Marie Kondo - does tidiness really equal a clean mind?

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The world-famous tidying wizard visited Woman's Hour in 2017

If you haven't heard of Marie Kondo yet, it won't be long before you do.

Thanks to her new Netflix programme, the Japanese tidying guru has become January's "It girl". Chance is, you already know someone who is using her "KonMari" method, which promises not only a de-cluttered house, but also a clean mind.

"When you put your house in order, you put your affairs, and your past in order, too," Kondo explains in her 2014 book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. "As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need and what you don't, and what you should and shouldn't do."

But is it really as simple as asking whether everything you own truly "sparks joy" and then throwing away anything that doesn't?

'Relationships not relics'

Jerrie Sharp and her partner were inspired to get rid of about a third of the belongings in their London home after watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

The impact it has made on their mental health, she says, is visible.

"My partner is bi-polar, and he saw a massive difference having his office clear," the radiographer said. "He had so much stuff in there before.

"And I have become more productive purely from having no distractions. All the books on my shelves are ones I love - I am no longer looking and thinking, 'I've not read that'."

Abigail Evans, who has only recently started following the KonMari method, agreed the positive effects were instantaneous.

"I cannot rest until I know my room's tidy," the 26-year-old admitted. That meant that following Kondo's advice and doing a little bit at a time really worked.

"I've always been the kind of person who likes a de-clutter, and she makes it seem really easy."

For Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at Chicago's DePaul University, this kind of response makes sense. In fact, he would argue you should maybe go further than Marie Kondo recommends when clearing out your home.

Image source, Netflix
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Marie Kondo giving advice on her television show

Prof Ferrari's joint 2016 study, The Dark Side of the Home, found the more clutter people have, the lower their life satisfaction - and the lower the productivity.

"Clutter is not a good thing," he explained.

"We are living in this society where our wants become needs," he added. "What we need to do is let go of things. I tell people, do not collect relics, collect relationships."

It is not just Marie Kondo and Prof Ferrari advocating the virtues of de-cluttering. There are plenty of other experts out there extolling the benefits, whether it be the home, the office - or even your email inbox.

Take "Inbox Zero", an email management system which should, in theory, mean you end each evening with no emails in your main inbox, having rigorously sorted, deleted and forwarded every message which arrived during the day.

It might seem like an unachievable dream for those of us with thousands of unread emails, but people who achieve this inbox nirvana swear by it - not least, for the positive effect on their mental health.

"Most of my stress is because I might have forgotten things or am not on top of things, so this helps me relax," explains one of my colleagues.

But the current craze for a de-cluttered life does not end when you have finally thrown away the last spark-free item.

Social media accounts that advocate the joy of cleaning are also sweeping the internet.

There is no underestimating the interest in such accounts: just look at Sophie Hinchliffe - better known as Mrs Hinch - and her impressive 1.6 million followers on Instagram, not to mention the book deal with Penguin, all thanks to her cleaning advice.

Her house, in fairness, is utterly spotless.

But while many people are inspired by her pristine home and fastidious approach to cleaning, it has left others feeling a little wanting.

"Her immaculate house just made me feel depressed about my own home so I unfollowed her," admitted one mother on the website Mumsnet.

Marie Kondo's de-cluttered homes have not been immune to criticism either - not least for adding another layer of stress to already stressful lives.

"The media that surrounds us - both social and mainstream, from Marie Kondo's new Netflix show to the lifestyle influencer economy - tells us that our personal spaces should be optimised just as much as one's self and career," argued Anne Helen Petersen in her Buzzfeed piece on How Millenials Became the Burnout Generation.

"The end result isn't just fatigue, but enveloping burnout that follows us to home and back."

But could it be worse than that? After all, too much of anything can be a bad thing.

"Do we just assume that de-cluttering is a good thing because it's the opposite of hoarding?" New York psychologist Vivien Diller wondered in The Atlantic back in 2015, pointing to patients who felt a compulsive need to de-clutter.

"You take somebody who cannot tolerate mess or cannot sit still without cleaning or throwing things out, and we're talking about a symptom," she noted.

So where, exactly, does all this leave those of us who really aren't that bothered by a little bit of mess, and are never likely to consider whether their socks truly give them joy?

Luckily, you have your own guru (sort of). Meet Tim Harford, columnist, radio presenter and author of Messy: How To be Creative and Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World.

Image source, Library of Congress
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US founding father Benjamin Franklin - proof successful people can have messy desks

But first, an admission.

"I actually did Marie Kondo on my clothes, and it works," he said.

However, Mr Harford argues, a messy desk really isn't the end of the world - and the idea everything can automatically be sorted into its proper place within moments of its arrival is not always true.

"When you are being creative - when you are doing stuff - things get messy," he told the BBC. "Trying to tidy things up too early or too often - it is going to lead you to beat yourself up unnecessarily."

And for those of us feeling down about our inability to eliminate clutter, live in immaculate homes or get our inboxes down to zero, there is always the example of the author, investor and founding father of the US, Benjamin Franklin.

"He had this virtue journal where he kept track of all the ways he was going to be a better person," Mr Harford explained.

"Looking back at the end of his life, that virtue journal had really worked.

"But, he said, there is just one thing I could never do - and that was be tidy."