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

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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).
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?

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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!
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?

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  • 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.

Tags: konmari, spark joy, kitchen design, cleaning, organizing, tidying up