The Magic of Clutter: An Apology to Marie Kondo

Full disclosure, I have not read Marie Kondo’s bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. As a teacher with only two weeks off for winter break, I knew I had to jump right in and get to work if I wanted to have my house de-cluttered by Christmas.

Clutter and families

I did, however, downloaded a summary of Kondo’s book, so I think I get the gist of her method. No, I can’t truly say I have KonMaried my life. But I did spend the better part of a week getting rid of stuff.

Like Marie Kondo recommends, I was ruthless. I did not operate in phases. I pulled EVERYTHING out and relentlessly cleaned out closets, cabinets, and drawers. I didn’t listen to music or allow myself “maybe” piles. I was a machine.

Still, there were some roadblocks to “the magic” that I don’t think Kondo could have anticipated.

For starters, she recommends NOT organizing anyone else’s stuff. Okay. This sounded good. With all the kids out of school and my son home from college, it seemed like the perfect time to get my children to go through their rooms and get rid of everything that does not “spark joy” for them.

I worried I would have to cajole, bribe, or even threaten them to spend their holiday break cleaning. But no. Turns out when your idea of cleaning out your room simply means throwing everything you don’t want into the hall, the whole process only takes about an hour.

In no time my children had pristine bedrooms. And I could not safely walk from one end of the house to the other.

To further complicate matters, some of the things my kids considered junk, actually sparked joy for me. When my 12-year-old blithely tossed his teddy bear into the hall, I wanted to cry. My college son’s last box of clothes that he will ever outgrow definitely gave me pause.

But it was the three boxes of doll clothes that my teenage daughters were so willing to part with that really slowed me down. I spent a ridiculous amount of time lovingly and painstakingly matching up and folding each tiny outfit. I stopped short of, as Kondo suggests, holding and thanking each piece for its service, but still, I think I spent more time organizing the dolls’ clothes than my own.

Another thing Marie Kondo has not likely dealt with is Nerf darts. It’s our own fault actually. A few years ago my husband and I decided to save ourselves a trip to the mall. We opened a bottle of wine, logged onto Amazon, and did all our Christmas shopping from the comfort of home in under two hours (and two bottles of wine). Unfortunately, inspired by Christmas cheer, we ordered all four of our kids Nerf guns – with extra darts.

That has been three years ago, but I am not exaggerating when I say that there was not a single drawer, cabinet, closet, basket, or centerpiece in my house did not contain at least one Nerf dart.

With all those darts, approximately 70,000 matchless socks, a couple of dozen hidden dog toys, and enough stray bobby pins to build a life-size replica of the Eiffel Tower, KonMaring was way more complicated than just adopting a new filing system and whispering sweet goodbyes to my old sweaters.

But eventually I did it! I successfully cleaned out my entire house.

When I made my final trip to our local Saint Vincent de Paul thrift store to drop off a last load stuff, I felt great. I felt relieved. I felt exhausted. But I did not feel the magic.

Maybe it’s because Kondo is a professional tidier. Just let that sink in for a minute – her full-time job is to tidy. And she gets paid for it! No wonder she’s so good at it. I feel certain if tidying was my primary occupation, my house would be a magical oasis of serenity as well.

Oh wait! No it wouldn’t. Because no matter how much time I might have for tidying or how much someone paid me (as if!), I have four kids. FOUR. That is exactly four more than Marie Kondo has.

[More on What Motherhood Means here.]

That means that for all the hard work I put in, by the time I got home from Saint Vincent’s, the house was already untidy again. By the time we had opened that last Christmas present, it felt like I was back to square one.

But here’s the thing. I’m used to that. I’m used to picking up after my kids – and nagging them to pick up. I’m used to chaos and messes and clutter.

And with apologies to Marie Kondo, that is my joy.

This isn’t to say that I rejoice in all of my children’s messes. If my kids would stop leaving their dishes lying around, if they were better at hitting the hamper, if I never tripped over their shoes, it would spark bonfires of joy.

But I also find joy from an open algebra book on the dining table or a baseball glove on the couch. Give me a letter jacket draped over a chair or a set of golf clubs in my entrance hall. Because all of it – all of this clutter is just the footprints of my children.

Sure I enjoy a tidy home. I’m happy to have thrown out old shopping lists and user manuals. Good riddance to clothes that don’t fit and magazines I’ve already read. But when I realize that our days of Teddy bears are over, that the dolls are all packed away, and that I might never find another Nerf dart in my centerpiece, I feel anything but joy.

So for now, while my children are still here, while they are still leaving their footprints, I won’t lament the messes. I won’t worry too much about life-changing tidiness. For now, I’m just going to enjoy the magic of clutter.


What’s Worse Than Missing My Kids

Never Again Will I…A View From an Empty Nest

Dear Mom of Young Children: These Days Will Disappear

About Laura Hanby Hudgens

Laura Hanby Hudgens is a part-time high school teacher and a freelance writer living with her husband and children in the Arkansas Ozarks. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Grown and Flown, and elsewhere. You can learn more about her at Charming Farming, where she occasionally blogs about faith, food, education, and family life.

Read more posts by Laura

Don't miss out!
Want more like this? Get updates about parenting teens and young adults straight to your inbox.