My experience with the KonMari method (and the life-changing magic of tidying up)

My experience with the KonMari method (and the life-changing magic of tidying up)

Because I'm a money nerd and a comics nerd, one of my favorite things is when these two obsessions come together in the form of (drom roll, please): financial graphic novels!

You might think that's a niche I just invented, but you'd be wrong. I'll admit that financial graphic novels aren't common, but they are out there. I've written before about the comics adaptation of Studs Terkel's Working, for instance. But I also own comic book versions of Think and Grow Rich, The Long Tail, The Alchemist, and Robert Caldini's Influence.

My dream project? Collaborating with an artist to create a visual version of my A Brief Guide to Financial Freedom.

Imagine how happy I was last week when I stumbled upon The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up, the graphic-novel adaptation of Marie Kondo's hugely popular (and hugely awesome) book on cleaning and organization. I loved The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up when it first came out; I love the comics version even better.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up

In case you've been living under a rock, Kondo's thesis is that you should only own things that “spark joy” in your life. Naturally, not everything can spark joy. (Does anyone really get pleasure from their toothbrush or their coat hangers?) But to the extent possible, you should strive to only possess things that give you pleasure.

Let's take a quick look at the KonMari method — and why it's proved to be popular with so many people (including me).

The KonMari Method

Marie Kondo is obsessed. She's a clean freak. Ever since she was a little girl, her passion has been cleaning and organizing. She loves to de-clutter. And because she's Japanese, her obsession is tinged with elegance and beauty. Here's a taste:

An avid fan of home and lifestyle magazines since kindergarten, I would read a feature on how to put things away and have to try out each suggestion immediately. I made drawers out of tissue boxes and broke my piggybank to purchase nifty storage items. In junior high on my way home from school, I would drop in at a DIY store or browse at a magazine stand to check out the latest products.

As I say, she's obsessed. In fact, some of her anecdotes are almost alarming.

A young Marie Kondo

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a fun book, but its core concepts could easily be conveyed in a magazine article — or a blog post (like this one). In fact, the concept is better conveyed in a graphic novel than in a regular book! (Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. The book gets high marks on Amazon, but the graphic novel has a perfect five-star rating.)

Just as I believe money management is a psychological issue rather than a logical one, so Kondo feels about cleaning. “Success in tidying depends 90 percent on your mindset,” she writes.

It's not enough for a space to be tidy. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved,” she writes. But storage is not the answer. The problem persists so long as you have too much Stuff. Kondo claims the real key is to discard as much as possible.

Storage is not the answer

Here are the key components of the Konmari method:

  • Start by visualizing your ideal lifestyle. Think about how you really want to live. What would your home look like? What kind of life would you lead there? (This is similar to how I ask people to think about their purpose in life before setting financial goals.)
  • Tidy in one large push rather than a little at a time. Gradual tidying doesn't solve anything. When you clean in one fell swoop, it's like hitting the reset switch on life.
  • Start by discarding, all at once, intensely and completely. “Do not even think of putting your things away until you have finished the process of discarding,” Kondo admonishes. If you start putting things away before you've finished purging, you run the risk of getting distracted. Plus, it's only after you've pared down your possessions that you can decide how to best store them in your space.
  • Keep only those things that “spark joy”. This is the key to Kondo's philosophy. She says that we ought only own things that make us happy. Most advice on de-cluttering focuses on whether items are used or useful. But Kondo argues that this sort of thinking leads us to choose what to get rid of rather than what to keep, and that's backward. She wants readers to handle every item and ask, “Does this spark joy?” She writes: “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” Sounds lame, right? In reality, the advice is surprisingly effective.
  • Tidy by category, not by location. “Tidying by location is a fatal mistake,” writes Kondo. Instead of cleaning one drawer or one room at a time, instead tackle one type of item at a time. She even recommends a specific order. “The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, komono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos…Sticking to this sequence sharpens our intuitive sense of what items spark joy inside us.”
  • Don't let your family participate. Tidy on your own. Don't consult with your partner, your parents, or your children. Doing so will only cloud things. Work on your own.
  • Once you've finished discarding things — and by this, she means selling them, donating them, giving them away, or putting them in the trash — only then is it okay to store them. Even then, Kondo aims for joy. She wants readers to “store your things to make your life shine”. Follow the old adage, “A place for everything, and everything in its place.” That may mean changing some of your habits. In particular, Kondo recommends storing things standing upright rather than flat whenever possible.
  • Forget about “flow planning” and “frequency of use”. Kondo says that most organizational systems are based around how often things are used or how convenient it is to retrieve them. This is a mistake. If you need something, you'll find it and pull it out. It's much more important to make things easy to put away. She writes: “Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort to get them out.”
  • Eliminate visual clutter. I've always admired the Japanese aesthetic, and a large part of that is how clean everything is. No surprise then that Kondo applies this ideal to de-cluttering. Her advice: “By eliminating excess visual information that doesn't inspire joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.” Only display belongings you appreciate. Don't clutter your shelves and floorspace with knick knacks and notes and piles and so on. Keep things neat and clean.

