A mom puts Marie Kondo's cleaning methods to work on her kid's stuff

Mar 8, 2016 at 4:06 p.m. ET
Image: Image Source/Getty Images

The first thing I ever heard about the KonMari method of tidying and the books that explain it — The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy — was that it was radical. After that, most of what I knew about it was what I got from reading snarkticles about how unrealistic it is for actual humans, but especially for moms. I knew immediately that I would like it.

As usual, I was completely right.

I thought some of the concepts were a little goofy, like where Kondo encourages people to "thank" their items for their service. But the overarching concept of KonMari is one of a massive purge — tossing the stuff that doesn't "spark joy." You are left only with what you need and love, simplifying your life and cutting out the need to be constantly straightening up clutter.

The idea of throwing away all of my shit in the name of a magical lifestyle transformation was right up my alley. The only problem was that I've already thrown away all my shit. Apparently I've been KonMari-ing my crap since time immemorial without really knowing it, which means I had only one option: foist this method on my kid.

I figured she would say no immediately, because I always assumed that she liked her room looking like a big, friendly monster walked in and projectile-vomited brightly colored toys into its corners. She surprised me by saying she would do it for $25, which was hard to argue with, because I really wanted to throw out some stuff.

So how did it go? Amazing.

More: 25 rainbow crafts for kids to brighten up any day

A quick and dirty explainer on the KonMari method

The basic gist of KonMari is this: You organize all of your things, all at one time. None of this "start in the kitchen" nonsense. The method is the brainchild of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant whose house is probably a lot cleaner than yours. She's a mom herself, and people are so taken (or so taken aback) by her method that the books she wrote explaining it have been best-sellers in Japan and Europe.

You start by discarding stuff, not arranging it, and the parameter for what stays and what goes is pretty thin. It has to "spark joy," or as I explained to my kid, it has to make you so insanely happy that you can't imagine going a single day without it. You discover which items do by holding them all in your hands.

Finally, you work in four categories: clothing, books and papers, komono (everything else) and sentimental items, in that order. There's a special way to fold and store things that's efficient and relatively aesthetically pleasing, but that's pretty much all there is to it.

A 9-year-old's ideal life

I asked my daughter to tell me what an ideal afternoon in her room would look like. It was the best way I could think to explain Kondo's instruction, to imagine — in specific, concrete detail — what your life will look like once you don't live in something that looks like a 24-hour Walmart floor during a Black Friday sale.

I assumed I'd get blasé nonstarters like "nice" or "clean, I guess." I ended up writing down what she came up with instead, because as she was describing it to me, I realized that up until that point I'd been kind of jokey and dismissive and, in all honesty, underestimating her a little. She was taking this very seriously:

"On my ideal afternoon when my room is clean, I will come home from school and take my shoes off. I will come upstairs to my blue and orange and black bedroom and collapse onto my bed for a quick 20-minute nap. Then I would get up and come ask if you needed help and do chores if you do, and if not, I would go back upstairs for homework at my desk. I could stretch out on the floor to build things or cuddle with Wheatley [our dog] in a sun spot and read. My room would smell like magnolia and clementine, and there would be beautiful pictures and sayings on the wall. You would trust me enough to get me a phone."

Damn, kid.

Also, a far cry from reality. We've been putting off painting or buying furniture for her room, because, well:

Image: Theresa Edwards

Image: Theresa Edwards


Clothing was the easiest by far and the one she enjoyed doing the most. When I told her she had to take everything out of her dresser and closet and spread it out, she started tossing out shirts and underpants and shouting, "You get a piece of clothing! You get a piece of clothing! And you get a piece of clothing! Everyone gets a piece of cloooooooothing!"

Fortunately she picked up the "spark joy" thing right away. You could see it in her face when she tossed aside a puke-green cotton sleeping T-shirt for a black and silver sparkly top.

"I love this one! It makes me feel... powerful. Like I'm the boss of people. Definitely a joy sparker."

The biggest surprise that came from doing her clothing was that she had actually very few things that fit her. She's small for her age, but I was kind of gobsmacked at the amount of clothing with size 6 tags in them. I was worried she would have no clothing at all, but we did all of this before laundry day. By the time she washed and folded her stuff, it was clear she had enough, and that's a good takeaway: If you like it, you wear it. If you wear it, it gets dirty. If you want to know what clothing you like, clean your closet on laundry day.

More: Little kids banned from school pajama day over their outfits

Books and papers

I assumed that books would be the hardest for her, but I was so wrong. She even parted with some of her beloved Garfield comics to make way for Sailor Moon and Doraemon. Since she's an avid reader, I had to know why she didn't keep more. So I asked.

"Books don't spark joy for me, but reading does. I also like going to the library with you, and you can't keep those anyway."

I wish she would have considered that before, because we found two school library books hiding under her bed that were a year past due. She ended up keeping all of the series that she likes, including Goosebumps, Animorphs and Captain Underpants. Useful things like her Minecraft Handbooks made the cut, and so did two books that she had signed in person. Everything else went.

Her papers were easy. She tore down her cheap posters to make room for those sweet inspirational quotes she wanted, and threw the rest away.

Here's her bookcase after the purge:

Image: Theresa Edwards

Next up: The toys

1 of 2