It is with some chagrin that I see Marie Kondo making international news with the bombshell that she’s pretty much stopped tidying at home since the birth of her third child: “Up until now, I was a professional tidier, so I did my best to keep my home tidy at all times,” she told the Washington Post. “I have kind of given up on that, in a good way for me. Now I realise what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.”
You could almost hear the world exhale in relief at this change of heart: Kondo is perhaps the leading evangelist for order and decluttering, author and Netflix poster-woman for the good life. If she can’t make tidying work with three kids around, when it’s her brand, her identity and her life’s work, the rest of us are just fine. It’s like if anti-cigarette guru Allen Carr had started smoking again. On the one hand, shame, but on the other: what a stunning vindication of human frailty.
My particular chagrin stems from the time Marie Kondo came to my house, tidied my desk, whose two square feet took her three and a half hours, and told me this very thing – that she’d stopped tidying at home – even taking the time to point out that she had never said this to anyone before, and I still didn’t realise it was news. How could it be? When you have three children and one is a baby, you’re smashing it out of the park just by ending each day not in A&E. Human nature – indeed, all nature – tends towards entropy. People who think they can master chaos just don’t have enough children, or dogs, or interests.
I sometimes wonder how far I’d let my slovenliness take me, if I lived alone. Would I let bits actually fall off my house, so that it was a colourful riot of buckets catching leaks? Would I turn that into a feature (an interiors statement, I mean, not an article, of course I would turn it into an article)? My dad once went 11 years without washing his pillowcases, and they were stiff like a Barbour jacket with the accretion of head grease. I imagine I’d be something like that.
Instead, it’s a perpetual negotiation between my low standards and the demands of others: a spouse’s inclination to order, the children’s strong preference for mess to magically disappear while they’re at school. I think I keep it together, with the caveat that the only entirely clear surface in the house remains the desk that Marie Kondo tidied, and that’s only because I experience it like an accusation and have taken to working elsewhere (in bed; it’s also been pretty cold lately).
“Tidy house, tidy mind” feels so intuitive. Naturally, when there’s a place for everything and everything’s in its place, you feel more in control of your environment, spend less time looking for your keys. But the untold negative of that picture is that it entails constant vigilance over ultimately trivial matters: have I correctly put the thyme back among the Mediterranean herbs, rather than shoved it randomly at eye level probably next to the Nutella? What’s the perfect place to stack towels? What do you do with a book that you feel you should read but know you’re never going to? The language of priorities is not just the religion of socialism, it’s the religion of everything: every time I prioritise getting a weird stain off a table, there are much more bewitching things I’m not thinking about, and if those things are themselves also trivial, what’s it to you?
This is what Kondo has finally realised: that every minute decision contains an opportunity cost, the opportunity being to chill the hell out. If she hadn’t already had this epiphany when we met, I’d like to think I maybe rubbed off on her a little bit.
Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist