Jen Bowey looks into the psychology supporting minimalist lifestyles
Following her 2011 book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo now has a show on Netflix called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. The recent launch of the show on Netflix has sparked a revival of the conversation about minimalist lifestyles which seemed to become more popular in the west after the 2016 documentary Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.
In the Netflix series, Marie Kondo visits cluttered homes and attempts to teach her famous "KonMari" method, which champions minimalism through only keeping items that are either necessities or that give you a positive feeling that Kondo describes as a “spark of joy”. It may be difficult to imagine feeling joy at the prospect of rifling through your messy wardrobe or clearing out your kitchen cupboards, but Kondo argues that if you do not experience said "spark of joy" when engaging with an item then it does not hold an important enough place in your life to remain in your household.
As well as challenging people to think about their emotional relationship with their belongings, Kondo also teaches viewers how to store the items we do derive joy from in the most efficient way. When watching the Netflix show, Kondo makes her t-shirt folding technique look effortless, but when we see the family members trying to replicate the technique it becomes abundantly clear that Kondo has honed her craft to a fine art. In fact, I reckon if you visited her house and had a look around it would look bizarrely perfect.
The phrase "tidy house, tidy mind" has been around for as long as I can remember, and minimalism, which seems to be in the zeitgeist at the moment, takes that sentiment to the extreme. The people that appear on Tidying Up with Marie Kondo all seem to be experiencing moderate to extreme levels of stress over the amount of clutter in their homes, and appear to have actively sought out Kondo to help them lead happier lives by implementing her methods. We see a woman going through her wardrobe and throwing out anything that doesn’t spark joy, and the overhaul of a frighteningly full family garage in which they discover family pictures which they’d been meaning to display around the house for years.
What Kondo brings into question is whether our hectic modern lifestyles are preventing us from utilising our homes in the most effective way, and whether or not we are deriving the maximum amount of utility from the items we own. The reality is we live in a materialistic, consumerist society that makes it easy to buy things directly to our homes at the click of a button. Most likely a lot of us don’t take enough time to even keep track of everything we own. So, when we think we need something new or when we’re feeling low we just whip out the wallet and increase the problem, when the answer to our problem may actually require us to put our cash away, take a look around at our environment and focus on everything we already have rather than always focusing on the things we don’t have.
Often when we talk about clutter and mental health the conversation turns towards "hoarding disorder", which is a valid point of discussion, but is there a real link between clutter and the average person’s everyday mental health? A study published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2011 states that the presence of too many items of stimuli can overwhelm the visual cortex and prevent us from being able to focus on the task at hand. So, if you’ve ever felt like tidying your room before starting an essay was just a form of procrastination, you may actually be facilitating better concentration when you do eventually start.
Concerningly, hoarding (specifically hoarding disorder) has been linked with impaired cognitive function and a 2007 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives have linked the presence of mould toxins in the home with increased rates of depression.
So basically, Marie Kondo might have a point. Perhaps taking a bit of time out of our days to restore a bit of organisation and tidiness to our homes may help us to relax more, concentrate better and even feel happier. Worth a shot at least, isn’t it?