Certain bits of “news” come to me first via group chat. A tidbit that a Washington Post reporter gleaned from attending a webinar with Marie Kondo, and published last week, was one of those.
Kondo, who was promoting her newest book, Marie Kondo’s Kurashi at Home: How to Organize Your Space and Achieve Your Ideal Life, confessed that since having her third child in 2021, she had “kind of given up” on achieving total tidiness in her house. “My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life,” she said through an interpreter, likely not expecting that her words would set the online parenting world aflame.
Well, they did. The fellow mom who sent the link in my group chat quipped, “Least surprising headline in history.” Tens of thousands of parents shared similar sentiments. After director Sarah Polley joked on Twitter, “Where is the official apology to those of us who she influenced to make our clothes into little envelopes while we HAD three kids!” she apologized herself, after a backlash to the backlash took hold, with Kondo’s defenders pointing out that nobody’s “making” anybody do anything.
But I think parents feeling a sense of schadenfreude at Kondo’s confession are not really angry at her. Kondo fell into a classic trap: She gave advice about parenting when her children were too small to really make a dent. I, too, have committed the cardinal sin of writing about parenting concepts when my child was too young to have opinions. (Mine developed hers around age 3. Your mileage may vary.) A few of my intentions from that time period have stuck: I still don’t pretend-play with her. But this piece I wrote about toy limitations, when she had just had her first Christmas and birthday and I was convinced that the stuff I got her—a suite of gorgeous and expensive Waldorf-ish items from Bella Luna Toys—would teach her to want very few playthings, made of wood and fabric? That was pure folly. My own pals with slightly older kids like to bring it up every once in a while, enjoying their own little bit of friendly “I told you so.”
In a development that will not shock many of you, at 6, my daughter actively hates that kind of “boring sing for parents,” as she calls the wooden playthings we still retain. If she could import the toy aisle at Walmart into our house wholesale, she’d do it. In Kurashi at Home, Kondo describes plastic objects as exuding an essence that’s all “bustling clatter.” Clearly, that’s not to Kondo’s taste, and it’s not to mine, either. But this “bustling clatter” is exactly what my daughter likes. She’s in school now, and she knows what’s out there. If a company has produced a tiny thing and marketed it to children, she wants it. Not only does she want it, once she has it, she will not give it up; she will see the giving-up of it as a tragedy, an affront, a source of great and wailing sadness. Not only do we not “tidy” together, she, suffering from a serious case of horror vacui, actively un-tidies, arranging the floor of her bedroom so that it’s a sea of used-up coloring books, vending machine trinkets, and dusty stuffies. A mosaic like this, she tells me, makes her feel safer at night, when she has her “frights.”
Kurashi at Home features two interior photos of kids’ stuff, both of them in sad beige Instagram-friendly color palettes. The advice given in the book for teaching the habit of tidying to children—as in a blog post on Konmari.com that seems to have been produced when Kondo’s kids were 2, a baby, and not yet born (to judge by the pictures)—is familiar to me from my toddler-parent days of idealism: Parents should make tidying a habit and donate toys if there seem to be too many, gaining kids’ cooperation by saying things like “We bought this new toy, but look, there’s no place to put it. We’ll have to give up one of the older toys, one that you don’t play with anymore, to make room.” It’s been years since I tried this script, but I seem to remember “I DON’T WANT SOME OTHER KID TO HAVE MY TOY” coming toward me at high decibels. And no, it doesn’t matter whether or not she plays with it anymore! You’re bringing logic to a knife fight. Tidying, as Kondo knows—and is likely learning more every day—is mostly emotional. For kids, those emotions rule.
What parents of older kids know is that no one person in a family home can possibly control how things are arranged. If certain mothers have felt a degree of satisfaction upon hearing of Kondo’s new life, it’s because to implement tidying advice like Kondo’s—or any other idea that’s going to require buy-in from a resistant child—you need to decide whether it matters so much to you that you will fight about it daily, devise endless strategies of gentle manipulation to make it happen, or just give up and do it all yourself. All three options are exhausting! And yes, it makes you feel bad about yourself to encounter advice all over social media that suggests you weren’t persistent, consistent, or persuasive enough to live an uncluttered life that, frankly, looks really relaxing.
This year, I finally unfollowed a parenting influencer on Instagram, a stay-at-home Montessori mom with a gorgeous house and five sometimes-homeschooled children who seem never to desire to sleep on top of a pile of broken Kinder Egg prizes and single Uno cards long parted from their sets. “I HATE MYSELF FOR WANTING IT SO MUCH,” my daughter wailed recently when we were in the throes of a fight over whether she should be able to buy yet another Disney Princess Bracelet Activity Surprise kit at CVS. This sentiment, coming from her, did not spark joy in me. And so, like Marie Kondo, I have given up. My colleagues with older kids tell me this, too, will pass. I hope they’re right.