Three Things Marie Kondo Never Says (and Three Things She Does)

With the popularity of her recent Netflix show, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of Marie Kondo. Personally I like her work and agree with many of the things she says, even if my own approach is slightly different. What I find more interesting is the misconceptions people seem to have about her. Here are three things I’ve heard about Marie Kondo that she never actually says, and a few overlooked things I wish people would focus on more.

#1 – You should be getting joy from that hammer if you want to keep it.

This is an argument that tends to go away as soon as actually try her technique. When Marie Kondo tells you to only keep items that spark joy, she’s not talking about the joy you find in a hot fudge sundae or a favorite movie. At least, not exclusively. Joy doesn’t have to be frivolous or impractical. Joy is something you can attach to any item or action. I find this easiest to see in kitchen tools. If you have two can openers, one is usually better than the other. One is easier to use or quicker to clean. One cuts smoother edges or fits better in your cupboard. You’re happier with one than the other. You want to use one more than the other. In other words, there’s more joy in one than the other. If not, you probably have two crummy can openers and it’s time to invest in one you actually want to use (and get rid of the two you hate!). The point is not to find joy in the action of opening cans, but in how this particular tool makes that action more enjoyable.

#2 – Throw unwanted items in the literal trash.

In her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo tends to use the word “discard” as a catch-all term for removing things from your home (or more likely, her translator Cathy Hirano chose this word). As a result, you will often hear commenters lamenting that we shouldn’t be throwing out perfectly good clothes, that we should be donating, recycling, etc. There’s no part of Marie Kondo’s method that insists items need to be thrown in a trash can, simply that if they don’t belong in your life then they shouldn’t be in your house. In fact, in one story she talks to a client about “getting rid of this garbage” in one sentence, and minutes later is talking about “what you throw out or donate.” On the very next page she suggests asking family members ahead of time if there’s anything they need that you might come across in your discarding, so you can set it aside for them. While the language may be a little off-putting, it’s much easier to use universal words like “discard” than specify the unique ways in which each item needs to be removed or disposed of. By all means, recycle and donate whenever you can.

#3 – Burn all your books.

I watched the whole Marie Kondo Netflix show anxiously waiting to see her sort books. I’d heard people were upset over something she’d said, something that implied you should throw unwanted books in the trash or only be allowed to keep a few. It wasn’t clear exactly what she’d said that angered people so much, but clearly it was bad. So I was both surprised and disappointed to find that most episodes skipped books completely, and the ones that included books featured only brief scenes. My guess is that sorting books doesn’t make for very good TV footage. But if she didn’t talk about books much in the show, where did all this Marie Kondo book hate come from?

I did a little digging and as far as I can tell, it started with a small joke on twitter that referenced Kondo, which wasn’t really intended to make fun of her specifically. The joke spiraled, people combined this with their own assumptions about decluttering, and suddenly the conclusion was that Marie Kondo thinks you should only have 30 books and literally burn the rest. However the closet thing I can find to this sentiment was in her book when she’s talking about her personal journey: “I now keep my collection of books to about thirty volumes at any one time.” That’s it. Marie Kondo says she personally owns less than 30 books. She has never suggested that anyone else do the same. In fact, in response to this backlash, she’s suggested that anger over someone else trying to take your books is a sign of what’s important to you, and you should use that knowledge to help you tidy. Here she is explaining this further:

What Marie Kondo Is Secretly Saying

So if those are all things she isn’t saying, what might she be telling people instead? Most people know about her ‘spark joy’ philosophy and specific folding methods, but there are a number of other messages I see coming through in Kondo’s work. Much of it is below the surface, so much so that I can’t say for sure which ones are intentional and which are the unintended consequences of a good method:

#1 – Admit to Your Duplicates

By making you sort an entire category at once, the KonMari method forces you to see and acknowledge your duplicate items. ALL of them. Sometimes we store like-items is different spots throughout the house, either because the preferred storage spaces are full, or because it’s easier to grab things if they are in a more convenient location. By pulling out everything from one category at once, it becomes clear that you don’t need six black tank tops or enough dinnerware for forty people.

#2 – This is Not a Fight

Marie Kondo spent five years as an attendant maiden at a Shinto shrine, and it’s clear when you watch her work that she has reverence for both spaces and the belongings in them. Kondo starts her work at a house by greeting the house in silence. As some of the guests on her show have pointed out, this reminds you that the house is not the enemy. The things are not the enemy either. They have done great things for you in your life, and it’s time to repay the favor by letting them breathe. And sometimes, by letting them go.

#3 – Men and Women Approach Clutter Differently

Gender does not come up much in Kondo’s book, however it was extremely apparent in the first season of her show. The different ways in which men and women are socialized to care about their homes, their stuff, their chores, etc., is on display in many of the episodes. Her Netflix show is a good masterclass on how the burden of the home is often put on women, sometimes without anyone intending to do so. It also highlights how much happier families are when that burden is more evenly distributed, and men and children are allowed to take on more responsibility for their living space. I wasn’t sure how much Marie Kondo was aware of this until I found out that her senior thesis in college was titled, “Tidying up as seen from the perspective of gender.” So yes, she knows.


Let me know in the comments if you have heard any other strange misconceptions about Marie Kondo and the KonMari method, or if you know where I can get a translated copy of her senior thesis.