When authors, artists and psychologists make a conscious lifestyle choice and give decluttering a thumbs up.
Marie ‘KonMari’ Kondo is perhaps the only contemporary writer who can make folding a T-shirt look like an art. Her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (which has sold more than 1.6 million copies in the US and has many followers in India), is still flying off the shelves, while her demo videos have gone viral on YouTube. “The goal is not just decluttering but re-evaluating what possessions mean,” writes Kondo on her Facebook page. “Day by day our lives are becoming more cluttered, filling up with stuff that may be used once and then discarded. How can you organise your life to bring joy?” she asks her international audience.
The 31-year-old author is currently being credited with popularising the KonMari method, a Japanese philosophy of decluttering and minimalism. In all fairness, KonMari existed prior to Kondo’s book, in the age-old origami paper folding style, the impeccable sushi platters and the minimalist furniture that is characteristic of every Japanese home. What Kondo has inadvertently done with her books is bring the discipline of decluttering back into the public domain. Now, everyone from artists and designers to housewives and office goers are working on decluttering their lives.
Journey in white
Take artist Sunil Padwal, for instance. When he gets back from his messy studio (where his canvases showcase urban dystopia), he likes a blank slate, and thus follows the minimal style at home. “All my furniture, walls and even the objects that my wife Tanuja and I buy, are white. Everything is stored carefully in drawers and even categorised, so that when I need something I know where it is kept,” says Padwal, of his Tardeo flat in Mumbai. Meanwhile, Kunal Bambawale, a 25-year-old Mumbaiite and events professional, ordered Kondo’s first book a year ago because the title sounded interesting. Today, he is hooked and has decluttered his wardrobe and room, and also inspiring his parents to follow suit. His mother, Michelle, an educationist, spent all her weekends in February and March giving away a “lot of stuff I liked to people I like.” There are people who are curious about Kondo but hesitant to follow her. Celebrities like award-winning director Vetrimaaran. “I had read her first book a few months ago, but am yet to follow anything from it. I’m always around unwanted things,”
Life in focus
Clearly Kondo is not the only one offering decluttering cues. Trend forecaster James Wallman, whose 2013 book Stuffocation has its share of followers, explains to Forbes magazine that “stuffocation is that feeling you get when you have to fight through piles of stuff you don’t use to find the thing you need”. Social media is changing how we communicate, and he agrees that with friends and fans on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, experiences are more tangible and valuable than, say, a statement bag or sportscar. “The novelty of material goods wears off far faster than it does with experiences,” he tells the magazine.
India, with its over populated cities, is known as a country that overstimulates one’s senses. But some creative people like ad man Sharad Haksar have made an effort to get out of the city to breathe easy. “I’ve always been inspired by Japanese architecture and have tried to declutter my life. When I found the city had gotten too crowded, I bought a place near Mahabalipuram, an eco farm 35 km out of the city,” says Haksar, adding, “When we live in the city we forget about the simple joys of life. The noise and commotion has driven away half the bird population. The other day I spotted a pair of owls at my farm and it gave me such joy.” The photographer, who also follows a minimal lifestyle, owns just four pairs of trousers and six shirts. He recycles them until they are worn out, before buying new ones. No surprises that his walls and furniture at home follow the white minimalist code!
Kavitha Muthappa, who works for an organisation called Microgram—that arranges loans for the rural poor—follows a similar philosophy. To recycle old clothes, kitchenware and accessories, she cleans parts of her home every six months. This includes her husband’s and son’s possessions. “The need to declutter came from a sense of not wanting to hoard. We all have so much, we should not want to own more. Gifts also get recycled. You do feel better when your clothes are not pouring out of your cupboard,” says Bengaluru-based Muthappa, who hopes to pick up Kondo’s books soon.
Incidentally, recycling units are becoming more popular in metropolitan cities. You can recycle discarded bottles into polyester that is used as packing material (Arora Fibers). Or use your monthly trash to educate a girl child (paperman.in). Or sell old clothes or preowned luxury to Indian reselling sites (Confidential Couture and Zapyle). Thus, the KonMari philosophy of tidying up one’s mess extends to recycling, too, and helps to clear the environment of toxic waste that further pollutes cities. Incidentally, there is more on the cards. Japanese minimalist brand Muji—which is debuting in India in August, with stores in Mumbai’s Palladium Mall and in Bengaluru—also persuades its buyers to recycle, and has practical furniture. It’s no surprise that Kondo is an organising consultant at Muji.
Kondo, who suggests that you begin by discarding unwanted clothing before turning to books, papers and mementos, says you should only keep items that “spark joy”. Her second book in January this year, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, has pictures detailing her method. She encourages clients to get their children involved in the act of decluttering, but to begin with clothes not toys. Another tip is to declutter by category, not location, as it gives you an idea of what you have been hoarding. Some of her methods—on a show with American comedian Ellen Degeneres, she recommended patting and hugging belongings that thrill—easily invite rebuke but Kondo’s fans far outnumber detractors. “I love the Japanese philosophy, but why do they always have to promote such a neutral palette? Why can’t a minimalist own a colourful shirt or painting?” asks Mumbai-based curator Avni Doshi, who is all for cleaning and clearing, but has an aesthetic peeve with artwork that is bland and too minimal.
Matters of the mind
The connect between decluttering and well-being is strong and if Kondo and her fans leave you cold, here’s what psychologist Dr Sadhna Vohra has to say. “Therapy is a form of decluttering the mind. Quite often when we have faced great trauma in our lives we tend to bury it in our subconscious mind. It then continues to play back these traumas and fears. The function of psychotherapy is to literally clean out the closet of the mind, leaving it freer and less preoccupied with our past.” Put that way, decluttering is certainly worth a try.
“When you have less, it is easier to take control of your life, with things not weighing you down. The book also gave me the freedom to give stuff away,” says Bambawale, the assistant manager (creative) of Fountainhead, an events company. Though he hasn’t been able to implement it in all aspects of his life (“I haven’t been able to give away books yet”), he has applied it in a digital sense. “On your computer, there are often old work files that you think you might go back to or movies you feel you might watch again. But you won’t. With today’s high-speed internet, you don’t need to hold on to anything,” he says, adding that waking up in the morning to uncluttered surroundings gives a lift to your life. “If I break the book down to one thought, it would be to be discerning about the things that you buy,” says Bambawale, adding that the concept can also be applied to “the things that you spend your time doing and the people that you spend your time with.”
“What struck me during my recent trip to Japan is the value placed on keeping things that are truly important. This results in a more minimalist look in some spaces. In others, that which might be more crowded, the spaces still don’t come across as cluttered because the objects have a meaning or purpose. The Japanese concept of Boro (mended) reinforces that concept of finding ways to repair and keep things that are ‘mottainai’ (too useful to be thrown away), whether it’s your grandmother’s moth-eaten silk kimono or something you’ve picked up on your travels. That said, I have learnt not to collect paper, be it bills, pamphlets or things of sentimental value.
designer and founder of Brass Tacks
By Georgina Maddox