Alison Lush on the KonMari Method™

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Alison Lush is a certified professional organizer who has specialized training in working with people affected by chronic disorganization. She is a Master Trainer, CPO-CD®, CPO® and President of ICD (the Institute for Challenging Disorganization). Alison recently attended two international conferences: the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers  (APDO) in London, and the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO) in Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas. I interviewed Alison about her work as a professional organizer about a year ago on this blog. Upon her return to Montreal after her attendance at these conferences, she kindly took the time to answer some questions I had about the KonMari Method™ from her perspective as a specialist in dealing with people who are affected by chronic disorganization—JH

Janet Hulstrand: What did you think about the KonMari Method™ when you first learned about it? Has your opinion of it changed since then? If so, how has it changed?

Alison Lush: My opinion about the KonMari Method™ has not changed since I first learned about it. On the plus side, I think that several strategies inherent in the Method™ definitely have merit, depending on who is trying to use them. They will work for some people, and not for others. On the downside, I find the “Do it exactly this way, with no modifications” approach unhelpful. I have nine years of experience working with clients, and I find that many people appreciate personalized approaches. They like to pick and choose. They like to personalize.

Also, Kondo claims that it is easy to declutter and organize. That is simply not true for everyone, and I think it is a disservice to those who struggle with it, to say that it is.

Janet: You recently addressed a group of professional organizers in London. What was the topic of your talk?

 Alison: The presentation I gave was called “Making Space for the KonMari Method™”. I’ve talked with two certified KonMari consultants, and was struck by the similarities in our approaches.

My education and training comes primarily from the Institute for Challenging Disorganization (ICD). Ever since Marie Kondo’s book launched in 2014 in English, I’d been hearing backlash from professional organizers, and I’ve been curious about that. So a fellow professional organizer, April Miller, and I performed a detailed compare-and-contrast of the ICD perspective and the KonMari Method™. We delivered this analysis as a class to ICD in late 2017, and I reworked the presentation for the annual 2019 conference of the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organizers (APDO) in the UK. The crux of this detailed analysis is that there are some parts of the KonMari Method™ that would work for people affected by chronic disorganization, and some that definitely would not.

Janet: Why do you think the KonMari Method™ is very helpful for some people, and not all for others? Can it even be counterproductive for some people? Is there a way of creating a “hybrid” approach to decluttering that uses some elements of the Kon Mari Methodand rejects others? 

Alison: One of the things many people lose sight of is that the basis of the KonMari Method,™ as outlined in Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is that she insisted that the method must be followed as directed. That is one of the pieces that has generated much of the criticism I think.

As a professional organizer, I listen carefully to what my clients tell me. I suspect that many people who report having success with the KonMari Method™ may actually be having success with some of the strategies presented in the Method. I tried several of the strategies myself, and was pleased at seeing some progress. But I would never attempt to try the KonMari Method™ as prescribed. I believe the most helpful decluttering and organizing strategies are personalized by and/or for the individuals who own the stuff.

If people affected by chronic disorganization attempt this method (which claims to be easy) without support, and fail again, their feelings of inadequacy may be reinforced.

Janet: What do you admire most about Marie Kondo?

Alison: The marketing that has launched her onto the international stage is impressive. Many of the individual concepts she has woven into the KonMari Method™ were already well known, but she repackaged and launched them with great success.

Janet: What, if anything, do you think is misguided or overrated in her approach? Or perhaps simply misunderstood?

Alison: The underlying strategiesand the complete KonMari Method™ are not the same thing. The Method™ includes taking multiple steps, in order, and it is recommended that it be done as quickly as possible, like ripping off a Band-Aid. When the Method™ is executed as directed, dramatic results are promised, including protection from backsliding into clutter. But the Method™ must be followed as directed for these results.

The two primary issues I have with her approach is that it is specified that you must 1) do it THIS way, and 2) that it is EASY. For many people, chronic disorganization is a reality, and decluttering is NOT easy. Telling them it is easy potentially sets them up for more failure.

