A spark of joy ignited within me.
After watching two episodes of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix, I had this insatiable desire to organize every last item of clothing in my closet, every leather-bound book on my shelf and all the tchotchkes from various vacations that were haphazardly placed throughout my apartment.
Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing guru and a best-selling author. Her 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” not only landed a spot on the New York Times’ Best Sellers list for 140 weeks, but also went on to sell nine million copies. The book also inspired the Netflix show.
Her trademark, the KonMari method, “is a state of mind — and a way of life — that encourages cherishing the things that spark joy in one’s life. Belongings are acknowledged for their service — and thanked before being let go, should they no longer spark joy.”
In her show, Marie Kondo visits various clients at their homes and teaches them to adopt the precepts of her KonMari way. She instructs them to clean and organize by item rather than by location, using five basic categories: clothing, books, paper items, komono (kitchen, bathroom, garage, miscellaneous) and sentimental items.
Beginning with clothing, she instructs clients to take everything out of their closets, dressers and drawers, then place the garments in a pile. The visualization of this pile — the enormity of it — helps the tidying process in that people are able to take stock of the items they have accumulated over the years.
In one episode a client named Mario follows Kondo’s instructions with his 160-pair sneaker collection he has had for the past 25 years. “Ninety-five percent of them were never used, never unlaced, let alone never tried on. So more than anything, I’m ready to get started,” Mario told the viewers.
He discovered a pair of shoes, never worn before, whose soles have completely peeled off from their two-decades-long existence inside a box. This discovery serves as a catalyst and Mario sees the impracticality of hoarding so many shoes. By the end of the episode, his collection decreases in size to 45 pairs.
“It feels good,” Mario said with a smile. “I now have an appreciation for things I did keep” and “I don’t ever see myself going back the way I was before Marie came into our lives.”
Inspired by the episode, I went from room to room in my apartment, taking inventory of everything I owned. Beginning with clothing — six drawers and two closets worth — I sorted through dresses, jeans, skirts, band t-shirts from various Pearl Jam tours, blouses, polos and robes. Holding each item up, I’d ask myself if it sparked joy in my life. Kondo compares this spark of joy to the feeling you get when you hold a puppy. If wearing an outfit brings this sense of joy, then the outfit stays.
Some of the items I examined included: a pair of Miley Cyrus polyester pants I got at Walmart for a Halloween costume, cocktail dresses from weddings I had attended and never planned on wearing again, an Abercrombie skirt from college that had not been worn in years. Three houndstooth petticoats emerged — news to me.
It was easy to see what did not spark joy in my life, and I was dumbfounded by how helpful such a simple sentence came to be. Just two days prior, watching the first episode of “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” I doubted the veracity of Kondo’s “spark joy” mantra, because it seemed everything I owned did spark some sort of joy in my life. Otherwise why did I still have it?
The truth was that five trash bags worth of clothes, coats and shoes did not spark joy in my life. I had never thought to ask the never-before-worn pair of Tommy Hilfiger jeans my mom had bought me when I was in the eighth grade if they sparked joy in my life; I just always felt guilty over throwing them out. I found that though the jeans no longer sparked joy in my life, they might do so in somebody else’s, and that possibility is what I came to find solace in.
One of my favorite lessons from Kondo were her techniques on folding and her sense of precision. To fold tops, “What you are aiming for is to create a rectangle at the center of the clothes,” she explained to the Friend family who appear in the first episode of “Tidying Up.” This rectangle is then folded in half, and then folded into thirds so that what is left is this small rectangle.
Next is the game changer: these rectangular folded shirts get stored standing up in the drawer so every single one is visible. Stacking shirts, conversely, one on top of the other, limits you from seeing your clothing. Items on top end up getting worn more compared to items at the bottom of the stack.
This same folding technique is applied to pants, socks, scarves, sheets — the list goes on. After I folded my clothing as Kondo instructed and organized them by color and pattern, I found myself randomly opening drawers, taking in the beauty of the organization. I posted pictures of my drawers on Instagram and found that I was not alone.
Grammy-nominated singer songwriter Vanessa Carlton was also touting the KonMari method. She posted a picture of one of her kitchen drawers on her Instagram account (@vanessacarltonactual) with the caption, “put the lids on…genius” along with Marie Kondo’s name.
What was it about Marie Kondo that finally made me organize? I thought back to my childhood and teenage years, recalling the many arguments I’d get into with my mom over my “pigsty of a room.” How was it that a woman I had never met had the ability to change my habits?
