How a little book about tidying up became the bible for modern living
Inspired by meeting queen of minimalism Marie Kondo, our Fashion Editor set about downsizing her closet
The irony was rich. Last week I added yet another two books to the hundreds I already have at home - where the bookshelves groan and my wardrobes and clothes rails are filled with enough garments to dress a small army.
The uncrowned queen of minimalism in the home, Marie Kondo's first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, became a surprise global publishing hit, selling more than five million copies in 40 countries.
Now Kondo has a second anti-mess book to feed our appetite for cleaner homes and decluttered lifestyles. Spark Joy is an illustrated guide to the art of folding and tidying from this 31-year-old Japanese mother of one, who started studying tidying seriously at the age of 15.
Curious about this doll-sized, ever-smiling woman, who Time magazine nominated as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, I had another personal reason for wanting to see Kondo demonstrate her 'KonMari' method of folding and tidying. I'm flirting with the idea of moving house, and downsizing to a smaller property. To date, I've had limited success on a day's tidying because I'm distracted by memorabilia. I sit down to read old magazines and hit a complete roadblock over nostgalic things like old photos.
"Life truly begins only after you have put your house in order," Kondo promises in the preface of her new book.
However, the clearout doesn't mean that you should just chuck indiscriminately.
"Far from it. Only when you know how to choose those things that spark joy can you attain your ideal lifestyle," writes Kondo, who promises that taking good care of your things leads to taking good care of yourself. I'm no stranger to filling skips and I do it with enthusiasm, but I'll confess to having two blind spots - and that's saying adieu to clothes and books.
In a lecture hall off Oxford Street last week, Marie stood in front of her table of white T-shirts, showing us as she systemically folded them, turning in the sides and reducingly them down into smaller shapes until they ended up the size of a neat clutch bag. They sat up independently on their own and ultimately, that's how we should store our clothes, filing them upright in drawers. Easy to spot things and you don't end up churning everything around.
The hall was packed with cleaning enthusiasts, decluttering professionals with business cards and a sprinkling of cynics whose darting eyes spoke volumes about their inability to "spark joy" from a heap of clothes.
For the uninitiated, this is Kondo's buzz phrase for identifying pieces you should keep in your life. Basically, we should surround ourselves with things that do just that - spark joy - and dispense with the rest.
I, for one, was sceptical about whether holding clothes to my heart would trigger the right response. Marie says there are two options - keep or chunk and thoughts of 'it might come in handy' and storing it in a 'maybe ' box is a complete No No.
If I wasn't certain if the piece held close to my heart was sparking joy, I followed Marie's advice, and tried it on, especially the clutch of turquoise dresses that I once loved but haven't brought away on holidays for years. They were sent to the bin without a tear.
There's lots to consider as you explore the merits of the KonMari method and I had mixed results. I faced my demons, grabbed Kondo's book and attempted to spark joy. There was a lot of second-guessing going on and a few moments of tears - from laughter it has to be said - as I followed Kondo's advice to say 'Thank You' and 'Goodbye' to the pieces I was discarding.
She insists that you always remember to fold your socks, never roll them into a ball and never, ever tie them into a knot. That's "cruel. Please put an end to this practice today," she writes.
The Irish could win the Oscars for self doubt and I was riddled with it as I tackled the fashion. Thankfully I didn't have Kondo in person standing over me and I thought of her client who took 15 minutes to decide if the first piece she held sparked joy?
I was shocked by the sheer volume of clothes I was faced with. Where did all those stripey T-shirts come from? I admonished myself for buying so many. Who did I think I was, Coco Chanel?
Waiting for the all important joy factor to well up in my heart, in my head I did the mental arithmetic of how much this item cost, how often I'd worn it and what other outfit it might bring joy to. It was a bit like going to Pilates after a hard day in the office. Everyone else is in 'the zone' and your brain is skipping through shopping lists and trying to tell if that's your car alarm going mad outside.
This wasn't the first time that my head overruled my heart and I fully expect to have to return to this particular edit again.
The key to achieving a connection with your clothes, Kondo writes, is to hold them firmly in both hands, "as if communing with it. Pay close attention to how your body responds and when something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill, as if the cells in your body are slowly rising."
If you're unsure about a piece of clothing, you shouldn't just touch it, you should hug, and wait for your body to respond.
One hour at Kondo's talk in London and nights poring over two of her books in Milan, I returned to Dublin to give KonMari my best shot. I folded, as per instructions, the origami way and stored my 'joyful bounty' with light colours in front, dark colours to the back.
I got into the groove and told pieces destined for the black sacks how much I appreciated their service in my life. I've been known to talk to my plants, when I'm apologising for not watering them sooner. The last time I remember speaking to the contents of my wardrobe was when I discovered a long lost, much-loved earring which had belonged to my late mum. When I reacquainted it with its match, I told it how thrilled I was to have it back. That was a genuine, heart-felt response to something I was thrilled to have back in my life.
Originally, I thought I might start this grand edit of possessions with books and then move onto clothes but Kondo says "No, start with clothes."
I discovered the tops and scarves most important to me, but like old school days, I reckon my assignment report card should read: tried hard but more work needs to be done.
Before I went to Marie's talk, I had my own grand plan of decluttering which centred on bringing a selected edit of my favourite household pieces, books, clothes and 'komono' (what Marie calls the miscellaneous pieces) to their new abode. Then I would be sufficiently freed up by the move to edit the rest at home, distingushing 'stuff' from 'other stuff.'
This is wrong, says Marie, who believes it's better to tidy before you move. She says that if you havent even found a new house yet, then start tidying straight away because "it's the house you live in now that will lead you to your next house."
On reflection, the elephant in my closet are the ten black coats. I'm not sizeist but I'm never giving away my black Peter O'Brien braided grosgrain coat (from his a/wear days), even if it is only a size eight and I haven't fitted into it for two years.
It's a treasure and I love it. Decision is final
Marie Kondo's six steps to declutter your life
The whole approach of holding items to your heart and waiting for that rush of love and emotion may reduce household cynics to laughter, but following the KonMari methodology and its six basic rules will set you on your way to decluttering your home.
1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle and think about what kind of house you want to live in and how you want to live in it.
3. The key to actual success, says Kondo (pictured above), is to finish the discarding process first.
4. One of the most common mistakes people make is to tidy room by room. However Kondo recommends to tidy by category, not location. Using the room-by-room method doesn't work, she says, because people think they have tied up when in fact all they have done is shuffle their possessions around the house from one room to another.
I've definitely been guilty of this in the past so I'm getting rid of my hidey holes, starting with the space under the hall stairs.
With clothes, you should bring every item to one place and make a pile in order to get a picture of the volume you have.
This can be very enlightening. It is reckoned that people have three times the amount of things they think they have.
5. Follow the right order. Kondo recommends you tidying your house in the following order: clothes, books, papers, (miscalleneous) and finally, sentimental items. Start by practising on your clothes and this is a good learning ground on which to hone your skills before you tackle more problematic areas, like sentimental things.
6. Hold the piece in your to discover if it sparks joy. Remember that you are not choosing what to discard, but what to keep. Marie says when you hold something that doesnt' bring you joy, you will notice that your body feels heavier.
Now that you've decided what to keep, you have to follow the correct methods of storage. The four principles of storage are: Fold it, Stand it upright, Store in one spot and Divide your storage space into square compartments.
With clothes, fold both edges of the body of the garment in towards the centre to form a rectangle. After that, you fold the rectangle in half lengthwise and then continue to fold it in half or thirds.