Marie Kondo, the Japanese organizing guru and author of the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” is gaining popularity in the United States these days. Inspired by her new Netflix show “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo,” people across the country are “Kondoing” their houses, habits, and even finances.
One of the things that set Kondo apart is her unique cultural approach to objects and their worth. This approach, which she calls the KonMari method, is drawn in part from the Shinto religion, whose tenets include treasuring what you already have, not treating items as disposable objects, and thanking items for their service to your life when you do decide to let them go.
Kondo’s methods aren’t just for organizing your home; you can also apply them to your personal finances. Here’s a closer look at her tidying methods and how you can use them to KonMari your house, your finances, and your life.
The Principles of KonMari
Anyone who’s read her book or watched an episode of her show knows that Kondo has some strict principles, which she stipulates should be carried out in order instead of at the whim of the tidier. They include:
1. Commit to Tidying Up
First and foremost, if you want to KonMari your house, you must commit to the endeavor wholeheartedly. If you’ve ever launched a new exercise regimen or tried to keep a New Years resolution, you know it’s easier to stick with something when you’re fully committed to it; halfheartedly attempting something you’re not all in on is likely to fail. The same goes for tidying, and KonMari demands that you’re mentally ready to tackle the challenge before you physically start.
2. Imagine an Ideal
Before you begin tidying up, it’s important to visualize why you’re doing so, beyond simply saying, “I have too much stuff.” Think about what you’ll do when you no longer have so much stuff cluttering up your home.
Will it mean that when you get dressed every morning, instead of encountering an overstuffed closet full of clothes you don’t really like, you’ll have a smaller, carefully-curated wardrobe of beloved classics?
Will it mean that you can fit your car into the garage that’s previously been too full of stuff, no longer forcing you to dash through the rain in your suit or spend a chilly 20 minutes defrosting your car and clearing snow off it all winter?
3. Discard Before You Organize
Instead of finding new places to store stuff you don’t want or buying containers for things you’ll end up getting rid of, KonMari dictates that you finish discarding stuff first. That means going through everything and deciding what’s not going to stay before you launch into storing and tidying what remains.
This approach forces you to confront all of your stuff instead of just moving piles around without really processing what’s in those piles and why you still have it. Sell the stuff you no longer need, donate it to a thrift store or charity shop, or give it away to friends and family who can use it. Whatever you do, get it out of your house.
4. Tidy by Category
One of the most impactful things that Kondo asks of everyone featured on her show is to gather their clothing from all the closets in their house and put all of it into one big pile. For some of the folks on the show, this amounts to a mountain of clothes taller than they are. It’s one of the ways Kondo demonstrates that following the KonMari method means straightening by category instead of room.
That means you must tackle every article of clothing before you move on to another type of item, such as books. It forces you to confront how many of something you have, whether it’s shoes or paperwork or Christmas decorations, and then ask yourself what you really want to keep.
5. Tidy in Order
Marie Kondo also asks that people tidy their things in a particular order:
- Miscellaneous items
Kondo believes that clothing — which includes shoes and accessories — is the easiest category to tackle first, and by doing so, you’ll build momentum. It’s a challenge to complete the whole KonMari process; depending on how big it is, it can take you as long as six months to KonMari your entire home. So honing your skill at the beginning with an easier category like clothing can help you when you progress to the harder stuff, such as kitchen clutter or sentimental items.
6. Ask Yourself If Each Item Sparks Joy
One of the trademarks of the KonMari method is the phrase “Does it spark joy?” It’s something you’ll hear Kondo ask her clients over and over about their items. If the answer is no, the item must be discarded. Even if the item in question is a gift you feel guilty getting rid of, if it doesn’t bring you joy, Kondo says it must go.
This can get hard when you’re talking about paperwork or practical items like spatulas, but she maintains that if something makes you annoyed or frustrated instead of happy, you shouldn’t keep it in your house. Hold it in your hands, see if it sparks joy, and if not, thank it for its service and discard it.
Kondo claims that if you follow the KonMari method and commit yourself wholeheartedly to it, you will only have to intensely KonMari your house once and then never again. She also posits that it will help you in other areas of your life by freeing you to commit to other goals you’re having trouble reaching, perhaps because you’ve been emotionally weighed down by all your stuff. Finally, KonMari is meant to make you appreciate the things you keep even more, and ideally, your entire house will only contain things you love and value.
