KonMari without worry: How to spark joy without torching the planet

A photograph of the author, Austin Bailey.

By Austin Bailey

February 4, 2019

KonMari without worry: How to spark joy without torching the planet

In This Article

  • Marie Kondo's popular de-cluttering method is catching on in a big way.
  • So many people are finding the inspiration to clean house that Goodwill and thrift store donation stations are overflowing.
  • Just because you no longer need something doesn't mean you have to send it to the landfill.
  • Here are some green tips on how to recycle, upcycle, reuse, regift and otherwise tidy up sustainably.

Thrift stores across the country are crying uncle, having been completely overwhelmed by a soft-spoken 4’7” dynamo whose clarion call to “tidy up” is prompting a nationwide purge. Goodwill donation stations are suffocating under bags of clothes, shoes, books and komono, that catch-all category you might just call “knick-knacks,” or maybe “etc."

Marie Kondo (but you probably knew that already)

But nobody is mad about it, because who could be mad at adorable Marie Kondo, whose reassuring coos and crisp white blouses are inspiring us all to clean up our acts? She’s just so lovely and graceful and calming! No wonder people are bingeing her Netflix series. Watching her swoop into cluttered homes with her gleaming smile and twirling skirts is like watching Tinkerbell rearrange a pantry by throwing a handful of fairy dust. So iconic is Kondo's personal brand that no social media feed is immune from the onslaught of memes she's inspired.

So. Many. Memes.

What’s unique about the eponymous KonMari method, touted by Kondo in her books The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and its companion piece Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, is the spirituality she infuses in the cleaning process. Kondo has spoken about the elements of Shintoism that guide her work. The Japanese Shinto religion calls its practitioners to treat sacred spaces with respect, which is why Kondo dresses so formally in her signature skirts and spotless white tops for work most of us do in old yoga pants and hoodies. Shintoism also acknowledges that all possessions have an essence that we should honor. Informed by this belief system, Kondo teaches that the things we need and use deserve our respect, and preferably their very own spot in a clear plastic tub. And when items are no longer useful or no longer “spark joy” for the owner, they deserve a moment of gratitude. That’s why, before dumping your stuff, Marie Kondo advices that you first thank it for its service.

Before you send that old toilet to the landfill, think about what it would look like in your flower garden?

Which brings us to the most challenging part for greenies who want a clean house *and* a clean planet. All that stuff has to go somewhere. There are a few strategies to keep in mind to help you declutter in the most Earth-friendly way possible.

  1. Slow down! It’s tempting, after binge-watching the Marie Kondo shows on Netflix, to just chuck it all and start from scratch. If you find yourself itching to load all of your possessions into a dumpster, please take a day or two to think it through. Per Kondo’s advice, it’s worth your time to go piece by piece and consider the value of each item. A lifetime of stuff probably deserves at least a week or so of consideration. By taking your time, you’ll be less likely to get rid of things you may later miss, and you’ll be more likely to seek out ways to donate, reuse or recycle.
  2. Get crafty. Those old t-shirts that no longer spark joy in their current form can be resuscitated into reusable cloth grocery bags, no sewing required. Make this the year of no plastic grocery sacks! And did you know that you can make whimsical flower planters out of pretty much anything?
  3. Sort it out. I know you want to put it all in garbage bags, leave it on the curb and be done. But wouldn’t it be better if you took the time to divvy up your cast-offs to the places they’ll be best used? Consider taking purses and women’s suits to a domestic violence shelter, gently used books to your public library, old blankets and towels to an animal shelter. You’ll feel better knowing your things will be put to good use.
  4. If you want to be green now and in the future, remember what you learned. When you see all that real estate newly available in your closet after a big purge, it can be tempting to fill it back up. But then you would be right back where you started, right?