Why Japanese-Style Decluttering Isn’t Optimal for Most Americans

With her new Netflix series, writer/declutterer Marie Kondo is leading the decluttering boom that continues to grow. There is no doubt that her work is inspiring to many people.

But she lives in Japan, where the average home is 700 square feet in Tokyo, 1023 square feet in Japan as a whole, and 1600 square feet in small cities outside of Tokyo. Compare this to the U.S. where it’s been estimated that homes are twice as large as in Japan, approximately 1800-2000 square feet in the cities and almost 50% larger than that where there is new construction, and it becomes obvious that decluttering American-style requires a completely different dynamic than the way Ms. Kondo declutters.

Yes, her ideas are often clever, but she can’t address the special kind of desperation that results when you’re overwhelmed with clutter in multiple rooms and levels, not to mention offsite in a storage unit (or two). Her techniques are useful, but you need a plan to work through such a lot of stuff, step by step, so that you don’t get discouraged or run out of energy and give up before you’ve gone through everything.

Just the fact that Americans tend to have more children than the Japanese results in larger homes with more kiddie clutter that reproduces faster than one can imagine, thanks to generous doting relatives and friends. Like everything else, when it comes to clutter, we Americans do it up big.

So when you consider the quantity of stuff we’re talking about, it could literally take years to say thank you and goodbye to each item you’re giving up (as Ms. Kondo recommends) in a major decluttering effort. Personally, I’ve learned over the years that sorting everything, keeping only the most useful and beautiful items, and filling the car with the rest of the stuff and dropping it off at the Goodwill without a backwards glance is quicker and less emotional. But that’s just me 😉