is marie kondo good for quilts? :: Okan Arts
is marie kondo good for quilts?

is marie kondo good for quilts?

By guest blogger Teresa Duryea Wong

Marie Kondo is adorable. She sparkles. Marie is a tiny Japanese woman who wrote a tiny little book, The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, that sold really big — over 10 million copies. Now she has a new Netflix series where she helps people “tidy up.”

Her adorableness makes you want to cheer her on. Makes you want to sign up. Yes, I want a tidy life. Yes, I want to feel joy. Please, Marie, just show me how!

Marie’s religion helps people decide what stuff to keep by deciding what “sparks joy” for them. If an item does not spark joy, get rid of it she says. I embraced the concept. I cleaned my closet. I got rid of old stuff and donated it. I folded my jeans so they stand up. I organized my shoes. It was joyful.But after that, her joyful method met a spectacular collapse in my home. Marie, I said, you are not touching my books and certainly not my quilts or my studio!

Can you imagine what would happen if she entered a home like mine with piles of old quilts? She’d ask, do these spark joy? And of course, I’d say no. Joy is not the right feeling. I’d explain, these quilts were made by my grandmother, my great-grandmother. These quilts once kept my family warm. Mothers made these quilts that for their children. These are a part of the people who came before us. These do not spark joy. They take up space and collect dust. They are hard to store. But I keep them because they spark something more important than joy. They spark memories. They are our history.

In her television show, Marie consistently encourages people to get rid of their books. She suggests they do not open the book, just look at its cover and decide if it sparks joy. This is crazy. Getting rid of all my books would make me sad. Like old quilts, books are hard to store and collect dust, but I keep them because of what they once meant to me. They represent literature and learning. They do not spark joy. I keep them because I love them.

And what about our quilt studios and workspaces? Does your space have clutter? Mine does. Some days I wish it was less cluttered, but I also believe that clutter can spark creativity. A dusty old object can spark inspiration. A shiny tool can spark creativity. For example, I have over two dozen pairs of scissors. Do I need them all? Does each pair spark joy? No. They simply have a job to do. But even my ordinary, utilitarian scissors can spark creativity. They are part of the process. They have nothing to do with joy and everything to do with how I create.

And what about all that fabric? Like many of you, I have tons of fabric. There are days when it stresses me out because I feel like I should be using it more quickly. But then those feelings pass, and I look at my stash and I am inspired. That’s the thing about emotions, they change.

Cleaning might feel joyful for a moment. But it can go too far. Don’t break what isn’t broken. And so my dear adorable Marie, you can have my closet, my jeans, my shoes, but you must stay away from the stuff that sparks my creativity — my books, my studio and my quilts!

Teresa Duryea Wong writes and speaks about quilting and textiles. Her most current book is American Cotton: Farm to Quilt.

To visit Teresa’s website and check out her popular books +click here

To see a video that flips through Teresa’s book, American Cotton +click here

leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

56 comments to “is marie kondo good for quilts?”

  1. Mrs. Plum says:

    Teresa, your studio looks MUCH tidier and more organized than mine. I agree with you about fabric—it is my inspiration as well. I have not read Marie’s book. I love the look of tidy, but cannot seem to maintain it. Somehow, the serendipity I find in chaos is what inspires me.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Chaos can spark joy and creativity too! Don’t worry and keep on doing what you are doing. Teresa

  2. Jane Holbrook says:

    I draw the line at tidying my quilt studio. Mine isn’t as neat as yours, but it is definitely my happy place. Thanks for the humorous write up.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      You are so welcome! My studio is not always this clean… I often have piles of junk! And that’s okay. Teresa

  3. Shasta says:

    Your sewing room looks tidy. If you take out the things that don’t bring you joy, you have more room for the things that do. It is obvious to me that your books and quilts do bring you joy. Maybe your definition of joy is different from Marie’s.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Shasta: This is true. Everyone has different interpretations, plus with me at least, my feelings and emotions can change. I totally respect her concept and I am very glad I applied it to my closet and other spaces where I was keeping stuff I did not need or even really want. Teresa

  4. Frédérique says:

    I totally agree with your point of view! Clothes and shoes meant not so much for a quilter than fabric, books and sewing notions. I guess a paint artist will not give away so easily all his stuff, same for any other artist!

