Marie Kondo and the Ruthless War on Stuff
JENNY NING WAS self-conscious about being one of Kondo’s only employees who had not yet finished tidying(!). What could Kondo possibly think of an employee representing KonMari Inc. to her American base not having her own house in order? Last year, when Kondo visited San Francisco, she came to Ning’s studio apartment, and Ning said she felt very ashamed when Kondo opened her closet. Kondo would visit San Francisco again to introduce the consultancy and maybe even before, and Ning told me she wanted to tidy and to show Kondo the progress. I asked if I could come along and maybe help Ning complete her tidying.
When Ning was little, she loved to collect things: stamps, stickers, pencils. She was never overwhelmed by her stuff. She thinks of her childhood bedroom as “very happy.” But as she grew into adulthood, she kept buying clothing: far too much of it.
She went to work in finance, but she found the work empty and meaningless. She would come home and find herself overwhelmed by her stuff. So she began searching for “minimalism” on the internet, happening on Pinterest pages of beautiful, empty bathrooms and kitchens, and she began to imagine that it was her stuff that was weighing her down. She read philosophy blogs about materialism and the accumulation of objects. “They just all talked about feeling lighter,” she said. Ning wanted that lightness.
And here, at this moment in the story, Ning began to cry. “I never knew how to get here from there,” she said. She found Kondo’s book, and she felt better immediately, just having read it. She began tidying, and immediately she lost three pounds. She had been trying to lose weight forever, and then suddenly, without effort, three pounds, just gone.
Ning has thrown away her collections. She wiped her tears and leaned in and told me, like a secret, that she has kept one collection: the stickers. She asked me if I wanted to see her album. She pulled it out from under her bed, pages and pages of Snoopy stickers and stickers of frogs and cupcakes and bunnies in raincoats playing in puddles and Easter baskets. She smiled down at them and touched a few while I thumbed through the pages.
A WEEK LATER I was on another assignment, still using the same notebook from the Kondo story. As I flipped through it, passing through the pages of my notes from my time with Ning, I noticed that a tiny blue butterfly sticker had escaped her collection and landed on a page. When I saw the sticker, I froze and put my finger on it. I had had a sticker album, too. It had stickers that smelled like candy canes and purple. It had bubbly heart stickers and star stickers and Mork & Mindy stickers and Peanuts stickers, too.
一周后我有另一项采访任务，用的还是采访近藤这篇文章时用的笔记本。我随手翻页，翻过采访宁的那次所做的笔记。我突然发现，有一片小小的蓝蝴蝶贴纸从她的收藏里跑到了我的本子上。看到它，我不觉怔住了，伸出手指去抚摸它。我自己也有过贴纸簿，里面的贴纸闻上去好像拐棍糖，带着点紫色的味道。那里面还有心形泡泡贴纸、星星贴纸、“默克与明迪”(Mork & Mindy)贴纸和花生漫画贴纸。
I went abroad for a year to Israel after high school. While I was there, the boiler in my house in Brooklyn exploded and a soot fire destroyed all our possessions. “Everyone is OK, but there was a fire,” my father said when I called. I never saw my sticker album again. I never saw anything again. After the place was cleared out, my mother was able to save a few photo albums, because they were closed when the soot invaded the basement and covered and ruined all the surfaces. When I look at the pictures, I don’t ever notice how young or cute my sisters and I were. I look in the background for the items that lie in the incidental path of my mother’s Canon. I try to think of what my life would have been like if I’d returned home to what I left behind, the way my friends were able to return to their homes to what they’d left behind and keep returning, after they finished college and after they got married and after they had kids. I try to think of who I’d be if I weren’t in the habit of looking at my home before I left it each day and mentally preparing myself for the possibility that nothing I owned would be there when I got home that night. I try to know what feelings my lost objects, which I forget more and more as the years pass, would evoke if I could hold them in my hands, KonMari style, like a new kitten. Some would bring joy and some would not, but I’m not someone who thinks that joy is the only valid emotion. I try to remember what I no longer can because, in terms of my possessions, it is as if I was born on my 19th birthday.
The reason I bring this up is to tell you that you could not have any stuff at all, much less too much stuff, and still be totally messed up about it. The reason I tell you this is so that you know that that tiny butterfly sticker has been the same burden to me as any hoarder’s yield. Nostalgia is a beast, and that is either a good reason to KonMari your life, or a terrible one, depending on how you want to live.
THE LAST TIME I saw Marie Kondo, we were in a hotel room in Midtown, a different one, and still the only visible objects in it were that metal suitcase and her husband’s laptop. But one item had been removed from the suitcase: a spray bottle that she keeps around. She sprays it into the air and the scent signals to her that she is finished working for the day, that her obligations, which seem endless lately, are done. I told her that, to my observation, a company trying to grow the way hers was trying to grow seemed at odds with the personality of someone who required such extreme measures for peace in the first place. “I do feel overwhelmed,” she told me, and she gave me one note of a quiet laugh. People demand a lot of her, not really understanding that you don’t go into a business like tidying if you’re able to handle a normal influx of activity and material. Kondo is not part of a breed of alpha-organizers bent on dominating the world, despite her hashtag. She has more in common with her clients. But when it comes to stuff, we are all the same. Once we’ve eliminated that which does not bring us joy and categorized ourselves within an inch of our lives, we’ll find that the person lying beneath all the stuff was still just plain old us. We are all a mess, even when we’re done tidying. At least Kondo knows it. “I was always more comfortable talking to objects than people,” she told me. At that moment, I could tell that if she had her way, I would leave the hotel room and she would spray her spray and be left alone, so she could ask the empty room if she could clean it.