You may have seen the headline: tidying up guru Marie Kondo has announced that she has “kind of given up on tidying”. “Marie Kondo’s life is messier now — and she’s fine with it” titled The Washington Post piece that ran the scoop. Other newspapers spoke of Kondo finally having a messy home.

Kondo became an international star with her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up in 2011. She is now a mother of three. Her most recent child was born in 2021.

I never got into the KonMari Method of only keeping items that “spark joy” or the folding frenzy her subsequent Netflix show caused. My folding skills are non-existent, and while I enjoy superficial tidiness, my wardrobe is full of piles of clothes I was given for the children, pregnancy clothes that need to be passed on, bits of old cloth I want to recycle — you get the idea.

So I paid little attention to the Marie Kondo headlines until Claudia, a friend and member of The First 1,000 Days community, sent me a message saying: “The best news this week is that Marie Kondo said her home is chaos. A small detail: she is a mother now.”

Something clicked. I had not read the pieces, but surely the parenting bit should have been part of the headlines? I mean, how impossible is it to be THE Marie Kondo with three children?!

Kondo-ing children

“Up until now, I was a professional tidier, so I did my best to keep my home tidy at all times,” she told The Washington Post through an interpreter. “I have kind of given up on that in a good way for me. Now I realise what is important to me is enjoying spending time with my children at home.”

Before her first daughter was born, Kondo and her husband made space for her by going through a “decluttering festival” and then deciding how many drawers they could give to the baby.

As the baby was growing up, Kondo observed that she was surprised to see her daughter tidying up. “She is also trying to copy me folding clothes, though I secretly fix them when she’s not looking,” she told The Wall Street Journalwhich commented: “Yes, Marie Kondo is starting to kondo her own children.”

But did she really try to make space for her children? And how much did her expectations of what her own house should look like affect her?

I am asking about Kondo because she has become a household name, but really this is a question I have asked of all of us parents before. When we become parents, we know our lives will change drastically. It’s one of the first things people tell you when you say you’re thinking of having children. We tend to think about lifestyle changes — we know we’ll go out less, that relationships change, that we’ll sleep less. But we often don’t think about how much we’ll have to alter our physical home environment.

Yes, we make space for a crib and think we’ll babyproof the sockets once they start crawling, but sharing your home with another living being who has very different needs to yours can be quite the shock.

Co-existing with different needs

While we all have our needs and have to coexist, how can we let go of our expectations that our homes look the same as if we didn’t have kids? I say this typing on a small table full of Frozen and Spiderman stickers, with newborn soft toys spread around me on the carpet, next to a baby gym. I don’t like all this stuff, but my children do. After all, children’s brains are just forming and they need space to experiment and play, while we often need an organised space in order to be more efficient at our tasks. So how do we coexist peacefully with different neurological needs and priorities?

A few weeks ago, Lorenzo turned four and we organised a birthday party. Friends arrived carrying many presents. A few mothers had asked what Lorenzo needed and gave him useful presents, like a cool backpack. Others brought really thoughtful, fun games and clothes. And then there were more toys.

This is a hard truth to confess, but here it is: last year, when Lorenzo had his third birthday party, I hid most presents and then administered them throughout the year. I am tempted to do the same this time too, with the backing of science (children play better with fewer toys around, research shows) sprinkled with a touch of KonMari (what brings me joy?).

I hope Lorenzo won’t read this piece later in his life and use it as evidence against my parenting methods. If you do, Lorenzo, I truly thought I was doing it for your own good! After all, it is a happy parent that makes a happy child.

Now, I’d love to hear about your house and your relationship with tidying up. Are you with Marie Kondo? Did you also drop your previous ways with the arrival of kids? And, more importantly: what do you do with presents?! 😉 I’d love to hear your thoughts, as usual below this piece (if you are a paying member), or simply hit reply.

What I’ve been reading
This is a well-researched reportage on Brazil’s breast milk banks, which are considered the best-developed in the world. It explains how the system was developed in the 1970s — partly reducing costing by repurposing old coffee jars for storage — and how it expanded to running 228 of the world’s approximately 750 human milk banks. Partly because of this programme, Brazil cut its mortality rate for children under five years old by 73% between 1990 and 2015. Brazil’s model, which combines promotion and training in breastfeeding with donation, has been replicated all around the world. As the article points out, it could well be a solution to the next formula milk shortage, such as the one that hit the United States last year.

What I’ve been listening to
Honestly, the thing I’ve played most on my phone these days is a compilation of white noise. León, who is four months old, is a good kid, and quite happy to be in the car, except at around 6 p.m., when he just wants to be held, and cries in his car seat. Once we tried a compilation of white noise, and he magically calmed down. It hasn’t quite worked that well since, but we keep trying. My personal favourite is the sound of rainfall, which I have discovered it actually classifies as pink noise instead.

What I’ve been watching
I actually cried watching this short film award-winning animation studio Aardman made for Save the Children to mark a year of war in Ukraine. It shows how much the war is affecting children. It can be applied to any story of migration, and I found that the way they portrayed diversity was smart and great to be watched by children too.

Who’s been inspiring me
Maybe inspiring is the wrong adjective for this, but I just couldn’t resist sharing this video (yes, I know it is done for commercial purposes and I hate sharing children’s images just like that). BUT I must admit that seeing these twins playing together and using each other’s chin and nose to suck on really made me want to have another baby. Yes, I have one already, but these people know how to play with people’s emotions.

What members have been saying
Herb, a member of The First 1,000 Days community, had a great idea in response to last week’s newsletter: “You write of what might be essential for parents in choosing a daycare. I would find it interesting if you asked The First 1,000 Days members for what would be on their list and presented a summary in a future letter.”

That’s a great idea, and I’d love to hear from you. In my latest newsletter, I said that — from an early childhood perspective — what is non-negotiable is a low child-to-teacher ratio and positive caregiving. Every family can add different elements to their list, including walking distance vs. driving, access to the outdoors, cost, and so forth. So, what is on your list? Hit reply or leave a comment below Herb’s comment here, if you are a paying member.

With love and care,
Irene Caselli

📣 The First 1,000 Days is edited by community member and friend, Shaun Lavelle.

📷 Taylor Heery on Unsplash.

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