Famed Japanese home organization consultant Marie Kondo has inspired millions around the world to focus on optimizing their home environment. Although the thought of organizing and “de-cluttering” is a source of dread for many, Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, has performed tremendously from Tokyo to New York City. What is it about a book on home organizing that appeals to so many?
Kondo helps readers conceptualize their home organization and storage habits by utilizing basic economic concepts. Through these concepts, the author translates the oftentimes daunting language of organizing to everyday, palatable lingo. She effectively guides the reader along the path of uncovering the very psychological correlations between organizational habits and psychology.
The Sunk-Cost Fallacy in Organizing
In economic terms, a sunk cost is a past cost that has already been paid and cannot be recovered. This term is highly applicable when it comes to organizing and is a major setback for many individuals who struggle to donate or discard unused items. For example, an individual may purchase a fruit bowl or even a small kitchen appliance while it is on sale and later decide not to use the item because the colors clash with the current decorating theme or because there is simply not enough space on the kitchen counter. Over time, the new purchase remains unused, and the individual may or may not realize the item is not really a necessity. However, the item remains in place because it is perpetually regarded as a “purchase” that went unused and may still be of use at a later date. Meanwhile, the item takes up space in the home and will likely never be used because it does not meet a more urgent need in the household.
When sorting through closet and storage spaces, remaining honest about an item’s realistic potential for use is paramount. While I, personally, do not aggressively focus on forcing clients to discard items simply for the sake of getting rid of things, I do encourage my clients to audibly talk through the way in which the item came into the home and list realistic pros and cons of keeping the item. At that point, the individual is typically able to make a firm, practical decision about whether the item should go or stay.
The Folly of Prediction in Sorting and Purging
More thoroughly explained in the Freakonomics podcast, the folly of prediction simply acknowledges that, in the grand scheme, human beings are often terrible at making accurate predictions. How does this relate to organizing? Marie Kondo uses this fallacy as a basis for utilizing current valuation of an object to determine whether to keep or remove it from the household. Common examples include clothes that are a few sizes too small or books that have already been read. At this point, my method diverges from the KonMari method slightly in that I typically do not insist on a client getting rid of clothing that is within a couple sizes of his or her current weight or donating favorite books if a) there is space to store the items within easy reach OR neatly within plain sight and b) the client establishes or is clearly working on an organized plan to get back into the smaller clothing size or reread the book. Other examples include housewares and decorations that were purchased for a specific purpose and will likely never be used again. Board games and toys that never see the light of day should also be considered through this lens in most cases.
Status Quo Bias and Preventing the Accumulation of “Clutter”
Under the status quo bias, as it relates to organizing, many people are governed by the belief that they should keep an item in the home if they cannot think of a reason to discard the object. Here Marie Kondo employs a dramatic switch that I find to be the most life-changing of all the economic concepts discussed: she suggests changing the status quo to one under which no item is kept in the home unless there is a valid reason to hold onto it. Under the suggested status quo, most of us would be opting for online bank, credit card, and utility statements, recycling empty bags and boxes, no longer keeping massive collections of old, unused plastic food storage containers. The average American household would be drastically different in form and, to a significant degree, in function. We would no longer need to go out and purchase new stuff to help us store our old stuff.
What would we do with all that extra space? Imagine how much more “living” we could do in our home environments…
For more information about the interplay between the KonMari method and economics, check out this Atlantic editor’s personal experience.