Perhaps it has a lot to do with Kondo’s demeanor. Whenever she enters a client’s house in “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” she begins by greeting the home. She sits down in the center of a room with her legs underneath, palms either on her lap or on the ground, then bows. We should acknowledge and thank our homes for protecting us and for the memories they create, she says.
I found her sense of balance and harmony to be comforting. I wanted every part of my apartment to be a reflection of myself, and Kondo was helping me get closer to that.
I continued working through rooms in my apartment: the forgotten area underneath my bed, the kitchen junk drawer, my 1,000-piece supply of arts and crafts, underneath the bathroom kitchen. I bought bins, crates, and containers on sale at Target. Items looked neater in these and were easier to access. After a long day of tidying I finally went to bed.
The next day when I woke up, I went to my bathroom, sat on the aqua blue bath mat, opened the cabinet doors under the sink and just stared. I loved the sight of the organization I had created the day before. Extra toothbrushes, bath bombs, soaps, hair products and makeup were all organized in neat little boxes and trays as if they were being sold at a store.
I told my mom about Marie Kondo and encouraged her to watch her show. Soon, she too was decluttering the house, sending me pictures of her progress along the way. A week later she sent me a photo she snapped at the library. Various books on organizing, including Kondo’s book, were on display at the library’s circulation desk.
Recently, a friend who was rehashing her last relationship with her former partner, alluded to Marie Kondo.
“I should have known the relationship was doomed the second I saw his apartment. I walked into his room and shuddered. He slept on the bottom bunk, and on the top bunk, piles of sheets and books, random musical instruments, a stuffed Cartoon plush from South Park and a dozen dirty shoeboxes,” she rolled her eyes in visible disgust, “Marie Kondo would have fainted!”
At this point, it was quite clear that there was a Marie Kondo cult.
Later in the week, I moved onto the kitchen and placed items in piles based on category. Stacks of plates — all 39 of them — were set on the table. I then counted mugs, 21 in total. The sunflower mug was the only one I used in the mornings. One, two, three, four vintage comic-themed juice glasses I counted, yet I only ever used the Flintstones one with my morning orange juice. An uneven number of forks and knives gave me anxiety.
During this process I decided I no longer wanted plastic in my kitchen and was able to remove six plates, six cups, two bowls, three to-go coffee cups, two spatulas and one ladle. Outside my apartment, I placed these items in a box and scribbled FREE in black sharpie on the side of the box. The next morning, one single green plastic cup remained. It made me feel good knowing my plastic items would not sit in a landfill, but that they were getting use from somebody new.
Kondo made me question my choices. Why did I have three different places for towels? Did one person who never had dinner parties need a set of placemats for 12? Had I forgotten I already had an air mattress before buying the second one? Was 23 bottles of perfume excessive?
At this point I had been tidying for eight and a half hours. It was a quarter to midnight, but I was on a roll. I thought about Mario, those rubber soles, and my 23 perfume bottles turning to alcohol on a shelf out of plain sight in the corner of my bedroom. They belonged someplace that logistically made sense, in the bathroom, noticeable. I imagined myself spritzing my neck and wrists each morning after I applied my mascara. The thought of this perfume not going to waste brought me joy.
The former renter of my apartment had a contractor install floating shelves. On one of these bathroom shelves, I lined the perfume bottles by shape, size and color. I uncapped bottles and let sweet fragrances fill my nose.
Proud of my progress, I invited friends over and showed them all my hard work: t-shirts, jeans, and socks stacked side by side like folders in a filing cabinet.
“Wow, you have a ‘Clueless’ closet,” one friend said, referring to Cher’s closet in the 90s cult flick.
Another asked if I would be willing to schlep to Jersey City and organize her drawers. “I’ll pay you!” she pleaded.
Aside from a more balanced home, Marie Kondo taught me to not be wasteful. Back in January, to celebrate my birthday, I wanted to make a rash purchase on something — I did not know what, just that it was my birthday and I deserved a new outfit.
I walked into a clothing boutique near Canal Street in Manhattan after spotting a cute taupe jumper in the window. I took it off the rack and stared at it. Typically, whenever I was contemplating buying a new garment, I would imagine what events I would potentially wear it to, and, almost instantly, could not imagine my life without it. But this time I did not experience that craving.
Instead I thought about Marie Kondo. Did this jumper spark joy in my life? Well, no; it only reminded me of the three jumpers I already had at home.
I decided in that moment that I did not want my hard-earned money going to clothing, that I would rather spend it on traveling and going out to eat with the people I love. Marie Kondo helped me become a better version of myself. She was a beacon of hope in my cluttered apartment, a voice of reason in the noise.
Melissa Caruso is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics, everything from the product/brand reviews and food to sustainable fashion and travel.