Marie Kondo sparks global tidiness craze

Sparking joy: Charity shops have reported a spike in donations since Tidying Up With Marie Kondo was released.

Is it better to be tidy or messy? The cleaning guru and Netflix star says that neatness is the key to transforming your life, but studies show a bit of mess can encourage creativity.

A new year is a perfect time for a clear-out.

Pile all of your possessions onto your bed. One by one, hold each item you own in your hands. Does it spark joy? No? Then in the bin it goes.

This is the radical tidying method of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organising consultant who has sold 11 million books worldwide.

Her new Netflix series Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, in which she helps disorganised families throw out their junk, has launched a craze and generated headlines around the world.

The “KonMari” method focuses on identifying the objects that truly make you happy — whether they are clothes, books or keepsakes — and getting rid of everything else. She takes inspiration from the Japanese Shinto religion, which says that all things contain a spiritual energy.

“When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too,” she says. “Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.”

And our culture tends to agree, valuing tidiness as superior while looking down on those who make a mess. “Cleanliness is next to godliness,” goes the old saying.

But being too tidy can cause stress, says Tim Harford, the author of Messy: The Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives.

He argues that mess can act like as a physical reminder of your to-do list. A half-read book, a discarded letter: these things will trigger your memory. Without them, you are less likely to remember your tasks and be left with a constant, creeping feeling of anxiety.

Besides, a bit of chaos can be productive.

“Orderly environments promote convention and healthy choices,” says Kathleen D. Vohs from the University of Minnesota. “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”

When we are surrounded by random clutter, our brains can make unexpected connections to create fresh ideas. There are lots of famous examples: Mark Twain and Albert Einstein had chaotic desks, while Francis Bacon’s studio in Dublin is an avalanche of paint, papers and mess.

Tidy house, tidy mind

Kondo encourages clients to throw out objects that have served their purpose in our lives, even ones we keep for sentimental value. Is it a good idea to invest objects with emotional significance? How important are your possessions to your identity?

As teenagers, “tidy your room!” is a refrain heard all too often. It is drummed into us that to be untidy is to be irresponsible, slobbish and disrespectful. Can tidiness really be morally superior to messiness? Perhaps a messy room can be just as organised as a tidy room, in its own way.

You Decide

  1. Is it better to be messy or tidy?
  2. Would you adopt the “KonMari” method?


  1. Decide what your most important possession in the world is. Why is it important? How much would it matter if you lost it? Discuss these questions in groups.
  2. Are you tidy or messy? Hold a class vote and see if there are more messy or tidy people. Then, put your hand up if you would like to change how you deal with mess. As a class, talk about how mess and tidiness can affect how you feel.

Some People Say...

“Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder.”

Marie Kondo

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Japanese organising consultant Marie Kondo is known as “the queen of tidying”. Her new Netflix series, Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, is wildly popular and has sparked a lot of discussion. She encourages people to throw out any possession that does not “spark joy” in order to live a tidy life. Her books have sold 11 million copies worldwide.
What do we not know?
Whether it is really better to be tidy or messy. Multiple studies have linked being in a messy environment with stress, but others have found that messiness is good for creativity and breaking boundaries.

Word Watch

Kondo also encourages people to speak to their home and clothes as they are tidying them. She got the idea for her method after she fainted while tidying: “when I came to, I heard a mysterious voice, like some god of tidying telling me to look at my things more closely.”
A traditional Japanese religion that focuses on links between the present and the ancient past. There is a special emphasis on honouring ancestors and the natural world.
Kathleen D. Vohs
She headed a study that tested how well people performed in creative tasks in tidy and messy rooms. Those in tidy rooms were more successful.
Mark Twain
The American author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. He was widely celebrated for his wit and humour.
Francis Bacon
A British painter who was born in Ireland in 1909. His studio is still on display to the public in Dublin.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.