In the quiescent first days of the new year, I found myself joining legions of other vacationing Americans, relaxed upon the sofa, utterly engaged by a cheerful Marie Kondo encouraging us all to distill our joy into small collections of things folded neatly into tiny rectangles. I became transfixed by the notion that my Brooklyn apartment was full to the rafters with things I no longer needed, that did not bring me joy (instead likely sparking the opposite emotion). I knew instantly that I needed the KonMari method in my life, I just didn't know how much it would change me.
When I first began binge-watching Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, I thought it would be like any other home organization show. I made assumptions based on a longtime love of the genre: I cut my organizational teeth on shows like Hoarders and Clean Sweep on TLC. I live for the Instagram feed called The Home Edit, and I have a small obsession with organizational and productivity podcasts. This hobby has served me well thus far, as most would agree my home was fairly organized and tidy.
However, watching the pure joy that lit across the face of Marie Kondo as she blissfully encouraged clients to throw away their crap made me think that I hadn't dug deeply enough. I still had too much stuff. So I watched every episode. I bought her best-selling books, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class On The Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, and I hit my closets.
Both of her books and her series emphasize that this has to be a total overhaul, done all at once. Kondo stresses that it takes a complete transformation to see the true difference, and only once you've finished your whole home will you be able to maintain the peace established by the lack of clutter. For most families, this takes weeks. On the show, they have a counter in the bottom left corner that shows "Day 28," "Day 42," and so on. Because I work in media and the turnaround on this piece needed to be pretty quick, I gave myself six days to completely redo the entire apartment — and I fell short. As of right now, I'm still finishing my children's toys and the crap under my bed.
Marie Kondo's practice is fairly straight forward, but there are a few things that veer into "woo" territory just a little bit. For Kondo, the whole process begins with awareness and gratitude. When she first walks into a house, she "greets" it. She kneels on the floor, places her hands down in front of her, and introduces herself to the space. On the show this is mostly met with confused stares or shrugging acquiescence. I did not greet my home, and not only because I can't kneel if I wish to stand for the rest of the day. I have watched entirely too much of Netflix's other show, The Haunting of The Hill House, to be down with that.
Once you have greeted your ghosts — I mean house — then Kondo has you break down your organizational efforts into five categories: clothes, paper, books, komono, and sentimental items. Komono is miscellany. Kitchen items, almost everything in the garage, DVDs that you don't even have a machine to play, the dozen or so shower curtains you seem to have accumulated... all of that is komono. Kondo instructs those who are organizing to touch every item and evaluate it to see if it "sparks joy," which is how you will determine you will keep it. In her book she acknowledged that there will be some things, like toilet plungers, that don't "spark joy" but are otherwise necessary to the running of the household. She wrote that in these instances, the best you can be is grateful that you own them, and then move on.
The woo part of throwing stuff out, other than asking yourself if your poultry seasoning sparks joy in your heart, (it so does; Bell's Seasoning makes so many things delicious) is when Kondo has you thank all of your stuff. I will admit I wasn't into that aspect of it. It felt disingenuous. But I took a moment to be grateful for the hard work that bought us these items, and for the hands, likely somewhere across the world, who had hewn them. That's a practice I can accept fully into my routine.
Thanking everything, touching everything... these steps are part of the reason why this process is such a long one for most folks. Doing it in six days was a terrible idea. After one long night of organization, I am pretty sure the future ghost of Marie Kondo drifted into my room late in my dream cycle to whisper "lady, you're freaking insane," and then flew back off to her afterlife in the Container Store or wherever.
As I began this process, illustrated guide in hand, I could not help but be drawn in by the energy and the vitality Kondo brings to organizing. I fell stupidly in friend-love with her. I want her to be my life coach, I thought to myself. My life coach, my organizing mistress, and — possibly most of all — I really want to see what Marie Kondo is like when she's drunk. Kondo seems like she'd be a hilarious drunk. Considering she'll hop up and down in a closet and ride a widow's carousel horse sober... you get the point.
I may have thought this because most of my late-night organizing was accompanied by a glass of cabernet. It really helped when it came to throwing crap away without regret.
Her method dictates that when you start, you need to be ready to throw down and just go for it. Some people like to listen to audiobooks or talk radio as they organize, but I learned that for me, there is only one thing to listen to as I throw away remnants of my past, and that is "Off-Book: The Improvised Musical Podcast" with Seth and Jess. Now, I don't know if you're a fan of "Off Book," but let me tell you, the only way to push past the trepidation that comes with throwing away the treasured size 27 jeans that will never fit ever again because you have had children is to listen to a song about a giant buffalo (that looks like a shrimp, that's also the collective hallucination of stranded seafarers drinking salt water, because they have terrible survival instincts). You may have to take my word on that until you try it for yourself.
Anyway. Once I discovered that I had 30 pairs of jeans in my closet, along with several boho style shirts best left in 2006, I realized I wasn't quite as skilled at home organization and paring down my goods as I previously assumed. At some point in the process of re-hanging all that I was keeping, I held two sweater dresses in each hand and fell deep into an organizational existential crisis. "Are these sweaters? Are they dresses? Are they the placeholders for my morally corrupt consumerism?" I couldn't tell.
