Marie Kondo’s Essentialism and How to Audit Your Closet

Many of us aren’t shopping lately, thanks to recent global events, but pandemic projects abound and among them is the need to obsessively clean out our closets. If this wasn’t already your hobby, welcome to the Cult of Kondo. In 2011, we watched as Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” demurely upturned the world’s conception of possession and ownership. Marie’s massively successful book went viral but some critics complained that thanks to her “discarding” methods thrift stores and landfills have since overflowed with textile waste. We’re here to defend our girl’s theories but also to inform you on your items’ end game after you Kondo (not the trash please). 

Two years after the Kondo super eruption, Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus released the documentary, “Minimalism”. And yet what Fields Millburn and Nicodemus preach about simplicity the KonMari method resists. In “Minimalism” possessions are the enemy. Less is always more and stuff symbolizes ambitions gone awry. To let go of things is to be free of materialism. But in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, Marie is selling us on another brand, one where we get to keep our stuff--as long as it sparks joy.

Essentialism Explained 

Marie’s philosophy could also be called “essentialism”. Author Greg McKeown coined the current term and writer Lawton Ursrey described it this way:

"Essentialism is the art of discerning between external noise and internal voice. It’s a mindset—a way of life."

Marie teaches us not how to get rid of everything but how to tune in quietly and listen to that voice, and that voice might tell you to keep your Keropi backpack. In an interview with Manrepeller,she says, “Instead of focusing on what you want to let go of or how much you want to minimize, focus on what’s valuable to you and on what you want to keep in your life. I’d like to clarify that the definition of “spark joy” depends on the person. Minimal living may spark joy for one person, but not for another. The KonMari Method™ does not require minimal living.” 

We don’t all have to be minimalists, and it’s beautiful that despite being an ascetic, Marie allows space for maximalists and collectors. The amount of things you own doesn’t matter, according to her. Essentialism can mean owning many things or just a few, all that matters is that you truly love what you own. 

All things are living things

One of the more unusual aspects of Marie Kondo’s work is the belief that all things have spirits or kami, an idea based on the Japanese Shinto religion. She instructs us to greet our homes and our possessions upon entering. She thanks objects for their service when it’s time to discard. People on her show seem to stifle smirks when she kneels down in the entryway, closing their eyes uncomfortably and bowing their heads in silence as she communes with the home. Even though this feels bizarre to us, her reverence gives us pause.

In the West, it's not part of the culture to treat things like people. Our relationship with things is mostly antagonistic. We race to accumulate things cheaply, neglect their care, resent them for filling our spaces, then throw them out guiltily. What Marie is proposing is that we have a kinder relationship with our things. 

But why does this matter? Whether or not our socks have consciousness, human beings do. We’ve created a world of objects and have learned to produce them so cheaply and quickly, that they’ve become disposable. In doing so we've created a planetary junkyard we can hardly abate. In adhering to Marie’s method, we often find the things that spark joy are those of good construction and good materials or the vintage pieces that have held up for decades. Why did Apple make computers and smartphones of metal and glass when their competitors were making them of plastic and plexiglass? Evidentally, Steve Jobs was a known Japanese Zen Buddhist, a religion that apparently shares some beliefs with Shintoism. His choices of natural materials weren't just for the pleasant handfeel, they were also practical. The plastic screens scratched easily and the use of metal allowed devices to become smaller and more compact. Natural materials often perform better, feel better, look better and ultimately can be discarded better. 

While Marie is thorough in describing the process of editing our things, she doesn't say what to do with them after you've decided what sparks joy. So we’ve made a guide for after you’ve communed with your home's kami. 


Can you recycle textiles? It turns out you can. According to Recology, clothes with damage like stains, rips, tears, holes or a lonely sock should not be donated and can be recycled. These items should be clean and dry and placed into a clear bag in your recycling bin. Recology is the recycling service in San Francisco, so check to see if your city’s local recycling program has the same protocol. What happens to your clothes then? Old clothing is “ground down and re-formed into things like insulation and carpet padding—and a slightly smaller portion is turned into industrial rags.” 


Sometimes the things we love just need some simple repairs. A fabric shaver from Amazon can remove pilling and make your tees, sweaters and wool coats look brand new. If you can’t afford higher-quality pieces, this is one way to refresh and extend the life of your Zara or H&M items. If you are buying higher-quality pieces they too will benefit from the occasional buzzcut. Another tip for future buys is to cut back on thin fabrics made with polyester. Low quality, polyblend fabric is prone to pilling. Choose thicker fabrics where possible made from natural materials cotton, linen, wool where you can. 

Image via Collina Strada

Aside from pill management, different ways of mending items can change their aesthetic entirely. If something sparks joy but you never wear it, ask yourself, why? Is the hemline hitting in the wrong place, is the sleeve puffing weirdly, is there gapping at the waist? You can self customize pant hems with scissors leaving a rough edge, have a tailor change a sleeve, hem or waist and even dye or tie-dye faded or stained items. There is a Pinterest rabbit hole to be had of beautiful repair options like a visible sashiko stitch to attach patches, darning contrasting yarn into holey sweaters or adding patches to a jacket. Hell, companies like b-sides jeans and Bode have made their labels based on the upcycling concept. You can do repairs yourself, trade favors with a crafty friend or go to a tailor. But make sure to ask yourself if the repairs will render an item you love usable again, or if you’re just stalling the painful process of discarding. 

Image via i_D magazine

Photo via B Sides


Host a clothing swap or gift a coveted item to a friend. If it’s not sparking joy for you, you'll find joy in seeing your friend enjoy it. However, Marie would not approve of this passing the buck suggestion. She says to regift or store your excess elsewhere is essentially just transferring your clutter to someone else. Make sure it’s something your friend really wants before handing it off. 

Image via Machete 


Donate or resell clothes in good shape. Sites like The Real Real, Poshmark and OfferUp are great if you have more expensive items that hold their value, but you may not feel it's worth your time or the shipping a $5 H&M shirt. You can try reselling to Buffalo Exchange or Crossroads, but if that's not possible donating to Goodwill or standard thrift store is your next best option. To be clear, donating clothes to a charity shop is better than a landfill, but still not completely sustainable. On average, half of the clothes in thrift stores go unsold. Excess clothes then get sent overseas which can cannabilize the local apparel markets and if still unsold will be incinerated, pumping toxic fumes back into the atmosphere. Your items may find a new owner but donating to thrift stores should be seen as the last resort after exhausting all other options. 

Buy Slow, Buy Better

After you Kondo your closet there will be something of a mental shift. First, you’ll notice that everything that remains seems to match, leaving you with a tight curation that's easy to style. Second, you’ll notice yourself becoming strangely picky about what new additions come in. You’ll pay attention to things like fabric quality, fit and most importantly to that little internal voice telling you whether it’s worth it. Once you’ve edited ruthlessly, you’ll only ever want to fill your closet with joy.

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