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Tidy house, tidy mind: how Marie Kondo's decluttering method can soothe anxiety

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We’ll be honest: tidying up falls pretty low on our list of priorities, lingering somewhere between filling in a tax return form and visiting the dentist as a desirable way to fill up our time.

So when the act of tidying becomes inevitable – because our bed has become finally buried under a mound of clothes, for example, or we realise we can’t shut a drawer thanks to the amount of underwear and bundled-up tights we’ve attempted to wedge inside – we approach the task with all the gusto of a teenager being forced to finish their homework.

marie kondo

Marie Kondo

However, we’re starting to think we might be doing it wrong.

Enter Marie Kondo, a self-professed decluttering guru whose debut guide to cleaning, boldly titled The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has sold over 7 million copies and been translated into more than 30 languages since it was published five years ago.

A woman so famous her name is now a verb, the 32-year-old, from Japan, has successfully spread her KonMari method of ridding your house of items except those that spark joy to every corner of the globe. 

And while the immediate benefits of tidying up are obvious, Kondo is keen to highlight a less apparent advantage to being tidy: that, just as the saying goes, a tidy house really does make for a tidy mind.

And with mental health issues, such as anxiety, affecting some 8.2 million people in the UK, it’s certainly a tactic worth considering.

“It is difficult to confront your mental health issues directly, but tidying allows you to confront the things immediately in front of you,” Kondo told stylist.co.uk.

“The process of repeatedly choosing what sparks joy for you is also a process that permits you to recognise what is important to you. As a result, you will be able to think positively about yourself.”

Kondo firmly believes that clearing out the clutter of a room can help to clear out the metaphorical clutter of your mind.

“In addition to your room, your mind will also become tidied,” she said. “This can help with self-regard and the ways we problem solve at times.”

marie kondo tidy

"Tidying allows you to confront the things immediately in front of you."

Not convinced? Writing in Psychology Today, psychiatrist Dr Emily Deans described how clutter and mess could be “incredibly overwhelming” and “add to stress”.

A Kondo convert herself, Dr Deans now recommends The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up to her patients, after finding that following the simple rule of only keeping items that spark joy transformed her life.

“There’s a great deal of satisfaction and peace to be had from a decluttered space,” she wrote. “I feel more in control of my life and less overwhelmed.”


Read more: How Marie Kondo's magical tidying up book changed the way I live


So what benefits has Kondo herself enjoyed from the process of tidying up? “It’s important for me to organise my house, especially to clean the floors as this allows me to feel calm and therefore focus on other things,” she told stylist.co.uk.

And she believes there are even more far-reaching advantages to tidying, too. 

“The benefits of decluttering are logical. But when you become confident about your decisions after finishing tidying, you begin believing in your instincts, and this might feel like good things are continuously happening mysteriously.”

Essentially, Kondo equates the process of decluttering with the ability to know what you want from life. Which, when you think about it, makes a lot of sense: after all, if you can gain a pinch of satisfaction from stripping a room of stuff that no longer makes you happy, it follows that you can get even more satisfaction from ridding your life of toxic behaviours.

“Once you declutter with the KonMari method, it will become clear what you like and what you want to do. Your priorities in daily life will become apparent,” she urged. “You will recognise what kind of life makes you happy and become confident in making decisions in various situations.”

A tidy underwear drawer = the key to a tidy mind?

A tidy underwear drawer = the key to a tidy mind?

Thankfully, we can continue to reap the benefits of a decluttering session for long after we’ve binned our unwanted items, as Kondo is clear on her method for maintaining a tidy home.

“It is important to make a space for where each item can be specifically placed,” she said. “Then, even if your home has a moment of clutter, you can easily return items to where they are supposed to be kept and swiftly go back to a tidy home space.”


Read more: “It's about love”: watch Marie Kondo's soothing guide to folding


Kondo also has a decluttering solution for those who share their homes with less tidy-minded occupants. The organising consultant, who had her first child last year, lives with her daughter and husband in Japan.

“If you live with your family, first concentrate on perfectly completing your own tidying. Your family will gradually be influenced by you, not only in terms of your new organisation, but also by the way you begin to live life to the fullest after you finish tidying,” she said. “You can also take the initiative to tidy shared areas. As your family naturally observes the comfort and efficiency of being tidied, they will then seek to tidy for themselves.”

However, Kondo does have one last, hard-earned nugget of wisdom to share on keeping a joint home spotlessly clean.

“It is important not to discard your family’s items without their permission or pressure them with words such as ‘you should tidy’,” she added.


How to declutter your home

marie kondo tidying

Marie Kondo shares her ultimate guide to decluttering with stylist.co.uk.

Step one: visualise

For anyone looking to organise a chaotic home, the first step is to start thinking about what their ideal way of living is. After they have a clear picture of this, then they can start to achieve it.

Step two: follow the five category rule

The KonMari method consists of organising by categories not location. The categories start with clothing, then books, papers, miscellaneous items and then memorabilia. The first category to start with should be clothes. Go through the items in each category individually to choose what you want to keep. You have to choose what you need and what you don’t need by having the time to hold and feel each item and consider how it makes you feel. Only if you feel happy you should keep the item.

Step three: only keep items that spark joy

You must hold it in your hands, and feel it. Take a moment with the item and wait to see if you feel joy from it. Does it make you happy? If it does, then you should keep it. This can be a difficult thing to master to begin with, but as time goes by, it can become easier to decide what to keep and what to let go. Don’t just think and imagine the items – you must touch and feel them. It is important to feel the spark of joy.

Step four: say thank you

Before you let go of an item, make sure you first thank it for a job well done. If you feel guilty about letting it go, discard it with care (for example by placing it neatly in a paper bag). Then, you will be able to move on.


Marie Kondo is an ambassador for The Danone Activia In Sync Initiative. She told stylist.co.uk, “the initiative and my organising ethos are very similar – by organising your house, you can focus on yourself internally and the importance of aligning mind and body in order to truly live In Sync. It is easy to get inspired to find your In Sync moment by visiting activia.com”.

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