  5. Anna says:

    AMEN Teresa!! Thank you for this piece and expressing your complex sentiments! I agree with others’ comments that you have a beautiful and impressively organized work studio space that is enviable organization-wise AND that the meaning of what “sparks JOY” is a much more complex, nuanced concept than Kondo references and varies tremendously by individual. Clearly quilts in all their diversity and forms sparks JOY for you and is a huge part of your life. Creativity and all that relates to it = JOY. Yet all kinds of things contribute to creativity that are do not qualify as joy in and of themselves. Also, it’s important to think of the ache, loss and possibly irreversible regret that would result if you gave up quilts that are important & meaningful to you historically just because they didn’t spark aesthetic or a more narrow definition of joy for you in a certain moment. That said, I do think Kondo’s idea of constantly asking ourselves why we hold on to something & whether it does generate joy is a very useful ethic, as Shasta said, to make more room for the things that do.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Anna: well said! Our feelings do change moment to moment. You are so right on all these points. Teresa

  6. Pamela PV says:


  7. Jayna W says:

    For some areas maybe the test is sadness. I have quilts (and a few other things) that losing/getting rid of them would create lasting sadness. On the other hand I have looked at my sewing studio with an eye of “do I use it, would someone else get value from it, am I simply moving it around because I have it.?” Scraps/yardage from a project that was a prop for a play in colors I do not like will benefit a charity that loves scraps and I will feel joy in giving those away.

  8. Janet Schayer says:

    Thanks, I needed that!!!!

  9. Janet Wright says:

    I totally agree with Teresa –can’t give up my fabric or books.

  10. Latifah Saafir says:

    Though I believe that beautiful quilts can be made with ugly fabric, I found out that I personally love to only work with fabrics that I LOVE. Not even like – LOVE. So, for years I’ve Kondo-ed my fabric stash. I go through it periodically and ask do I still LOVE it. If the answer is no then I gift or thrift it. As a consequence my stash always makes me happy. 🙂

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Latifah—A stash curated for happiness sounds like an excellent idea! PB

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Latifah: I do the same thing. Good for you. I also try not to buy as much, but that doesn’t always work. 🙂 Teresa

  11. Rosemary says:

    Lovely. I have some of my late mother’s quilts. She lived to 102 and was still quilting in her 100th year. It would sadden me to lose them. Thanks for your thoughts!

  12. Janet Wilson says:

    Two things really helped me feel comfortable with what quilting demands from me (a big stash and the messiness of a project in progress). First, the philosophy of artist Alisa Burke: the studio can get as messy as it wants while a project is in progress, but once it is complete, the studio gets a complete tidy, which clears the deck and inspires for the next project. Second, my own reason for so much fabric: unlike painters, we cannot mix our colours to suit our needs…the colour has to be on the shelf. What Marie gives me is the consciousness of when creative hurly-burly (good, fun!) devolves into chaos (dispiriting, ennervating).

  13. Joy Lily says:

    Since my name is Joy, I feel that Marie Kondo has hijacked it in the name of her particular philosophy. Joy has lots of different interpretations. For me, creatitivity sparked by materials that others might discard gives me a righteous joy in reuse.
    There is another book “The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F….” Now that gives ME joy!

  14. Holly J Hudson says:

    Loved your essay Teresa. My quilt room is in shambles and my oldest daughter gave me Marie’s book and gives me grief every time she visits (only twice a year). Although I am constantly giving away fabric to the lovers-of-scrap quilts I do have a fabric stash. I also love hand embroidery, fabric dyeing, shibori, cyanotype fabric printing and rescuing antique kitchen linens. Joy & discovery (of missing sewing items) is abundant in my messy room.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Holly: keep doing what you’re doing. Sounds like it makes you happy! I love that you rescue linens. I rescue quilts! 🙂 Teresa

  15. Carol says:

    Bravo for guts to stand your ground and joy is in the eye of the beholder such as knowing you still have things loved. I admit I have many areas to toss, but, I’m with you some things won’t get tossed just because they can’t be replaced and that is joy as well. PS I lust after a sewing room as organized as you show–cheers! And I know I can find joy releasing things from my sewing room—so now just “do it”.
    PS if I would toss what doesn’t bring joy, first goes the computer, then the cell phone, and never any one of my sewing machines.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Carol: my room has its messy days too! Some days I would love to toss the computer out the window…. especially those long days at work in a corporate office. How funny.

  16. tom clark says:

    My spouse (an avid quilter) sent me your blog to which I say a hearty AMEN. Her quilting room is her happy place where she can get creative. I have finally come to understand this. She is abstract-random and I am concrete-sequential and we have learned to deal with it through almost 50 years of marriage. TC

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Tom: i have never heard these desciptors. How interesting! Abstract random is probably a good way to describe my quilting approach for sure. Thanks for that!

  17. Shirley says:

    May I suggest that Teresa needs a better understanding of “joy”.

