The nation—nay, the world—has been swept up in Marie Kondo’s joy of tidying up.
Me? I get off through good, old fashioned cleaning.
There are many ways that what Kondo, aka KonMari, aka the adorable, elfin Japanese turned Angelino media star, and I do are the same. We’re clean freaks. Organizational obsessives. We both speak to inanimate objects.
But there are essential differences in our methods.
Kondo tidies up and heave hoes. She espouses the belief that if you do it right once, you’ll never have to do it again. She likes wearing white.
I don’t celebrate tidying as a lifestyle. I clean. Daily, and weekly. Not with the intention of tossing or decluttering, or setting my life down a more promising path, but as a way to remain connected to all the belongings I’ve worked so hard to accumulate. Treasures from trips. Staples for comfort. The paperback and coffee table books, colorful pillows and throws, all the things big and small I’ve chosen to surround myself with and which spark my joy. Hey— that’s her biz!
And indeed it is her business. Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Upis a mega best-seller in Japan, Europe and the States. That, combined with her three other books, have collectively sold tens of millions of copies. Her organizing consulting company, KonMari Consultants, claims thousands of disciples based on the simple mission of choosing joy over clutter. And let’s not forget the Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo. She’s not just sparking joy, she’s raking in dough.
If only I had been more deliberate about my method.
I grew up a latchkey kid, helping my single mom with designated chores. Buffing the coffee table with Pledge and folding towels neatly into thirds gave me purpose. I felt masterful when the paisley couch cushions were neatly aligned and accomplished when the dishwasher was newly emptied. So good was this satisfaction, I even practiced my budding talents outside our home.
Sleepovers at my best friend’s entailed me pulling out her not-at-all-folded shaker-knit sweaters and Duran Duran notebooks and posters indiscriminately shoved in her closet so I could neatly fold and replace them, giving John, Nick and Simon a little respect. I also took long walks along our town’s wooded streets – not to get to clear my head but to clean the bottles, bags and butts discarded from all those assholes who throw garbage out their car windows.
Starting in college, I flirted with cleaning as a profession. Instead of a normal campus job like working at the library or cafeteria, I opted to clean some bachelor’s ramshackle house. And when I was in my twenties, I accepted a generous wad of cash every other week from my long-term boyfriend because he paid me to clean his apartment. Which was my idea.
I know these are all things that would embarrass others. And while I’ve never hidden the facts of my cleaning resume, it’s not like I’ve ever really talked about them either. Cleaning is a rather banal subject—both in practice and as a topic of conversation. But with everyone waxing euphoric about purging and cleaning for death (more on that in a minute), now that it’s suddenly in vogue to organize and curate (#mykonmari), I have come to accept that, yes, I have a thing about cleaning.
Cleaning is productive. It’s calming. It burns calories while providing a great excuse to catch up on podcasts. It’s not a lifestyle or a phenomenon, nothing to be precious about. It’s a regular duty that lets you be the boss and employee at the same time. And, if you have the right attitude about it, it’s a thrilling examination of your life.
We live in an era when 47% of households have used or would consider a housekeeper. Not me.
It’s partly because I’m cheap—I’d rather take the average $300 spent on a housekeeper every month and put it towards buying something from The Row (I’m a strange kind of cheap). But it’s also an opportunity to reflect. I get to pick up books and jewelry and dishes and think about where they came from, how old I was when I got them, where I was living or traveling at the time, and what drew me to them.
I see a framed photo of my 15-year-old niece who used to hug me fiercely and now responds to me in one-word texts. The sterling trivet engraved with my divorced parents’ initials. When I dust my broken-and-glued-together-again Aegean ceramics, I remember my awkward trip to the Turkish baths during my junior year abroad and when I vacuum my red Persian rug purchased on eBay in the late 90s, I marvel at how crazy online shopping was once considered. I don’t shake or tap or wake these things up. I’m just dusting, vacuuming and arranging things just so—and scratching a really satisfying emotional itch.
My home isn’t even free of clutter—I have atrocious stacks of papers on my desk, an unwarranted number of empty chocolate and macaron boxes, and bins of plastic toddler toys in every room. My aim isn’t to strip it all out. My cleaning is not intended as a makeover. It’s nice that there’s a marked before and after difference and that I can bask in shiny surfaces and crumb-free floors in the immediate aftermath, but I’m not on a quest for radical transformation. I just don’t see the point in having a nice home, filled with nice things, if you never see them, touch them, or appreciate them.
I love my shit. I want it in my home and my life. So instead of getting rid of it, I’ll keep obsessively cleaning it.