home improvement

[Episodes] House (sometimes) in order: The luxury of tidying up

Adelle Chua

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[Episodes] House (sometimes) in order: The luxury of tidying up


'Achieving a perfectly organized, tidy home where everything is in place is impossible. This is because we do this thing called living.'

Japanese author Marie Kondo first became known through her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Here, she gave practical advice on decluttering one’s home. “Start by discarding,” she wrote. “Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.” This is the now-famous (or now-notorious, whoever is talking) KonMari method. 

Kondo had a singular criterion in deciding whether to keep or discard any item in the house: Does it spark joy? If yes, keep it. If not, get rid of it. 

Kondo has an interesting job title — a “decluttering expert,” a “professional tidier,” a consultant who took clients whose homes, and lives, she helped put in order. 

“When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too,” she wrote, citing her clients’ success in changing not only their home environments, but their lives as well. 

In January this year, Kondo was in the news again — and she was reported to have had a change. In an interview with the Washington Post, she said she had “kind of given up” on tidying her home since the birth of her third child. “My home is messy,” she admitted. A New York Post headline read: “Queen of spring-cleaning has given up on being tidy.”

There were varied reactions on social media. Some people said they felt betrayed. “We were ‘Kon’ed!” one said. Others said they knew that a tidy home was impossible all along. A Vogue writer, Chloe Malle, said she felt a “smug, adrenaline rush of vindication.” The New York Post’s “Queen of spring-cleaning” headline actually sparked joy in her. 

Of course these reactions did not take Kondo’s full statements into consideration. When she said she had given up (on tidying), her actual words were, “I have kind of given up on that, in a good way for me. Now I realize what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.” She also did say her home was messy, but here is the complete sentence: “My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage in my life.” 

Thus, the public tweaking of her stance is not an admission of defeat of helplessness, but a deliberate commercial move. She was, after all, promoting a new book, Kurashi at Home: How to Organize Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life. It is supposed to center on the Japanese concept called “kurashi,” or way of life.

This time around, maybe I’ll pass. 


In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was appalled that Kondo said she kept her collection of books to about 30 at any one time, even dishing out advice on how one could do with fewer books in the house. What kind of person would hold a book and ask herself whether it sparked joy, I thought, a sentiment I knew was shared by many. Books didn’t only spark joy; they are joy!

Besides this, though, I was fine with the rest of what Kondo said. In fact, I agreed with her — as I still do — that a tidy space does wonders to one’s disposition. It’s a good way to think of things as having a “home” where they should be put back in when they are not being used. It is good to periodically evaluate whether our possessions are still doing us good or simply taking up space. More than that, it is good to aim for acquiring fewer things, moving forward. 

I like being tidy, and it’s something I always aspire to. But this is me. 

It is dangerous to assume that all people are cut from the same cloth, and that all would derive equal satisfaction and joy at living in an organized space. Moderately tidy, or occasionally tidy, works for many people, I know, and they aren’t the least bit bothered by it or feel as though they function less effectively because of the imperfection. 

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Holding up tidiness as the Holy Grail, the determinant of domestic and psychological bliss, also assumes that all people have the time and frame of mind to pause and reflect on their possessions. Here in our country, millions live in a constant frenzy, thinking of ways to earn a living and simply have enough for the next meal. The poor do not have the luxury of holding an old shirt and asking themselves if it still sparked joy. The homeless would be thankful for a roof above their heads and clothes on their back — even if these are not folded and stacked in a certain manner.  

Achieving a perfectly organized, tidy home where everything is in place is impossible. This is because we do this thing called living. Whether or not you have small children in the house, it is unlikely that all rooms would be immaculate at the same time. Sometimes I find that my dining room and bedroom are fine, but the kitchen needs some organizing. I don’t beat myself up about it. I tell myself I will do it when a long weekend comes around, or when I can spare a few minutes to fix up a small part of what needs to be done.  Sometimes, too, we have time but not the inclination to do a task at that moment — that’s not being lazy or worthless. That’s being human. 

Those who lionized the KonMari method and who are now gloating at Kondo’s sometimes-messy state, or who feel betrayed and let down, should instead be relieved. The “guru” is just like any other person. The “expert” can sometimes lose it, too. Because like us, she is alive. And, anyway, even if we were totally sold on the method, we should not even be revering the author herself — we should, instead, be focusing on what the book evokes in us. 

What it did evoke in me is an acknowledgment that a state of perfection is never possible — and that is not bad. An organized home, like peace, or success, or happiness, are all ideals we aim for. But even if we seem to get close to the goal today, life continues to happen, and tomorrow is another story altogether. 

So if we are able to keep our personal spaces neat, that’s cool. If we don’t, or can’t, that’s cool, too. Nobody is judging anybody here. Whatever we can live with, and whatever allows us to power through one day after another, or even just survive, and if we have room to imagine we can all do better when we get the chance, then that is an arrangement worth keeping, not discarding. – Rappler.com

Adelle Chua is assistant professor of journalism at the UP College of Mass Communication. Prior to joining the academe, she was a longtime opinion editor, editorial writer, and opinion columnist for the Manila Standard.

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