Perhaps that all seems overwhelming. It's not — or it shouldn't be. It all boils down to this: Start by discarding. Keep only those things that “spark joy”. Work first with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous, and lastly, mementos. After purging, organize your space for maximum efficiency (and minimal visual clutter). Do this all at once rather than incrementally.

You've finished the process when everything is in its place.

Get rid of whatever doesn't spark joy

Putting Theory into Practice

So, how effective is the KonMari method? From my experience, it's awesome. Seriously. When I stick to it, my life is less cluttered and my mind is freer.

In January 2015, I spent an entire weekend applying the Konmari method to my belongings. The results were amazing! After three days of solid work, my Stuff was organized in a neat, efficient manner. I'd managed to get rid of (almost) anything that didn't spark joy.

The best part was that I've managed to maintain most of this orderliness.

Most of it.

Last weekend, after reading the graphic novel version of the Konmari method, I decided to make another pass at my Stuff.

I spent my Saturday applying Kondo's ideas to my clothes closet and my dresser drawers. It took me three hours, but after I was finished I'd eliminated a couple boxes of clothes and drastically reduced the space I needed to store the stuff I kept.

I'm particularly pleased with how much I can fit into my dresser drawers after re-familiarizing myself with the best way to fold shirts, socks, and — gasp! — underwear. (I've always mocked people who fold their underwear. I'm one of those folks now.)

Look at this beautiful image:

Tidied Shirts

I used to store my t-shirts in two messy, mounded drawers (one for cotton, one for wool). Now all of my t-shirts fit into a single drawer — and it's easy to tell what's what. Similarly, my sock and underwear drawers used to be disasters. Now it's quick and easy to find what I want.

Tidied SocksTidied Undies

It does take a bit more time to fold things properly, but I'm okay with that. Actually, I think it's kind of fun to fold my clothes into tiny, tidy packages.

After sorting my clothes on Saturday, I spent four hours discarding and organizing books on Sunday. Then I moved on to records and DVDs and compact discs. When I'd finished, I'd packed my Mini Cooper with stuff to sell and donate.

This coming weekend, I'm going to apply the Konmari method to my writing studio. It may sound nerdy, but I'm looking forward to it!

Conclusion

Long-time readers know that I've been on a decade-long quest to combat clutter. Back when I was a spendthrift, I bought a lot of Stuff. When Kris and I were together, our house and garage and workshop were packed to the gills with Stuff. Even while we were married, I started the process of purging.

Now, after having traveled extensively with nothing more than a backpack — and after having spent fifteen months exploring the U.S. by RV — I'm even more motivated to get rid of the things I no longer want or need. It seems like Kim and I are constantly purging.

The KonMari method is an excellent tool (or system, if you prefer) to help combat clutter. I'm a fan. I liked it when I first tried it in January 2015. I like it even more now.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up isn't for everyone. If you're naturally clean and tidy, there's nothing new here. If Kondo's “keep things that spark joy” message causes you to roll your eyes, you won't have patience for this book. But I think that most folks could profit from putting the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing into practice.

