Does it Spark Utility?

Since her Netflix show “Tidying Up,” Marie Kondo has become famous for her KonMari method.  Marie Kondo has helped tidy households through her technique which places a high value on showing a deep gratitude for all of your belongings.  She urges people to keep only those items which spark joy. Things which do not spark joy are then thanked and discarded. When thinking of this method in terms of economics instead of asking if an item sparks joy, we can ask “does it spark utility?”  Utility is the term economists use to label the satisfaction or benefits consumers get from consuming a good or service.  When thinking of utility we assume that people are always trying to maximize their utility. Economists also believe that having more of a good is better than having less under the assumption of monotonicity.  When thinking of her method and its heavy emphasis on getting rid of items this seems to contradict economists’ assumptions.  This is not the case though, as Kondo does not push for people owning less just for the sake of it.

When looking at all of your items in one big pile like Kondo recommends you do, you are not just asking if each item sparks utility, but by how much.   For each item you own, owning another similar item brings less utility.  This concept is known as diminishing marginal utility.  So, at this point, it still sounds like we should keep everything we own because even if it brings less utility because at least it still has some.  However as these benefits of owning more are decreasing with each item, the cost of keeping these items is increasing. How can items keep costing you if you have already paid for them?  There are still monetary and non-monetary costs associated with keeping goods in your home. Hanging on to extra clutter costs you when you have to buy bookshelves, boxes, or even storage units just keep all of your items.  Also, if you have a jumbles sitting around you may be buying duplicates of supplies you already own because you can’t find the first one you bought. But besides money, keeping extra items can cost you your most precious resource: time.  Think of how much time you spend every week organizing your home and how much time you waste digging around looking for a lost item. The third cost is an opportunity cost, which is defined as the forgone benefits of the next best alternative.  There is an opportunity cost of owning too much, which is that you are giving up the peace of having a neat and tidy space.  So as we see while marginal benefit of each item you keep decreases the marginal costs are increasing.

The key then to deciding what to keep in your home is then the same as almost every economics problem, keep as many items until the marginal benefits equal the marginal costs.  Only you can weigh the costs and benefits for your home though, and Kondo echoes this saying, “As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you.”  Finding a balance can be difficult but rewarding, and now next time you tidy you can also think of it as practicing economics.  

About Ellen Knowles

I’m a senior and I love our economics department here at UPS. I work as a course assistant for intro classes along with being a part of Undergraduate Women in Economics. Some of my favorite classes have been Public Policy, Gender and the Economy, and Game Theory.

2 Replies to “Does it Spark Utility?”

  1. While the Netflix show has definitely given the KonMari method a wider audience, it could be argued that the 2014 publication of the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and the 2016 follow-up “Spark Joy” were actually what made Marie Kondo Famous. Both books were best-sellers in the United States and have sold millions of copies world-wide.

    • You are right her books did start her fame in the US, the Netflix series just made her much more talked about it mainstream media.

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