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Over Easy: Can Marie Kondo Tidy Up Any Old Mess?

  • For the past four years or so, Kondo, a professional organizer from Japan, has been on the march. (Denise Crew/Netflix/TNS)



For the Valley News
Friday, January 11, 2019

I wouldn’t say my life has been a mess; I have stayed the course in work and in love, spending three decades with one employer and four with one wife.

But it hasn’t always been tidy.

At the risk of oversharing, let’s just say that any vehicle designated “my” car, as opposed to the family vehicle, has been a bit of a traveling trash can. Doesn’t everyone have a couple of dessicated apple cores in a cup holder? How about crunched paper cups, ripped candy wrappers, mangled paper maps?

My newspaper workspace was similarly jumbled. They — the people who pronounce such things — say a clean desk is a sign of a sick (or dirty) mind. No one ever said that about me.

Despite such inclinations I, joined by my wife, Dede, have recently come under the sway of a diminutive Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

I don’t know if Ms. Kondo is trying to save the world, exactly, but she is plotting to organize it — one drawer, one closet, one household at a time.

My wife can whip a room into shape, but I hardly know where to begin, or how to move forward if I manage to hobble off the starting line. My cleaning energy is quickly dissipated, especially if I find one of my kids’ report cards from the 1980s, a Red Sox yearbook from the 1990s, or any authoritative magazine article about the many, many things that have baffled me in the years since.

I know this about myself. I am a big-picture thinker, but I often do not know under which pile of my clothes my shoes are buried.

I first read of Marie Kondo in an article a couple of years ago. My heart swelled with hope. Her method purports not only to organize and reduce your “stuff,” but to change your relationship to it.

I bought a copy of her book and binge-read it. Of course, buying a self-help volume and reading it isn’t sufficient. If it was, we’d all be our ideal weight and would be happy as clams. We’d be so full of healthy probiotics that our gut biomes would practically hum the Ode to Joy.

Predictably, after finishing the book, I spent a few hours in frenzied labor that produced less revolutionary change than was desired. As the days and weeks moved on, the book faded into memory, and ended up under some heap, stack or mound.

But Marie Kondo has returned, this time in a Netflix series. I was alerted to it by a Washington Post article in our own Valley News.

We watched three episodes right off. In each, Kondo and a translator visit beleaguered Americans whose living spaces have gotten out of control. Two involved youngish parents in homes where stress levels were rising like pressure in a tea kettle. Clutter was the culprit.

I empathized, but did not like one couple’s practice of regularly calling each other “babe,” which I think only Sonny and Cher truly earned. They squealed and vigorously hugged Kondo, which I do not believe conforms to Japanese etiquette. They also kept declaring their hectic days “crazy” and “insane,” perhaps a first-world problem, since many in places like Honduras or Bangladesh face challenges that are far crazier.

The third couple were likable empty-nesters who seemed to have kept every game, toy, card, gift, decoration and sentimental object they had obtained over the years, including a full battalion of holiday nutcrackers.

Kondo’s advice begins by encouraging clients to get rid of every piece of clothing that does not “spark joy.” That process starts by putting all clothing items in a pile, which can spark something like shame by its clear excess.

They “thank” the objects they eliminate for the service they have given, and fold what remains in a dainty and space-efficient manner.

This raises a couple of issues for me. I’m pretty utilitarian regarding clothing. For example, shoes bring me joy mostly if they keep my feet dry. And dainty is not my thing.

So I have to modify standards to keeping clothes I like, and folding things as best I can. Dede takes over when I mangle them.

Konmarians, as Kondo’s converts are sometimes called, then move on to books, papers, miscellany and, often most challenging, sentimental objects. When the process works, bag after bag of objects spirit away to another life, or the landfill.

Kondo, who is petite and cheery as a child on a play-date, applauds, supports, affirms. She claps, hops and seems so light I expect her to take flight, a la Mary Poppins. If she wasn’t real, the late Walt Disney might well have invented her.

The TV couples say the process, which can continue for weeks, frees them in ways they couldn’t have imagined. They see a brighter future when they are released of so much baggage.

It occurs to me that the KonMari method could be a radical first step. It could, perhaps, inform an approach to life. What if we only kept or did things that sparked joy?

Hmmm.

And what if we radically cut the clutter in other areas? Certain relationships are clutter. Much online content — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — is clutter. Plenty of TV is clutter. Political haranguing and talking-point bickering are clutter, and we’ve never seen the likes of what we’re experiencing now. Could we put it in a big, messy pile and say farewell?

Help us, Marie Kondo, you are our only hope.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.