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April 02, 2019

Two Indian Women Try Out Marie Kondo’s Global Cleanliness Craze

Text by Tina Dastur

Watching the Netflix show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has changed the way two women approach clutter. They reveal how they’ve adapted a Japanese philosophy to suit their own cultural peculiarities.

As children, we’ve grown up hearing that cleanliness is next to godliness, courtesy the joys of joint families, in which a deadly combination of mothers, grandmothers and aunts unite to breathe down your neck about that crumpled top carelessly strewn on your bed or that chair that’s meant for guests but has become the unofficial wardrobe, piled with at least two pairs of pants you thought you’d wear that morning.

Fuelling the Indian mother’s fire is Japanese tidiness expert extraordinaire Marie Kondo’s latest show on Netflix, titled Tidying Up With Marie Kondo which has taken the world by storm. It’s important to note that its predecessor, a book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2011) by Kondo is what really started this global cleanliness movement that now has a staunch fandom of neat freaks. Kondo’s gentle, caring and affable nature, coupled with her precise instructions, makes the show inherently watchable. She explains how when we part with something in our lives – whether it’s particularly special or relatively unimportant – we must simply say ‘thank you’ to acknowledge the role it’s played in our lives before letting go of them – almost like a sweet farewell that brings closure. And then there are those two magical words – ‘spark joy’, which help to both ease and expedite the process. It’s simple – if something sparks joy, keep it; if not, let it go. The idea of tackling categories instead of rooms is also clever because otherwise, things tend to creep from one room to another. In many ways, the KonMari method of tidying up is cathartic and it comes with all the benefits of a minimalist lifestyle. It’s a different kind of joy coming home to a house that’s spick and span after a tiring, troubling day at work. The openness and airiness of a tidied-up home instantly lends a sense of calm and makes you feel happier and lighter.

Kondo’s cleanliness philosophy also has its share of criticism from naysayers, though. For one, people have challenged her views on whether joy should be the only lens through which items need to be viewed. Others – particularly angry bibliophiles – have come down heavily on her for suggesting both on the show and in her book that one must whittle his/her collection of books down to about 30. And then there are those who feel the show reeks of privilege considering it targets an elitist audience that is burdened with a variety of things at a time when the refugee crisis is raging.

But for all its criticisms, the KonMari method has also appealed to many globally, who have long been struggling with getting their lives in order. Here, I speak with Perth-based mother-of-two Shalayne Khambatta, who is director at health and beauty brand Nouvasse, and Mumbai-based Saloni Dahake, region manager, Southeast Asia at media giant OML, to find out how Tidying Up With Marie Kondo has changed their approach to clutter, what they’ve learned from the show and how it’s helped them find joy.

What prompted you to watch Tidying Up With Marie Kondo?

Shalayne Khambatta (SK): “My sister in law in Canada had just cleaned out her pantry, so before I started mine earlier this year, I had called her for tips. She recommended I watch the show.”

Saloni Dahake (SD): “I’ve always known of Marie and have read excerpts from her book, so when I got to know that she has a show on Netflix, I really wanted to watch it.”

What did you make of the show? Do you approve of all of Marie’s suggestions?

SK: “I love the show. Marie has such a calm and gentle demeanour, which makes watching a relaxing experience. I do approve of most of her suggestions, but the sparking joy part may not always apply – there may be sad memories associated with certain objects that need to be kept for sentimental purposes.”

SD: “Marie taught me that getting organised isn’t a one-day job. It requires planning and team work. She also taught me that I’m responsible for my own belongings before anyone else’s.

What pointers of Marie’s appealed to you most?

SK: “Taking out all items and spreading them out in front of you so you’re aware of exactly what you have. Throwing/donating and rearranging things can be a great help. It’s definitely made me maintain neatness as everything has a place and is tidy.”

SD: “One thing at a time. Mess is made over days and months, so why should cleaning happen overnight? Clearing up your mess isn’t and shouldn’t be hurried.”

Do you believe that only items that ‘spark joy’ need to be kept or are there other factors to take into account as well?

