Monday, April 15, 2019

The Kondo Craze

Kondo (近藤、pronounced like cone-dough) is a rather common name in Japan, but thanks to Marie (麻理恵, pronounced in Japanese like mah-rhee-eh) it has become a household name (and even a verb!) in the U.S. Let’s think a bit about what some call “the Kondo craze.”

Kondo’s Book                                                                                  
As you probably know, Marie Kondo is the author of a bestselling book: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. In 2011 it was published in Japanese and the English translation was issued three years later.
Beginning in January, Kondo also hosted “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo,” a reality television series developed for Netflix. The eight episodes showed Marie visiting families to help them organize and tidy up their homes.
Without question, many USAmericans need help/advice in decluttering their homes--and their lives. Much of what Kondo suggests in her KonMari method, which is explained on her website (here), is good, helpful advice.
Giving that advice has become lucrative for her. In helping people tidy up, Kondo and her husband have acquired a tidy fortune. They are said to be now worth $8,000,000.
Kondo’s Point
In most cases, tidying up one’s home means getting rid of a lot of “stuff.” Most people, here and in Japan, have far more than they need--or have room to store or display in a comfortable manner.
A key point of the KonMari method is not deciding what to discard but rather in deciding what to keep. The “selection criterion” for the latter is this: “does it spark joy?”
In the English translation of her book, Kondo writes that “the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: ‘Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it” (p. 41, bolding in original.)
It is interesting how “joy” is used in the English translation, but the Japanese book uses the word tokimeku which means to “flutter” or “sparkle.” In consulting with my Japanese daughter-in-law, I decided that a literal translation of the Japanese title would be something like The Magic of Tidying Up that Makes Life Sparkle.
The English translation, though, is about keeping only those things that “spark joy.” That emphasis raises some questions. 
Questioning Kondo
Why should material things spark joy (or cause our lives to sparkle)? I can think of two reasons: because they are decidedly beautiful or because they have deep sentimental value.
But can anyone live with only possessions that are beautiful and sentimental? Probably not--so there goes Kondo’s key criterion.
Kondo suggests starting decluttering by disposing of unnecessary clothing. Admittedly, probably all of us have some wearing apparel we like more than others. But should we, can we, daily wear only those clothes that “spark joy”?
It is suggested that the KonMari method is opposed to consumerism--and it may inspire some people to buy less. But for many people, discarding things that don’t spark joy probably means that when they go shopping again, they will see new things that do spark joy and buy them.
Consequently, as a January 2019 article in The Guardian points out, “Some of her clients may just make space for fresh purchases in an endless binge-purge cycle.”
In spite of my questions, though, I do like Kondo’s emphasis in the last paragraph of her book: “As for you, pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.
Exactly. It is living to fulfill a mission rather than having things that produce real joy.


  1. Thanks Leroy for this timely article.
    Now that my Dear wife is in an Alzheimer's Memory Care facility and can No longer enjoy things with 'joy' anymore I am in the process of getting rid of a lot of our'stuff'.
    First, I am sending things to our friend's&family who I think might enjoy them and then to my church and Salvation Army.
    I wish I would have received your always excellent Blog before I started sending and Giving things to others.
    I think this is also the Christian thing to do as told to us in Acts 20:35.
    John(Tim) Carr

    1. Thanks, John Tim, for reading and responding to this morning's article.

      I know it is difficult to go through the process of getting rid of "stuff" as you are doing, but I think you are doing it in an admirable way.

      Although it is not easy to do, I encourage you (as I encouraged all us us previously), to focus on giving thanks for what was rather than grieving for what is no more.

  2. Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson, whose wife died in May of last year, comments,

    "Helpful, Leroy! I’m trying to declutter in preparation for selling my house. I’ve made quite a lot of progress. It' amazing how much “stuff” a family accumulates."

    1. Thanks, Dr. Hinson. I'm glad you found the article helpful as you are in the midst of the difficult process of giving away and discarding much that has been meaningful to you in the past. I am happy to hear that you have made quite a lot of progress, and I trust you will have the strength and patience necessary to complete the task.

  3. My pastor recently mentioned this book in his sermon. The piles of ice and snow in his yard no longer sparked joy, and he was eager to get rid of them. Decorations in our homes might well be subject to "spark joy" evaluation, but what about all the tools from cooking spoons to lawn mowers? I suspect we could all go through our homes and find several reasons for various things being there. Perhaps we could use use "spark joy" as a first level test. If an object is there but not sparking joy, then we could ask ourselves, why is it here?

    I have great sympathy for the goal of the book, as my house has been the site of periodic purges, trying to tame the stuff run wild in it. My wife regularly suggests it is time for another purge. Perhaps sometime we could try a "spark joy" purge!

  4. Probably time to clean out again. But I doubt it will be based on feelings.

    I have purged a couple of times in the past, only to realized a couple of days later that I needed something.

  5. In addition to my boyhood friend John Tim and Dr. Hinson, whose comments appear above, two other Thinking Friends, Truett Baker in Arizona and Bob Perry in Springfield (Mo.), wrote about their experience with downsizing. I appreciate their reading the blog article and responding to it.