The latest Netflix trending feature relates to Japanese tidying guru, Marie Kondo. Admittedly, despite having seen Kondo’s book on bookshelves for years, I knew little to nothing about her approach to tidying. As someone who considers herself a ‘minimalist’, naturally, I was intrigued. Eventually, curiosity got the best of me. I begrudgingly sat through the first episode of Tidying Up, and quickly, though unsurprisingly, realized the superficiality of all the hype. For me, tidying up goes far deeper than just de-cluttering and organizing stuff.
The problem with qualifying items through joy
Marie Kondo’s ‘KonMari Method’ of tidying up your possessions is centred around the idea of joy. In her show, she challenges families to take all their clothing, home items, and even sentimental pieces, and sort through them using the simple measure of asking themselves, “does this spark joy?”. If it does, then it can stay, if not, then you thank the item for its service, and let it go. Of course, there are items in my closet that make me look and feel good, but is that reason enough to keep them?
The dictionary defines joy as “the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying”. I wonder if by crediting the word ‘joy’ to something as trivial as a handbag, are we disparaging the true nature of joy? I don’t mean to be overly cerebral here, but I can’t help but feel as though we’re cheapening joy by associating it something like a pair of jeans. And, what if all 30 pairs of jeans we own make our butts look rounded, suck in our inner thighs, and make our legs look longer? Should we keep all 30 pairs, and continue justifying our over-consumption and hoarding under the guise of joy? In my humble opinion, using joy as a measure of qualifying physical items is a slippery slope. It might temporarily help with tidying up, or de-cluttering, but does little to tamper the deeper problems of over-consumption in North American society.
De-cluttering is just the beginning
The roots of the issue of over-consumption go deep, requiring an all-hands-on-deck lifestyle shift. Getting rid of excess helps, but, things have a tendency to pile up again. Isn’t that the reason so many of us avoid tidying up and organizing in the first place? We figure it’ll never last. A recent piece in the New York Times, highlighted how even in the process of organizing and decluttering, we buy into purchasing more things to keep us organized. Things like plastic containers, drawer organizers, and so on. Organizing and tidying up is a whole industry in itself.
I absolutely believe using Kondo’s tips can help inspire you towards greater, and more meaningful, lasting change. It’s a baby step in the right direction. Yes, cleaning and de-cluttering your home is a good idea. Yes, folding clothes in an orderly way is great. But, once you’ve done that, what’s next? Do you really need a four-bedroom house? When’s the last time you used your basement? Could you sell a car and carpool to work? Is your mortgage preventing you from saving for your kids’ college? When’s the last time you travelled? Or, donated consistently to a charity? These questions are important, and require taking a tough look at your life.
Taking steps towards minimalism
I started listening to The Minimalists’ podcast about a year ago, and became passionate about minimalism. Admittedly, after months of listening to the podcast, I didn’t change much about my lifestyle. Because, the truth is, I already didn’t have much stuff. Or, so I thought. My husband and I live in a one-bedroom apartment in a three-story walk-up building. We pay well-below the average rent in Toronto, and don’t own a car. We each have one small closet for our clothes, and a single dresser for the both of us to share. And, I’ve never been one for knick knacks or keepsakes. Nevertheless, I eventually geared into action, inspired to tidy up and get rid of some of the unobtrusive excess in my place.
Much to my surprise, I managed to fill up several garbage bags full of stuff. My husband and I sorted through random clothing items we no longer cared for, or in our case, no longer fit (ugh!), and donated them. I relinquished the idea of having a home library one day, and restricted myself to only keeping books that, according to Marie Kondo, sparked joy in me. No more piling books on top of one another.
What sparks joy for your whole life?
What resulted from this process of tidying up were even more questions. Ones that forced me to look deeper into what I truly wanted for my life. I began questioning whether purchasing a home of our own was even the best decision for us. Homeownership has always been displayed as the mark of financial success – the pinnacle of putting a stake in the ground for yourself and your family. So, why didn’t I want that anymore?
After spending days de-cluttering and organizing even our small apartment, I shuddered to think what families with small children, and several bedrooms, a basement, and a garage have to go through. Having seen the sheer amount of stuff in the homes of friends and family members, I got a glimpse of everything I no longer wanted. I didn’t want a kids playroom. I didn’t want a living room and a family room. And, most importantly, I didn’t want a 25-year mortgage payment. I began thinking about joy beyond the acquisition of stuff. Asking myself, “what truly brings me joy?”
Rejecting the status quo and re-framing priorities
Most of the answers I landed on related to people and experiences. Despite most people thinking that renting your home is a “waste of money”, I consider it the ability to be flexible. To live free of the pressures of massive debt, home maintenance, and other expenses related to homeownership. And, most importantly, it allows me the chance to move whenever I want, quickly and easily. I also began researching and buying clothing and accessories that not only make me look and feel good, but those that are the best fit for my lifestyle. I didn’t need a bunch of flowery dresses. Instead, I’d invest in good quality jeans, a black blazer, a nice turtle neck sweater, and so on. Items that I could wear for work, play, and everything in between.
My husband and I wanted to be able to travel more, to invest aggressively, and to give more abundantly to the charities that we care about. So, rather than spending on more stuff, we started putting more money into our investing and savings accounts. We also wanted to be able to treat the people in our lives. For us, that meant taking people out for dinners and picking up the tab. Or, simply hosting a party at home. Finding simple ways to give back to people in our lives. We made a conscious effort to take inventory of what we wanted our lives to look like, and we realized we didn’t need to own a home or buy a car to do that. We don’t want stuff, and its associated payments, to hinder the life we truly want to live, and the impact we want to have.
So, find ways to tidy up, simplify, and organize your home. But, take a deeper dive beyond the stuff. Challenge yourself to craft a life that sparks joy not just for yourself, but for others’ as well.