Books can be tough to sort

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dh
dh
2 years ago

One of the easiest ways to do the KonMari method by default is to simply live in a small space. For single people, a small condo or apartment in the 400-700 sq ft range is ideal. This is very doable; remember that Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond was only 150 sq ft. As far as getting rid of clothes, I love this capsule, unisex wardrobe from Leo Babauta of Zen Habits fame: http://zenhabits.s3.amazonaws.com/Ultralight%20Video%20-%20Packing%20Video.mp4 Cleaning-wise, I’ve been keeping my small condo spic and span for years using only a few simple ingredients: Baking Soda Borax Lemon Salt White Vinegar Olive Oil… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

P.S. There’s a guy here in my town (Abq, NM) who has some house rules that rival even Mari Kondo’s simplicity system. His name is Chuck Hosking, and his system is as follows: He does not allow anything in the house that costs more than $20.00 (with the exception of his refrigerator). All doors remain unlocked at all times. There is no heating or air conditioning, and there is no technology (computers, televisions, etc.) He recycles all of the water used in the house, had his gas shut off, rides his bike everywhere, and salvages all his food from local… Read more »

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Is he the AFB banner dude?! I’ve wondered about him. He’s outside the Eubank gate every Friday.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

Yeah, he’s the banner dude. His late wife hand-painted (lettered) those banners for him years ago.

When I was going to college back in the early 90’s, he was in one of my classes, taking notes for a disabled woman who couldn’t take the notes for herself. He seems like a nice guy.
I don’t agree with his political views, but I do enjoy learning from masters of simple living. As an interesting side note, Don Schrader rents a room in Chuck’s (banner dude’s) house.

Here’s an interview with Chuck that I love:

https://alibi.com/feature/7441/The-Tao-of-Tax-Avoiding.html

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

Yeah, that’s similar to my thoughts. I think his anti-weapon stance is misguided, but I admire his quiet protest and willingness to stand out in the wind and weather.

Before I read the article I thought you meant the bird dude, but I believe he passed away a couple years ago.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

I’m not aware of the “bird dude.” Makes me think of Birdman of Alcatraz, that great movie with Burt Lancaster.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  dh

I ran into him a couple times at flying star on central, or maybe it’s more accurate to say I ran into his bike. He had a PVC contraption built so he could ride around with his parrots. I have no idea what he did in the winter.

They uses to have a picture up of his at La Solita before they moved, dunno if they put it up in the new location. But I guess he was one of those ABQ characters that lots of people knew/knew of.

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

Ah yes, Flying Star, the old Double Rainbow … I get all misty-eyed about the Nob Hill of yesteryear, buying comic books at Wavy Brain, then reading them over at the Double R. Anyway, I’m jealous you know about bird dude and I don’t lol, sounds like an interesting character.

Mariele
Mariele
2 years ago

I’m one of those people who hates having too many things and loves to declutter and organize, so this method is nothing new for me. However, my main problem is–clothes! A capsule wardrobe might as well be a prison sentence to me. I keep everything else pared down, but I have a hard time with my clothes because I love every single item in my closet and I wear everything. I review my closet constantly but can’t stand to take anything out because I love the way I look in everything and I would miss it if I got rid… Read more »

ChzPlz
ChzPlz
2 years ago
Reply to  Mariele

“I love every single item in my closet and I wear everything.” Then the first part of the work is done. You can still benefit from the KonMari method As it will help you organize the clothes you love. My drawers look like J.D.’s and I can get a ton of stuff in less space and more importantly I can see everything at the same time. For me the “must bring joy” approach needs a dash of reality. Sometimes the joy is indirect – I’d rather keep around some old clothes that don’t bring me joy because I need things… Read more »

dh
dh
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I think the easiest way to create a capsule wardrobe is to simply study the packing habits of digital nomads. These lists work for women too (with some slight tweaking):

https://medium.com/pack-hacker/everything-you-need-to-travel-the-world-in-one-backpack-fab5e138af1c

https://medium.com/@glennangelo/yet-another-digital-nomad-pack-list-f7d483e49a6b

And a little bonus link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSHsIOIhjJY

Anne
Anne
2 years ago
Reply to  Mariele

Girlfriend, you are singing my song. The term “capsule wardrobe” is a sharp stick in the eye for me. I do pass on things that no longer feel good or shrank a bit in the wash, but I’m always replacing them.

