Marie Kondo will not save us
To be clear: I highly recommend Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth doing. Deciding which of your items spark joy, donating possessions that don’t and folding the ones that do into Insta-ready origami is both practical and aesthetically rewarding. Like everything in a KonMari home, the method has its place.
Having used some of her techniques myself, I personally enjoy seeing my little row of regimented knickers every morning – it makes me smile. However, I would argue that using Marie Kondo to solve our chronic “stuff” problem is like putting a Band-Aid on a shark wound… while you’re still in the shark tank. It might make it look okay for a minute, but the problem is far from solved.
The sharks are still circling. We’re going to get bitten again.
Decluttering is just one step in curing our sick relationship with stuff, and it may be the easiest step to tackle. What the Marie Kondo method doesn’t address is the reason our homes became cluttered. And it is a serious problem – hoarding has become increasingly common. Our homes are bursting at the seams causing stress and anxiety and stopping us living the lives we want.
But the truth is that there are only a few ways stuff and clutter come into our lives. Some we have no control over, such as gifts or inheritances, but the vast majority of things that come into our homes we have bought. And 50% of what we buy is on impulse.
And this is where Marie leaves us at sea. You could argue that we should just extend the method used in the home to shopping – asking instead “will it spark joy?”. The trouble with this is two-fold.
Firstly, joy can be a fleeting feeling – a spark of pleasure – meaning that buying something that “sparks joy” now gives no guarantee that this object will still be sparking joy in a few months’ time. This can create an endless cycle of buying and purging where we essentially turn our homes into giant warehouses where “joyful” things pass through for a few months or years and then off to the charity shop they go.
And if you ever get behind on the purging, you’re liable to become re-cluttered and overwhelmed again fairly quickly.
The second problem is that we are very easily manipulated into feeling joyful about objects. The advertising and marketing industry could be called the “joy-sparking industry” - they exist to make us feel good about objects. And for those of us who think we are not affected by advertising, it’s worth noting that advertising works even better on those who think they are not affected. They would not spend billions of dollars on it if it didn’t work.
We’re also constantly bombarded with messages designed to make us feel discontent with items we used to love. What once sparked joy is now dated or a little bit shameful and so must go.
Marie offers a great starting point. Taking stock of the items in your life and learning more about your relationship with them is a crucial step to resetting our relationship with stuff. But KonMari is a clutter cough-drop. Any permanent cure for clutter must include strategies for overcoming marketing manipulation, finding purpose beyond purchasing, empowering ourselves to find our own style beyond trends and making long-term purchasing decisions.
The reason Marie Kondo’s publishers wanted to publish my book is that they could see it was the next step. The second part of the treatment. It offers a ladder to help us climb out of the shark tank.
Tara Button is on a mission to change the way the world shops forever. In 2016 her little idea went viral and BuyMeOnce was born. After working ten years in advertising, she's now using her powers for good rather than evil. Tara lives in Hertfordshire with a murderous cat and a husband she gets to laugh at every day. Her first book A Life Less Throwaway is published with Harper Collins in the UK and Penguin Random House in the USA.
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