  18. janet says:

    I enjoyed reading about and applying Kondo’s methods, but I also miss several of the books I donated and some of my fabric stash that went to Goodwill. Oh well, I tell myself I have plenty left and I still try to create every single day, and I have to admit that what I have left is more organized.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Janet, you can take comfort in the fact that maybe someone has enjoyed your donations. Plus Goodwill helps employ a lot of people so all donations are good! Keep creating! Thanks for sharing. Teresa

  19. Pennie Magee says:

    As a translator and anthropologist who also quilts, I like to remember that sometimes the full meaning of a word doesn’t come through when it is translated. Cathy Hirano, who translated Marie’s book, talks about the various choices she considered using to convey the meaning of the word “tokimeku”, which she ultimately chose to loosely translate as “joy”. The word literally means “to flutter”, “ to throb”, “to palpitate”(what one’s heart does when it recognizes the value of something).

    For me, this principle worked when I went through my books, for example. I saw that I had a lot of classic novels in cheap mass paperback form and that made me feel down. I realized that I really wanted better editions of the books. So I gave them all to the local used bookstore, where I got trade credit for them, and now I look forward with joy (!) to gradually replacing each of those old cheap editions with better ones. I’ll end up with the same number of books as before, but I will enjoy looking at and holding each one.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Pennie: you are so right. Translations are tricky and it is very interesting to know the literal translation of tokimeku, which I did not know. Thank you so much for sharing this! And so cool you repurchased your favorite books in hardback!

  20. Donna Mattison-Earls says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Keeping quilts, fabrics, books, yarns, and other crafting materials brings me joy. I can accept a certain amount of clutter with these items. Now though, I ask myself, will I use this in the next six months? If not a resounding yes, I put it off. I could live for another 100 years and never do all I currently have despite culling. Hope this works for me.

  21. Dotti Lou says:

    I think there is a distinction between clutter and chaos. My sewing room can feel cluttered at times and I still can work in it. When it becomes chaos, when it is used as a dumping ground for things that need a home, then that chaos is something I can not create in. As far as joy is concerned I can feel it when I see a snippet of fabric that is leftover from a quilt I made for a grandchild. From a pincushion ( though I have many) that I received from a blogger in a swap. How can I part with it when I do not need to. As long as the space is available for treasures, treasures they will be. Now photographs are a different matter. That I am attacking as Marie would do.


    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Thanks Dotti. You are right on track… and oh my, these days keeping up with all the photos is too much! Thanks, Teresa

  22. Janet Craig says:

    Webster’s defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” I also love the idea of tidying up. But in the Pursuit of “JOY” let us not forget the other pursuits of honoring our past with our family quilts, embracing our learning with our books and supporting our creativity with all of our tools, stash, and studios that spark our future artistic accomplishments.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Janet: Well said. Agree about honoring our past and keeping memories of things we learned from our books. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

  23. Maxine Reece says:

    I have so enJOYed this so much, not only your article but all the replies too. My sewing room is my happy place, almost always and I feel so blessed to have it. It’s rarely neat but that’s ok with me. I have quilts from 2 grandmas(mine and my husbands) and I have quilts I made my parents years ago. I’m 78 and having them gives me joy to remember who made them. Thank you!

  24. alyce says:

    I watched all of her shows on Netflix. I watched some of her YouTube videos. I think your items do spark joy, whether you call it that or not, at least in my opinion. They give you comfort, peace, memories, etc. That is joyful. Someone asked her about getting rid of books and she said if you like them, keep them, for whatever reason. I folded everything and got rid of almost nothing, probably because we moved a few years ago and did the big purge. I like living with less. I finally have my own sewing room, small as it is. Maybe it isn’t organized the way she would, but it brings me joy to walk into it every day. I keep most of my quilts for now – I love them – is that “joy”? Maybe. But I’m keeping them. The folding alone brings me joy!!!

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Alyce: yes, words have many different connotations. I agree. Good for you for downsizing your life. Teresa

  25. Martha Ginn says:

    I strongly agree with the broader description of joy (regarding our books, old quilts, family treasures). As I age I realize I am looking at things quite differently, and the gift to our guild of 40 BOXES of a quilter’s fabric and books after she got Alzheimers was a wake-up call to save our daughters from having to deal with what we could not use or part with.

    • Teresa Duryea Wong says:

      Martha: Wow. 40 boxes! What a wonderful donation, but also a ton of effort to clean that up and box it. Good idea to keep culling as we go along. Thanks for sharing. Teresa

  26. Janice Amrani says:

    Excellent article. As a fellow quilter, I couldn’t agree with you more!

  27. Robin Medley says:

    How do you acknowledge JOY in your fabrics? The possibility of JOY in your fabrics and what it may bring!