Marie Kondo is here to tidy up your pandemic clutter — if you want to

The past two years have changed the way we live in our homes. Are we ready to return to a spartan existence, or is our new stuff what sparks joy now? The New York Times
Marie Kondo has big plans for us to tidy not just our homes, but our entire lives. But is a country that has spent the past two years on a relentless shopping spree, filling homes with Peloton bikes, fire pits and bread machines, still in the mood for Kondo’s minimalist brand of tidying?

The Japanese decluttering guru certainly thinks so. She sees this moment as one to expand her reach into office cubicles and even personal bathing routines. Last summer, on “Sparking Joy With Marie Kondo,” a three-episode series that aired on Netflix, viewers watched as Kondo persuaded small-business owners to embrace the central tenet of her tidying method: keep the stuff that brings you joy and toss the rest. She is now gearing up for the November release of her latest book, “Marie Kondo’s Kurashi at Home,” which shows readers how to apply her methods to every aspect of their lives. Among her suggestions: Practice “joy-spotting,” an exercise that loosely translates to “stop and smell the roses,” and one she urges for her 4 million Instagram followers.

“As we return to the office or develop new ways of working in a hybrid model, there is no better time than now to reflect on what sparks joy,” Kondo told me in an email interview.

Kondo entered the American consciousness with her 2014 book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” a runaway success that transformed her name into a verb: “Kondo” your sock drawer and get a handle on your life. In 2016, the year she released “Spark Joy,” an illustrated guide on how to fold shirts and find your personal “power spot,” Kondo proclaimed that Americans had reached peak stuff.

She may have spoken too soon. The past two years have shown that we are nowhere near the peak of the consumerist mountain. When the pandemic hit, Americans promptly turned their extended isolation into an opportunity to buy stuff for their homes. Even a breakdown in the global supply chain, rising gas prices and inflation couldn’t slow our drive to spend. We took shipping delays and supply shortages as challenges that turned shopping into a marathon sport. An eight-month wait for a sofa? No problem. Spending on home renovations hit a four-year high this year, according to a Houzz survey.

During the height of the pandemic, when social lives and activities were limited, shopping “was probably one of the few things that a lot of people could do that actually felt good,” said Travis Osborne, director of the Anxiety Center at the Evidence Based Treatment Centers of Seattle. “Shopping and consuming are reinforcing behaviours. At a brain level, neurochemicals that are related to feeling good get released when we buy things.”

And so we did it with gusto. But now that we’re returning to a life lived outside our homes, Kondo is here to remind us that all those Instant Pots and inflatable pools might not bring us much joy anymore, if they ever did.

“People may have accumulated extra objects during the pandemic that sparked joy at that time,” she said. But now “I would tell people to choose objects that spark joy and support the life you envision, and thank objects that no longer serve you and donate them to someone else.”

Cue the great American pandemic purge. Last month, Martha Stewart held a two-day tag sale at her farm in Bedford, New York, where she sold her own stuff — lawn furniture, wicker baskets, Christmas ornaments and, according to a Curbed reporter, $40 ornamental concrete leaves. Tickets to the event started at $250. Homeowners looking for guidance on where to put all the stuff they’ve acquired can now turn to the second season of “Get Organized with the Home Edit,” which Netflix released April 1, and where the perky home-organizing duo of Clea Shearer and Joanna Teplin spin overstuffed kitchen pantries into Instagram-worthy displays.

At Junkluggers of New York City, business is up 30% from a year ago, with New Yorkers calling the company to haul away exercise equipment, standing desks and low-quality furniture bought while they waited months for more expensive items to arrive. Josh Cohen, the owner of the Junkluggers franchise, who is rarely fazed by what people will pay him to haul items away, was shocked by the fervor to unload Peloton bikes. “I say nothing surprises me anymore, but that was one thing that surprised me,” he said. “You’re talking about a $1,500 exercise bike.”

As much as we like to shop, we might also like to purge. We don’t enjoy a decluttered home so much as we enjoy the act of decluttering it, according to Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, the director of the new masters in happiness studies graduate program at Centenary University in New Jersey, who points out that people derive happiness from experiences, not objects. “Once it’s done, once it’s over, we adapt very quickly,” he said. “But it’s the process that yielded the joy, not the outcome.”

Shopping gives us new stuff to purge, but decluttering also gives us opportunities to shop — as Kondo knows well. She sells a line of baskets, boxes and bins at the Container Store, with options like a serenity jewelry box insert for $14.99 or a calm file box for $49.99. On her Instagram page, she promotes her partnerships, including one with Shutterfly where she encourages her followers to, say, wrap themselves in a Marie Kondo-branded blanket emblazoned with a family photo.

Decluttering hopefuls can also shop directly from Kondo’s website. The $55 Indigo Shibori Dye Kit, for instance, is marketed as an opportunity to find joy. What’s more joyful than learning a traditional tie-dyeing method? But it serves another purpose: When you’re all done tie-dyeing those tea towels, and they no longer spark joy, you’ve got new material to toss.

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