How to Apply KonMari to Your Finances
So what does this have to do with personal finance? Well, at the risk of overstating the obvious, things cost money, and holding onto things you don’t use, don’t need, and must pay to store can weigh you down and sabotage your finances in a number of ways. The KonMari method can also help you overhaul your approach to money.
Here’s how to apply the KonMari method to your personal finances.
1. Commit to Your Goals
The KonMari method requires that you commit fully to tidying before you start. The same level of commitment can help you reach your financial goals. Once you’re truly ready to change your financial habits, tackle your debt, or change careers, you’ll be much more likely to succeed than if you start when your heart isn’t really in it.
2. Envision Your Goals
Kondo asks her clients to imagine an ideal so they can keep this goal in mind as they work through the tidying process. As you commit to each financial goal and envision why you want to achieve it, keeping that goal at the forefront of your mind will help you stay on track once the excitement and newness wear off.
Whether you want to pay off student loan debt, invest in a rental property, or retire early, visualizing your end goal will help you persevere when the going gets tough. Picture what you’ll do with your extra cash every month once you’re debt-free, how you’ll spend your rental income, or what it would be like to retire in five years instead of 15. Knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing will help you with the how.
3. Break Things Down Into Categories
Just like tidying your house, breaking your financial goals into categories will make it easier to tackle them. It will also ensure that you start with the easy stuff so that you can build your way up from there.
For example, if you know you need to cut down on your monthly expenses, start with easy, low-hanging-fruit categories like a Hulu account or monthly subscription box you don’t use anymore. This will help you build momentum before you get to the harder decisions. By tidying your expenses by category, such as monthly subscriptions, debt payments, utilities, shopping, and entertainment, you’ll build your finance-tidying muscle so that it’s easier to make the hard calls, such as deciding if your family can get by with one car or committing to a less expensive lifestyle to help you achieve your financial goals.
4. Buy Less Stuff
Once you envision your goals, evaluate your finances, and cut expenses in each category, it’s easier to buy less stuff. When the bar for an item or service is “Does it spark joy?” you’ll probably find yourself spending far less, especially on items that are disposable, forgettable, or otherwise unnecessary.
For example, when you have 100 shirts hanging in your closet or cluttering up your dresser, who cares if you spend $10 on yet another low-quality shirt you’ll only get to wear a few times before it falls apart? By contrast, when you have a $50-per-month clothing budget and a cherished collection of high-quality clothing, you won’t be tempted to add a mediocre shirt to your closet or blow a fifth of your discretionary funds on something that doesn’t really make you happy.
5. Reduce Waste
By cutting out the expenses you don’t love and buying less stuff as a result, you’ll also reduce your waste. Even if you’re not a minimalist or aiming for a zero-waste lifestyle, applying the KonMari method to your finances will still help you cut through the junk you don’t need and focus on what’s important to you.
It’ll also help you designate a purpose for each dollar you make, just like you must decide where each item in your house goes so that you know where it is when you need it. When you give your money a “place” — be that debt repayment, a new roof fund, or dinner out once a month — you’ll be less likely to spend it elsewhere accidentally.
6. Change Your Mindset
Once you take a more thoughtful, long-term approach to spending, budgeting, and saving, you may find your whole approach to money changes. Instead of something to be spent frivolously on things that don’t bring you happiness, you’ll start to view money as a tool to be respected, used well, and appreciated. When you think about money — and the work you did to earn that money — in this way, you’ll find yourself thoughtfully and intentionally spending less and saving more than you thought possible.
Just like with the KonMari approach to tidying up, applying these principles to your finances doesn’t mean you have to become a minimalist or give away all your stuff. It just means you won’t spend mindlessly, waste money, or purchase things you don’t cherish or even desire. Using these guidelines will help you get control of your possessions and your finances, and prioritize the things that matter to you while letting go of the rest.
Have you watched Marie Kondo’s Netflix show? Do you believe in the “life-changing magic of tidying up?” Would your family be on board with applying the KonMari method to your finances?