This Netflix show on tidying up has changed my life, and I began as a skeptic.

How I used Marie Kondos methods in my home An Indian mom of two writesSaraswati Datar
Flix Netflix Thursday, February 07, 2019 - 15:15
Written by  Saraswati Datar

It was a truth I assumed was universally accepted, that people who found tidying up fun must be in want of a life. Until I saw Tidying up with Marie Kondo, now streaming on Netflix, and addressing clutter around the world.

On the show, Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant and author of four books including the immensely popular The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, visits homes of families across America who are at different life stages and clutter crises. She then teaches the family or individual techniques from her now famous KonMari method of tidying and organising.

While most of us view tidying as a process of throwing unwanted stuff out, Kondo views it as an opportunity to look at your belongings with gratitude and thankfulness, only choosing to keep items that ‘spark joy’ or in other words are truly meaningful to the owner. Approaching belongings in categories instead of rooms, her order of importance while working with a family is clothes, books, documents, komono (miscellaneous items) and sentimental items.

Elder daughter's messy pile

I had first heard about Kondo in the Ali Wong special, Baby Cobra, but never bothered to find out more until last December. Full term pregnant and feeling a strong nesting instinct, I watched piles of clutter disappear and went from being cynical to convinced. The makers claim the show is unscripted, so all interaction between Kondo and the home owners is real, sometimes awkward but always heartfelt. Dressed in pristine white sweaters, skirts and leggings, with shiny hair that is never out of place, Kondo appears like a good tidying fairy who never seems daunted no matter how large the piles of clothes, or how cluttered the rooms. I could almost imagine soft feathered wings and a halo around her head by the time I saw a third episode in the series, possibly the time I decided I needed to give her philosophy a try.

Elder daughter's clothes in uncategorised boxes

One major problem area for me has always been my closet. My clothes usually sit in piles in my cupboard, till they eventually collapse. While I don’t have a dresser and I was too large and exhausted to find boxes at that point, I did make a pile of all my clothes, picked up each item and asked myself if it sparked joy for me anymore. Turns out a medium size suitcase of clothes didn’t. I was just holding on to them because they weren’t torn or damaged or I believed that I could eventually wear them. My clothes are still not folded the way Kondo suggests (that’s next on my agenda) but at least I only have what I really need.

Elder daughter's clothes arranged in categorised, easy to access rows

After my second child was born three weeks ago, and I had some time on hand between feeds, I decided to apply Kondo’s closet mantras to both my daughters’ clothes. I first tackled my elder daughter’s cupboard where I saw piles of disorganized clothes looking quite like my own cupboard. Only they were piles in Ikea storage boxes. Using Kondo’s folding techniques, I separated her clothes into fancy T shirts, everyday frocks and T shirts and bottoms. One box now holds her precious socks while other party frocks and winter wear went on to hangers. My newborn’s onesies have also been folded and arranged, while clothes in the next size have been folded and kept in an extra drawer of my dressing table chest of drawers.

Elder daughter's clothes arranged in categorised, easy to access rows

I realised that with kids clothing, or perhaps because mine are still really small, the decision was based less on sparking joy and more on whether clothes could be reused since I have two girls. Either way, it helped to downsize my four-year old’s disorganised cupboard and now, only clothes she fits into are arranged such that she can see each item clearly. Because she chooses what she wears every day, she can just peek into a box and pick up a t shirt, shorts, and socks since she is appalled by the idea of walking barefoot.

Elder daughter’s clothes with pile at back for storage till her younger sister can use them

Kondo’s philosophy is inspired from the Shinto religion of Japan that believes that all objects and places have a divine energy or spirit (kami). Margret Dilloway in her article on Kondo’s Shinto inspired cleaning philosophy writes, "Treasuring what you have; treating the objects you own as not disposable, but valuable, no matter their actual monetary worth; and creating displays so you can value each individual object are all essentially Shinto ways of living." 

Clothes for the newborn in the next two sizes, folded neatly in rows

What I personally liked about Kondo’s techniques was that there was no cleaning guru playing tough and making you feel terrible about your home and yourself. Instead, there are techniques to rearrange your belongings, and modify your day to day approach on how to store and use items that bring you joy.

Kondo emphasises on visualising what you would like your home and by extension state of mind to feel like, and then choose items that will tie in with that vision. She allows the owner to make the choices while she just coos the rules and keeps the process on track with an unrelenting smile and quick cleaning tricks. It’s not an easy process, and there is time to be invested, but as I have now understood, there is a certain life changing magic to it.

All images courtesy: Saraswati Datar