If you have yet to hear about Marie Kondo, then you’ve been hiding under a rock, or more probably, a mountain of clutter. Kondo’s approach to personal organization, the KonMari method, has built her a very tidy international empire. Her take on dealing with your accretion of objects amounts to so much more than closet-cleaning. Approaching a spiritual practice, KonMari promises to clear your physical and mental space, bringing you peace, recharging your creativity, and sparking your joy. But more than that, if you are a struggling, blocked, or just plain lazy writer, KonMari has the power to tidy away your reluctance and have you churning out words faster than a Tokyo bullet train.
Here’s how it works for me. Like gazillions of others, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (13,841 reviews on Amazon). Other hordes happily binge-watch her hit Netflix show. And like my fellow gazillions, I come away filled with zeal. I can so clearly visualize going through every cupboard, drawer, closet and cranny in my house and rendering it into a Zen-like state of order. No longer will I have to dig through wadded socks or rumpled tee shirts to find what that one pink tank top I know I have somewhere. Sifting through the utensil drawer in my kitchen shall nevermore be a frustrating exercise fraught with peril for my searching fingers. Best of all, when regarding my desk, my eyes shall be met not by a dispiriting chaos of random post-its, half-begun plot outlines and outdated To Do lists scribbled on the backs of subscription notices from Writers Digest. Free of self-recrimination, my centered and steady focus will direct itself effortlessly toward lyrical composition.
All that remains is to begin. Kondo strongly recommends that you start with your clothing, and by this she means all of it, every item of apparel. Not just the stuff in your closet or your side of the dresser, but the forgotten garments you have hanging in the guest room or shoved into one of your partner’s lesser-used drawers or stowed in the laundry room, attic, your car, or any other nook into which you’ve squirreled away the jeans that don’t quite fit, those red satin platform sandals that used to make your legs look pretty darn good a few years ago, but that now would be sure to result in a sprained ankle if you tried to leave the house in them.
You are to claw every single garment and shoe and accessory from of its place of hiding and lay it out in the clear and merciless light of day. And then, like a human Sorting Hat, you must examine each article one by one and render your judgement: does it spark your joy? If so, it’s a keeper, but if not — and if you’re like most people, this will be the case with the majority of your wardrobe — you are to thank it for its service. Literally. In the KonMari method, talking to objects, silently or right out loud, is what puts you in the correct relationship with your stuff.
Having chatted up your rejects to let them know you recognize their contributions but that your time with them has come to an end, you toss ’em. Right away. Off to the charity of your choice or out to the trash; the point is, out of your life they go.
The joy-sparking remainders are then put away, Kondo-style. Socks are arranged to lie neatly and in a certain order. Tee shirts are deftly folded so as to “stand up” in your drawer, easily visible and pristinely unwrinkled. Clothes in your newly spacious closet are hung according to a formula that includes a careful gradation of colors from light to dark.
Or is it dark to light? I’d have to check. I never got that far.
The life-changing magic of tidying up, for a writer who tends to procrastinate, is this: as much as you may long for the results of going all KonMari on everything you own, the prospect of actually doing it will cause you to find a reason to put it off. And that reason can’t be something as petty as paying the bills or baking a batch of cookies for the folks at the office (who already complain about the oversupply of treats at work, not that it stops them). No, to resist something as powerful yet daunting as ultimate tidying requires something even more powerful yet daunting.
And that, of course, is writing. The key is to make tidying the only other option.
If your choice is to write or to catch up on email or phone calls or social media, be honest: you can blow all the time you set aside for your novel while scrolling through your Facebook feed. But if your only other option is to face years of questionable shopping decisions, you’ll find you’d much rather glue your @$$ to your writing chair than try to wedge it into those leather pants you bought in a previous, thinner decade. Before you know it, words will be flying across the page.
And here’s the wonderful thing: those words will exist, in a combination all your own and previously unseen in the world. Whereas your sock drawer won’t be any worse off than it already is. The payoff is inarguable: unless your house is on the market, nobody knows or cares what your closet looks like. But they might one day read your article or your blog post or your book. If you’re anything like me, that thought sparks your joy more than a perfectly organized wardrobe ever could.
Speaking of books, Marie Kondo suggests you should have no more than thirty of them in your possession. Talk about a non-starter.