When I asked the certified KonMari consultants I talked with about their work with their clients, I was impressed by the similarities in their descriptions of their approach, compared to how I work with clients. They describe a client-centered approach – but Marie Kondo’s book is definitely not client-centered. The certified KonMari consultants I met with are positive ambassadors for the profession, and I’m sorry they find themselves on the front lines, receiving much backlash because of the rigid approach outlined in the book.

Janet: One of the areas of backlash to the massive decluttering that is going on in the wake of the huge popularity of Marie Kondo’s Netflix series is the environmental effects of massive, sudden throwing out of things, especially in plastic bags! What advice or cautions do you have to offer about how to go about aggressive decluttering in a way that is environmentally responsible?

Alison: For the record, I have not watched the series, and have no intention to do so. I have studied Marie Kondo’s first book in great depth, many times, over the past five years. At the NAPO conference this past weekend, I heard a presentation about The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning. It involves the notion that when we declutter, we have the responsibility to find someone else who can use the thing. I find this both refreshing and challenging. Because when we are dealing with a LOT of stuff going out the door, it is very difficult to imagine finding individuals to take it all.

I certainly do encourage my clients to first think of anyone they know who might benefit from the stuff, then to donate to charities, then as a very last resort, to send it to landfill. I refer to this as Amnesty – a one-time rebooting of the overall amount of possessions one owns. And hand-in-hand with Amnesty, I hope there will be increased awareness of the responsibility of ownership.

It all starts when we bring stuff home. Bring home less stuff! 🙂

Alison Lush is the only Certified Professional Organizer in Quebec, Canada. You can follow her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher. She is coauthor of Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home and author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

 

Marie Kondo, Now on Netflix…

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Well there certainly has been a lot of intent interest in–and both enthusiastic and unenthusiastic response to–Marie Kondo’s new “reality” TV series on Netflix, which began earlier this month. (I have put the word “reality” in quotes because, as I hope most of us know, reality TV is not really about reality.)

I think the first thing to do in addressing this topic is to give credit where credit is due–and whatever else you may say or think about Marie Kondo, you’ve got to admit that she certainly has got a great sense of marketing, self-promotion, and business savvy.

Beyond that, she has helped and inspired a lot of people to get rid of clutter that was bogging them down in one way or another, and that is of course a good thing.

This is not the first time I’ve addressed the Marie Kondo phenomenon on this blog. I have written previously about it here and here.  To summarize my opinion about Marie Kondo and her “KonMari” method  briefly, in my initially reluctant and skeptical exploration of her writing I had to admit that her advice was more sympathetic to the “keepers” of this world (as my coauthor and I like to call them) than I thought it would be. And I had to furthermore admit that some of her advice might actually be helpful even for people who have a great deal of trouble letting of certain kinds of items. (This is largely because she does acknowledge the deep emotional, even spiritual, relationship many people have with the special objects in their lives, even as she goes about advising them to get rid of most of them.)

I have always said, when asked what I think about the Kondo phenomenon, that it is clear that for many people her philosophy and advice have been very helpful, even inspirational, and who would want to argue with that?

But I’ve also added that I don’t think her advice works for everyone: and that for many people it is far too extreme to be useful.

By way of example, she quite clearly has gone over the top for most people who love books and reading by saying that ideally people should keep less than 30 books in their homes. (!!)

This advice is so wrongheaded in so many ways I don’t even know where to begin. Luckily I don’t have to, because so many other readers, writers, and lovers of books have spoken up on the topic already. (I will give you a list of links to some of my favorite posts on this topic at the end of this piece.)

