Can you KonMari Your Kids? (Do They Have to Know!?)

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Woman in toy room

With the release Marie Kondo’s new book, Spark Joy, devotees of the tidying guru who took the world by storm in 2014 have another chance to tidy correctly, and find, finally, the path to a “tidy” home.

I myself am just such a fan. I was skeptical when I first heard of Marie Kondo and her method (therefore buying the book on my Kindle, rather than the physical item, which I consider less of a commitment). But I was hooked. Instantly. It made perfect sense to me. I’ve never been particularly sentimental, (as my husband will lament) and therefore I don’t keep souvenirs, I don’t collect knickknacks, and I don’t keep birthday cards. Who wouldn’t be drawn in by the idea that we only need keep around us those things which “spark joy?”

I loved it. I gathered categories of things. I actually thought about what it was I had in our house. I took bag after bag to recycling, to the charity drop-off, and, frankly, to the trash can. It was liberating. It was freeing. I wanted to do it forever.

And then I stopped.

Not because I didn’t believe in the idea. Oh, I did. I stopped because I do not live by myself. If lived alone I probably would have become an actual minimalist by the end of the week. No, I stopped because not all of the possessions in my house are mine to, well, possess.

As an attorney, I dealt for years and in various ways with the notion of “possession, custody, and control.” It is a legal concept that comes up regularly when evaluating who really has access to what documents, or who had rights and responsibilities to maintain property, for example. “Do you have information regarding the incident within your possession, custody, or control?” is a question I have asked and answered more times than I can count. (Really, really boring stuff, by the way.)

Arguably I have possession, custody, and control over everything in our house excluding I suppose my husband’s clothes and personal items (which are not very interesting anyway, not a psychic weight on my mind, and therefore not a factor here). There’s certainly no one else who has more control. And yet, as I approached my children’s rooms ready to KonMari them into submission, everything ground to a halt.

I did feel that it was my job to maintain their belongings (they were only two and four when I had my first KonMari spree), but I was not nearly as confident that I would be correct in determining what in fact “sparks joy” for them. I was, temporarily, stumped. The question of whether the KonMari method “applies” to kids as been questioned extensively online and elsewhere, with many people saying that the amount of stuff a family acquires when it has kids simply makes the method irrelevant.

I beg to differ.

I decided to take Ms. Kondo at her word. I gathered, and collected, and pooled. I broke her categories down even further; not just “kids toys” but sub-categories of cars, books, balls, stuffed animals, markers, etc. And I took them one category at a time. Rather than looking at each pile as a whole, I really did consider every individual thing. The first pass was easy – anything that was broken beyond repair or true junk was removed. Done. Next I reviewed for things that were unmatched or unmatchable. Gone. Next was unnecessary duplicates. And with each pass it became easier to separate the wheat from the chaff. Invariably what was left in each category was a pile of true “toys,” for lack of a better word; things that my kids actually liked to use.

I think that when you have children, that is the real idea of keeping only those things which “spark joy.” The items that remained were the ones that my children truly used, happily, and for hours and hours each week. And not just crayons and their favorite stuffed animals. Yes, camping tents and flashlights are a hands-down source of joy for my oldest, much as practice golf balls are for my middle child. They truly love those things. I don’t truly love Halloween decorations, but they really do. On the other hand, no, they do not truly love poorly made plastic cars with wheels that start to come off the same day that they get them. Yes, someone brought them that car, but no kid is truly joyful about a toy that can’t even last through the day. So why keep it???

Did I feel a little deceptive about doing it behind their backs? Of course. Do I feel guilty when I make a sweep through their things now? Yes. Do I do it anyway? Absolutely. The process of going through their things with them would have taken hours. It would have taken days. There would have been tears, and tantrums, and so much upset. So much so that I probably would have given up. The result would have been rooms filled with mismatched puzzle pieces, and cars with broken wheels. How would that be better?

Now that they are a bit older, I think it is easier for me to do it and not feel as guilty. I have seen that they truly enjoy the result even though they would have hated the process. Never once have they asked me about anything I’ve removed, which I take as a good sign. When we moved the kids’ bedrooms around a couple of weeks ago I realized that another purge was in order. So I gathered, collected, and pooled and then purged. Then, when the kids got home from school, they were simply delighted that they could see exactly what was where. They talked about everything having a place, and they were excited to put their things back in place. They said that out loud. I do not feel guilty about that.

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Amy
Amy grew up in San Francisco and is currently trying out suburban life on the peninsula. She and her husband, Paul, have two boys, ages 6 and 4, a 20 month old girl, and one more on the way. Amy is an attorney, and before she became the butler/chauffeur/chef to her children, she practiced law for eight years in San Francisco. Amy enjoys reading, spending time with friends, traveling, skiing, and taking classes in interesting-sounding things that seem impossible to pursue, like architectural drafting.

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