The Cult of Decluttering

Our obsession with tidiness is both compelling and frightening

‘A messy kitchen is a happy kitchen and this one is delirious.’ This mantra was printed across a quaint wooden sign and given to a family member this Christmas. Yes, her kitchen has its own micro climate and yes, the cheese is on the verge of jumping out of the window of its own accord, but I rather admire this laissez faire attitude to cleanliness (although I couldn’t tolerate it in my own home).

No time of year is more apt for tidying, decluttering and life-cleansing than January. Everywhere we turn we are confronted by tips, hints, articles and advertisements about the joys of tidying up our lives, taking back control of our health and wellness, cleaning out the cobwebs and ensuring that 2019 is cleaner and better than 2018.

Decluttering is undoubtedly extremely satisfying. A tidy environment is not only pleasing to the eye, but also soothes the mind by giving us a sense of control over our otherwise chaotic lives.

Furthermore, it helps us form the image of ourselves that we want to project onto our nearest and dearest: ‘I’m in control;’ ‘I’m a homemaker; ‘my cheese walks because I’m too busy reading books to care about cleaning’ and so on and so forth.

One of the problems with tidying is that, like so much these days, it has become fetishised. Take Marie Kondo, the Japanese ‘Organisation Consultant,’ who has revolutionised decluttering as you or I know it. Kondo believes that tidying is actually a philosophy, and a psychological state, if you like. Her method is simple: take everything out of the cupboard, pile it high on the floor, then collect each item, familiarise yourself with it (must get boring with endless greying vests and suchlike), and ask yourself, ‘does this greying vest spark joy?’ If it doesn’t ‘spark joy,’ then bin it.

Kondo’s world is a scary place. Everything is whiter than white, frighteningly sterile and the environments look like somewhere one might go whilst waiting for the men in the white coats to determine their prognosis. In fact, after a short while watching Kondo’s YouTube videos, I start to think that I’d rather spend time with the White Coats than with Kondo.

People are buying it. Kondo was listed as one of Time’s 100 most influential people in 2015. She has four best-selling books under her belt, including The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising and a Netflix series Tidying up with Marie Kondo. And she’s not the only one: Kondo is indicative of a wider movement of demented declutterers, or ‘cleaning gurus’ as they are otherwise known including Mrs Hinch who shares instagram cleaning hacks with over one million followers, Queen of Clean, Clean Mama and more. Those with business nouse are becoming wise to this: a quick google search throws out numerous ‘lifestyle management’ companies who help ‘eliminate clutter’ to ‘increase clarity’ and ‘live the life you were meant to lead.’

If for a moment, we put aside this complete insanity, it cannot be denied that decluttering and cleaning improves the state of mind. Last week I dedicated a day to tasks like accounts and council tax, and with every form I submitted, I felt an increasing sense of calmness and control.

I reorganised my sock drawer, so to speak, with excellent results. I bought a new diary, with a week-to-view, (this one from Noble Macmillan to be precise) and have enjoyed starting at the crisp empty pages, working out what to sort out next. It’s anti-Kondo, but it’s also anti-clutter, and therefore, a very good thing.


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