Marie Kondo has finally realised what it costs to be tidy – and like me, has decided to chill the hell out | Zoe Williams

People who think they can master chaos don’t have enough children, or dogs, or interests

It is with some chagrin that I see Marie Kondo making international news with the bombshell that she’s pretty much stopped tidying at home since the birth of her third child: “Up until now, I was a professional tidier, so I did my best to keep my home tidy at all times,” she told the Washington Post. “I have kind of given up on that, in a good way for me. Now I realise what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.”

You could almost hear the world exhale in relief at this change of heart: Kondo is perhaps the leading evangelist for order and decluttering, author and Netflix poster-woman for the good life. If she can’t make tidying work with three kids around, when it’s her brand, her identity and her life’s work, the rest of us are just fine. It’s like if anti-cigarette guru Allen Carr had started smoking again. On the one hand, shame, but on the other: what a stunning vindication of human frailty.

My particular chagrin stems from the time Marie Kondo came to my house, tidied my desk, whose two square feet took her three and a half hours, and told me this very thing – that she’d stopped tidying at home – even taking the time to point out that she had never said this to anyone before, and I still didn’t realise it was news. How could it be? When you have three children and one is a baby, you’re smashing it out of the park just by ending each day not in A&E. Human nature – indeed, all nature – tends towards entropy. People who think they can master chaos just don’t have enough children, or dogs, or interests.

Kondo on the Netflix series Sparking Joy.
‘Marie Kondo is perhaps the leading evangelist for order and decluttering, author and Netflix poster-woman for the good life.’ Kondo on the Netflix series Sparking Joy. Photograph: Netflix

I sometimes wonder how far I’d let my slovenliness take me, if I lived alone. Would I let bits actually fall off my house, so that it was a colourful riot of buckets catching leaks? Would I turn that into a feature (an interiors statement, I mean, not an article, of course I would turn it into an article)? My dad once went 11 years without washing his pillowcases, and they were stiff like a Barbour jacket with the accretion of head grease. I imagine I’d be something like that.

Instead, it’s a perpetual negotiation between my low standards and the demands of others: a spouse’s inclination to order, the children’s strong preference for mess to magically disappear while they’re at school. I think I keep it together, with the caveat that the only entirely clear surface in the house remains the desk that Marie Kondo tidied, and that’s only because I experience it like an accusation and have taken to working elsewhere (in bed; it’s also been pretty cold lately).

“Tidy house, tidy mind” feels so intuitive. Naturally, when there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place, you feel more in control of your environment, spend less time looking for your keys. But the untold negative of that picture is that it entails constant vigilance over ultimately trivial matters: have I correctly put the thyme back among the Mediterranean herbs, rather than shoved it randomly at eye level probably next to the Nutella? What’s the perfect place to stack towels? What do you do with a book that you feel you should read but know you’re never going to? The language of priorities is not just the religion of socialism, it’s the religion of everything: every time I prioritise getting a weird stain off a table, there are much more bewitching things I’m not thinking about, and if those things are themselves also trivial, what’s it to you?

This is what Kondo has finally realised: that every minute decision contains an opportunity cost, the opportunity being to chill the hell out. If she hadn’t already had this epiphany when we met, I’d like to think I maybe rubbed off on her a little bit.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist


Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Marie Kondo calls it clutter; to me they are mementoes | Rebecca Nicholson
The queen of tidying makes me think about decluttering, but hasn’t persuaded me to follow through ... yet

Rebecca Nicholson

12, Jan, 2019 @3:30 PM

Article image
Marie Kondo: How to clear out sentimental clutter
The very personal stuff in our homes is the hardest to lose but unless it ‘sparks joy in your heart’, says Marie Kondo, you should get rid of it. Here she tells us seven ways to effectively deal with the detritus of family life

Joanna Moorhead

14, Jan, 2017 @6:30 AM

Article image
Don’t mess with Marie: tidying up with author and Netflix star Marie Kondo
Can clean-up queen Marie Kondo convince a self-confessed collector of sweet wrappers to mend his ways?

Aaron Hicklin

30, Dec, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Forget Marie Kondo: I like a house full of presents | David Sax
Gifts are one of the few symbols of love – that most ephemeral of feelings – that we can lay our hands on. That’s why they are so important

David Sax

23, Dec, 2016 @12:00 PM

Article image
The anti-Marie Kondo: Netflix celebrates the clothes we keep
Worn Stories looks to unravel the tales behind the most treasured items in our wardrobes – but is such meaning and emotion easily conveyed via television?

Claire Marie Healy

31, Mar, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
Why The Home Edit shouldn’t judge a book by its cover
The presenters of Netflix’s decluttering show like to organise books by colour, which suggests not much reading is going on

Rebecca Nicholson

19, Sep, 2020 @4:00 PM

Article image
Meet the 'cleanfluencers', the online gurus who like things nice and tidy
Marie Kondo may be the biggest name in decluttering, but Instagram is awash with cleaning experts with millions of followers

Arwa Mahdawi

29, Jan, 2019 @3:21 PM

Article image
She dropped three cheese-and-onion crisps and a tooth into my hand: what happened when Marie Kondo tidied my home
A decade after publishing her first guide to tidying up, the writer and TV presenter has a new book about creating living spaces that ‘foster conversation’. But can she help me clear up the disaster that is my desk? And will it spark joy?

Zoe Williams

17, Nov, 2022 @6:00 AM

Article image
Farewell, Netflix password sharing. Never again will an ex feel the sting of being locked out of your account | Ammar Kalia
A small act of intimacy between people living apart is ending, says Ammar Kalia, the Guardian’s global music critic

Ammar Kalia

27, Jan, 2023 @7:00 AM

Article image
Knights, princes and a Scottish castle: is this what women really want for Christmas? | Anne Billson
I’ve binged on Christmas romcoms to see exactly what modern-day fairytales are all about, says critic Anne Billson

Anne Billson

16, Dec, 2021 @8:00 AM