Tidiness guru Marie Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy, offers reader nothing new, except diagrams perhaps

The Japanese organising consultant’s follow-up to her big-selling first book is a shameless repetition. Sure, she’s cashing in, but her philosophy is delivered with even more conviction than it was the first time

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 7:46am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 January, 2017, 2:52pm

There is an accepted principle in cinema that, since the sequel always outstrips the original in box office sales, all successful films must be traduced by cupidity in the making of a mark two (exceptions, of course: Star Wars, Toy Story). This applies, too, to best-selling books, but the difference is that books often sell well for peculiar and unique reasons.

An original idea – narrated S&M, for example, or radical tidiness – can never have the same impact again, because an idea cannot be novel twice. E.L. James redid Fifty Shades of Grey twice over any way, and there was a cynicism to it. Good luck to her, frankly; the publishing industry ignored her for a long time, and the offer of untold riches must have seemed like sweet revenge.

Spark Joy, by Marie Kondo, is different. She is cashing in, she can’t not be, and yet remains possessed by a zealot’s righteousness, so that, if anything, her philosophy is delivered with even more conviction than it was the first time.

Kondo’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, sold 5 million copies, having come out in English in 2014. With energetic rigidity, she spelled out her terms: there’s no point tidying a bit. There’s no point cleaning before you tidy. There are no half measures. Everything in your home must bring you joy and, if it doesn’t, bin it. Be ruthless with your sloppy side. Imagine your ideal home and, if it has no stuff in it, you could achieve that home by getting rid of your stuff.

Spark Joy, her follow-up, was published at the beginning of 2016, and has since boosted her total sales to more than 6 million. It makes no claims to originality; she hasn’t diversified into mind-tidying or decluttering your lower intestine (and indeed, it’s hard to see how she could have done, since by her rationale, a tidy home is a tidy everything). Instead, this is “in-depth” and “illustrated”, which is to say, “the same, with pictures”.

Decluttering guru Marie Kondo is back with more life-changing tips

Kondo’s repetitiveness is beyond shameless, she does it with gusto. “Finish discarding first,” she writes at the start of chapter two of Spark Joy, “I’m sure you know by now that this is a cardinal rule of the KonMari method.” Well, yes. Not only because it was the substantive principle of the first book, but also because it was explored at length in the first 20 pages of this one. But does it work?

If I chucked out everything but joy-generating clothing, I would be left with one cardigan and I would have to stay in

To treat our minds like our crud-filled apartments, let’s start with paring the KonMari method to its bare essentials: you cannot be tidy for life until you have done one defining tidy, which may take you many months. Pick up everything you own and ask whether or not it brings you joy. Do it by typology and not by room – clothes, books, komono (miscellany), sentimental items. You will be left, if you have anything resembling functional joy-judgment, with very little stuff, which will be brilliant for your house.

Book review: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

In the first book, there was a charming memoir element: the recollections of a person totally without self-awareness who learns to tidy first by chucking out her own stuff, then by chucking out all her sister’s stuff, is astonished to find that her sister doesn’t like that very much and, while utterly unrepentant, decides for efficiency to refine her methods by concentrating on her own stuff.

There was also a fascinating practicality to it; a way to pack (rolling up clothes, for instance, for a bird’s-eye view) that was satisfying. For 15 minutes, it is quite fun. Then the joy filter fails: tights don’t bring me joy. But if I didn’t have any, that would bring me a lot of un-joy. Indeed, if I chucked out everything but joy-generating clothing, I would be left with one cardigan and I would have to stay in.

She is cashing in, yet remains pos­sessed by a zealot’s righteousness, her philosophy delivered with even more conviction.

So naturally, now I have to redefine “joy”, and here I would have a lot in common with Kondo, who redraws boundaries ceaselessly to uphold her creed. It’s not a “rebound”, it’s “temporary clutter”. It doesn’t have to be “joy”, it can be an item so useful that you find joy in its use (in one memorable anecdote from Spark Joy, she throws out her screwdriver because it’s not joyful enough, then breaks her ruler trying to use it as a screwdriver). “This almost reduced me to tears, as it was one I really liked.”

Tidiness guru says keep only the things that bring you happiness

Well, obviously; all the ones you didn’t really like, you’d already thrown out. If you are a very fastidious person, using a treasured tool for a totally inappropriate task seems to me to be a recipe for unhappiness.

An unforgettable tip of Kondo’s from the first book is to empty your handbag at the end of each day, wrap it in some nonsense fabric as a mark of respect, and give yourself the gift of tidying all the stuff you just evicted.

When I read this, I speculatively put my hand to the bottom of my handbag and found a cocktail sausage, whereupon I did what any normal person would do and popped it in my mouth. All I mean to convey by this is that some people are starting a lot farther away from Kondo than she could imagine.

Spark Joy extends the original proposition partly with diagrams (the clothes-books-komono-sentimental rule has been audaciously padded out with naive drawings of the items), partly with philosophising (the god of tidying will never desert you), and partly with further explication. Tidying relates to objects, cleaning relates to dirt. There is a fascination in other people’s domestic arrangements that goes beyond any interest in interiors, but I’m not sure that we delve entirely for the purposes of self-improvement.

You’ll have noticed the flaw; this person has written a book about ridding yourself of extraneous stuff that is, itself, utterly extraneous. The brass neck of it brings me a complicated joy. I think I’ll keep it.