Marie Kondo’s methods might be cathartic – but throw out too much stuff, and you might just live to regret it, says clutter aficionado Rosie Mullender
Everyone’s talking about tat. Getting rid of it, that is. The new Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, sees the decluttering guru teaching families how to clear out their clutter and makeover their homes.
The KonMari method involves holding objects to see if they ‘spark joy.’ Any items that don’t make the grade are thanked (“By expressing gratitude toward the items you let go, it will lessen the feeling of guilt,” Kondo explains), before being thrown out.
I can certainly see the attraction of picking through your home like a burglar who should have gone to Specsavers, leaving it pristine in your wake. But while I’m not a hoarder, the thought of getting rid of my boxes (and boxes and boxes) of stuff makes me feel a bit faint.
I firmly believe that when it comes to decluttering, it’s important to look before you leap. You never know what might spark joy in the future – even if it doesn’t happen to do so now.
“When hoarding becomes extreme, it’s considered a personality disorder – but you can also go too far the other way,” explains psychologist and mental health expert Dr Zoubida Guernina. “As human beings, we’re all in need of security, and objects can help us feel comfortable, especially if they have a sentimental attachment. You can’t blame people for wanting to hold onto items that bring safety and comfort.”
My passion for objet’s d’art – or ‘absolute tat’ as my friends call it – started young. Although I wanted more than anything to go to Centre Parcs as a child, my family’s budget wouldn’t quite stretch that far. Trips to the cinema or to see a pantomime were rare treats. So, unlike many of my peers, I learned to find my thrills in objects rather than experiences.
During my teens, I amassed a collection of over 100 Kinder Egg toys. I got a buzz every time I cracked open a yellow plastic egg and assembled the tiny model of a car or plane inside. Or, if I was really unlucky, a Sharky Baba – which, in a shocking act of mid-Nineties cultural appropriation, was a model of a shark wearing a fez or riding a flying carpet.
Even at 18, I’d sit in the pub clutching a Ribena, surrounded by drunk friends and broken chocolate. I preferred to spend my money on Kinder Eggs rather than alcohol. And I particularly hated throwing out presents – when someone had put love and care into choosing something for me, I felt duty-bound to keep it. I even kept cracker toys. If you’re looking for a tiny, plastic yoyo from 1985, I’m your woman.
By the time I went on my first holiday abroad, aged 24, I couldn’t wait to get home. I didn’t want to explore the world – I wanted to surround myself with beautiful things.
My mantra is that nothing, no matter how functional, has to look boring. So as I got older, I began collecting carrot-shaped kitchen roll holders and fluorescent ice-cream bowls; mugs that looked like chicken legs and vases shaped like cactii. I even kept unwanted books if they went with my colour scheme.
The result, after 30 years of collecting, is an enormous array of stuff crammed into the tiny London flat I share with my (very patient) boyfriend.
An entire wall of the living room is given up to what a friend has dubbed ‘The Tat Museum’ – Ikea shelves crammed with clashing objects of every hue. It even has its own museum sign and Instagram account. I’ve started attacking the walls with tat, too, including a giant knitted rhino head and rows and rows of bunting.
Lacking storage space, but reluctant to get rid of anything, my parents’ house is full to bursting with my stuff (something that Kondo, quite rightly, disapproves of). We’ve also erected a plastic shed on our parking space, freeing up room for objects such as my Kewpie Doll lamp – which over the years has given me more happiness than any holiday I’ve ever been on.
Admittedly, most of the things I own spark joy. But others are things I suspect I’ll look back on much more fondly one day – like the ant ornament I bought in Venice with my mum, when we challenged each other to buy the smallest glass object we could find.
My nan used to have a decorative plate hanging in her front room, which depicted two little girls in frilly dresses. It was unforgivably creepy, and she eventually gave it to me (apparently to make room for even more plates – I wonder where I get it from?).
Frankly, I hate to think of the kind of person this plate might spark joy in. But when my nan died, it instantly increased its emotional currency. When I look at it, I can hear her crackly, Superkings-tinged laugh and picture her pink, pearlised nail varnish.
Kondo advises that we take photographs of sentimental items, such as children’s artwork, before throwing them away. But it’s not the same as having that object to hold in your hands.
“In the same way that some people prefer to have a conversation on email, while others like talking face to face, you might prefer to have an actual object in front of you rather than a photograph,” says Dr Guenina.
“When objects are used as a safety net to make us feel comfortable or to soothe the pain of a loss, there’s no need to feel guilty. The key is to achieve the balance that’s right for you.”
I suspect the day I dig out my Sharky Babas will turn out to be an emotional one, as I remember all those happy nights cocooned down at the pub. So although it can be cathartic to declutter your home, beware of throwing out too much stuff.
I know you might not want to set up a Tat Museum in your home. But if you remove everything that doesn’t spark joy right now, you might just live to regret it.