I love color and print and looking at beautiful fabric “sparks joy” for me.

The Poor Swiss
The Poor Swiss
2 years ago

Wow, the closet looks cool! I really like organized things like this. This method looks really interesting. I’ve put the book on my watch list! (I should offer it to my wife :P)

Thanks J.D. !

Dave @ Accidental FIRE
Dave @ Accidental FIRE
2 years ago

I read the book a few years back but the graphic novel looks cool! I need to revisit the book again. It seems that old habits start drifting back into my life no matter what I do.

Melissa
Melissa
2 years ago

I KMed my studio apartment a few years ago, and it was an excellent exercise. 2 moves, a house purchase, and gen. anxiety disorder diagnosis and a pending house sale later, I am about to move back into a studio again. And I had this weekend set aside to KM my condo as I get it ready for listing, so this is a super timely article for me, JD. I am excited to check out the graphic novel!

Ron Cameron
Ron Cameron
2 years ago

We’d like followup pictures in three months! And for what it’s worth I have a coat hanger that sparks joy. One. I almost got rid of it because it’s old and doesn’t match the rest, but it sparks joy damnit so it’s here forever!

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  J.D. Roth

I disagree that functional doesn’t cause clutter, but I think it needs a different set of rules. For example Alton Brown has some interesting thoughts on kitchen “uni-tools” i.e. kitchen tools that are only used for a single function.

For example, I struggle with: Do I need 2 crock-pots AND a pressure cooker? None of them bring me joy, but they do make dinner on a regular basis and they each serve a slightly different function that would be a hole if I got rid of one. So I keep them, but they are hard to store efficiently.

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

Why not just own a multi-function device like an Instant Pot?

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago
Reply to  VinTek

I am not crazy about the slow cooker function of the multi-cookers. Plus I have 2 crock pots because they are significantly different in size. A multi-cooker doesn’t fix that.

Sharon
Sharon
2 years ago
Reply to  VinTek

I own one because we’re moving into an RV next year, but I’m terrified to use it! I guess the pressure cooking part is scaring me because of the kitchen accidents my mother had using one. I love my crock pots but will have to choose just one. I’ve learned I can do small meals in my large one, so the small one will go.

Joe
Joe
2 years ago

I love manga. It’s awesome that anything can be turned into manga form. I even read a manga about how 7/11 got started in Japan. It was a neat story. I’m willing to read this KonMari book in this format.
Mrs. RB40 read this and it didn’t seem to work in our household.
Nice job with your wardrobe.

S.G.
S.G.
2 years ago

I have wanted to try something like this, but it just isn’t really feasible right now with life and kids and the time and energy the project would require, so we have been going at it more traditionally. We try not to simply declutter, but the method is more: get rid of what we can without thinking too hard about it. Plus there is plenty of junk that brings my kids joy. I remember what it was like as a kid when my mom or grandma would “clean” and get rid of my treasures, so I don’t really want to… Read more »

Bonnie
Bonnie
2 years ago
Reply to  S.G.

S.G., I have wondered how Marie Kondo is doing now that she has two children. 🙂 I’m waiting for the sequel to the original book. It’s very difficult to keep on top of the tsunami of toys, coloring books, etc., and you’re right–some of that stuff has to be kept out and around to inspire play and creativity. I am more lax with her toys until she has REALLY outgrown them, but I am ruthless with clothes and the second she has outgrown stuff or worn it out, it is donated or sold to resale shop. I am pretty ruthless… Read more »

Billy
Billy
2 years ago

Where do you take your purged items to sell? Media can be taken to used book stores with varying results, but what about everything else?

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago

One can declutter more than just “stuff” in life. You can declutter your time and energy as well. See The Disciplined Pursuit of Less in the following link:

https://hbr.org/2012/08/the-disciplined-pursuit-of-less

Sequentialkady
Sequentialkady
2 years ago

I used the manga as a guide to weed and organize my closet earlier this year. I’m still quite happy with the results.

