How to apply Marie Kondo’s tidying method to your digital life.
Tidying up with Marie Kondo has taken Netflix by storm. But it isn’t all about the physical junk in your home, you can also apply the trademark “KonMari” method to your online world.
Written By VICTORIA TURK
It’s the most unlikely Netflix hit of the year, and it’s only January: Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, a show about, well, tidying up, has become a cultural phenomenon just a week after its launch on New Year’s Day, inspiring everyone you know to re-assess their cluttered closets and embrace a new-found love of folding.
The show follows Japanese tidying guru Marie Kondo, known for her bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as she visits American families’ homes and helps them declutter their life with her trademark “KonMari” method, tackling clothes, books, papers, kitchen utensils and sentimental items. But what about those things that clutter your life without taking up any physical space at all? Is it possible to apply the KonMari method to a digital mess? Can Marie Kondo save me from my inbox?
Channelling Kondo’s spirit, below I apply her tidying philosophy to various categories of digital clutter, from overflowing app libraries to your trash can of a Twitter feed. Just remember: Does it spark joy?
In her Netflix show as in her book, Kondo insists on a strict order for tidying different types of things. One should always start, as per the KonMari method, with clothing. Why? Kondo explains in her book that clothing is easiest, because “their rarity value is extremely low”. Essentially, they’re easily replaceable – unlike, say, family photographs or other sentimental items, which Kondo recommends tidying last. On her show, most people get through clothing without too much trouble, even if they have a mountain of the stuff; it’s not too much of a struggle to decide if a top or dress “sparks joy” or not when you examine it.
Similarly, we start our digital tidying with an easy category: apps. You’re probably not too emotionally invested in them, you probably have too many, and if you do get rid of one you later decide you liked, you can easily replace it.
Unlock your phone. A key tenet of the KonMari method of tidying for any category involves gathering every item together in one place before you start deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Don’t look at the apps on your home screen; go into your Apps library where you can see all of them in one place. Scroll through and take a good look at them all as a collective before proceeding.
Now, go through each one, give it a good look and ask the only question that matters: does it spark joy? This is the crux of Kondo’s tidying philosophy. Not “do I use it?”, not “might I need it?”, just “does this actually make me feel good?” If it doesn’t, click uninstall – but remember to thank it for its service first. Arigato!
Now store the remaining apps logically. Choose the most joy-sparking for your home screen. Arrange them by type, or by colour gradient if it makes you happy.
Social Media Feeds
Soon after Tidying Up With Marie Kondo launched at the beginning of January, a popular meme was to consider what the tidying guru might make of Twitter, which is not always renowned for sparking joy. Channelling the KonMari spirit, I’m here to tell you that your social media feeds do not have to be a trash heap.
No, seriously. If you genuinely open up Twitter and feel nothing but a sense of dread, you are, quite simply, doing it wrong. Like a bookshelf overrunning with books that only make you feel guilty for not reading them or a kitchen cupboard so stuffed with komono (miscellaneous items) you can never find the things you actually want to use, it’s time to declutter your social media and make space for your ideal self.
Let’s start with Twitter. Given most of what you see in your feed is defined by who you follow, the best place to start your tidying is probably your Following list. Go to the Following tab. Again, we need to start by gathering everything, so scroll down until you reach the end of your list. It may take some time for the full list to load if you’re following lots of people, but it’s easiest to do this now so you don’t get slowed down later, and this then allows you to see all of your connections in aggregate. Scroll from top to bottom. That’s a lot of accounts, no?
Here again, we begin the process of assessing each one and whether it sparks joy. Close your eyes and imagine Marie Kondo’s gentle voice so patiently intoning, “Is this something you want to bring forward with you into your future?” No? Unfollow.
A note here for those glibly wondering if they’ll have anything left. If your social media genuinely sparks no joy for you whatsoever, then perhaps you should say “thank you” to the lot of it and delete your account. But it’s likely that, if you keep coming back to a social media site, you are getting some kind of enjoyment out of it.
“Spark joy” is a very simple criterion by which to judge something, but it doesn’t necessarily have to mean that everything is 100 per cent peace-and-love, warm-and-fuzzy kawaii. Be honest with yourself: do you secretly get joy out of your interactions with a person, even if they are externally characterised by disagreement and outrage? Do you enjoy the verbal sparring? Do you take joy from exposing yourself to alternative views, or engaging with different perspectives – even if those views, or the people espousing them, evoke only negative emotions? I’d wager that most of those who complain the loudest about social media do in fact glean a fair amount of pleasure from it, if as nothing more than a mouthpiece for their complaints.
Repeat the tidying process for your Instagram following list, Facebook friends and connections on any other social media accounts. Tidy up the subreddits you follow. My personal Reddit has become a much more joy-sparking space since I tidied it to little more than subreddits on cute animals, nature and Lego.
