Cleaning

How I Broke All Marie Kondo's Rules & Still Tidied My Kitchen

January  7, 2016

Marie Kondo's new book Spark Joy finally addresses the topic of cleanliness—and more importantly, orderliness—in the kitchen. (The crowds cheered because in Kondo's first book, you had to tidy the whole house, all at once.) The process to kitchen zen starts with a reversal of everything you thought was true about the matter. And even if you don't follow all the rules, magic can happen. Watch:

Please note that we have one 60-watt bulb for the whole kitchen (to be addressed soon).

Instead of keeping your most essential kitchen gadgets readily on hand, and therefore on the counter, Kondo says to find a home for everything in your kitchen. Instead of focusing on a kitchen that's "easy to use," aim for one that's easy to clean. Since I'm always cleaning around stuff—olive oil, salt, a crock of tall utensils—therefore never really getting the counter clean, and have a propensity for cramming dishes in the cabinets as furtively and unthinkingly as possible, this appealed to me. I started the process of KonMari-ing my kitchen last night, already broke all of the rules, and am here to report back on the first wins and losses. Ready?

What Kondo Says to Do (& How I Broke the Rules)

Kondo instructs: Empty everything out of your cabinets, discard whatever does not spark joy in you, and sort the survivors into three sections as you put them back (eating implements, cooking tools, and food). It's important to start tidying your kitchen after you've tidied all your other rooms, so as to build up an understanding of what joy really is to you first (and also to find a bunch of good organizers that will help in the kitchen when you're cleaning out other rooms). Did I heed these instructions? Of course not.

Like the Seine of Joy: Everything on the Right Bank of the river (top side), we kept!
  • I did not KonMari any other rooms in my house first (did not, in fact, read Book 1), but I think I have a good idea of what brings me joy, and I'm decisive. Also, I wasn't going to run out to MUJI at 10 P.M. and buy new storage vessels last night, so there was no risk of rashness. Which is all to say, I embarked on a kitchen KonMari in the exact wrong order, because I think I can beat the system. Bad mojo?

  • I did not take everything out of my kitchen last night (sincerely, there would not be enough room to spread it out). Instead, I removed everything that fell under "eating implements," Kondo's first kitchen category, including mainly dishes, glasses, flatware, and food storage containers. When I came across a piece of cookware in those cabinets, I moved it over to the section I'm tackling tomorrow night (cooking utensils). My thinking is that I can always add/deduct the other eating implements that I find as I move throughout the rest of my kitchen—right?

  • My criteria for elimination was not strictly what sparked joy to me—because I have a roommate! Justine and I co-habitate beautifully, but our possessions are not one unified mass. If an item sparked joy for her or for me, it stayed. The goal was not to throw away all of Justine's stuff. Is it deeming failure to eff with the sparking joy system from the get-go?

How It All Went Down (& the Joy I Found)

Having eliminated 26 drinking vessels, we now have a high-functioning Dish Cabinet.

Alright, so I was going into this a little puffed up—but if you can't make KonMari adapt to your real life, how good of a process really is it? Is a little KonMari better than none at all? And if you can't KonMari because you have a roommate and a really small floor, KonMari fails. The good news is that, despite my errant ways, the process was hugely successful, and the even better news is that the largest spark of joy was the process of doing it.

You see, Justine and I normally spend quiet, studious time together: Our main roomie-as-friend activities include watching Law & Order (a.k.a. studying law), talking about the drama that is our mail delivery (studying sociology) or the speed of a potential dumpling delivery (studying physics and nutrition), and batting around story ideas as we're both writers (studying literature). But last night, we talked; we learned unknown things about each other; we laughed really hard; we puzzled over the joy we felt about a pair of oversized beer steins that Justine stole from a bar and which serve as our favorite flower vases.

The things you find when you dig deep into your cabinets are hilarious (think: sorority cups!)—so please, please KonMari with a friend (despite the fact that she says it's a solitary process).

