Can Marie Kondo teach a four-year-old how to tidy up?

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

OPINION: For every parent starting 2020 wondering which already overflowing cupboards in which to stuff new clothes and toys, I've been there.

It was after being jabbed in the foot - again - by a piece of plastic detritus that had found its way into the middle of the living room floor that I realised I had to take action.

It was not going to be easy, as I discovered when I told my unimpressed four-year-old that clutter-filled life as we knew it was about to change. I was out of tactics: the "clean up" song from playgroup has long lost its impact, and my enthusiastic attempts at using competition as a motivator ("Let's see who can tidy these up the fastest!") were falling on deaf ears.

So I enlisted a new ally - Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo. Eleven million copies of her books, 'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy', have been snapped up worldwide.

On Netflix, she sweeps into messy homes like a tiny Mary Poppins, leaving serenity in her wake. She's even set up an online store, selling objects like a Tuning Fork & Rose Quartz Crystal (AUD$110). It should look perfect on your newly mess-free sideboard.

In November, she added a new book to her empire, and it's not pitched at free-flying millennials or downsizing boomers. Kiki & Jax: The Life-Changing Magic of Friendship is for young children. Co-written and illustrated by Salina Yoon, it tells the story of Kiki the squirrel, who enjoys collecting, and Jax the owl, who loves sorting.

Lessons are learnt, folding techniques perfected, and friendships transformed.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Inspired by @mariekondo’s KonMari Method, “Kiki & Jax” tells the endearing story of two best friends who couldn’t be more different: Kiki is a collector and Jax is a sorter. The one thing they always agree on is how much fun they have together. But when Kiki’s things start getting in the way, they have to figure out how to make room for what’s always sparked joy – their friendship. Preorder your copy now! Link in profile. - - - - - #kikiandjax #konmari #konmarimethod #mariekondo #sparkjoy #mykonmari #tidytips #choosejoy #tidyingup #livingwithkids #kidsbooks #konmariwithkids #konmarikids #childrensroom #messykids #newbookalert #bookstangram #shelfie #bookstoread #childrensbookstagram #tidyhome #lifestyleguide #doesthissparkjoy #kidsplay #parenting101

A post shared by KonMari (@konmari.co) on

We needed all the help we could get. I've long envied minimalists who gift their offspring just one well-chosen present a year. But despite my best efforts to limit what my two children are given, generous relatives enjoy buying gifts.

Advertisement

The double whammy of our Christmas and Hanukkah celebrations seem somehow more excessive after Freya's November birthday. Throw in the stuff from three international house moves and if I was to have a hope of starting the new year with anything close to a clean slate, we had to get going.

Freya loves books, so was happy to settle down with me to read. But the introduction from MK herself got short shrift; she was definitely not interested in how the book would inspire us to tidy and "discover its transformational magic as a family".

But the story itself was a big hit. Freya laughed at how Kiki has so much stuff that she piles her clothes in the bath. She was sad when Kiki couldn't find her swimsuit in all the mess and had to miss swimming with Jax. She even nodded when Jax says he missed Kiki, "but things got in the way".

Photo: Marie Kondo / Instagram

Photo: Marie Kondo / Instagram

When Jax teaches his friend a simplified version of Kondo's famous decluttering method, Freya was genuinely interested. You put things in piles (clothes, books, toys), he says, and then hold each in turn: "If it sparks joy in your heart, keep it! And if it doesn't, thank it and let it go."

Grabbing the momentum, I suggested we tried it out ourselves with some soft toys. "This sparks joy!" she shouted at some, "No joy, mummy" to others. She thanked each of the rejects - as Jax advises - and we put them into piles for "donating", "rubbish" or "recycle". I felt spectacularly smug.

Then her 22-month-old sister Emily woke up. (Don't have children? Picture the supermarket Black Friday battle over a huge TV no-one actually needs and you're halfway there.)

There could be nothing more infuriating for Freya than seeing her little sister holding her toy - even one she discarded as joyless less than a minute before. The "thank you but no" pile was no more; we were back to square one.

In order to make progress, I had to carve out one-on-one time. After work, my husband Mark stepped in to distract Emily while Freya and I sat at the dining table; safe from the youngest's eye level, we were finally more successful in deciding what my four-year-old could do without.

But speed was of the essence: I quickly whisked away the rejects, put what was left into a sandwich bag labelled "joy", and we were done. There was one flaw in the method though: strategically going through everything reminded Freya of toys she'd totally forgotten about. Smurfettes and toucans are suddenly back in rotation; I was reminded of exactly why I took the choking hazards away in the first place.

By that first weekend, Freya had embraced the concept, asking to play "the piles game". But trouble brewed at the cinema. Getting ready for Frozen 2, she dashed over to the pick and mix; when I tell her she has more than filled her bag, she replies: "But it brings me joy, Mummy!" I don't think this is what Marie had in mind.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by KonMari (@konmari.co) on

Clothes were another sticking point. It's all very well building a huge pile of summer clothes to go through now we're consigned to knitwear. But Freya refused to accept that she'd outgrown any of them, especially anything with sparkles.

Joy isn't everything when it doesn't fit over your head, I explained. Toddler logic plus "joy" doesn't always respond to rational thinking. I resorted to sneaking things away when she wasn't looking. Sorry, MK.

There was one part of the book that certainly wasn't bringing either of us joy. The two-page coda is titled "How to fold a shirt - the KonMari way". In seven steps, Jax demonstrates Kondo's "revolutionary" folding method. It looks easy; it isn't.

Reading one of the many blogs dedicated to the KonMari by her "Konverts", I learn that this is a cornerstone of her method. Apparently, clothes take up less space in drawers and it's easier to see what you have. That much makes sense. The fact that clothes are happier folded than hung up? I'm more sceptical.

We tried it for days but couldn't achieve the special fold that means the T-shirt can "stand up" on its own. Freya declared the whole thing silly, and I'd be lying if I said a few things weren't thrown around. And not just by Freya.

In the end I headed for an online video and, finally, we cracked it - just in time for Emily to notice and unravel all our hard work. I still considered that progress.

But the true test came at the witching hour - that post-dinner, pre-bath period that usually means mayhem and mess. As usual, all the sofa cushions were on the floor and Frozen was on the speakers. Yet this time I heard Freya say: "Emily, before we dance, we should tidy up." I'm Konvinced.

The Telegraph, London