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What We’re Missing from “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

After the sparks of joy have subsided, the question we're left with is this: how did our homes and lives get so cluttered in the first place?

Jon + Moch Photography for Emily Pack
Jon + Moch Photography for Emily Pack

If you’ve watched Netflix lately, or talked to someone who has, the subject of “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo has likely come up. Marie Kondo is an author and professional organizer from Japan whose KonMari method has been touted as a way to reclaim your life from a sea of madness. In times of societal turmoil, there are few things more relaxing than someone coming in to fix a mess of epic proportions.

Since the show has aired, thrift stores have seen a noteworthy rise in donations. People have been flocking to clean their houses and rid their space of anything that doesn’t bring them joy, which she encourages.

Once we’ve watched Marie inspire order in a household previously filled with chaos, each episode ends.

The question we should be asking as a society is, “how did we end up with so much stuff?”

Generational differences

To understand more about the roots of the problem of over-consumption, it’s important to think about generational differences in purchasing patterns. Studies show that baby boomers actually consume more and keep more than millennials, and they’re finding themselves in positions where their children do not want to keep collected items that have sentimental value. While millennials may get knocked for some things, their spending habits are indicative that they don’t care as much about “things.” In fact, the majority of millennials (more than three-quarters of them) actually care more about spending money on experiences or events rather than objects. Netflix has not publicized information about the demographics of people who are viewing Marie Kondo’s show, but I’d be curious to understand if the show has inspired action more amongst Baby Boomers as opposed to younger folks who have fewer things (we spent it all on avocado toast, remember?)

What we’re missing

Here’s the thing. The momentum behind “tidying up” is extremely important, but it leaves something to be desired from a preventative perspective. It’s focusing on the “in-between” and the “after,” while not paying any mind to the “before.” It’s encouraging people to dig through their current belongings and create spaces that bring them joy while leaving out something imperative to how all of those belongings got there in the first place. This current obsession of tidying up isn’t teaching people how to prevent themselves from being in this situation in the first place. While tidying up and creating spaces that are clutter-free are positive things, there is an important piece to the puzzle that shouldn’t be ignored.

While I’m all for “tidying up”, I believe the journey towards minimalism is more important than the clutter-free destination.

The good news is that it’s never too late to adopt minimalist habits in your everyday life. You can never be in too deep (even though sometimes it might feel like it) to change the way you buy. I started my company, Brightly, to empower people to change the world through responsible consumption, and I think there’s a few small things you can do each day to positively impact the world.

Visualize before buying

No matter what type of item you’re buying, can you visualize it in your home, closet, or life? When buying big home décor items such as furniture, take time to do your research. Come prepared with measurements and utilize technology to help you visualize these items in your home. When it comes to clothing and accessories, look in your closet before you shop. Going in prepared can prevent you from jumping at the first sight of a sale and buying items that become clutter.

Consider a product’s lifetime and its’ environment impact

It’s impossible to forget scenes in the popular Netflix show where mountains of clothes are reduced to a few tidy, well-organized drawers. Before adding to your closet, prioritize the sustainability and longevity of the item. Although an individual piece might cost more than a bargain basement knockoff, will it last a long time and is it constructed well? Are your objects created by workers who were paid fairly? Do the materials that make up your purchases cause harm to the environment? It’s up to us to create the world we want to live in, and this goes far beyond just our homes.

Don’t overlook secondhand items

Like I mentioned before, a pleasant side effect of spring cleaning, Kondo-style, is that thrift stores and consignment shops are filled to the brim with unwanted items. Before purchasing something for your house, office, or closet, take a look at Craigslist, use a secondhand clothing app like Poshmark, or visit your local thrift shop. Make a day out of it and see what treasures you can find – just don’t forget the rest of these strategies when making these decisions!

Look around at what you already have

We’ve all heard of facelifts, but have you ever thought about these in relation to what you already own? Repairing broken items, if possible, can help you buy one less item to bring into your home. Repurposing items such as clothing and decorations or furniture into other usable items keep your home free from new additions that you don’t need. If you’re simply tired of looking at the furniture you already have, consider reupholstering or painting to give it a fresh new lease on life inside your home. (I recently re-did some IKEA furniture with ‘milk paint’ and was pleased with the result!)

Ask for advice

Involve others on your journey to tidying up and creating spaces that spark joy. Utilize the (sometimes too) honest opinions of family and friends when making decisions to purchase or not. Before buying something online, read the reviews and make sure it is something that will be sustainable.

Ultimately, “sparking joy” inside our homes and lives is up to us. Countless daily decisions contribute to the concept of reducing clutter.

The movement of Marie Kondo’s tidying up has created buzz, but it’s missing an important component. It’s missing the preventative actions that can lead us away from clutter in the first place. Maybe it’s not just millennials that need to focus on decluttering or baby boomers that need to focus on buying less, but maybe we’re all missing a lesson in its entirety. While conquering the clutter and creating tidy spaces are positive things, let’s focus more on starting from the beginning.

Let’s focus more on the items we bring into our homes versus what we are putting out.

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