Can a person be both a lifelong hoarder and a Marie Kondo fan? Alex Casey tries, and cries.
You can’t know what sparks joy until you’ve known what sparks abject misery. For me, it was when I saw that my partner no longer wanted his enormous orange puffer jacket. Akin to the suit that Maggie wears to the snow in The Simpsons, or something that Drake would wear on a trip to Pita Pit, I wore that big stupid ballooning jacket home after our first date. I remember sitting in the Uber and chuckling to myself, a giddy, smug satsuma.
Not to worry, because five years later that tangerine glow has well and truly worn off and the jacket is being thanked and moved on because it doesn’t spark joy.
When I saw the orange sleeve peeking through the discard pile, I immediately fell to my knees, cradling the jacket, and the beanie, and the novelty ties, and all the mottled singlets left for dead. “Are you crying?” he asked. “No, I’m laughing” I shrieked, spittle and tears running down my chin. I was, frankly, hysterical. It felt like the very fabric of our relationship, our story, our lives, was being torn apart, leaving a gaping puffer jacket-shaped hole.
Hello, I’m the girl Marie Kondo warned you about.
A chronic hoarder and a categorically messy pup, I first reached out to world-renowned professional tidier Marie Kondo in 2017, long before her Netflix show, feverishly ploughing through The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up during a trip to Europe. It’s a very specific type of stress to be halfway through your hour wait time for Space Mountain in EuroDisney, and suddenly start to hear your balled up socks screaming in pain all the way from New Zealand. The elastic! It is strained! I need to free them. I need to fold them. I need to thank them.
When I got home, I didn’t do any discarding, folding, or thanking. Instead, I returned to a heaving hovel filled with trinkets, unpacked all my new EuroDisney trinkets, and wallowed in my pit of trinkets. Lovely, lovely, life-affirming, identity-holding, dust-gathering trinkets.
I returned to Kondo’s book this summer after gifting it to my mum for Christmas. Say what you will about Kondo, but her instant impact on people is palpable. Within hours of opening the book, my mother was folding up her scabby beach towels vertically for no reason and getting agitated at a pottle of my stepdad’s hair gel on the bookshelf. This is a woman who owns several hundred pieces of Noddy memorabilia, and when asked if she had a pair of plastic boobs I could borrow, came back with two options.
Because Kondo, god love her, makes it all seem so very simple. Just break up your things into four categories: clothes, books, komono (miscellaneous) and sentimental items. Work through them, in that order, holding each item and asking yourself if it sparks joy (or if you use it – there’s nothing joyful about a pastry brush). With clothing, it worked a treat. My House of Cards hoodie went in the opshop bag, as did my Late Night with David Letterman t-shirt, as did every piece of clothing I own with a figurehead for sexual misconduct emblazoned on it.
The crucial mistake I made, the one that Kondo repeatedly warns against, is to spy on your beloveds when they are doing their tidying. That’s what got me into the aforementioned situation where I was dabbing my tears on a novelty cat tie and holding a candlelit vigil for an old Snoopy sock. Yes, they were gifts for my love, my treasure, my new worst enemy, but they served their time. They spread joy, they cushioned feet, they adorned necks. Now it is time for them to move on. Thank u, next. I have no tears left to cry, cat tie.
If you thought mine was a dramatic reaction to tidying, you should hear the people who are steaming mad about the idea of discarding books. “That sounds like what Hitler did,” said our holiday neighbour, sternly. She was several Lindauers deep already, there was no point explaining that donating some books to an opshop and literally being Adolf Hitler are two very different things. Just the other day on everyone’s favourite book, the internet, The Guardian’s Anakana Schofield called Kondo’s book philosophy “deeply problematic”.
“Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure,” she explained. “Art should also challenge and perturb us.”
I agree. It is challenging and perturbing that I own not one, but three different copies of The Handmaid’s Tale. Nobody needs two copies of Julie & Julia. Pulling every book off the shelf proved to be quite freeing, an opportunity to let go of weird dusty pages that I once assumed were crucial to my being. Turns out I can still like movies without having ever finished Easy Rider, Raging Bulls. I can still navigate Scotland without a large fold-out road map from 1998. I can still keep my New Zealand passport without the Lord of the Rings Location Guide.
It’s the final two categories – komono and sentimental items – that I am now putting off. I wish to be buried with my pop culture trinkets like a pharaoh, a crown of Twilight and Austin Powers dolls around my skull, my corpse resting on a complete, never-used set of Spice Girls handkerchiefs. Do my two industrial bins of ET collectibles bring me joy? Is ‘joy’ the ever-dimming hope that in 30-40 years I might be able to sell hundreds of small plastic aliens for $20-$30 on the internet? What if we don’t even have a planet in 30-40 years? The world is burning and it’s mine and the ETs’ fault.
independent journalism happen!Find Out More
As someone who keeps absolutely every relic from every moment, sentimental items are the ones that get me the most. A few years ago, following the tragic death of a high school friend, I returned to my huge box of old papers in my grief and found notes and doodles from our French class together. That’s the crushing thing that I struggle to get past – how are we ever to know when a 10 year old sketch of a Jigglypuff with vampire fangs might suddenly become a treasured connection to a person who suddenly, shockingly, isn’t alive anymore?
Okay yes, that empty bag of lollies from 2006 should probably go. But Geraldine and I had such a nice time enjoying those jubes in the caravan that summer!!!!!!! You don’t know Kondo, you weren’t there!!!!
I believe that I can do it, because I have to do it. I know that it’s not normal to hold onto every piece of rubbish from every concert you’ve ever been to (although the butterfly confetti from Coldplay’s 2009 concert still makes for lovely craft fodder). But it’s mostly because Kondo insists that I am capable of it – even if she has also said some very bonkers things. Her book came very close to quashing my joy when she advised me that if I finally tidy my house properly my eyes will sparkle, my figure will slim down and my skin will finally clear.
Maybe she’s right. Maybe I am still battling hormonal acne well into my late 20s because I’m holding onto too many old lanyards. But, Marie Kondo, at least a lanyard never made me cry.
Join The Spinoff Members for as little as $1 to help us hire more journalists and do more investigations. Or get a free Toby Morris-designed tea towel when you contribute $80 or more over a year.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.