KonMari Method for Climate Change
08.17.2016, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

crumble2all images, Herring Cove Beach parking lot, Cape Cod National Seashore, July 2016

As described in a recent New York Time article, when Marie Kondo (aka KonMari) arrives at a house or apartment where she will do her work, she first sits down in the middle of the room and greets the space. She then begins the process of assisting those who inhabit the space, to lead a “clutter-free” life.  She does this work of “tidying” in the name of bringing more joy to those who live there, and perhaps to even bring more joy to the space itself.

We like to imagine that when Kondo is sitting in these homes during her initial greeting, she might be sensing something akin to what Richard McGuire illustrates in his brilliant graphic novel, Here —  namely, the lively, vivid personal and material histories that pulse through, under and around a house or apartment and also crisscross the location’s geographic and geological histories. Rather than an act of lunacy, the pause to “say hello” to a space could allow an individual to sense the forces and histories of that place on its own terms. Each home becomes a case study in multiple, material temporalities of humans and non-humans that extend into its past and future, including the things that inhabitants have acquired and are living with.

Kondo’s concept of “joy” is not a superficial state of being that can be purchased.  It’s a state that has been dampered by the clutter in many of the homes she helps to tidy. Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the author of a recent piece on Marie Kondo in the Times Magazine, writes that Kondo had “realized that the work she was doing as a tidying consultant was far more psychological than it was practical. Tidying wasn’t just a function of your physical space; it was a function of your soul.” That’s why Kondo can’t do the real work of de-cluttering for her clients.  That work required her clients to hold each item they have acquired and ask themselves:  “Does this spark joy?” If not, it doesn’t belong in their homes or in their lives.

Brodesser-Akner goes on to explain what comes next:  Kondo

“… says that to fold a shirt the way everyone folds a shirt (a floppy rectangle) instead of the way she thinks you should (a tight mass of dignified envelope-shaped fabric so tensile that it could stand upright) is to deprive that shirt of the dignity it requires to continue its work, i.e. hanging off your shoulders until bedtime. She would like your socks to rest. She would like your coins to be treated with respect. She thinks your tights are choking when you tie them off in the middle. She would like you to thank your clothes for how hard they work and ensure that they get adequate relaxation between wearings. Before you throw them out — and hoo boy will you be throwing them out — she wants you to thank them for their service. She wants you to thank that blue dress you never wore, tell it how grateful you are that it taught you how blue wasn’t really your color and that you can’t really pull off an empire waist. She wants you to override the instinct to keep a certain thing because an HGTV show or a home-design magazine or a Pinterest page said it would brighten up your room or make your life better.”

These powerfully charged words:  “dignity,” “respect,” “rest,” “thank,” “service” —  are all remarkably addressed to seemingly mundane things such as socks, coins, shirts and magazines. What does KonMarie know that most of us don’t?

The same day (July 6th, 2016) that the piece on Kondo appeared, two other articles in the Times described communities in Virginia and Massachusetts that were losing landmass from the effects of climate change. When read alongside the Kondo profile, these stories resonated differently than the usual “climate change horror stories.”

The first, “Should the United States Save Tangier Island from Oblivion?” (subtitled: “It’s the kind of choice that climate change will be forcing over and over”) detailed challenges being faced by those living on Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay.  It’s one of hundreds of islands off the coast of Virginia that have been washing away due to rising seas. The second article, “At a Cape Cod Landmark, a Strategic Retreat from the Ocean,” explained how the Cape Cod National Seashore is implementing a “strategic retreat” from one of the Seashore’s most popular beaches, Herring Cove, due to extreme beach erosion.  We happened to be in Provincetown that week, and a comment by Chris Miller, director of the Provincetown’s department of natural resources, rang especially true for us:  “Change is very difficult, especially when it’s your favorite place in the world.”

The reality of climate change resonates differently when the national new talks about your home being lost “forever” (in terms of human scales of time). We couldn’t help wondering if a KonMari-inspired method of addressing climate change might be useful far beyond its intended goal of decluttering homes.


The same dignity, respect and gratitude can be addressed to the landmass being “lost” to erosion in Provincetown — along with the social, biological and material histories that are “being lost” with this land. Despite this wildly different context, KonMarie’s approach provides an inspiring means to access what is materially changing around us — and to do so in ways that don’t always place humans at the center of concerns.

According to the Times, in the United States, “roughly five million people and 2.6 million homes are [currently] situated less than four feet above high tide.

