Why Stuff is More Than Stuff

Professional organizer demystifies the KonMari Method

Roberta Anderson can smooth away the clutter. Photographed at Flora (& Forage).
Photo by Colby Rabon.

The “KonMari” craze hit this country when Marie Kondo’s international bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, arrived in US bookstores in 2014. Kondo, a native of Japan, created a household decluttering system that’s less a checklist of tried-and-true techniques and more a philosophy-tinged, methodical approach to organization. With the advent of this year’s Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, there’s hardly anyone who hasn’t heard of the KonMari Method — or has a strong opinion about it.

Kondo’s approach revolves around reviewing one’s possessions, from clothing to kitchen utensils, and determining whether or not they “spark joy” and are truly valued and useful. If a T-shirt, book, or pair of boots fails the test, the item must be pitched or donated. Her followers are zealous, but she has vocal critics, too. How dare Kondo, they grumble, tell them how many books to possess? Why should a stranger get to decide which kinds of keepsakes are important? 

Roberta Anderson is a local professional organizer and Feng Shui consultant who participated in Kondo-led training, which makes her a certified KonMari Guide. She’s also a registered nurse who can cite statistics about clutter’s effect on personal health. Here, she sheds light on why some consider the Method unrealistic for real, messy life — while others view the concept as liberation on a cosmic level.

What is the KonMari Method as you see it?

A way to organize your space that aligns with your intuition. As you review your possessions, you check in with yourself internally about whether each item supports the life you want, or not. You organize by category rather than location. When you look at everything you have in one category, it’s a real eye opener to realize, for example, that you have 42 pair of socks.

There’s also a deeper side to it.

Yes — clutter tends to put us in an excited mental state. It’s the manifestation of things we need to take care of emotionally. Marie spent her teen years working in a Shinto shrine, and that spiritual aspect is part of her approach. An example of this is consciously thanking an item for the service it provided before you let it go.

Can a salt shaker really spark joy?

[Laughs] It should! Sometimes Americans have difficulty with this concept, but I ask clients to pick out their three favorite possessions within five minutes. The feelings that they evoke are what we should strive to feel about even what we consider mundane objects. Joy is subjective. I help clients define joy for themselves before we start the process. 

Is the so-called “Kondo effect” — overwhelmed thrift stores from people unloading their possessions en masse — a real thing?

To some extent. Sometimes people feel guilty about pitching something and donate items that might not be resale-worthy. I encourage clients to donate only things that are in good working order, not anything that’s incomplete, badly worn, or broken. I partner with 12 nonprofits who update me on what they need and don’t need. I also encourage a “conscious consumer” mindset with clients; when buying something new, it should be sturdy enough to last at least a decade. 

So stuff is more than just stuff?

Our “stuff” and our spaces can be triggering on many levels — when there’s too much that’s in disarray, it can cause relationship problems. I also sometimes work with clients who are grieving, and when we work at their pace, they can gain important closure from the decluttering process. 

Roberta Anderson, Asheville. For more information about Anderson’s services, call 508-944-9051 or see organizefengshui.com. 

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