Cabinet of plates, measuring cups, and bowls too tiny to use became our Coffee & Container Cubby.

All in total, we had some 63 pieces of flatware, 21 coffee mugs, 16 wine glasses, and 2 turkey basters—just to name a few names—and mind you, we are 2, two, people! Some treasures: a frilly red gingham apron ("that's yours," Justine said, but no it was not), never-before-seen shot glasses from a range of cities—all of unknown origin, no less than 16 pieces of coffee-making equipment, and a curved paring knife that still has the case on it. We debated origin stories and cackled over how much we both hated the same coffee cup. Justine waded through a floor full of joy and discard to get me a beer (and lo, we apparently own 4 bottle openers!).

What We Learned

Yes, we learned that we're not as good cleaning as we thought we were (I'd wager that half of what I pulled from the cabinets needed a deep scrubbing), but also these things about the process itself:

Forks we *really* didn't need, and a now-civilized flatware drawer.
  • You have more room than you think you do. We only eliminated roughly a third of our eating implements, and the biggest gain was the air it breathed into the cabinets. We found so much extra cabinet space that we were able to put our trash can in a cabinet, which means it will no longer hang on the side of a trolley that blocks the Tupperware cabinet from being opened.

  • Even a little KonMari goes a long way. Kondo is clear that it's her way or the highway, but I don't think so. I still have 2/3 of a kitchen to KonMari (and the rest of the apartment if I so choose)—done section by section instead of all at once—but if I stopped today the result would stand alone as a huge victory. We can actually reach the plates and mugs we like. We have a hidden trash can! It's like a new kitchen.

  • The things we need are not the things I thought we needed. What we need most in our kitchen is not a new work surface that has extra storage in it, but rather a lamp, since we're forced to use either the stark overhead bulb that we hate turning on or a single 60-watter in one far corner. If we could actually see, maybe things would actually get clean.

The food container situation is now the Trash Cabinet.

Up Next

Tonight, I'm hoping to conquer our bag situation (it's major) and all our cookware, from pots and pans to cookbooks. I might even address the fact that a whole kitchen drawer (one of our three!) is currently being used as a hardware drawer—even though I have a separate toolkit under my bed... Do stay tuned for the wreckage and recovery.

Have you ever KonMari-ed your kitchen? Please send encouragement via the comments.

24 Comments

Mawnstroe June 27, 2017
I'm afraid you did not critique the "KonMari Method," because you don't understand KonMari. I'm also not sure why you would attempt to critique a method whose book you admittedly didn't read. It's like saying, "Here's my book report on Moby Dick...that I didn't read but only heard about." Incidentally, by "all in one go," KonMari means not in one day, but over a quick period of time, such as six months. You'd know that if you'd read her book, which is a quick read. The KonMari "method" is NOT about organizing or even about discarding per se, it is about letting go of things we don't need, embracing what brings us joy, and growing into who we want to become. I think that is the biggest hole in your article. You've missed the whole point of KonMari.
 
Lisa D. June 6, 2017
I've read both books and think you nailed it on the head with this basic observation: "...but if you can't make KonMari adapt to your real life, how good of a process really is it." I can't speak to urban apartment dwellers, but living in a suburban space means overseeing not just multiple people but multiple generations of stuff. I would have to take time off from work and life to KonMari my home, so I'm of the mind that embracing her ideas and re-working them to your life is better than nothing. And her advice to hold onto something that "sparks joy" means never having to say goodbye to the black flapper dress from my sorority days!
 