Larry Truslow
Larry Truslow
2 years ago

Speaking of comic finance books….James Stowers, founder of the American Century mutual fund family, had a series of books that I believe were called “Yes I Can”. Not sure if they are still around, but might be worth a look.

Marcos Taquechel
Marcos Taquechel
2 years ago

I think the problem in focus here is attachment. The less things we have might show we are not attached to them, however, one should be careful not to take things to the other side. One can also be attached to living in extremely clean and de cluttered environments. Sometimes clutter can be creative because it shows how being de cluttered is such a breath of fresh air. So, there are no absolutes, if one is truly un attached you should be able to hang with everything. Just my 2 cents, that’s all.

Jenni
Jenni
2 years ago

I’m wondering if a better question could be “does it help me reach my goal?” Not “does it spark joy?” We just might be addicted to pleasure, entertainment, and frivolity.

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago

That’s nothing new. It’s known as The Endowment Effect.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endowment_effect

VinTek
VinTek
2 years ago
Reply to  VinTek

Oops, that was meant as a reply to Marcos Taquechel.

Steve
Steve
2 years ago

What can you possibly accomplish without involving your family? Maybe 10% of the stuff in my house is mine exclusively. If I purge even 50%, that is a measly 5% overall. Half or more is stuff that belongs to the whole family. Am I supposed to send them on vacation and purge while they’re not around to stop me?

Katelyn
Katelyn
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve

I *think* the suggestion to purge while your family is not around is mostly to protect against keeping items out of guilt that you would otherwise choose to discard if you could make the decision without an audience. I know that I have a very hard time letting go of things that were given to me. Ironically, I tend to have a much harder time letting go of gifts that I don’t like, because I feel like I didn’t show the giver adequate appreciation by loving and using the heck out of the gift. To apply the concept in a… Read more »

Steve
Steve
2 years ago
Reply to  Katelyn

To be fair, 5% is better than nothing, you have to start somewhere.
AND
it doesn’t do any good to just throw your hands up and give up.

SG in Germany
SG in Germany
2 years ago

I think one cannot really appreciate the wisdom of the KonMari method without some knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture.

Japanese people give a lot of consideration to items we Westerners would consider mundane, like coat hangers or toothbrushes. We only own beautiful wooden coat hangers that indeed spark joy when I see them. (I have to admit I didn’t yet manage to find an aesthetically pleasing toothbrush)

Cubert
Cubert
2 years ago

This is where my heart is – decluttering and discarding without mercy or remorse. Then, we had kids. In the beginning we could donate many of their old toys without issue. But now that they’re five, they’ve grown sentimental and put up a fuss about giving anything away. We keep trying to convey the importance of sharing and giving. At least we live in a small house. So as aspiring minimalists, ain’t no room to keep TOO much crap.

batljunk
batljunk
2 years ago

Enjoyed this piece and all the commentary! I’ve made several large purges over the years and having a yard sale was both freeing and financially beneficial. I find myself today enjoying second hand and mostly free stuff the most of all because if I lost it all tomorrow I would enjoy acquiring new free stuff. While this is likely not the point of the book, I have found that moving gives a great opportunity for a do-over in numerous ways. And I love living in a small house. I cannot overstate the joy that brings. Tidy, cozy, a few collections… Read more »

Fay
Fay
1 year ago

I’m going to have to put the KonMarie principal into action. I’m a hoarder…….I can’t believe I’ve got to this stage. I’ve already started to dispose of stuff to the clothes banks (goes to charity they tend to be at supermarkets I’m based in the United Kingdom). I’m starting slowly I know this isn’t what KonMari suggests………

Rebecca Nels
Rebecca Nels
1 year ago

Just read Manga of tidying this weekend after you posted, it’s pretty great 🙂 Definitely makes you understand the logistics of her method better!!

Peter R Payne
Peter R Payne
1 year ago

Neat post! I recently moved from Gunma (rural Japan 100 km north of Tokyo) to Tokyo itself, and I’ve had a chance to obsess over having just what I need (computer setup, TV and streaming devices, etc) and nothing I don’t need. It’s been fun and theraputic.

Kristine
Kristine
1 year ago

My buy nothing group has exploded since the tv show came out. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the method! I’m glad it actually works for you 🙂

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