If you have a Netflix account (whether it’s yours or one you acquired through a friend by two degrees of separation), then you’ve probably already seen Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Marie Kondo is a Japanese organizing consultant and author. Having written four books on organization, this series shows Marie Kondo visiting a different American family every episode, guiding them to tidy up their home through her KonMari method.
When it comes to a closet, I am a proponent of its cardinal sin: keeping everything. You say hoarder, I say sentimental. Tomato/tomato. But high off of that new year new me glow that clouds the best of us with idealism and relentless resolution, I decided to attempt the KonMari method and brave the task of cleaning out my closet.
The cornerstone of Marie Kondo’s philosophy is to keep only the things that spark joy in you. It’s an enigmatic metric of evaluation, but the process claims to leave you with things that make you happy. For every item that makes you feel otherwise, you have to thank them first for what they served you, and then handle them with care in their disposal. The intent is to root a sense of gratitude for these items. The whole process is a little more idiosyncratic than I’m used to. Not gonna lie, saying “thank you” to my clothes out loud made me feel like a weirdo, but it became instinctive after the fifth shirt.
The KonMari method is built on the credo of keeping the things that bring you joy, but what happens after?
The concept of keeping items that spark joy for you is undeniably an alluring one. I’m a big believer that the space you surround yourself in has an affect on you. But as I was sorting through my clothes I couldn’t help but think how wrong this response of disposal felt, despite it being preceded by a verbal practice of gratitude.
Bags of clothes and unwanted items are sent into donation bins and stores alike. We donate such a large amount of clothes to charities that globally only 20% of clothing donations actually get resold at stores, the remaining 80% are sent to textile recyclers who then determine the next cycle of the garment’s life. From there, almost half of those donations will be exported and sold in developing countries, and the other half recycled into rags. Often these excess are sent to East African countries like Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya – not as donations by the way, but as direct sales.
Landfills around the world are overflowing. According to the World Bank, we are currently producing more than 2 billion tonnes of garbage each year, with an estimation that it’ll be 3.4 billion in the next 30 years. Add on to the fact that as our clothes decompose in the landfill, they release a toxic combination of air pollutants – all of which contribute to our already detriment global warming problem.
If we want to talk about Marie Kondo’s method then we should also talk about mottainai – an all-encompassing Japanese term for the four Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and respect. The tradition encourages using an object fully or to the end of its lifespan, a tenet we need now more than ever. Instead of donating, consider upcycling, bringing it to your neighbourhood swap event, or giving it to someone who might love it more. Growing up, my mother would take the clothes we no longer wanted and pass them onto our younger cousins to wear. Old shirts were used as cleaning cloths, and there was even one point where she took our clothes, cut them into panels, and stitched a blanket cover out of them. If we want to keep only the things that spark joy for us, then we should also reduce, reuse, recycle and respect them in our disposal.
All the more, instead of sorting through our clothing and keeping those that spark joy, what if we eliminated the need for that process altogether by only buying the things we see ourselves wearing for the years to come?
Pulling a KonMari on my closet made me rethink my relationship with clothes. There is something deeply cathartic about sorting through a pile of mess (literally) and organizing it all, and there is also something deeply introspective about the process as well. From the dress I bought for a one-time event, to the shirt I wore almost weekly years ago but haven’t touched since – everything I put in the “thank you, next” pile was telling of the way I shop. Why did I buy these things and why did I think I needed them?
So I’m going into 2019 with a new resolution (and hopefully, with the same idealism and relentlessness). This year, I’m only going to buy 3 items of clothing. We think we need more than we really do, and for someone who is prone to impulse shopping this is going to be a hell of a challenge. But there are so many alternatives readily available: swapping, upcycling, and renting, to name a few. So… why not give this a go?