can just get rid of, you have a bunch of shit that probably never needed to be bought in the first place. I know it may not have been you who bought it, and if you were, buying a frivolous thing now and then doesn’t make you a bad person. But disposable culture has some real issues, both environmentally and economically. Buying stuff that ends up in the landfill without any meaningful use is a waste of resources in a world where many don’t get fair access to resources, and contributes to pollution and climate change, which disproportionately impacts the least privileged and vulnerable more than anyone else (and those people also happen to be the ones that contribute the least to the problem). Furthermore, a culture that compels us to buy a lot of trash is a culture that compels us into a constant state of economic insecurity and political disenfranchisement.
This message on minimalism is more palatable for me than the KonMari message is.

This author knows how to sell minimalism, in my opinion. Can’t wait for his new book, due out Jan 5! You can pre order it in print or on audio, I already did! (Note: No, I don’t get paid or even a free book to post this, I’m this big of a fan of Colin’s work!)

Knowing all this, I do concede that generally it’s a good thing that people learn not to bring or keep too much junk in their homes. If the Kondo book is really the first you are hearing of minimalism, or the first time that minimalism made sense for you, I’m glad you found it.  But if I may, I’d like to introduce you to some other thinkers on this point as well, because I think the issue of mindless consumerism is much bigger than just whether or not your house is tidy.  The resources that first got me thinking about these issues were the Story of Stuff (the video above gives you an intro) and Colin Beavan, formerly known as No Impact Man (who happens to have a new book coming out that I cannot wait for, How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World).  These resources deal more with controlling what you bring in than what you get rid of in your home, which is in my humble opinion the more important issue.
I don’t know, maybe Kondo talks about this stuff in her book.  Maybe she is very interested in the injustice of people in the developed world gluttonously consuming resources only to throw most of them away, robbing and poisoning the developing world in the process.  Maybe she cares deeply about some people’s lack of basic resources while others horde clothes they can’t fit into and cling to junk they received as gifts out of guilt.  I haven’t read the book, so maybe these are topics she covers in depth, but her devoted followers just don’t feel like it’s as important or life changing as the other bits, I really don’t know. But just in case she doesn’t, I think you’ll find this information useful on your journey to tidy up and change your life.

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