Kitchen Design

What This Half-Hearted Tidier Learned from KonMari

January 13, 2016

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.

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.

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.

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

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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Westcoasty April 2, 2017
I am in the middle of tidying according to her first book, and I admit I am relaxing some of her "rules", like the order in which I de-clutter. Nor am I ever likely to start rolling all my clothes, because ugh, fiddly. However, one of her crazier ideas is actually helping me to de-clutter, where I thank everything for being of service to me before I put it in the donations bag.
gienne March 29, 2017
I don't know what you mean by this portion of your article: "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." They had things they love (and therefore, I would guess, sparked joy of some kind to engender love) but they gave them away? Why? I don't get it. I have read both of Marie's books and I balked at the first one; the second one explained everything so well that I actually readdressed my things and took most of her advice and it did make a big difference and I can attest that once it's done, you don't have to re-organize all the time.
Ksb January 15, 2016
"Blind spot behind the pipes under the sink" - how did you know where I keep my flower vases that I never use?!
LeBec F. January 13, 2016
I haven't read her books so am v glad you are channeling this info to us. I agree with most of your own tenets, but want to offer that I find it very useful to 'make use of every possible space' including behind the pipes under the sink (where I store alcohols that I use once or twice a year. ) Using every possible nook and cranny can keep me from having to go down the unchangeably steep stairs to the cellar()
Ditto the deep back recesses of an in- wall cupboard, where live family silver service pieces, in plastic bags, for Holiday meals; and the sealed off back stairway which houses my less-used cookbooks. We don't have many of these hard-to-access spots, so it's relatively easy to remember what they hold.
Sarah C. January 13, 2016
I haven't read the books (the hold list at the library is too long), but your posts have inspired me to do this myself and it has been really, really great. I don't ascribe "joy" to my possessions, so I used a more useful (to me) gauge of "ENjoy" and it has worked! I found that in addition to making my cabinets emptier and cleaner, this process helped me bring out things I really do enjoy using but never did before (like a set of gorgeous ceramic mixing bowls that are heavy and were one shelf too high for me to ever use - I put them one shelf down and now I use them daily!)
Amanda S. January 13, 2016
Such a small fix—lowering something heavy—that makes it suddenly useful!
Sarah C. January 14, 2016
Totally - and a real "why didn't I think of this before?!?" moment!