To do the Marie Kondo method is to go a little mad. Not the kind of madness that disconnects you from reality or requires diagnosis, but the kind of madness that finds us signed up for marathons, applying for graduate programs, doing Whole 30, going on back-to-back Tinder dates. It’s the kind of madness that thrusts us forward toward a life that we can only imagine in a blurry, rosy haze.
I think my madness started with a shelf.
On the Netflix show, every family has a drawer, a room, an unfinished basement exemplifying the chaos they hope Marie Kondo will tame. Mine was a shelf in my closet that acted as a catchall for blank file folders, pages filled with daily pages, and books that have never fit on the bookshelf where they belong. Every time I opened my closet, the shelf hissed at me like a trapped possum.
One day, in a kind of black-out state of anxiety, I tore the contents of the shelf out and threw them on the bed like the feral animal whose energy they had seemed to capture. Thus began my epic bout of Konmari-ing.
By now you already know the basics of the Marie Kondo method for decluttering. Her methods and mantras have inspired equal parts reverence and vile. She tells couples (who all seem to be still in the market for a therapist) to keep things that spark joy and give up all the rest. This is the kind of woo-woo shit my little divorcee stoner self can get behind.
The fringe benefits of her decluttering method were especially alluring to me. Clean, organized spaces were nice but making room for my future self? Sold. Konmari felt like a physical manifestation of my Chani Nicholas horoscope. And so I began with the shelf.
The pile of papers and notebooks were filtered, labelled and set aside for future joy-sparking to follow Marie Kondo’s order of operations for living your best life. I piled all the clothes I owned on the space on my bed I’d cleared from the possum-energy-shelf-contents. I held each thing in my hand, tried on a few, felt occasions of joy and thankfulness.
Snow shoes that leak cold snow into my socks? No joy. The winter coat with the cigarette hole from college? No joy. The beanie left over from an ex-boyfriend? No joy. I carried a bag full of winter items to Goodwill, planning to replace them with coats and hats and shoes that did bring me joy within the four months before winter came.
In Konmari PEMDAS, next comes books. I refocused my minds eye on the future self that was coming more into focus. I thought about what role books serve in my life. I held each book in my hands and thought Am I keeping this because it serves me or because I want to prove something? I filled an IKEA bag with neatly lined books and carried them out to my stoop.
After the books, I’d gone completely mad.
I sorted all my komono, papers, and sentimentals. I made file cabinets out of clothes in my drawers, made white space in my file cabinets for new ideas, made room for my future self. Everything I owned became a talisman for this future self, but I needed more.
I surveyed my life like it was a cluttered room. iPhone apps? Konmari’d. Computer files? Konmari’d. Creative projects? Konmari’d. I was swept up by the intoxicating idea that anything could be Konmari’d and that everything that didn’t spark joy should be.
At work the next day between serving mimosas and making “egg whites only” modifications, I told my friends at work about my cleansing.
“I know it sounds excessive, but I just feel like I’m making room for who I want to be. Even with the books, it’s like, why do I want to hold on to copies of Heart of Darkness? To prove I’m well read? To remember my notes from high school? Why? I wanted to make room for the books I want to read now, the stuff I want to know now, the things I want for my future self.”
My coworker, ready for my rant to be over, nodded with a look of solidarity and said “if only we could Konmari this job.”
As I steamed soy milk for some hungover 20-something’s latte, his words rang in my head. Does my future self work brunch shifts at a restaurant? What could I be doing with my time instead? Does this job spark joy?
By the end of the week, I submitted my notice.
The day after my last shift I wrote in a journal, “I am ready to move forward, untethered. I am ready for this next chapter. I’m not afraid of the work.” And for months, I did work.
Small jobs, odd jobs, non-writing jobs trickled in after over a hundred applications and the future life focused into a stunning clear, but every month rent and bills and metro cards were subtracted from my dwindling bank account. I didn’t miss working brunch but I didn’t find joy in the money anxiety that followed. Outside, the weather was turning colder and I still didn’t have a winter coat.
After four months and a drop in temperature, I went back to the job I’d so zealously Konmari’d. I felt nervous about returning, about the possibility that the life-changing magic hadn’t changed me at all.
I returned with little fan-fare and, surprisingly, little remorse. I slipped back into old routines that seemed identical to the ones that four-months ago struck me as threateningly un-joyous. Things in my room, too, returned to a state of semi-organized stuffed. Today, that feral shelf looks almost identical to the way it looked before the Kondoing.
But there was also a subtle newness to these returns. A few former coworkers had gone and new ones worked in their place. The identical grey beanie I bought to replace the ex-boyfriend’s hat smells like my shampoo instead of his. The books on the closet shelf are new ones I still intend to read.
What Marie Kondo doesn’t articulate in her show is that, to do the method right, you kind of have to lose your mind to the prospect that your future self is waiting just beyond this pile of shit. And even if that turns out not to be true, there is a kind of courage in allowing yourself to be swept up in a madness of manifestation.
I believed I could survive without that job that didn’t spark joy, and for a time I did. I believed I could create a professional path that included writing things that mattered, and in certain aspects I have. I believed I was ready to fling myself forward to fulfill a vision of my future self, and in a way I was.
The lesson in the method isn’t so much about tidying up or having a minimalist home or deciding what sparks joy. The lesson in the Marie Kondo method the same one we have to learn over and over again as we mature: everything about our lives will change and we might as well be the ones to change it.
Describing the difference between a bellini and a mimosa still doesn’t bring me joy, but knowing I am capable of Konmari-ing anything does. I’m still saving up tip money for that winter coat and praying that the snow holds off, but I will Konmari all over again just as zealously the next time I feel I need a little madness to mature toward the whatever future self I conjure. Maybe next time I’ll call it the Life-Changing Magic of Growing Up.