In the introduction of her book (and several times throughout), Kondo quantifies the power of her advice—she estimates that she’s helped her clients (a group that doesn’t include her countless readers) dispose of no fewer than a million items. This number is astonishing, but a key element of Kondo’s argument is that hardly anyone is aware of how many items he or she owns. Most wouldn’t even notice if some of those items are gone, she argues, but the problem is that throwing things out and putting belongings in the right place requires jumping through some psychological hoops.
Why do people have so much trouble throwing things out? Turns out, the answer lies in people’s heads. Running through Kondo’s best advice and most of her book is the argument about the anxiety-induced limits of human decision-making. Seeing as an entire branch of economics studies exactly that, it’s no wonder that economists have a particular interest in her advice. Financial Times columnist Tim Harford agrees that Kondo’s methods are not only intuitive, but compelling to economists. Harford says that the clutter that piles up in apartments is a product of people’s cognitive blunders.
In my reading and practice of the eponymous “KonMari Method,” I found that Kondo does implictly touch on some important behavioral economics concepts and cognitive biases that prevent us from being tidy. She takes strong stances against these irrational mental habits that govern us. In other words, I think the reason Kondo-mania continues is because she has actually hit upon some good solutions to deal with these pervasive mental fallacies.
For example, Kondo aptly attacks what’s called the sunk-cost fallacy. The term “sunk cost” applies to payments (of time or money) that have already occurred and thus can’t be recovered. The money’s spent, an investment has been made, and it makes people irrational because it seems a waste to not use something that one has poured resources into. The irrationality of this thinking is that people ignore whether an item they own is still useful to them, and whether they’ll actually use or resell it. In my tidying efforts, I find that the sunk-cost fallacy hits harder for new items, because unused items retain more value in resale. Kondo’s advice is to get rid of them, and her faith in keeping only the things that “bring us joy” addresses the economic concept of opportunity cost: The mental and physical toll of keeping an unused item around is greater than throwing it out.
Harford, the FT columnist, found that the KonMari Method addressed other economic concepts, such as the status-quo bias and diminishing returns. He writes: “Status quo bias means that most of your stuff stays because you can’t think of a good reason to get rid of it. Kondo turns things around. For her, the status quo is that every item you own will be thrown away unless you can think of a compelling reason why it should stay.” I found that this new status quo was particularly helpful in discarding paper, namely because I couldn’t find a compelling reason to hang onto all my credit card statements. They came in the mail, and I kept them just because that’s what I always did. Kondo’s method sets a new status quo: throw them out. My boyfriend and I took this one step further, cancelling our paper statements for credit cards and utilities.