I left this one for a while because this is the biggie. Even the most fervent Marie Kondo acolyte would struggle to find joy in their email inbox. Email, to me, is much like Kondo’s ‘Papers’ category, which gets little airtime in her Netflix show, most likely because watching people sort through papers is the most boring thing in the world.
Even Kondo loses her joyful enthusiasm when it comes to this category, writing in her book that “they will never inspire joy, no matter how carefully you keep them.” As a result, her advice on tidying papers is rather more prosaic: “My basic principle for sorting papers,” she writes, “is to throw them all away.”
Hear, hear. You can basically translate this attitude wholesale to emails. Emails are not joyful. Emails (mostly) do not need to be kept. Delete them, or archive them. Don’t spend ages carefully filing every email by subject or type – are you ever really going to refer back to them? As Kondo wisely imparts, people who are experts in storing or filing, as opposed to tidying, are really just hoarders.
On documents, Kondo recommends keeping just two boxes: one of papers that need to be saved (such as contracts) and one of papers that need to be dealt with (e.g. an unpaid bill).
Deal with your unread emails first. If you have recent unread emails – ones that are still awaiting your response and that you do actually need to reply to – keep these all together in one place, most likely just your inbox. If you have emails that have been unread for a long time, delete them, or at least archive them or mark them as read. Arigato.
Like unopened books you plan to read at some unspecified time, you are unlikely to return to an email you have not read for any prolonged amount of time, so don’t let it clutter your digital life.
Emails that you need to keep – like messages from your boss, or exchanges relating to ongoing projects – should all be saved in one place, kept out of the way until you actually need to refer to them.
While you’re at it, do a clear-out of the newsletters you subscribe to. Do they still spark joy? Or have they just become another unwelcome intrusion into your digital space?
Let’s move onto something a bit more sentimental. While your email inbox may leave you cold, sorting through the digital detritus of your personal messaging apps is a bit more emotionally and socially fraught.
Again, start by just scrolling down until you hit the end of your groups. Do you really need to be in 100 different WhatsApp groups, or are you just still there because it was easier to stay than to leave, or because you’d feel guilty for saying goodbye?
One of my favourite aspects of Kondo’s philosophy is the way she turns guilt into gratitude. So many of her clients hang on to objects not necessarily out of any real desire to keep them, but because the idea of giving them away makes them feel guilty. You might not like that jacket, but isn’t it sacrilege to throw out something you’ve never even worn? This is why the “spark joy” criterion for throwing stuff out is so liberating: you don’t have to concern yourself with how useful an item is, or how much you paid for it, or what kind of state it’s in. If it no longer inspires a positive reaction, it has completed its role in your life and is no longer needed. Instead of feeling bad about what you didn’t get out of it, you can simply appreciate it for what you did.
The same goes for WhatsApp groups. You don’t need to stay in Kelly’s hen party group four years after the event if you’re no longer getting enjoyment from it. You had a good time, now it’s time to say thank you – and goodbye.
As per the KonMari method, there’s no rule for how many groups you should stay in or which ones are most important; it all depends on what sparks joy for you. Following the launch of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, many book-lovers on Twitter were aghast at her suggestion that people should cast a decluttering eye on their book collections. But Kondo never insists that people throw things out, nor does she question their decisions of what to keep and what to chuck. If being surrounded by hundreds of unread tomes sparks joy for you, so be it. If being in a zillion WhatsApp groups is the key to your happiness, far from it for me to tell you otherwise.
In the KonMari method, “komono” stands for everything miscellaneous, such as kitchen utensils, bathroom products, and all that random junk the American clients in her TV series keep in their garages. Applied to digital life, this could mean Spotify playlists, digital photos, Word documents, or any other digital clutter that’s clogging your storage and generally messing with your qi.
The principles remain the same: view everything of one type in one place so you can assess the extent of its oppressive clutter, then go through and ask what sparks joy or not.
Kondo has specific advice on photographs, which she suggests leaving until last given their sentimental nature. If you’re anything like me, most of your phone photo storage will be filled with memes and other nonsense automatically saved from your friends’ WhatsApp messages and isn’t too hard to sort through, but if you’re a keen photographer you may well find yourself with many more personal photos that are difficult to tidy.
In this case, you know what to do: go through one by one and ask which ones spark joy. If you have reels and reels of similar pictures from an Instagram shoot, you probably already know which one you prefer – it’s the one you ended up uploading. It’s unlikely you feel the need to hang onto all the others too. As Kondo writes, “The meaning of a photo lies in the excitement and joy you feel when taking them. In many cases, the prints developed afterwards have already outlived their purpose.” There’s no reason this can’t apply to digital photo files, too.