Emily Haynes McGee is a sign language interpreter, crafter, artist, and dabbler. She believes in happiness and creative expression. She is learning to feel what sparks joy. Sometimes, she forgets about logic.Her brain spills over into embleyandyewbert.com.
By now you may have heard of Konmari, the get-your-shiz-in-order method introduced to the world by Marie Kondo’s book, The book has become an international bestseller, and the internet is awash with study guides, checklists, testimonials, and Pinterest boards. Kondo’s sock-rolling philosophy has been dissected at length, and she’s got a clear stance on that unread book that’s been sitting on your shelf for years (Spoiler alert: you’re not going to read it.). In terms of process, there just isn’t much left to say.
But Konmari is about so much more.
“Putting your house in order is the magic that creates a vibrant and happy life.” -Marie Kondo
For the uninitiated, Konmari is a way to declutter and organize your belongings. It’s about letting go of the things that don’t “spark joy”: the jeans that don’t fit right, the air mattress with a hole in it, the birthday gift that fell flat. It’s an ordered, methodical process of sorting things one category at a time—clothes, books, papers—and culling the things that don’t speak to your heart. It’s at times uncomfortably subjective (How do I know if this sparks joy?), and at times weirdly specific (Tops before pants; skin care
Throughout category and instruction, though, the focus is unrelentingly on happiness. And that’s where the magic comes in.
When I first learned about Konmari (through Adrienne and Sarah Fought’s beautiful articles here) I was intrigued but not convinced. I am and have always been the organizing type. My Fisher-Price kitchen was spotless. I alphabetized my Disney movies. I am what my mom calls “neurotic.” I’d been purging belongings at varsity level for decades. But something about this felt different. Before I had even gotten to pajamas, I started to understand the distinction between cleaning and Konmari-ing.
While other organizational tools emphasize need and use (Haven’t touched it in six months? Siyonara.), Konmari teaches you to listen to yourself. To trust yourself. To find and honor what makes you tick. There’s no prescription, no judgment. Anything can spark joy for someone; the trick is learning, finding, knowing what sparks it for you.
On the surface, Konmari happens in a whirlwind: an afternoon, a late night, nap times, holidays. But the true depth of Konmari seeps into your life slowly. Kondo orders her categories, purposefully starting with those that are easier to complete: clothes, books, papers. In making the choice to keep that pair of polka dotted socks and ditch the gray ones with the hole, you are telling yourself that you are worthy of happiness. That life is too short to be surrounded by things that bog you down. That following joy is important.
When you spend hours asking yourself if material items bring you joy, it’s hard not to apply this concept to other parts of your life.
In the month that’s followed that initial foray, I have continued to follow the Konmari steps. I’ve donated twelve bags of clothing and four boxes of books; I’ve recycled more than could fit in my car at one go; I’ve made a yard sale pile the size of Montana. More than that, though, I’ve begun to examine my work, my relationships, and how I spend my time.
“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”- Marie Kondo
As a freelancer, my world can be uncertain. Since beginning this process, I’ve seen fear of that uncertainty reflected in my possessions. So much of what I held close was “just in case”—squirreled away for some future tragedy, some perilous scenario in which packing peanuts save the day. Keeping these items nearby, though, has only perpetuated worry, worry that has overshadowed the sheer abundance that surrounds me.
Konmari is a process. A humbling, gratitude-inducing, earth-shaking process. It’s a process that’s changed and changing me. I am happier, more energetic, stronger, more confident. Slowly, the “just in case” items are leaving my home and my consciousness. Some spaces are now filled with things that fill me—fresh flowers, art, music—and some spaces are empty, making room for mindfulness and making space for joy.
I’ve been asked by a few people whether or not reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up itself is necessary. While there are plenty of articles and checklists to guide you, I would recommend reading the book itself. Most people I have talked to have gotten completely different things from Kondo’s writing. In skipping the book, you forgo the opportunity to see what it means for you. My local library had a copy of the book; reading it shouldn’t necessarily set you back in dollars or shelf space.