If you are passionate about organization you probably already have an opinion on Marie Kondo and her controversial approach to clutter. But she hasn’t been on the scene for very long. The organizing consultant first became a sensation in the West after The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying became a bestseller in 2014.
A rockstar of the professional organizing world, Kondo’s celebrity is almost as well-known as her organizational technique. She has been the center for discussion on countless blogs, featured on Rachael Ray, and now has her own television show called Tidy Up with KonMari! which follows the consultant as she rescues American families from the trappings of clutter. She has also acquired her own dedicated fan base along the way.
Are you prepared to be KonMari’d? Whether you love it or hate it, we’ve broken down the basics of the KonMari method. You may just be surprised by some of the ways Kondo’s polemical technique may change your approach to organization.
1. Get at the root of clutter
So why is the KonMari method so groundbreaking? To begin, it’s really more of a lifestyle. Kondo argues that we should only hold onto things that “spark joy.” While this may seem like a vague and new-agey tagline, Kondo’s advice is actually quite sound.
Having a client really think about the emotional connection they have to their belongings is an important part of learning how to declutter. Although you may not ask your client to analyze every single object in order to best consider its value, taking the time to consider the psychology of clutter is worthwhile. For example, if a client is having a hard time beginning the organizational process, you may ask: How does this pile of old magazines make you feel? Does it bring you down to see them? Or do you get excited by the fact that you may be able to read them again?
It may sound basic, but pointing out the correlation between quality of life and clutter may be an eye-opener for clients new to the decluttering process.
2. Be flexible in your approach
If the organizational attitude Kondo adopts sounds like it veers more toward the feng shui way of looking at objects and space, that’s because it does. Kondo integrates principles of this Eastern philosophy into her own practice as a way to cultivate the link between clarity and clutter.
But just as there is often a misconception about the rigidity of feng shui, the KonMarie method is also unfairly dismissed for being too extreme. Critics claim that its minimalist attitude toward clutter is unrealistic.
However, the process is meant to be attainable. With lifestyle changes, Kondo believes that everyone can live a clutter free life. Which means there is actually a lot of room for flexibility in the KonMari method if you adapt it the right way. According to her sage philosophy, if your client really loves an old pair of shoes, you don’t need to tear your client away from them. As long as they bring joy, belongings are A-okay to keep. For skeptics who say that a garbage can will never bring joy to anyone, Kondo suggests changing the way clients perceive their relation to an object. The garbage can, for example, provides a necessary function and should be valued for that reason.
3. Add a sense of urgency to decluttering
A hotly-contested component of the KonMari method is the amount of time (or lack thereof) that Kondo suggests the decluttering process should take. The logic of her “once in a lifetime” approach to organization means overhauling a space from the bottom-up regardless of the time it takes. But since decluttering is supposed to be an inspired lifestyle shift, this also suggests the process should have a definite beginning and end.
It’s true the effort to make progress quickly may actually be detrimental to your client. Professional organizers realize that many times organizational vigor will fizzle out. Your client will be left with piles of clutter—possibly along with the added sense of failure.
Crucially, however, Kondo makes the distinction between “purging” vs “discarding”. She recommends giving a client the time it takes to say goodbye to an item. This may seem like a counterintuitive approach. The flipside is that being more sensitive to the emotional process of decluttering will remove the pressure of a tight timeframe. A more tolerant method will motivate your clients to move forward without hinging upon a restrictive process.
4. Be smarter with space
Minimalism creates another false opposition between the KonMari method and more conventional approaches to organization. Professional organizers know that rushing out to buy too many bins and totes before beginning to declutter can actually lead to more chaos. So with that in mind, the KonMari method absolves a client of the need for pricey storage systems. Once again, organization is all in your clients’ hands!
Instead she suggests maximizing space with vertical stacking. She also proposes sorting by color. These space-saving strategies are all commonsense to the everyday organizer. That being said, the KonMari method also puts forth some more dubious techniques. For example, her method proposes that belongings should be sorted by category and not according to room.
While some of her techniques may need adapting to fit the need of your client, other kernels of KonMarie wisdom make perfect sense: for example, designing storage systems that don’t simply hide clutter, folding “small items” for maximized space, and making the most of small containers for organizing every nook and cranny.
5. Stay clear of impractical coaching
Another perk of approaching clutter in terms of a lifestyle overhaul also means that the organizational process can truly become a transformative experience for your client. Because the KonMari method emphasizes a very personal response to belongings, the onus of decluttering will be placed on them. So unless your client falls on a hoarding spectrum, this means there will be a lot less hand-holding as your client learns to make decluttering decisions that best serve their lifestyle.
Imparting the basic tenets of decluttering will allow your clients to see that a dramatic change is completely within reach; you’ll be looked at as more of an organizational guide than a spare set of hands hired to tidy a space.
However, in your endeavors to become a professional organizer more in-tune with the holistic dimensions of clutter, be wary of a few major pitfalls of the KonMari method:
- Don’t adopt an all or nothing attitude. Progress is progress, and professional organizing leaves no room for judgment.
- Streamline the KonMari approach—a copy of Kondo’s text might introduce your client to a new organizational philosophy but don’t let them become hung up on how tiny they can fold a t-shirt.
- Set realistic goals and be present. Your clients will need more assistance than simply being told to keep what they love.
- Don’t become preachy. More than anything your client needs a pro who will slowly guide them toward organization. Make the process interactive and engaging—not a lecture.