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The Art of Tidying

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By Kerry Tinga

“My mission is to spark joy in the world through tidying,” says Marie Kondo, introducing us to her Netflix reality show Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, itself adapted from her 2011 bestseller The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. On a lazy weekend afternoon where all anybody wants to do is chill and binge-watch a show, its light-hearted tone creeps up on you until suddenly you feel the urge to stand up and clean, the perfect jump start to the New Year.

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For many of us, myself included, looking around our homes and finding pile after pile of unsorted things, there is no doubt that tidying up could spark joy. We would all like a clean and organized living space, a bedroom where everything is where they are meant to be and could be found easily. The problem is never lack of intention, but the difficulty in getting started, and once past that hurdle, in sustaining the tidiness. I look around the room now and think it hopeless, stacks of paper on a desk, a bookshelf all filled up that I even have books beside it on the floor, and miscellaneous little items all over the place.

Despite all the hype when her book first came out, despite all the weeks it was on the bestselling charts, and despite everything my friends were telling me about it, I could not bother picking it up. How could someone be an organizing consultant? What could she possibly tell me in her book? While my room had (and still has) a long way to be considered “tidy,” I felt I knew what it took to be tidy but just could not get myself to start. I mean, I just had to place things in the right places, what else could there be to it?

On that lazy weekend afternoon I found out that I was wrong. More than just a technique, there is a mindset to organizing a room that makes it not just an exercise in cleaning up and, to an extent redecorating, but a whole lifestyle change.

Unlike other reality makeover shows, Kondo appears a handful of times over the course of a month or so to make a few comments, give a bit of advice, and encourage the homeowners. Mainly, however, she leaves them alone to do the heavy lifting (or rather, folding). Like a modern day Mary Poppins who comes and goes with the wind, she teaches us her version of how a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down so that when she moves on to the next family her presence and lessons still remain in the home.

In both her book and her series, Kondo promotes her KonMari method, which, simply put, is only keeping the items that “spark joy.” More precisely, keeping kokoro tokimeku mono, which literally translates to “heart flutter things.” Everything else must go (although maybe keep some of those important documents even if they do not make your heart flutter)!

Again, looking around my room, I realized just how much of it were items that I did not feel much anything toward, my heartbeat steady. On my nightstand alone are a handful of lipsticks of extremely similar shades, stacks of papers that go back at least six months, and an assortment of other miscellaneous things. If I threw everything that was on my nightstand out right now there would be only the most negligible difference in my life. Not only was there nothing important in how I conduct my daily life, nothing really “sparks joy.” But how did it come to this?

Taking the KonMari method a step backward, when we go out to buy things in shops or especially when we buy things online, we should already be asking if it “sparks joy.” Like how Kondo asks the homeowners to hold each of their items in their hands to see if it makes their heart flutter, when we consider buying something we should do that as well. Yes it may be cute right now, but does it “spark joy” in me?

This new year my resolution is to buy fewer things but to make each thing I buy something meaningful, to focus on experiences that will remain in my memories for a lifetime, and to show my appreciation for my home for protecting me by putting everything in its place. Do not get me wrong, buying things is not bad, but mindless purchases are. Going forward, away from the consumerism society that has prevailed over the years, we should look to fewer but better things, curated to what will surely bring us joy for years to come.

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