If you read Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and you are reading this parenting blog, you probably have as little appetite for Kondo’s second act as I do. In fact, I bet you’ve been through the same Five Stages of Life-Changing Magic that I have:
- Hey, I could use some life-changing magic!
- I think I can do this!
- Oh wait.
- Oh crap.
- Forget it.
Or maybe she even leaves the bowl in the sink because it takes two hands to wash dishes and a baby who can’t even burp by herself yet deserves at least one. But that’s okay: That’s just “temporary clutter caused by not putting things back in their place on a daily basis,” Kondo says.
But any insight Kondo has gleaned since becoming a parent isn’t obvious in her new book, Spark Joy. Children aren’t entirely absent as they were in Life-Changing Magic, where the only mention of family was to counsel readers not to worry about siblings and parents who don’t support one’s efforts to purge. But parents looking for advice on how to manage their own realities will find even the new book shot through with holes. Spark Joy’s section on “stuffed toys” involves teenagers and grown-ups throwing away dusty sentimental items — not actual beloved companions of actual children.
This is why Kondo’s life-changing magic makes no sense to parents.
It’s all premised on the idea that once you tidy, you’ll never have to tidy again. No matter how perfectly folded my socks are — no matter how minimal my bookshelf is — I’m going to be stepping in play-dough pies and Lego towns after every playdate. And nowhere does Kondo provide any tips on how to initiate my 4-year-old into the cult of de-cluttering when she’s too busy unfolding every blanket in the house to make a bed on the floor for every one of her dolls.
My clutter pile is a visual to-do list. Being home with my baby, I have a lot of time to fret about the clutter in my house, but not a lot of time to address it. My hands, quite literally, are full. And the stuff that piles up on my dresser, on my husband’s dresser, the insane pyramid of bedside necessities delicately balanced on my nightstand, the radiator, the foot of the bed — it’s stuff that needs my attention before it can be put away:
Toys that need new batteries (Reminder: buy batteries)
Outgrown kids’ clothes that need to be handed down
Gifts that need wrapping
Magazines I need to read
Charity solicitations I need to return with donations
Pictures that need to be framed
Purchases I need to return
Pants that need hemming
Other people’s holiday cards I have no idea what to do with
If I stick these things in a drawer somewhere I’ll never attend to them.
Marie Kondo’s slightly deranged obsession with tidying is not something anyone should seek to emulate — least of all parents. Parenting is an exercise in juggling priorities. Can we all agree that the spending time watching your newborn learn to giggle, your toddler to walk, or your preschooler to read should be at the top? Then comes the daily grind of dishes and laundry and wiping down the high chair that needs to come before you can worry about taking everything out of your closet and waiting for joy to strike. If once in a while you steal a moment to work out or write poetry or call your mom, good for you. The fact that Marie Kondo places more importance on tidying her things than using them should give you a pretty good sense of how alien her priorities are.
The constant turnover of baby clothes and gear means a lot of in and out boxes. The exersaucer taking up a third of my living room is bad enough. But my closet is also filled with bins of clothes my baby has outgrown, subdivided by who needs them next, and a bin of the next size up, which he’ll be growing into by the end of the month. We already have the activity table for when he’s done with the exersaucer. My daughter’s old Melissa & Doug puzzles are still hanging around waiting for their second act. Kondo’s caution not to get caught in the “It Might Come In Handy” trap ignores the real fact that these things actually will come in handy.
Marie Kondo’s abracadabra incantation of “Does It Spark Joy?” may be a useful litmus test for keeping old band T-shirts and notebooks from college, maybe your scarf collection and household knick-knacks. But parents’ lives are complicated and we’re managing multiple people’s relationships with the stuff in our house.
So tell me again how the real problem is that I don’t fold my underwear correctly or thank it enough?
Snyder is a D.C. based reporter and parent of two.