Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The “MAGIC” behind the life changing magic of tidying

As spring slowly approaches, looking at the state of my room, the idea and the need from spring-cleaning started buzzing in my head again. Over the past year, the KonMari method of tidying has been popping up quite frequently on my social media.  Social media influencers have been raging about how "life-changing" her method has been. The author, Marie Kondo, herself was even listed as one of the "100 most influential people" in 2015 by Times Magazine. Therefore, I took this opportunity along with a little scepticism to read her over "8 million copies sold" book, "the life-changing magic of tidying up" , hoping to experience the life-changing magic that everyone has be talking about. As I was reading through the book, I felt like it resonated with me and I was inspired to declutter my room using her method. I begin looking around the things I own to see if they "spark joy" until one day, I realised and thought of what this book has done to me. It was then I decided to break down the "magic" behind her book and the techniques she used. 

1. The use of storytelling

In Marie Kondo’s book, a very trivial technique used by her is storytelling. Not only did she include the story of how she discovered such technique, she also included stories of her clients throughout the entire book. By doing so, she has successfully make her technique seems more memorable. Simmons (2006) mentioned, people do not want more information your stories, they are more interested in your goals, your success; they search for hope and faith from the books they read. A study looking at hope and academic success in college also suggested students with hopeful thinking tend to do better and more likely to graduate than low-hope student even after controlling variance such as entrance exam scores (Snyder et al. 2004). This shows the power of inducing  hope in your readers to motivate change and action. In the case of the “life-changing magic of tidying”, by sharing the success of decluttering from her worst, most devastating clients, it creates hope in her readers. Looking at the state of my room, “hope” was what I needed too. 

2.  Obedience to Authority and credibility of source

People want to possess a correct attitude, which makes Experts and trustworthy sources more persuasive on various issues (Hovland & Weiss, 1951). A career in the organizing consulting business and a “8 million copies sold over 40 countries” best selling book, there is no doubt Marie has a certain expertise in the tidying industry, giving her the credibility of an authority. If Milgram (1978) can get his participants to electrocute “innocent people” by wearing a white coat during the experiment, there is no reason why people would not listen to an organizing expert for tidying advice. Not only that, with her name popping up on press like Times magazine, the New York Times, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and etc. she probably has certain competence in her field. Therefore, as amazing as her method is, I believe her fame and background certainly helped make her words more persuasive. Besides, if one have to choose between her and Emma Watson for tidying advice, one would probably go with Marie as she is clearly a more credible source. 

3. Mere exposure

A study suggested that repeated statement tend to have a higher familiarity and validity than non-repeated statement (Boehm 1994). In Marie’s book, a common repeated propaganda used is the term “spark joy”. Throughout her book, the way Marie chose to explain her method of how to de-clutter is for us to decide if an item “spark joy” when we see it. If it does not, regardless of how expensive or how sentimental it might be, we should probably discard it. By the end of reading, her book has ingrained the slogan “spark joy” in my brain. Since the term is so simple, the mere exposure to it makes it very easy to remember and understand. This mere exposure effect (Zajonc, 1968) is so powerful that even if one did not read the book, if you ever heard of the KonMari method of tidying, you probably heard of the term “spark joy” somewhere. This eventually lead you to pick up the book and try her method as the availability of the term “spark joy” has make her KonMari method more vivid in your brain and slowly climb up the tidying method list of your’s. At least I know this method did successfully brainwashed me and “spark joy” has become part of my tidying mantra. 
4. Not just about tidying, emotional tactics

In a society where psychological well-being is becoming the spotlight of a discussion, Marie also structure her method to suit the market. With study showing that mindfulness will increase the psychology wellbeing of a person (Brown & Ryan, 2003), she focuses on mindfulness in her book. Her KonMari method of tidying is not just about making your space tidy and clean but emphasizes on the need to have a clutter free space in order to have a clear mind and a happy, stress free environment. Tidying is merely a process to it while a clutter-free lifestyle is the ultimate goal of her method. She uses her reader’s attitude towards life and emotions such as avoiding anxiety, and wanting happiness to make her method seems more appealing to more readers. With that, people are more willing to give it a try because though not everyone need to clean their space, everyone want to be happy. This makes her successful in inducing a change of behaviour in the way we tidy our space because she motivates a change of behaviour to avoid negative emotions or tension such as stress, preventing cognitive dissonance (Festinger, 1957). 

5. Social Proofing

With everyone jumping on the KonMari bandwagon of tidying, it is hard to tell if her method is as life changing as it claims to be. Most of the time people make claims because other people said so. Cialdini (1993) mentioned that we as social being behave and search for appropriate behaviour within our social in-group. A study looking at the bandwagon effect in the pre-election polls affecting election suggested that, people with weaker prior political knowledge are more likely to for candidate with the highest poll ( Skalaban, 1988). Since people have been raving about this method, it seems right to rave about it as well. Therefore, I believe that part of her life- changing magic might not be as magical as it claims to be but since everyone is agreeing to that statement, new readers started to believe it and the cycle continues. 

With that, I have broken down some techniques used by Marie Kondo herself in the “life-changing magic of tidying”. However, despite breaking down the methods, I have unfortunately fallen victim to her propaganda. On the side note, recent top selling book, the “life-changing magic of not giving a f**k” written by Sarah Knight has also taken some of the technique used by Marie Kondo while writing her own book. Is this a coincidence that both books made it to the top of the list or is it because of the behaviour change techniques used inside?


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Cialdini, R. B.(1993). Influence: Science and practice (3rd ed.). New York: Harper Collins. 

Festinger, L., Irle, M., & Möntmann, V. (1978). Theorie der kognitiven Dissonanz (p. 16). Bern: Huber.

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Hovland, C. I., & Weiss, W. (1951). The influence of source credibility on communication effectiveness. Public opinion quarterly, 15, 635-650.

Milgram, S., & Gudehus, C. (1978). Obedience to authority.

Simmons, A. (2006). The story factor: Inspiration, influence, and persuasion through the art of storytelling. Basic books.

Skalaban, A. (1988). Do the polls affect elections? Some 1980 evidence. Political Behavior, 10, 136-150.

Snyder, C. R., Shorey, H. S., Cheavens, J., Pulvers, K. M., Adams III, V. H., & Wiklund, C. (2002). Hope and academic success in college. Journal of educational psychology, 94, 820.

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of personality and social psychology, 9, 1.

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