Konmari Does Not Compute

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up book cover.

I want to first clarify that I love Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and it had a strong impact on me when I read it in 2015. It inspired me to spend several weekends “konmaring” my apartment and discarding (including selling, donating, or recycling whenever possible) more than 10 large trash bags of items that previously only served as clutter. For a little while I felt at ease, my apartment was a zen peaceful home as promised. But the feeling of clutter started to creep back in when I realized I only addressed part of my life, my physical things. My tidy analog life was in stark contrast to my messy unfocused digital life, arguably where I spend more of my time.

Does Konmari apply to the digital space?

Yes and no. Many of the book’s basic principles are general enough to be re-used in the digital domain:

  • Apply “sparks joy” test on an item to decide whether to keep or discard it.
  • Organize by category, not by room.
  • Start with easiest to hardest categories.
  • When starting a new category put all items from that category together in one area.
  • Don’t discard items others own.
  • Don’t let others see what you are discarding.
  • Thank an item when discarding it.
  • A gift giver wouldn’t want you to hold on to their gift if it’s causing you stress.

But the system starts to break down when attempting to apply specific techniques. How do you test that an item sparks joy if you can’t touch it? What are the categories and their order? Is there a digital equivalent of the humble shoe box? Do you really want to optimize for putting away, or is quickly looking up information more important? A lot is left to the reader to figure out.

In addition, the book completely ignores any of type of digital solutions to decluttering. If you have too many books, how about switching to eBooks? Maybe hoarding hundreds of eBooks sparks joy because they aren’t taking up too much space anymore. Paired down your physical documents to a manageable size? Why not take it to the next level by scanning all of them that don’t require the original copy to get it down to nearly zero.

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