Nana A. March 31, 2017
I'm late to this: 3/2107, but wanted to add. I was poisoned in my workplace & lost huge chucks of my once steel-trap memory. Seriously, I could remember my life's worth of conversations & knew exactly in a pile where I could find what I needed. So I was thrust into organizing. Use clear receptacles everywhere you can & stackables too. The paper problem?(should be less a problem for millenials w/computers, technology) I had one of those tall metal office style files, 4 drawers I think w/all labeled hanging folders. I should have invested in Sam's Club, what with the office supplies I bought. What I couldn't or didn't want to file, I labeled binders & used the transparent 3 punch hole paper protectors & at the least put the first page of correspondence, etc. into it & 3 hole punched what I could, then into the binder/file tabs if I needed. Receipts? I got 8 1/2 by 11" manila envelopes with the cute brass connector in the middle. 3 hole punched them, labeled by store or type items & then into the binder. This system worked very good for me, because I was fighting for disability/workers compensation/health insurance & yeah, I won in spite of myself. Today I'm on the Internet everyday, & made lots of file headings for videos on Youtube, but Pinterest was made for me. I use it for what is known as favorites or bookmarks. The added picture gives me a great hint when I'm looking for something. No matter what system you use, use the one that works for you!
 
Christine L. January 8, 2016
MUST DO THIS. I can't wait for the stories to come out of this project. I konmari'd my mugs (JUST the mugs) last month and that in and of itself was a relief.
 
Noreen F. January 8, 2016
Haven't picked up Spark joy, but then I didn't like the first book. I thought she was really arrogant. I have a very tiny condo, so a continual process of paring down my belongings is essential if I'm going to keep on shopping. ? That said, it's been way too long since the kitchen was done, so I need to make it my next priority.
 
Catalicious January 8, 2016
I read the first couple of chapters of her original book. I didn't do everything at once - too much work, but I've been going room to room and closet to closet every week and eliminating stuff and giving it to Goodwill if it was in excellent condition. I found spending 20 minutes in the morning or evening to be helpful to tackle small areas.<br />
 
Leil January 8, 2016
I didn't know there was a second book but I applied her principles to sections of my kitchen already--the dishes and the baking supplies plus extra items. I also chose a few other specific areas to tackle. In the end I filled the back of my van and feel so much better. I did follow her rules in that I took everything out and handled it all (and cleaned the spaces they came from!) but I definitely did not do the one where you do it all at once. Too overwhelming. Nor did I do it in the order she prescribes, but then again I always have a pile of clothes to be given away and I had just reviewed my books--and no, I didn't take everyone out. I probably could and will do another book review before the upcoming book sale. It's liberating but for me the key is to not be too hung up on the rules but rather to take the helpful pieces. One thing I loved is to file clothes--that mostly works really well for me (I'm still getting good at the folding though).
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 8, 2016
Book 2 is brand new! It's called Spark Joy.
 
Lee January 8, 2016
KonMarie'd our big ol' suburban house and then managed to move joyfully into a cozy urban apartment. Hardest things to sort and remove were sentimental and family relics, some of them old-time kitchen tools. It's amazing how free-er I feel now that I've set the unloved and unused items free. A junk hauler had to help me with attics and basement! If regret creeps in over something that I let go, I've learned it is easy enough to find something similar or much better to replace it. Or to admire a collection at the library, museum, or the aisles of a home improvement store is enough for me without owning it all (again). I enjoyed this practical article and was instantly convicted about a kitchen drawer that is silently weeping for a better tomorrow.
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 8, 2016
I am so sentimental about clutter that I name my dust mites. (Kidding, but I am prepared to have some trouble with the emotional aspect.)
 
Sheila D. January 8, 2016
"Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the efforts needed to put things away, not the effort to get them out... Clutter has only two probable causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong." That doesn't mean that it's "easy to clean." It acknowledges how lazy we are when it comes to putting things away, especially back to its dedicated spot. Working zones and flows don't matter if we are lazy with maintaining the rest of our kitchen. <br /><br />It's rude to say that "if the KonMari method can't work in our space, then it fails" when you haven't invested in reading the book. That's like glancing at a complicated recipe with specific instructions and blaming the author when it doesn't work out. There's much more to the method than just keeping items that spark joy and her rules were created after years of observation; if anything, they were created to make your life easier. You can't half-ass her method and then criticize it. Perhaps what would be a better blog would be to actually read book 1 to understand her method and compare the results (and your appreciation for tidying).
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 8, 2016
Fair point that I should read book 1—however I was pleased to learn that even a novice KonMari-er as myself could find some joy in giving it a first go! A testament to how adaptable the method is, rather than a critique of it.
 
Jess January 8, 2016
I cleaned out our food cabinets and discovered: <br />7 (!) bottles of cheap balsamic vinegar<br />4 jars of dried coriander<br />3 jars of dried tarragon<br />2 jars dried majroram <br />6 packs of bay leaf (15 leaves in each pack)<br />5 bottles of various cooking oils<br />Countless unopened packages of different pasta (neither me or my partner likes pasta)<br />5 packages of oats<br />3 bags of shredded coconut (all opened)<br />6 cans coconut milk<br /><br />And much more. <br /><br />When emptied and stuff returned there was an amazing amount of room. <br />Thankfully, I found recipients for everything that was unopened.
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 8, 2016
Please share your methods for keeping a tidy catalogue of receipts.
 
foodfan2 January 31, 2016
Get a clear plastic shoebox or several, according to your needs. Throw each new one in. Go through each box periodically as needed. The one I have for major purchases has receipts decades old at the bottom, but when I needed to prove purchase of a blender and a crockpot, Each time I found the receipt in less than 10 min and got the purchase price credited back to my Visa card which made my labor worth $600/hr.
 
LE B. January 8, 2016
This is most inspiring, and I must congratulate you heartily on your wave of success! I have been going through a similar process which for me is called Purging. Just wanted to share how satisfying it was, after accumulating in this house the past 30 years, to see bins and bins of plates, cups, utensils, cooking utensils, knives etc. go to a local organization where formerly homeless people can go to acquire furniture etc.,including kitchenware. ( Don't make the mistake of throwing things away; there's always someone out there who would gratefully take it; but the challenge is FINDing the conduit for donating things.)<br /><br />My only suggestion for your future write-up of this KonMari challenge- is that you assume that most/many readers will not have read her books. You tell us you broke some of her sacred rules but it would be great if you could fit in HER brief reason for the rule in the first place (i.e. why she says you should KonMari alone.) Thx so much for the inspiration, Amanda!
 
Sheila D. January 8, 2016
Keep in mind that the context of this rule is for your own space/sanctuary, another person's judgment is a distraction from what sparks for you and it becomes difficult to let go. It can be stressful and create guilt. It's hard to let go of things when others have a different reason for attachment. The example she provides in her book is how a mother walked in on her daughter tidying and took some items that the daughter wanted to throw away such as a yoga mat. When Marie asked the daughter if her mom does yoga, the daughter said she's never seen her do yoga. One of the other rules is to not to resort to "giving it to family" - transferring the burden to your family is kinda cheating because you're still not letting go and now they may have more stuff than they need because they just didn't want to see it gone. There's a lot of emotion involved with it.
 
Lindsay-Jean H. January 7, 2016
This is impressive, I love this series! (But I am also a more than a little bit saddened to learn that teeny tiny bowls do not spark joy for everyone.)
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 7, 2016
They spark joy for me! Some of them, at least.
 
Sandra R. January 7, 2016
i will see your 4 bottle openers and raise you 15 (fifteen) honey dippers. Discovered when we had to pack up the kitchen for a remodel. I have no idea why, they are rather cute but really?! (Actually this reenforces why like things should be stored together. They were stored with gadgets, implements, measuring tools, serving spoons, you get the picture.)
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 7, 2016
15!!! If they bring you joy, keep them as a collection—you could get them shadow-boxed to put up on the wall! (Here I go hoarding again...)
 
Jamie January 7, 2016
This is definitely inspiring me to KonMari my kitchen. The boyfriend will protest but we have too much stuff!
 
Author Comment
Amanda S. January 7, 2016
Have him join! That's 2 joy-finders for 1.
 
Caroline L. January 7, 2016
you are an inspiration.