But I would like to share, right here and now, my favorite quote from one of these pieces, which I think really captures the spirit of what so many people feel about this particular piece of advice. “Paring down one’s wardrobe is one thing, but what kind of degenerate only wants to own 30 books (or fewer) at a time on purpose?” Summer Brennan asked in a 2016 essay published on Literary Hub.  She added, “What sort of psychopath rips out pages from their favorite books and throws away the rest so they can, as Kondo puts it, “keep only the words they like?” (You can read Brennan’s whole wonderful essay here. At the end of this piece there are some great suggestions for places to donate books “should you choose to part with them” 🙂 )

Some people may think Brennan has gone overboard in the outraged language quoted above. I, for one, think her response is perfectly measured, even serene, given the heresy Marie Kondo has expressed concerning the value of books in a home.

Also. I haven’t seen anyone else address this yet (though probably someone has), but do you not all remember the news that a recent study has found that children who grow up in a home with at least 80 books do better academically? And that the average number of books in an American home is 114? (You can read more about this in this article.)  Is Marie Kondo really trying to suggest that we should lower the average number of books in the American home past the point where the children in that home will be optimally intellectually nourished? I don’t know about you, but to me that seems not only misguided and almost unbelievably lacking in respect for intellectual curiosity, but a little bit creepy.

I should add that the spate of recent (and some not-so-recent) push-backs to the tidal wave of enthusiasm for Kondo-ism addresses more than just her advice about books. For example, this thoughtful essay by Arielle Bernstein, titled “Marie Kondo and the Privilege of Clutter,” which was published in 2016 in The Atlantic, frames Kondo’s advice in the context of what decluttering a home can be like for the children of refugees, and reminds readers that Kondo’s advice is pretty easy to follow for people who never have to worry about replacing the items they so gleefully go about shedding–and not necessarily as easy for those who have grown up in poverty.

In this excellent piece by Lisa Miller, which was published in New York magazine in 2015, Miller affectionately (and amusingly)  describes why the fact that she and her husband both grew up in homes where the Depression-era principle of “perfectly good” was dominant, means that they will never actually declutter their home–and why that is actually not such a bad thing.  (I personally feel this is a point of view that has not been adequately heard in all the fervent proselytizing about the virtues of minimalism in recent years.)

Finally, in this thoughtful essay, published just last week in BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore begins by saying that she, like Kondo, is very good at throwing things away. So she doesn’t object to the activity: she objects to the premise that by practicing Kondo’s method people can realize their “ideal lives.” She also objects to the “aura of moral righteousness that has…become attached to minimizing and to minimalism,” and adds that this “has always seemed unearned to me.” I agree with her there. More on that another day, perhaps.

Well, I am sure this is quite enough said on this topic for today. And I’ve given you plenty of other articles to read if you are looking for affirmation that you are not alone in finding Marie Kondo’s advice not quite as “life-changing” or as “magical” as the title of her book suggests.

But let me repeat: I’m happy for anyone who has been truly helped by her advice.  And I do not begrudge her the millions she’s made in giving it. (Well, maybe as the coauthor of a very helpful and useful book on downsizing that has not done nearly as well, I begrudge it just a little bit…)

And let me close by saying, that for those of you who are inclined, when you even hear the word “Kondo,”  to want to clutch your books to your chest (and maybe gather up your children as well, for a round of lap-sitting and reading aloud), I think it’s important to leave you with this reminder.

Her advice is not for everyone.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and coauthor of  Moving On: A Practical Guide to Downsizing the Family Home. She is also the author of Demystifying the French: How to Love Them, and Make Them Love You

Here, as promised, are a few eloquent, and recent, responses to Marie Kondo’s advice about getting rid of books:

https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/a25800198/netflix-tidying-up-marie-kondo-book-advice/

https://www.theguardian.com/books/shortcuts/2019/jan/08/are-books-clutter-marie-kondo-advice-give-them-away

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jan/07/what-we-gain-from-keeping-books-and-why-it-doesnt-need-to-be-joy-marie-kondo?fbclid=IwAR2USYj9WEfHTP1PNiZ9zZYUlD2JDMF2Xf3AZdN9nkkQcgwQ95eZYSlnIno

 

 

 

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