Eventually I stuck them between the sweaters and dresses and called it square.
The bathroom was a cinch, and I tossed away old panties and holey Spanx like I was getting a Christmas bonus for doing it. Then, I began doing the books.
And here is where I diverge from Kondo. She says to keep only those things that "spark joy." I disagree wholeheartedly with that thought. Some books will challenge you. Some are hard, and fraught with intensity. Many of these are necessary and important to hold onto no matter the emotion they carry. As I was looking for books I could rid from my collection (mostly those that are damaged or fiction genres that I've outgrown) I picked up my copy of Wage, Labour, and Capital, by Karl Marx. It has been an essential book in my work in academia. When I hold it, it does not "spark joy." It sometimes gives me a vague sense of once having developed a good argument, but at best it sparks a neutral reaction. At worst, it engenders a feeling of deep antipathy or enmity. It's a reminder that I have yet to do the research surrounding shifts in the arena of radical social dominance structures that I want to do. I did not throw it away.
It wasn't until I started cleaning the kitchen that all the emotions I'd been feeling as I made this journey came to a head. With the exception of hanging a new shelf in the closet, I had done all of this on my own. My children tried on clothing, and my husband took laundry out and supported my endeavor, but this was all me. I folded each rectangle. I lovingly organized my husband's more than 60 tee shirts into a manageable collection. None of that bothered me. Like many of the women who appeared on the show, I just assumed that this emotional and home labor was my job, and since it was my idea, I should be the one doing it. The others are all content with their lack of storage space and inability to find whatever it is they want. If they think it lost, no worries; in this era of fast fashion, they can simply replace it.
As I opened my kitchen cabinets to clean them out and put them to rights, I grew angry and impatient. When I sat down for a break, my husband took the time to praise me for taking, as he put it, "the bull by the horns for this organizing thing." Never did he acknowledge how much easier this would make his life, or how little he'd done. It was lip service provided in the eleventh hour to absolve his lack of involvement. That's not to say he's not a wonderful husband; in all other ways he's quite possibly the most supportive husband I know. But this is not something he values as highly as I do.
So I went back into my granite-covered haven where I cook almost every dinner that my family eats. I began pulling out pots and pans, mixing bowls and spatulas, all misplaced by my family when they unload the dishwasher. For years I laughed this off. "Seriously, honey, it doesn't take that long to re-stack the pots so they don't fall over when I pull one out." But the message never sank in, and I pretended it didn't matter. They were doing the dishes, after all. I acted like it didn't bother me that the recycling had to be full to overflowing before it was taken out, or that stationary drawers filled up with unread mail. I was being too anal. I was nagging too much if I brought it up.
As I sat on the floor, feeling unappreciated and overwhelmed, I began to cry. Huge, fat tears slid down my face as I realized it wasn't only that my family didn't care as much as I did about having an organized home and kitchen, but that I'd allowed them to continue on this path, and by extension to treat me with such subtle disregard. I'd taught them that it was OK to neglect my feelings and my convenience and defer to their need to shuffle through chores like they're unimportant. That in the long run the chores don't matter, even if the fact that they were improperly done ends up impacting all of us. When my kitchen isn't set up for use, it takes me much longer to make dinner and put things away.
They rely on my meals to sustain them; I should be able to rely on them to help me get it to the table without dropping a pan on my foot or having cans fall out of the bin. It makes me resentful and angry, and that's no way to go about my daily life. Kondo says that organization has to be a group effort. The whole family needs to be involved, even if some members have strengths where others do not. I ignored this at my own peril, and it seems as though I have been for some time.
I woke today with the certainty that I cannot continue this way. I can't be the only one expected to maintain what sparks our joy. Unfortunately, I have no timeline for how long it will take my family to come around. I don't know if they'll think I'm nagging them. And I don't care. I don't have a plan to make the change, I don't have a chore chart with a sticker reward for each day of good behavior. What I have are my words, and my determination to make them understand why this is important and how it affects us all when it isn't done. Mostly, I will speak up for me, for how it makes me feel, and I am optimistic that their empathy will do the rest. With at least a little bit of nagging.
Both Marie Kondo's show and book are entertaining, informative, and inspiring. I appreciated her adherence to doing it all at once if you are physically and mentally able to do so, and her folding techniques are on-point. My home will likely be forever tidier for it, which is saying something, because I was already pretty tidy. I don't think it's for everyone, and I think it can be pretty ableist to assume that everyone can benefit from this one method. That's not true of any method. However, I benefited greatly and had some major come-to-Jesus moments as I filtered through my family's belongings. And I just bought a new label-maker, so I'm committed.
I had no idea that binge watching a happy woman in silk skirts tossing clothing would end as a personal epiphany for me, but I am glad that it did.
After experiencing a traumatic c-section, this mother sought out a doula to support her through her second child’s delivery. Watch as that doula helps this mom reclaim the birth she felt robbed of with her first child, in Episode Three of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below. Visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes, launching Mondays in December.