Does Marie Kondo hold the secret to a clutter-free life?

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Nicole Elphick

Organisation expert and bestselling author, Marie Kondo.

Organisation expert and bestselling author, Marie Kondo.

Minimalism is having a moment. Fashion blogs are filled with people taking on the '30x30 challenge' (to only wear 30 pieces of clothing over 30 days) and one only needs a quick scroll through Instagram to see interiors so untouched by clutter that it's hard to believe human beings actually reside in them.

It's in this anti-stuff mindset that Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has turned into a publishing phenomenon. In the title, the 30-year-old Japanese organisation expert explains what she calls her 'KonMari' method of decluttering. After being released in Japan in 2011, then America and the UK in 2014, the book has gone on to sell more than two million copies globally. The bestseller has won Kondo an army of fans for her infectious belief that an ordered house can lead to a clearer mind and a better life. (Actor Jamie Lee Curtis has even said she wants a tattoo based on the book's maxims.)

Like many fellow pack rats, my life is ill-suited to minimalism. I can easily imagine my multitude of books toppling over to pin me down as I'm slowly devoured by a horde of cockroaches and daddy longlegs eager to avenge their fallen brethren. So it was with gusto that I tried the book's techniques to see if it contained any wisdom that could potentially help me avoid ending up on a future episode of Hoarders. I'm only partway through my Kondo-led journey (she advises it will take around six months), but I've already consigned to the charity shop bags full of clothes and hundreds of books. I might have woken up with burning biceps the next day, but upon following her advice I felt little regret over the decimation of my wardrobe and bookshelves.

Publishing phenomenon: <i>The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying</i>, by Marie Kondo (Random House)

Publishing phenomenon: The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying, by Marie Kondo (Random House)

The main revelations in the book are less to do with what Western audiences would consider tidying up and more to do with discarding the mountains of detritus that seem to accumulate around our homes like dust on a venetian blind. Kondo's very simple rule is that every item we own should 'spark joy', so if you hold an object in your hand and it doesn't fill you with happiness, out it goes.

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While this criterion might sound a bit airy-fairy, it's surprisingly effective. Between the shoes that you had always planned to wear, the novel that you intended to read, the gift that wasn't something you'd ever buy for yourself, it's surprising how much of our belongings are made up of objects we don't particularly care for. Kondo really cuts to the core of how much guilt and obligation can be bound up with our possessions, writing how the process of selecting what to keep "forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past".

While her tips for getting rid of stuff are spot on, her obsession with folding is a bit more baffling. Kondo believes one should never pile items, instead everything should be stored vertically. However, given the simple fact of gravity, to achieve this feat requires some remarkable organisational origami to pack away clothes. Her most ardent online fans have mastered the skill, sharing snaps of their Kondo-ised apparel. But while it might make a nice Pinterest picture, it's less practical in reality as you need to have your clothing drawer filled to the exact right amount. Too little and I found the pieces flop over, too much and you are jamming things in with brute force.

The unusual thing about Kondo, and what I believe is the reason for her success, is that she clearly is not a member of the anti-stuff brigade. In fact, she positively anthropomorphises objects, recommending you thank each one for their service before getting rid of them. She specifically states that if you are shoe lover, it's fine to have 100 pairs so long as you can genuinely say each and every one 'sparks joy'.

However, she does believe that "human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time", hence the need to not waste your space on anything that doesn't make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. And as for her own book? With her less is more approach, Kondo even recommends readers feel free to discard it once they've learned all they can from it.