Unexpected Lessons from Marie Kondo’s Netflix Show

I LOVE Marie Kondo. I have read both of her books twice, applied the KonMari method to my home, and mentioned her in my Verily articles about technology, interior design, and beauty. So I was thrilled about the release of her Netflix show, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.

For those who aren’t familiar with her method, the basic idea of the world’s most famous organization expert is that one should only keep items that “spark joy.” Kondo has a few other rules and a strict process to follow, but the “spark joy” mentality is at the core of her teachings. Her method isn’t about the number of items one possesses, but about the emotions those items evoke and the way they fit into a person’s ideal lifestyle.

In each episode of her show, Kondo guides a different set of clients through her process, highlighting certain pieces of advice for viewers. The ideas put forth in the show are present in Kondo’s books. But even as someone who has tried to follow the KonMari method diligently, I still had some important lessons to learn.

You Don’t Have to Be a Minimalist

Prior to watching the show, I had always associated the KonMari method with minimalism, and it seems I’m not alone in this.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo writes, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” I interpreted this as keeping the absolute minimum. Even after applying the KonMari method to my home, I found myself asking, “What else can I get rid of?” Then, after thoroughly looking around and coming up empty-handed, I felt frustrated that I had not mastered the art of minimalist living.

With this in mind, I expected the people in the show to perform a mighty purge and end up with sparse decor, empty garages, and shelves with room to spare. Contrary to my expectations, most of Kondo’s clients were not minimalists—at all.

For instance, in one episode, a man’s biggest tidying obstacle is his sneaker collection. Over the years, he had accumulated more than 150 pairs of sneakers. He ends up keeping just over 40. While that’s a significant decrease, I don’t know anyone who would call it minimalism.

Another episode highlights one couple’s abundant collection of Christmas decorations. When Kondo asks the wife how she feels about the quantity, the woman replies that it feels right, given the size of their home and her passion for Christmas. Kondo doesn’t push her, but instead gives her tips on storage. What might seem like an excessive number of decorations to others is just right for her.

As I watched Kondo applaud people’s progress, I realized that I had been putting too much pressure on myself. Getting a glimpse into other people’s homes helped me remember what drew me to the KonMari method in the first place: the deeply personal aspect of it.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Kondo explains that there’s no set number of items one should own. In her second book, Spark Joy, she even explains that tidying “doesn’t mean … that you should just dump anything and everything.” In my continuing zeal for tidying, I had forgotten this.

Now, I no longer look around searching for the next item to get rid of. Instead, I rest in the confidence that the possessions that fill our home are just right for us.

One final note here: contrary to articles and memes that suggest otherwise, Kondo doesn’t have anything against a large book collection—as long as that book collection sparks joy.

Your Tidying Efforts Don’t Have to Be Perfect

In my quest for a KonMari’d home, I’ve been a bit of a perfectionist. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, there’s even a header that reads, “Why you should aim for perfection.” Kondo writes, “I can tell you from experience that you will never get your house in order if you only clean up half-heartedly. If, like me, you are not the diligent, persevering type, then I recommend aiming for perfection just once.” In my mind, “perfection” meant a home so tidy, it looked like the big reveal on an episode of Property Brothers.

But as I learned from the show, while aiming for perfection can help spur the process, it’s not really the point of tidying. I also realized that “perfection” doesn’t mean having a home that looks perfect to everyone else’s eyes, but one that is perfectly suited to me.

For example, in one episode, a man sets up a figurine collection in the garage. This seemed like a strange place to me, but Kondo applauds this display because it works for that family.

In another episode, the wife’s clothes are in the bedroom, while the husband’s clothes are in the office/playroom closet. I expected them to share a closet by the end of the process. But instead, the husband’s clothes remain where they are because that’s what works for them.

In that same episode, the wife makes a comment about perfection while working in the kitchen. Kondo tells her to take “a lighter approach” and reassures her by saying, “It’s never going to be perfect.” As someone who gets frustrated when reality doesn’t meet my expectations, that’s something I needed to hear.

At first, this comment seems to run contrary to Kondo’s advice from the book. But after re-reading the section on perfection, I realized Kondo isn’t talking about a perfect home. She writes, “Tidying in the end is just a physical act. The work involved can be broadly divided into two kinds: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it. If you can do these two things, you can achieve perfection.”

What she means by “perfection” seems to be more like “thorough completion.” Rather than saying everything has to appear perfect, she’s simply stating that everything needs a place. The places I store items in our current home may not be ideal, but they work for us right now.

Since I watched the show, I have stopped looking around my home with an eye toward purging or perfecting the flaws. Instead, I am able to rest in the knowledge that we have chosen our possessions and organized our home with care.

Ultimately, what the show illustrates about minimalism and perfection is really at the core of Kondo’s method. In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, she writes, “Order is dependent on the extremely personal values of what a person wants to live with.” Perhaps it’s that personal touch that draws people to Kondo. After all, personal touch is what helps make a home in the first place.