Marie Kondo and the Spanish Home

Is the Marie Kondo craze over yet? Netflix definitely picked the perfect timing for the launch of its new series on making our homes neater, happier places to live.

Seville skyline

The first month of the year is the one time everyone seems willing to try out new things, start new habits and develop new skills. This January we all seemed to get the urge to tidy up, empty our cupboards and bring a little more joy into our lives by getting rid of stuff. But has any of it stuck?

Growing up in Spain I always marveled at how spotless Spanish homes were. If I ever visited a friend’s house, nothing ever seemed to be out-of-place. Everything had a home, preferably out of sight. Surfaces were clear, with no piles of stuff getting out of control, there were few toys, none lying around, always put away after use. The tiled floors looked freshly mopped, not a speck of dust in sight. So, is the konmari method really necessary here?

Most Spanish homes I’ve visited belong to the same social-economical background. Many were run by house-wives or belonged to people who could afford to pay for a cleaner to do the housework. This utmost tidyness may well vary outside this framework and generalising would fail to reflect the reality of varying circumstances within the home. Nevertheless, in my experience, Spaniards are less prone to hoard useless stuff. If you don’t need it, if you don’t use it, you don’t keep it. Small apartments don’t have a ton of storage space, either, so to avoid clutter, you have to keep the number of belongings in check. Logical, right?

In this sense, following a folding method, such as the konmari one, helps you fit your items neatly into the space you have. I must admit, I have found this useful in my own home. My flatmate first got into the folding craze back when the book was published, and while I was skeptical to start with, it has its advantages.

Another aspect of the konmari method I thought was interesting, was seeing all your stuff in one go and really appreciating the amount we own. I like the fact it makes us stop to evaluate what we have and be thankful for it, as well as considering if we really need as much as we think we do. Moving house is helpful for this, too. As TCK’s will know all too well, packing up all your belongings and moving to the other side of the world can reveal just how much useless stuff we own and how little we really need to get by.

I found other aspects of the Netflix show much more frustrating. For instance, as a writer, I have more notebooks than I can count and many bits of paper, with random yet important scribbles on, that I can’t simply throw away. Books are right up there as highly valued items and yet neither of these aspects made an appearance until episode 5.  Plus, as Anakana Shofield pointed out in this article, there are more reasons to keep books than joy.

Though I generally prefer the book to the movie, in this case I haven’t read Kondo’s bestseller. Perhaps she does offer more tips there, but perhaps one woman and her tidying method can’t bring happiness to the whole planet, much as we all seem to have believed for the past month or so. How can one size fit all?

In my opinion, this method fails to account for cultural differences, or even personality differences. The value we place on stuff and which stuff we consider most important varies from person to person and from place to place. There seems to be no consideration as to how people from all manner of backgrounds approach life and their belongings. I have little knowledge of Japan and Japanese culture and therefore cannot judge how much of this method comes from personal preference and how much from cultural or social influence. But, as we can see in the series, Americans approach belongings in a very different way to, say, Spaniards.

Appearances matter a lot here in Spain and this is reflected, among other aspects, in the way people keep their homes. Just as it’s hard to find a scruffy Spaniard, it’s hard to find a messy Spanish home.

Homes in Spain are private places and it is a rare occasion when you get invited round. Socializing mostly happens outside, at the local bar  (there are bars on most corners) or out on the plaza in the sunshine. You sit or stand around, you nibble (food and drinks are essential to socializing) and you chat (loudly, preferably everyone talking at once) for hours. Yet an American home is a place for friends, for family, for gatherings. It is the embodiment of the American Dream, the symbol of success.

Owning lots of stuff can mean many things. It can be a sign of wealth, of status, of luck, of hard work, of greed. It depends on your context and your point of view.

What is true is that we live in a very unequal world. Some of us own much more than we need at the expense of the rest of humanity and our planet. This fact may be revealed by the tidying method but it doesn’t help us face it. 

Not everyone has the luxury of only owning items that make them happy. For some, simply owning something may be reason for joy. For others, the fact that they can purchase new items if they don’t like the ones they have, doesn’t mean that they actually need to change them.  

If this method works for you, then by all means, go for it. But a messy home doesn’t have to be an unhappy one. Things that ‘spark joy’ don’t have to be material. And there doesn’t need to be a global standard on how we keep our homes.

Spaniards have had tidy homes before we’d even heard of Marie Kondo. Perhaps her theories resonate precisely due to this fact. But I have a feeling they will still be just as tidy long after tidying up stops being fashionable.

Have you tried the konmari tidying method? What does a home represent in your country? What value do you place on material things? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.