“There will be dozens of Miamis and thousands of Tangiers. ‘The Outer Banks, the Delmarva Peninsula, Long Island, the Jersey Shore — they’re in the same boat… It’s going to just take a little longer for them to get to where Tangier is now.’ An excruciating question is how we will decide which coastal communities to rescue and which to relinquish to the sea. But a number of other difficulties attend those decisions. How do we re-engineer the land, roads and neighborhoods of the places deemed worthy of salvation? How do we relocate residents whose homes can’t (or won’t) be saved? Also, there’s the money problem.”

The next few decades will usher in long and slow geologic processes that have very uncertain outcomes. As Paul Bierman, a geologist from Vermont explains, the land off the coast of Virginia “is likely to be sinking for many thousands of years.”

The Times article on Tangier suggests that the area might be completely gone in 50 years.  Extending the life of Tangier even this long would require a lot of engineering, including breakwaters, pumps, vegetation.  It would also necessitate overcoming “immense economic and political obstacles” in the process that offer an “early glimpse of a problem so enormously complex, so ‘wicked’… it seems to defy resolution. Imagine this scaling up for Miami Beach (expected to be largely uninhabitable by 2050) or many other large cities along global coastlines.”

An act of managed retreat, like that now underway on the Cape Cod National Seashore, embraces the idea that we ultimately can’t hold back the water forever. It’s a “wrenching decision.” But arguably, it’s more sane than launching into decades of stalling efforts that all too quickly arrive at the same outcome.

“Given the forecast of future sea level rise over the next century and beyond, every problem that we have along the coast right now will only increase.”  – Rob Thieler USGS, Woods Hole

After spending three weeks in May on Captiva Island, FL for a residency entitled “Rising Waters,” we wrote the following:

“The reality of rising sea levels globally and locally necessitates migrations of many sorts, including migrations of ideas, emotions, sense of place, self and other. We sense that psychological and philosophical migrations of habitual ways of thinking and feeling are as vital to realizing the theme of the residency, “graceful migration,” as are infrastructural, scientific and preparatory/adaptive actions.”

As artists/humans, we are committed to imagining and inventing how we might meet the reality of a changing planet in our daily lives. We know we have a long way to go in being able to philosophically and psychology meet the scale of the changes actually underway.

Near Tangier Island, there is an island named Poplar. Poplar shrunk from 1,200 acres to 5 acres between 1920 and 1990.  When islanders cut down the island’s trees for lumber, they facilitated rampant, human manufactured erosion.

A woman whose family has lived on Tangier Island for generations, takes her boat to an area called the Uppards nearly everyday to walk the beach. There, she steps

“gingerly over fallen headstones while searching for bottles and buttons or taking a moment to appreciate the blooms of a dying rosebush planted by someone (an ancestor?) more than a century ago… She had found toy marbles and old coins and coffin handles; she had also discovered arrowheads and a Native American ax head of smoothed stone that must have preceded the settlement of Canaan by many centuries. But every week, she said, there was a bit less land and brush. And every visit was an effort to gather the final, sodden artifacts of a place that would vanish, almost completely, within a few years.”

It’s a difficult question, but is it possible to feel the “joy” that Kondo’s process asks us conjure in the context of so much loss?  From within the reality of climate change? Might a KonMari-inspired “method,” when applied to climate change, allow us to winnow through the chaos and distractions and access how and why we value the specific things that we are keeping for now and also those that we are in the mist of losing or letting go? Could this process give us a means for thanking these things, and places “for their service” on our behalf? It’s psychological soul work, but perhaps this time and labor intensive process could generate new senses of and capacities for joy.

As Brodesser-Akner writes of Kondo’s process: “We are told we don’t have time to have this kind of exchange. We should be doing something more productive.”

Elizabeth Royte writes in follow-up to the Kondo piece, “Be Mindful of What you Consume Instead,” that rather than asking clients to “consider their objects’ spirit”, it’s “better for planetary health, I think, to contemplate the tangible resources that went into making these goods – wood, metals, minerals, oil, plants, animals, water, energy and human labor.”

This is great advice. And to us, the “spirit” of an object most certainly includes the literal materials and processes that compose them —  wood, metal, animals, labor.  Accessing this “spirit” is where the joy comes in.  As Royte goes on to explain: “Knowing where our goods come from and understanding where they ultimately go — there is no ‘away’ — may help curb our acquisitive habits… [and] instead of asking if a household object brings joy, ask yourself — the next time you’re tempted to buy something new — how long it’s likely to please you, how long it will last, whether it can be repaired and what kind of trash it will ultimately make.”


Given that the Anthropocene is changing now so many things we consider fundamental to our lives, perhaps a KonMarie-like method can help us rethink what we consider to be “useful,” “needed,” or “productive.” It might help us rethink what things and processes are really generating “joy” within, between, and around us before they’re no longer there.  And, perhaps a KonMarie-like method can allow joy to become part how we connect with and consider thing and processes both within our lives and beyond them.







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