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How Marie Kondo's 'Tidying Up' Method Can Improve Mental Health

 Emma Walters' T-shirt drawer after organizing.
Courtesy Emma Walters
Emma Walters' T-shirt drawer after organizing.

When she moved out of her Collin County apartment last July, 26-year-old Emma Walters began taking stock of her belongings.

"I have a Lisa Frank jewelry box from when I was like eight that I really love, and then I have a Peter Pan McDonald's toy of Tinkerbell," Walters says.

She's holding on to those, but Walters has been on a journey of tidying up and purging some of her old things. Her family has lived in their McKinney home her entire life, and Walters says she's never had friends over.  

"My dad is a little bit older and he's a very thoughtful and generous person," Walters says. "He has a lot of things in his house that he sells on eBay as well. He's really into laser discs and Beta tapes and mini discs and things like that, and a lot of it creates clutter, unfortunately."

As a kid, Walters didn't know how to feel about the state of her home.

"It did have a severe impact on my anxiety growing up, just because I didn't know if I could invite people over," she says. "I didn't know if I would feel comfortable with that."

"If you don't receive joy from something that you own, what's the point of having it?" Emma Walters said. She sifted through, kept, gave away and organized her belongings before moving back into her childhood home in McKinney, Texas.
Credit Emma Walters
"If you don't receive joy from something that you own, what's the point of having it?" Emma Walters said. She sifted through, kept, gave away and organized her belongings before moving back into her childhood home in McKinney, Texas.

When she decided to leave her apartment and move back home, Walters had to think about how to fit things from her new life into her childhood bedroom.

She sorted through kitchen gadgets, toys, bedsheets and movies, and she found local charities to donate her old belongings to. In the midst of that process, Walters discovered Marie Kondo's best-selling book, " The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up."

Kondo is a renowned Japanese organizing consultant known for her signature  KonMari method of decluttering. Most recently, she starred in a Netflix show, helping American families tidy up.

Kondo encourages people to hold on to things that, as she puts it, "spark joy." She credits her tidying philosophy in part to Japanese culture and the Shinto belief system.

It took Emma Walters a few months to finish the tidying process, and she began to notice some changes. She no longer felt as anxious about other people's messes. Through the KonMari method, she focused on what she wanted to bring into her future.

"[Kondo's] way of looking at things is just so simple that it makes a lot of sense," she says, "because if you don't receive joy from something that you own, what's the point of having it?" 

"Many times when we clean or we tidy up, we don't think about it that way," says Dr. Rebecca Corona, a psychologist with the Parkland Health & Hospital System. "We think about it more so as a chore."

Corona says living in a messy space can be harmful to your mental and physical health.

"For many people when they live in a cluttered environment, it's hard to relax, so there might even be people who have challenges with sleeping comfortably at night," she says. "Usually we can see people start to benefit from having a tidier environment that keeps their brains free from the clutter in their mind and allows them to drift off more easily into sleep."

For some, Dr. Corona says accumulating stuff might be a source of comfort, a way of feeling safe and prepared. For others, external mess could reflect an internal struggle, like depression. 

Corona says everyone could benefit from reflecting on what they own and why.

"If someone does find themselves using those types of coping mechanisms, it might be a good opportunity to find healthier ways to deal, like maybe cleaning up your home," she says.

In Houston, Ashley Barber has been getting more inquiries since the debut of Kondo's Netflix show. Barber owns an organizing company called Simply Maven. She's a certified KonMari consultant, trained to walk people through the method.

"I advise clients to keep whatever [they] keep with confidence," Barber says. "If you're not feeling confident about it, give yourself a time frame to kind of make a decision about it if you're still on the fence."

Barber saw an influx of clients after Hurricane Harvey. The 2017 storm caused an estimated $125 billionin property damage, forcing many to rebuild their lives.

For those starting the process of tidying up, she says the key is to focus on the things you cherish rather than fixating on what you're giving up.

"In the unfortunate event that something like that happens again, they feel like they would be somewhat better prepared or at least not have as much to deal with in that kind of circumstance," Barber says. "It's definitely changed their mindset as well about the things they own."

Copyright 2020 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Syeda Hasan is KUT's development and affordability reporter. She previously worked as a reporter at Houston Public Media covering county government, immigrant and refugee communities, homelessness and the Sandra Bland case. Her work has been heard nationally on public radio shows such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Marketplace.
Syeda Hasan
Syeda Hasan covers mental health for KERA News. A Houston native, her journalism career has taken her to public radio newsrooms around Texas.