Over the New Year, I became optimistic about the cultural delights that 2019 would deliver; it is needless to say that the prospect of Ian McEwan visiting St Andrews set the bar high. One day, I found myself at a loose end, so naturally I had a look at Netflix to peruse its suggestions. However, instead of being greeted by gritty Nordic Noir crime thrillers or lighter comedies perfectly suited for a Sunday afternoon, I was blinded by a sickeningly bright, optimistic, and in-congruous advert for Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, a show which promises to revolutionise your existence. Shocked and saddened that it was recommended to me, I naturally avoided it like a 17th Century Londoner would do to someone with a hacking cough and a high fever. Yet I am writing this article now; so, what changed?
The notion of having a roommate in halls filled me with great apprehension. Then again, a google image search and a number of second rate newspapers promised me a room of a similar size to le Château de Versailles. Though perfectly proportioned, the room we both arrived to in September of last year would be described by an estate agent as ‘cosy,’ and within a short time it became a scene of catastrophic destruction. Living in such a confined environment with little storage has created multiple issues: first a tsunami of clothes from the pair of us; the second an assortment of notes, print-outs and papers scattered on our desk and floor like the office of a fictional detective; finally, our badly arranged unsorted bookshelf, effectively organised through true randomness, a recipe for library fines. Something needed to change, so why not give Kondo a chance?
As dedicated to The Saint as I may like to believe I am, I only made it through five of the eight 40-minute episodes before I accepted defeat. The show presents her coveted KonMari method as the solution to many a personal problem; this pseudo-philosophical approach is soul-destroyingly tedious and is made worse by the mock domestic crises that the show recreates. The issues of each family can be clearly understood in terms unrelated to tidying, which makes the presentation of cleaning as a panacea frustrating. Throughout the five episodes I punished myself to feast, including the highly apt one for me and my roommate entitled Tidying with Toddlers, each drove me a little closer to madness. Despite this, I decided to apply the approach to our room, insofar as to produce this account.
The first thing Marie Kondo does on entering every dysfunctional house is to greet it, kneeling in the centre of the room to reflect upon the comfort and shelter it provides. This step was already worrying for me – where would this go next? But, steadfast to my art, I followed her orders and knelt on the hard carpet tiles, now able to reflect upon the years of living embedded in them. Thankfully no one saw me, so I continued.
Kondo splits the task of cleaning into five categories: clothing, books, papers, Komono (miscellaneous items), and sentimental items. In each of the episodes I forced myself to watch, she would make her clients gather all of their clothes onto their bed. Then they would pick up each item in turn, holding them to establish if they “spark joy.” If they did, you would fold them ready to put them away. Otherwise, you thank the item for its service and bin it. With my patience wearing thin, I omitted the thanking stage and proceeded to evaluate my wardrobe. The situation was woeful; I can’t afford to throw out vast quantities of clothes and so kept everything, a poor start I know.
On the other hand, the process of repacking my wardrobe was successful. By folding everything into thirds, you turn each item of cloth-ing into a triangular prism which stands upright. From there you can organise them into your drawer in a space-efficient manner, whereby each item of clothing is always visible and you never have to move one item to get to another. Finally, I am beginning to show some faith in Kondo. Ultimately, the aspects of the process which dissuaded me from continuing were the spiritual steps; stroking my clothes while folding them was be-yond my shallow mind, as was the notion of “sparking joy.” KonMari takes the perfunctory task of cleaning and gives it a spiritual context, but I was only interested in the cleaning process, so on to the next step.
Kondo’s advice on the tidying of books has been the root of most of the controversy. The notion of discarding a title once read if it does not “spark joy” has angered bibliophiles and has elicited the same response from me. First, you are instructed to rub the book to wake it up. Ridiculous. Then there is editing your bookshelf down to only novels that truly “spark joy.” For most, this will result in a mostly barren collection of shallow feel-good reads; Fahrenheit 451 imagery quickly comes to mind. Good literature does not always “spark joy.” It may elicit a reaction, but joy is often the last emotion that comes to mind. For example, if Lolita “sparks joy” for you, seek help. If you have put a book off for years it won’t “spark joy,” but do you discard it, or read it on a rainy day? Art is not a tick box exercise, there is no set result in mind. You would never buy a painting just to look at it then bin it. So far her technique does not even engage with the book: you touch it and ask yourself how you feel. Personally, I would recommend reading before you make such a decision. There are also the books you are unlikely to return to, books you’ve dedicated yourself to but wouldn’t dare touch again. Do these books spark joy? No. Do they map your reading and demonstrate a variety that you can look back on? Yes. You can learn a lot about someone by their book collection, or lack of one. Moreover, people have no idea what books in the future that they may return to; just because it does not “spark joy” now does not mean it will not in the future. On the grounds of her terrible logic, I objected to Kondo entirely.
Next on the list is papers. Kondo recommends dividing them into three categories: pending, important, and miscellaneous. Naturally the first stage is ridding yourself of most items of that category. In this situation I drew the line at anything I did not need at present or am unlikely to need in the future, and what does not “spark joy,” if I’m to trust this logic. The question of what is important or what I will need in the future became a key issue. When will I need a bank statement as proof of address? Should I throw this receipt away? What if I need the instructions? Brilliant, I have thrown out my handbook for my last Anthropology unit and some detritus from Freshers’ Week; four items, what a good start. As for my roommates’ bits and pieces? In a box (out of sight and out of mind). Three box files, and I’m sorted. Whether the three categories work is another matter.
Now for Komono, directly translating as “small things.” The series first covered kitchens, not a problem for me. Despite this, I still gathered my knife and fork, plate, bowl, pot, pan and everything else into a box. For electronics and all other items, she recommends using smaller subdividing boxes; so now the iron is sitting in a box with a cable which I have no idea what it plugs into. Otherwise, I was lacking in small containers. So, as a nifty student, I have substituted plastic cups for my stationery and change from an assortment of currencies, saving the environment and money at the same time. I never watched an episode where toiletries were covered. There may not be one for that matter, so I gathered them into pots and achieved very little. With the wardrobe space freed, I now had an empty drawer which I populated with the rest of my tea, hidden from the prying eyes of ever-mocking Americans.
The last section covers sentimental items. I’m not a sentimental person so, excluding my books, what I wear on me, and a picture of the family and the dog on the wall, there are few things that I hold dear to me that I felt the need to bring up to Scotland. I wedge some rugby and plane tickets into a notepad to finish. The process was complete.
After 200 minutes of mind-numbingly dull television, and a couple of concerted hours spent cleaning, I felt no spiritual empathy for the room I was in. On a functional level I love how the place is tidy, the folding technique is phenomenal. Otherwise, I have remained particularly phlegmatic about the whole affair. I appreciate the efficient use of space, and I have ridded myself of a few items (re-cycled, unlike the plenitude of plastic bags used on the show). Despite all of this, I will not be waking up my books by rubbing them, or stroking my clothes to appreciate them. Finally, my books are here to stay.