By now, you’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo. She’s the lifestyle/tidying guru who has sparked a worldwide decluttering movement. It all started with her bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — and now she has her own popular Netflix show.
Marie Kondo’s approach focuses on keeping things that actively make you feel happy (those that “spark joy”). She prescribes going through everything you own — by categories, like “clothes” or “papers,” not by room — and asking each item individually if it brings joy. If it doesn’t, thank it for being in your life, then give it away (or recycle, donate, toss out, etc.).
It sounds simple, but it’s designed to make the process of going through lots of things easier, and to build a home that’s full of good feelings.
But it’s also surprisingly controversial. She sparks joy, yes, but for some people, she also sparks some serious loathing. Some of this is just the usual cynicism about whether a lifestyle movement can actually change anything. But some is about the method itself, like when the internet completely blew up because she dared to downsize a book collection. (Spoiler alert: Marie Kondo does not think you need to get rid of all your books, and she does not care if you have more than 30 books, or even hundreds of them.)
Whew. That’s a lot of drama for just some decluttering, right?
But it made me wonder: when Marie Kondo’s method is already so love/hate, is it good for highly sensitive people (HSPs)? Or does it just give HSPs more anxiety?
I got answers straight from HSPs, along with tips on how to make the KonMari method actually work for you as a sensitive person.
“If your space looks a lot like a maze, your behavior becomes a lot like fumbling your way through — you guessed it — a maze.”
Can the Marie Kondo Method Help Highly Sensitive People?
To find out, I asked our Facebook community over over 21,000 HSPs what they thought of Marie Kondo and her approach.
Many of the responses were positive. In general, highly sensitive people find clutter-free places soothing. Several even expressed a love of “empty” or nearly empty spaces, which have a sense of calm and order. And, for most HSPs, it turns out that the opposite — crowded or cluttered spaces — actually make them feel anxious.
And it may not just be HSPs. Recent research suggests that clutter, in general, increases anxiety in people — and even leads to other unhealthy habits, like eating poorly or procrastinating, which spill the effects into other areas of life.
In other words: if your space looks a lot like a maze — or a junk pile — your behavior becomes a lot like fumbling your way through, well, a maze (or treating yourself like junk).
And since HSPs feel things deeply, it would make sense that the anxiety of clutter would have an outsized effect on them, too.
Take this explanation from an HSP named Mia, for example:
“I like clean and tidy spaces. Clutter feels claustrophobic. Just thinking of it makes my body react. I think some people may take her advice personally. She says keep what brings you joy. I think that’s pretty good advice. I mean, why have a house full of crap that doesn’t bring us joy? I think her method is not just about having a tidy space, but also the energy that space gives us as well.”
Another HSP, Heather, puts it simply:
“Order brings me joy, so I love Marie Kondo and her gentle tidying advice. I especially love her ‘permission’ to get rid of things I don’t love. It’s really okay, even if someone gave it to you.”
Thank you, HSPs.
“HSPs like the result of a big decluttering, but the act of getting there is overwhelming.”
Yes, There Is a ‘Catch’ to Decluttering for Highly Sensitive People
It wasn’t all roses about KonMari. One thing I asked was whether the idea of decluttering can bring anxiety, too — and the answer was a resounding yes.
One HSP, Lainie, summed it up: “I understand her process but I really get joy from my collections. I like arranging them, and cleaning them and talking to other collectors about them and shared experiences.”
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Other HSPs used stronger words, saying the whole concept gives them anxiety. For many HSPs, belongings are imbued with happy memories, and it would be painful to let go of them. (Marie Kondo herself wouldn’t oppose that, as those particular belongings are obviously a source of happiness.) In situations like that, the very idea of a massive decluttering can be stressful.
And for a lot of HSPs, it’s a mixed bag. Many like the result of a big decluttering — the tidy home, the calm spaces, the feeling of “lightness” — but the act of going through it all and getting rid of it is overwhelming.
“I feel intense relief after it’s all said and done,” said an HSP named Amy. “But I get anxiety before and while I’m clearing things out.”
So is there a way to fix that?
3 Tips to Make Decluttering Less Stressful for HSPs
HSPs thrive even more than other people when they have a healthy, happy environment. They need a space where they feel peaceful — and they deserve it. If getting that space means decluttering, I figured there must be a way to do it without causing emotional overload.
Here are three tips to make decluttering easier for HSPs (whether you use the Marie Kondo method or not):
1. Plan extra time for emotions.
Emotions are going to come up. That’s true any time you’re getting rid of possessions (like when you move), but it’s especially true with the KonMari method. Marie Kondo asks you to pause at each item and ask yourself what emotions it brings you.
For an HSP, that’s a recipe for nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and mixed feelings. It’s basically inviting a chance to get emotionally flooded — but not if you take things slow.
Plan in advance that unexpected emotions are going to be part of the process, and plan more time than you think you would need for just the physical act of decluttering alone.
2. Take breaks (or do it in pieces).
Decluttering can be exhausting and emotionally draining for anyone. Most people view the KonMari method as a single big “sweep” of the whole home, but you don’t have to do it that way.
It’s okay to take breaks regularly (real breaks, where you sit down and read a chapter of a book, or sit with a cup of tea).
It’s also okay to just do part of it today and part of it next week. One HSP told me that she’d be happier doing 40 little bits of decluttering over 40 days than choosing one weekend to do it all. That’s sage advice.
3. ‘Good enough’ really can be good enough.
Several HSPs stressed the importance of not giving in to the HSP habit of perfectionism. When you watch Marie Kondo’s show Tidying Up, you see a family’s home entirely transformed in just one short episode. At the end, it’s flawless — a place for everything and everything, without exception, in its place.
But that doesn’t have to be the way you tidy your home.
In real life, striving for a perfectly clutter-free home is an ongoing process, and it’s one you may never perfectly attain (especially if you have kids). As several HSPs mentioned, a “mostly” tidy home is better than a messy one, and way better than getting overwhelmed trying to do it all.
For highly sensitive people, decluttering using Marie Kondo’s method can bring an incredible sense of peace and calm. But as with all things, the most important factor is making it work for you.