SALT LAKE CITY — Marie Kondo is an author and organizing consultant — and now, thanks to her Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she's also a TV and pop culture star. It seems like everyone, including major media outlets like The Atlantic and The New York Times, have been talking about what NPR called “an organizational renaissance” sparked by Kondo's decluttering approach, the KonMari method.
On the show, Kondo takes people through the method, which helps them declutter their lives by only keeping items which “spark joy.”
The KonMari method has been around much longer than the Netflix series, and it may seem odd for the show to create this much buzz. But according to some experts who spoke to the Deseret News, aspects of the KonMari method may be exactly what people need today.
The helped becomes the helper
Dr. Jessica Louie was experiencing burnout in her career as a critical care pharmacist. She'd also been dealing with a death in her family, and coped with the stress by shopping. Then she discovered Kondo’s bestseller, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.”
Louie said the KonMari method was transformative in her life. It affected her home, relationships and personal finances. It also helped her recognize what was making her happy and what she could do without.
After experiencing the KonMari method, Louie became one of many certified KonMari consultants and started her own business, Clarify Simplify Align. KonMari consultants work personally with clients to help them through their tidying process. Louie said she offers support and facilitation to her clients to help them finish the method in the timeline they want. Louie has seen her clients experience transformations in their own lives, just as she did.
“Some have ended relationships after going through the process,” Louie explained. “They realized that they were just not happy in them and that they were holding on to the past instead of thinking about the present moment and the future.”
The psychology of tidying
Christopher Davids, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, said the KonMari method could affect relationships just as Louie found in her clients.
“When we slow down and we're more present to things like the relationships that we have, that naturally gives us more opportunity for moments of connection, which helps us experience emotional intimacy,” Davids said. “It also helps us slow down and have gratitude for the people who are around us.”
Davids agreed with Louie on many of the benefits of the KonMari method, but gave the caveats that there is no psychological research specific to tidying, and the method would not work the same for everybody.
“Even in the show,” Davids said, referring to Kondo's Netflix series, “there are certain principles that she follows. But then the people that use them, when they engage in the practice, they're creating their own rituals. They're finding their own ways of modifying those strategies to meet their needs and to work within their life's context.”
Davids said there is scholarly research, however, about expressing gratitude as a daily practice for maintaining a positive outlook, and research on how mindfulness practices reduce anxiety and depression. A mindfulness practice can be anything that allows you to be in the present moment with a mindset of non-judgment, he said. The KonMari method has many aspects of mindful gratitude, including thanking your home and even thanking items you decide to throw out.
An article published by The Atlantic, “‘Tidying Up With Marie Kondo’ Isn’t Really a Makeover Show,” addressed this mindset of non-judgment. Author Sarah Archer says that although the Netflix series is outwardly about tidying up, it's really about empathy instead of judgment — an empathy for the things around us that naturally blossoms into appreciation for the people surrounding us.
Archer writes, “There’s no sense of competition, and the ostensible makeover at the heart of every episode simply involves regular people becoming happier and more at ease in their own home. Kondo doesn’t scold, shame or criticize. Things spark joy or they don’t, and it’s fine either way.”
According to Davids, the motives behind the method are probably more important than the specific process.
“I don't think the psychological benefit of that is literally the practice of folding something in a certain way or meticulously trying to organize a drawer in a certain way,” he said.
It just looks better
Beyond the mental and social benefits, tidying also has the obvious aesthetic appeal. In the past five years, designs have moved toward minimalism, according to LaMar Lisman, an interior designer and founder of Lisman Studios Interior Design in Midvale. Lisman said that in Utah specifically, he has seen more requests for clean interiors and less excess.
“We really have stepped away from all the clutter, and froufrou and overdone rooms,” Lisman said.
In “How to Choose Happiness,” an opinion piece for The New York Times, Kondo attempts to explain this more minimal trend.
“We live in a disorganized and chaotic world, much of it outside our control,” Kondo wrote. “As people’s buying habits shift and technology moves most everything to the cloud, people have been valuing experiences over material things. Some have even pointed out that we may have reached a critical point in terms of mass consumption — we’ve reached peak stuff.”
Lisman has seen this critical point and need for change in his clients.
“We're seeing our clients coming to us now and saying ‘I need to change, I need simplicity, I need uniformity, I need function, but I still want it to be beautiful,'” Lisman said.
Lisman has also seen a shift in why people buy furniture. In the past, he said, people bought furniture and housewares with the intention of passing them on to future generations. This mindset is going away as people focus more on what brings them joy in the present.2 comments on this story
“It's more about fulfilling our own needs, which I think is good, very healthy,” he added. “It's OK to say, ‘That's not for me. I don't want these things. Thank you, I'm glad grandma loved it but I don't want it.’ … It all ties in with … getting rid of clutter in our lives, to just help us breathe and feel free and open to live in our space.”
Despite its simple premise, Kondo's show and accompanying ethos have struck a chord. It seems many have reached a point of overload — and if simplifying their lives starts with their closets, then they're willing to try.
As Davids put it, “Whether it's a physical clutter or mental clutter, those are things that can drag with us.”