The sustainability of KonMari
Jun 2020

The Marie Kondo decluttering method - where it does and doesn't fit in with a sustainable lifestyle

You may have heard about Marie Kondo and her decluttering method thanks to her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up or her Netflix show Tidying up with Marie Kondo. But in case you have not, let us introduce this Japanese decluttering giant who has been revolutionising the way people organise their homes.

While most decluttering gurus generally recommend that you tackle one room at a time, Marie Kondo and her new decluttering method suggest that you rather organise by category. She also created an order in which you should be tackling your possessions. Her main rule, which she suggests you use every time you are trying to decide whether to keep an item, is that you should be asking yourself if that piece sparks joy. If not, she suggests you get rid of the item.

However, the ‘getting rid of it’ stage is where some issues may arise related to sustainability. While a minimalist lifestyle and sustainability usually go hand in hand, in today’s article, let us talk about the sustainability of KonMari. When is it a good fit for an eco-friendly lifestyle, and when should you take the advice with a pinch of salt if sustainability is your main goal?

The essentials of KonMari

The system of the KonMari method follows an exact order of categories you are recommended to declutter in:

1. Clothing

2. Books

3. Papers

4. Komono (miscellaneous items such as kitchen equipment)

5. Sentimental items

With all these categories, Marie Kondo suggests you take all the items in a certain category out at first and create a big pile. Then, she instructs you to go through them one by one, determining whether the items spark joy or not. She recommends to only keep that which does and discard the items that do not. She also assures you that as you go through your possessions, knowing what sparks joy will be easier and easier, which I can confirm from my own experience with this method.

The intention behind the KonMari decluttering method is to end up with a home that is free of clutter and only with the items that spark joy. She says that anything that will not help you become the person you want to be does not deserve to be in your space. While the spark joy method is truly inspirational, this has also produced some light-hearted jokes amongst the method’s followers: doing laundry doesn’t spark joy for me, can I get rid of my washing machine?

How the KonMari decluttering method helps you live a more sustainable life

As with any minimalist lifestyle, the KonMari method promotes the idea of owning less, which is almost always essentially more sustainable than owning more. Any item in your home that you are not using is representing wasted resources – not only money, but also the electricity, water, labour, and other specific resources. So, the whole philosophy of keeping your space clutter-free aligns well with sustainability.

Marie Kondo also specifies many techniques about how to care for your possessions so that they last longer – folding clothing in an efficient manner (the famous file folding method) and valuing each piece. This means that the possessions you do have will get taken care of better, which is more sustainable than having to replace them after just a short while.

While these are only two short points, they are very important and encompass a lot of sustainability-related benefits. In the next section, we will move on to the points that make the KonMari method not so sustainable.

The sustainability issues of KonMari

However, while the KonMari method includes some points which are really helpful in making your life more sustainable, there are also some which seem not so green.

The main issue that I personally find with the KonMari method is that it does not do much to prevent unnecessary items from entering your home. Comparing that to a zero waste lifestyle, which tackles this as the very first step, the KonMari method does seem to be neglecting this aspect a little.

Secondly, while in the Netflix show, you can sometimes see Marie Kondo’s clients donate the clothing they are not wearing, the book seems to omit the topic of what happens with your possessions after you declutter them. Marie just tends to refer to a certain number of trash bags full of items, which does not seem to be very sustainable. While it may be easier to let go of items if they are just reduced to ‘trash’, it is not a very sustainable method. Instead, why not try selling clothes to new owners or giving them out to friends who would be interested (careful not to push any of your old items onto family members though, as Marie warns). Donations may seem like a very sustainable way to go about disposing of old possessions, but be careful, as it turns out that most donations to stores (such as Goodwill in the US) never actually get resold as there is such a surplus of them! If you do know somebody in a difficult situation and in need of clothing, books, etc., why not gift it to them instead, so that you will know that your old items actually do get a new home?

Also, as the principles of zero waste suggest, a great way to deal with an item if it doesn’t spark joy is to find a new use for it by upcycling it or altering it! Your jeans do not spark joy because they are too loose around the calves? Why not crop them into shorts. And if your old eyeglass case does not spark joy anymore, what about converting it to hold a sewing kit?

The KonMari method does have many positives, so do not let this article make you think that it is not useful. However, there are some points to keep in mind, which will help you take the decluttering method your own way and make it better for the environment.

Lucie Stepankova 
A marketing and media student with a passion for all things sustainable and zero waste living. While studying, Lucie also works as a freelancer, writing articles about sustainability and helping eco-businesses with their marketing needs. In her writing, she hopes to inspire people to make small changes that can create a big difference in the world. 

 Published 16.06.2020 

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