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What This Half-Hearted Tidier Learned from KonMari

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Even if you're open to the idea of tidying your kitchen—or at least that it could be tidied every once in a while—the words "tidy," "tidying," and "tidied" might make you roll your eyes or claw them out. And it's probably because Marie Kondo—darling of O.C.D homemakers everywhere—has put it on a pedestal as the key to achieving organizational zen.

Highly tidy, mostly lifeless, slightly boring rental kitchen.
Highly tidy, mostly lifeless, slightly boring rental kitchen.

That's exactly how I felt: wishful of a tidier kitchen (and, sure, home) but mainly annoyed with all the chatter about intentional, emotion-driven, joy-sparking purging. "Go clean your room!" is something you tell your kid as punishment—for a good reason. Yes, it feels liberating, even joyful, to have done it, but to say that thinking critically about junk you acquired passively is the key to a happier life? Eh.

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Since her second book had just come out and I was at least a little intrigued, I willed myself to Kondo's notoriously chipper spirit and tackled my kitchen according to her tips (first dishes, then cookware, then pantry) to see if I could be swayed.

Did I come away more centered? Did her zen rub off? Find out ahead:

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

On Kondo:

She makes crazy claims...

...(though she admit to being a "self-proclaimed tidying freak.") Some examples that I cherry-picked from Spark Joy:

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Don't forget that the "god of tidying up" is always on your side as long as you are committed to getting it done.
My motto for shoe storage is "steadily rising joy."
Kitchen gadgets are similar to children's toys.

And this one, which I would love to see the fact-check on:

Whatever the reason, the frequency with which people bake drops when baking things are stored [in plastic bags].

Kondo-approved bag storage.
Kondo-approved bag storage.

Sometimes she contradicts herself.

In the same way that there is nary a mention of spice-organization (that I could find) in Spark Joy, there are additionally just two lone paragraphs about "tools"—meaning everything from hammers to drills and screws. Now, I admit that I might own/hoard inordinately more of toolkit contents than the average Kondo, but it's her conclusion that really gets me:

Tools are very tough by nature, and therefore they need no detailed rules for storage. Once you've gathered them together, store them in an empty space. I reduced mine to the bare minimum, which I keep in a leftover pouch on a shelf.

I'm not sure what kind of power drill Marie owns, but it must be a compact model. And I'm not sure I've seen an "empty space" in my apartment recently. That is why I read this book.

4 KonMari Solutions for Tidier Cookware Storage
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4 KonMari Solutions for Tidier Cookware Storage

She's very enjoyable to read.
Equal parts irreverent (as in, she doesn't care at all that she sounds crazy), confident (she could care even less that you think you know better), encouraging (tidying up will bring you joy), and real (the book is chock-full of examples from clients she helps tidy), Kondo is a captivating writer. The book's just the kind of breezy thing you want from the self-help section but have never gotten.

On KonMari:

It's a bit extreme.

Not many things that claim to be "life-changing" really turn out to be, and a theory of clean-up that cares not just if but how you fold your underwear is not taking its matter lightly. Take, for example, the opening lines of Spark Joy:

Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order.

So if you don't care about the orderliness of your home, your life doesn't matter. Bold—but it does make you keep reading.

DIY spice shelf.
DIY spice shelf.

It's adaptable.

I'm a good example of someone who refused to go at Kondo's methods whole-hog, for a couple reasons:

  • Life starts before you tidy. Remember childhood, that hazy, irresponsible era of ever-messy rooms? It can certainly be blissful.

  • I love futzing with my home, but I like doing other things too: reading, going outside, talking to other people, making an impossible-to-clean mess, etc.

  • Because I can. Call me perverse (but I think it's just being a human): Nothing makes me want to break a rule more than realizing there's a rule in the first place. Strong opinions about how I should run my home? I'll pick and choose, thanks.

And guess what? I still managed to tidy my kitchen, using advice from her book.

Why I (Might Have) Thrown Away Marie Kondo's New Book
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Why I (Might Have) Thrown Away Marie Kondo's New Book

It's better as a big picture.

Despite all of the above, and the fact that I lost her book in the process of tidying up (classic), I came out for the better. Spark Joy taught me how to think big picture about all my little stuff, despite its desire to teach me how to do a bunch of tedious tasks. They are:

  • Toss stuff that you don't want. Using joy as the barometer works, but it's a fickle gauge. I've talked to many who, by doing so, let go of things they love that they then regret later. I say if you're on the fence at all about something, keep it and find it a home. What's to lose? (Joy. Just kidding.)

  • Organize your stuff so nothing is hidden. One level of separation (a cabinet door, a drawer) is healthy; the blind spot behind the pipes under the sink, not so.

  • Enjoy yourself along the way. Yes, going tool-by-tool through your kitchen is a true pain in the rear, but the memories and laughs this conjures up are worth the chaos. Kondo says go at it alone, I say bring a friend (or wine and a David Bowie playlist).

Four posts later, my point is this:

Setting aside some time to clean out your house, and to organize what remains thoughtfully, is going to make you feel great. You can do it without Kondo—and problem solving along the way is an empowering activity—but if her books spark you to get started, I'd say they're worthwhile.

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up or Spark Joy? What did you learn? Let us know in the comments!

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