SK: “I believe other factors need to be taken into account, for example, sentimental memories. While I don’t agree with hoarding old clothing, keeping photos or particular items from a lost loved one can bring comfort and peace to some people.”

SD: “Keeping something that ‘sparks joy’ is one way to look at it. I also take into account where I live, how old the item is, will it benefit someone else more and what are my space constraints. You know how it is in Mumbai!”

Are there any tips that you have for Marie?

SD: “I think not everyone has to buy boxes or containers to keep their stuff in. We can reuse older containers or anything else to organise and make use of these older items in that manner, too.”

How has watching Tidying Up With Marie Kondo changed the way you approach organising?

SK: “I am most inspired by the folding and storing vertically in drawers. I plan to do a big reorganisation of my boy’s chest of drawers this week and am hoping this will keep things neat and tidy going forward.”

SD: “I’ve always wanted to tidy up my life. It’s been something that has always given me joy, but given my work schedule, I seldom get time for it. Tidying Up With Marie Kondo taught me a lot about self-love and how important it is. It has changed how I plan my week and helped me understand how I can spend my weekends better. Now a major chunk of my weekend goes into organising the mess I’ve made during the week to keep myself organised in the long term.”

Many of us are sentimental creatures who tend to hoard things handed down from our mothers and grandmothers… it’s almost a cultural trait of being Indian. How, then, does one part with items of sentimental value that are of no use without getting too emotional about it? How do you learn to let go?

SK: “I believe it’s definitely a cultural belief – if you let go, it’s almost like a betrayal or showing you don’t care. But parting with these can give you a sense of closure to move on, which is important for mental health and your mindset. Life is stressful enough without having another mental burden to cling on to.”

SD: “Learning to let go was not easy at all, but then I told myself someone else would benefit from it more. I gave up four big bags of clothes, some of which were new. The person I gave those clothes away to was super happy – and this made parting with them very easy for me. However, in case of clothing and miscellaneous items I can’t get rid of even if I don’t use it, I put them in vacuum bags, suck the air out and store them until I find some use for them. I’m learning to let go of this too, but it’s really hard.”

Basis the categories of items that Marie has established on her show, which do you feel will be most difficult for you to tackle, and why? 

SK: “Papers. I have filing that needs to be done from seven years ago! Having the time to tackle that will be most difficult.”

SD: “For me, the most difficult category is clothes – mainly because I don’t have ample space for them. I’d love to have a walk-in closet, but I’ve never seen one in Mumbai. Wanting to keep everything you want and may have use for someday (when you’re sure of it!) and not having enough space for it, is the hardest problem to solve.”

Do you agree with Marie’s suggestion regarding dealing with categories rather than rooms? Which option do you prefer, and why?

SK: “I like to tackle rooms. I can create storage and space for items as I go, which makes tackling the other rooms a bit easier.”

Do you think that the KonMari method is effective in the Indian context?

SK: “Anything can be achieved with persistence and consistency. If you change your mindset to implement KonMari techniques and stick to her decluttering philosophy, it wouldn’t be difficult to maintain a tidy and organised house. However, if you sink back into being lazy and messy, it won’t be long until things go back to the way they were.”

SD: “I think the answer is yes and no. It depends on who is answering it. For me, I’m always seeking clarity in everything I do, be it organising my life, work or wardrobe. I think the method works in theory and practise too – the only thing one would have to tell themselves is that it isn’t easy. You can’t tidy up and think it will remain like that forever. It’s a matter of forming a routine for yourself and making some processes a part of your life. Just like one buys groceries or household essentials on a Saturday, one must also keep an hour or two aside to tidy up. Except, the process is now easier because you already know what goes where, so the hard part is over.”

What about the members of your family? Have you managed to get them involved in the tidying-up process?

SK: “My husband and sons haven’t watched the show. I might get the boys to watch, but funnily enough, my husband is the tidy freak in the house. He is great at keeping things neat and loves to ensure that his working and living spaces are tidy. But getting my kids to tidy their games room with me is like pulling out my teeth!”

SD: “I live with my boyfriend. We did everything together, but we did it for our respective items. I think we’ve developed a bond stronger than before, and I no longer have to cry about washed laundry lying on the couch!”

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