Simplicity and Quality: Five Things William Morris and Marie Kondo Can Teach Us

If you’ve paid attention to any form of media in the last few years - not to mention friends, family, or the stranger you pass on the street - you’ve probably heard the name Marie Kondo being thrown around. An organizing enigma, this woman has managed to persuade millions to rethink their relationship to material possessions famously asking them whether their possessions spark joy. If not, it’s time to thank them for their service and get rid of them.

But if you think this idea is new and unique to the last decade, it’s worth a second look. 125 years before Marie Kondo was born, William Morris - central to the British Arts and Crafts Movement and considered the grandfather of the international one that would spread to the U.S. in the late 1800s - was making a big name for himself as a writer, painter and designer. While never referencing joy specifically, his legacy can be summed up in his own words:

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

Whether you’re familiar with either of their philosophies or not, there’s a lot of common links bridging the gap between their lifetimes. Were William Morris and his influences the Marie Kondo’s of their time or is Marie Kondo simply following in the footsteps of these infamous trailblazers determined to give the world a simpler way of living?

It’s a chicken and egg question that we don’t expect you to answer. Instead, we’re here to help sort out the most useful pieces of their shared philosophies whether you’re tidying up because of a New Year’s resolution, in the spring cleaning mode or just appreciate their unadulterated thinking of less is more.

Possessions should bring joy and beauty to your life

While you’d think this is a no-brainer, how much of what we actually own brings either of these sentiments to mind? Going one step further, do we even know what we own?

Many will want to start with the latter question and Marie Kondo’s KonMarie method of tidying up.

The cornerstone to her design principle is having a house full of items that spark joy. Here’s how you do it:

  1. Commit yourself to tidying up.
  2. Imagine what you want things to look like when you’re done - your ideal lifestyle devoid of clutter.
  3. Discard first and sincerely thank whatever it is that you don’t intend to keep for its intended purpose at the time.
  4. Tidy by category (clothing, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental) not by room.
  5. Follow the order exactly starting with clothing first.
  6. Ask if the item sparks joy. (If not, get rid of it)

Once you have an idea of what items you own spark joy, you can also look at whether they bring beauty. And while this is a bit arbitrary and different for everyone, it’s important to know what your own definition is before you decide to go out and buy something new.

WIlliam Morris explains that you must see beauty for its own sake and appreciate the virtues of simplicity and utility in design.

Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement: a sanded floor and whitewashed walls, and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside; or a grimy palace amid the smoke with a regiment of housemaids always working to smear the dirt together so that it may be unnoticed; which, think you, is the most refined, the most fit for a gentleman of those two dwellings?

  • William Morris (Speech, London 1880)

  • Consumerism is always present, but it doesn’t have to control you

    Buying things that simply take up space? Because they’re cheap? Because they’re free? We’re all guilty of it - even those who have been so-called ‘Marie Kondo’d.’ Yes, even they regress.

    But it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s easy to let the consumerist bug creep back in without knowing it’s happening. It happens today; it happened hundreds of years ago. It’s a good reason as to why William Morris pursued the design approach and minimalist lifestyle he did. It was his answer to Victorian era consumerism so prevalent in Britain at the time. An era in which goods for sale were cheaper and more readily available. A time when people could buy something without really knowing where it came from or how it was made. Homes were being filled with things for the sake of having things.

    William Morris pushed back. He began to design with craftsmanship in mind shunning the up-and-coming idea of mass production. He didn’t believe in making something you could throw away when you were tired of it. He wanted his works to be simple and affordable, but of the highest quality. While he may not have realized it, he designed for his works to last generations, as they certainly have.

    Marie Kondo’s philosophy is unapologetically similar. Her guidance speaks to purging your life of superfluous stuff.

    Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

    The environment matters

    Let go of the things you don’t need. Do more with less. Be less wasteful and consumer-driven.

    It is within these mantras that we find both William Morris’ call to action and Marie Kondo’s drive for decluttering.

    William Morris is said to have been an early forerunner of the environmentalist movement with his desire to protect the natural world from pollution, industrialism and capitalism. As mentioned above, he believed that before you make the decision to buy, you should determine if it has beauty and functionality. Living in a time without recycling or donating, clutter would simply be thrown back into the environment from which it came.

    Source: Unsplash/Yoshi Takekawa

    But today is different. Even though Marie Kondo is a proponent of getting rid of things that no longer bring joy, she is not a fan of throwing them away. Her guidance is to recycle, resell or donate. She believes that once you get a taste of a more simple, minimalist lifestyle, it will be more difficult to go back to the way things were. Thus, you ultimately come out less wasteful and consumer-driven.

    There are various websites like this one dedicated to helping people who are looking to get rid of things find places to resell, recycle and reuse.

    There is a strong relationship between design and quality of life

    You mean a less cluttered home or one that has just a few carefully chosen pieces can have an affect on quality of life? Definitely.

    If you’ve watched any of Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix, you may already be aware of how she describes the connection between rooms and emotions. While some of this comes from traditional Shinto beliefs, it’s not hard for someone who has no knowledge of these philosophies to draw a line between the two. For example, she discusses giving respect and attention to hallways. They greet you into your sanctuary. How you have them decorated (and whether they feel cluttered) determines how you will be welcomed home.

    Likewise, William Morris understood a connection between design and quality of life. Living through the heart of the Industrial Revolution, he wanted his designs to reclaim the peacefulness and sense of community he feared people were losing due to movement to the big cities. The British Arts and Crafts Movement came to be known as a reaction against industrialization. Advocates of the movement, including Morris, wanted the goods they made to be done with pride, skill and quality - something that could not be replicated by a machine. Morris thought of urban factory workers as enslaved as were those who bought the cheaply made goods to fill their homes. The need for more was sacrificing their quality of life.

    Morris therefore designed patterns and textiles that took natural forms found outdoors in the woods and meadows that could then be used to decorate the inside of homes. His patterns are still available in wallpapers and textiles today and exemplify the simplicity he sought in natural beauty.

    The more stuff you own, the more it owns you

    John Ruskin, a 19th century art critic and influencer of William Morris, famously stated:

    Every increased possession loads us with a new weariness.

    What would Marie Kondo and William Morris say to this? Probably something along the lines of get rid of the things that lack value or, better yet, don’t get them in the first place.


    Hopefully this has sparked a motivation to check out Modern Bungalow’s extensive collection of high quality furniture and designs that are both beautiful and useful. Things that will last you generations. Maybe it’s also given you some interest in giving the KonMarie method of tidying up a try.

    Whatever your enthusiasm for simplifying, we’re here to help you find something that brings harmony to a more mindful and curated lifestyle.

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