CULVER CITY, CA – As tears welled in her eyes, she stared down the closet crammed with her late husband’s clothes. One by one, she began removing the shirts, jackets, and pants that belonged to the man she had loved for more than 40 years, whom she’d met at the neighborhood park as a little girl.
As the pile on the floor got bigger, she cried harder.
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“You know, I looked at those shirts and thought about all of the hopes and dreams he had,” Margie Hodges said. “It’s just kind of a real jolt to see all of this life that we’ve lived and dreams that he had, and now they’re in a pile on the floor and my closet is empty.”
Hodges, a Culver City restaurateur, was in the middle of her journey filming the hit Netflix show “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” In each episode, Kondo, author of best-selling book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” walks one household through her five-step cleaning process to declutter their space. By the end, the homeowners have reclaimed their lives and are no longer slaves to their stuff. But for Hodges, the experience was about more than just decluttering – it was about honoring her husband’s life, his belongings, and her new beginning.
In a country that values spending money and buying “things” in abundance, Kondo’s teachings have transformed the way America views clutter. Mountains of clothes (or an abundance of Christmas decorations, or eight-dozen wine glasses) are now ripe for tidying — ridding yourself of anything that doesn’t “spark joy.” And it turns out, Kondo’s methods really are as life-changing and magical as advertised, Hodges said.
“She’s 4’8″ and probably 85 pounds,” Hodges said. “She comes in like this little fairy, a teeny tiny tidier.”
However, Hodges’s story does not begin with cleaning out her closet: it begins about a decade earlier. Hodges and her late husband, Rick, opened Tub’s Fine Chili in Culver City back in 2009, and it was even featured on an episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” A few years later, Rick’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died 12 weeks later. Although their business was booming, the stress was mounting.
“So many little things that added up made it so overwhelming,” Hodges said. “We had to close the restaurant and get his mom’s house sold, among other things. All the while, my husband had probably been sick but wasn’t diagnosed.”
After a long, 3.5 year battle with colon cancer, Hodges’s husband passed away in June 2017. Hodges closed the restaurant for a second time to recuperate, but the bad luck dragged on – three weeks after reopening, someone broke into the restaurant.
“I don’t get defeated often, but to see Rick work that hard and lose so much, and then he got sick… it was very sad for me, but that’s how his life ended,” Hodges said. “He taught me well though, he always kept going.”
That’s when Hodges found a casting call on neighborhood app Next Door that asked, “Are you going through major life changes?” They didn’t mention Marie Kondo, Hodges said, but it wouldn’t have mattered because she had never read Kondo’s book.
She applied, and after a lengthy casting process she was picked for the show. She said producers feared there was so much to do – so much sorting through her husband’s belongings – and she was only one person, but she assured them she was ready for the challenge.
“I was a little intimidated about her methods, but I was ready for the help, honestly,” Hodges said. “I was excited to have a team here who will hold me accountable, and I was ready to get this s— done.”
Then, the cleaning began. Kondo told Hodges she could see how her things brought her joy, and how great the energy was in her house. For her, the physical items represented so much – the life she shared with her husband and the grief that weighed her down. The physical act of tidying meant more to Hodges than the average person looking to declutter their home.
“She didn’t judge me, and I felt validated,” Hodges said.
Kondo’s technique, dubbed the KonMari Method, breaks items up into five categories: clothing, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous) and sentimental items. However, Hodges ran into a roadblock when Kondo categorized Rick’s clothing as sentimental instead of clothing.
Hodges said it “just felt weird” that they were switching between categories. After Kondo learned more, they deviated away from her normal method.
“I just couldn’t think of continuing to look at his clothing while I’m getting ready every day, so it didn’t make sense to me,” Hodges said. “I complicated her process and had a little twist on everything she did – I ended up calling it the KonMargie Method.”
Slowly but surely, Hodges, Kondo and her translator made their way through all five categories. Kondo’s method works because of the shock value, Hodges said. Unless you take everything out and make a mountain out of your things, you won’t understand how much you truly have, she said.
While the three of them were working through the kitchen pantry, Kondo was in her element.
“She just has this sweet smile on her face and her little hands just move so fast, almost like an expert solving a Rubik cube – unconsciously, and in a very spiritual way,” Hodges said.
After the tidying was complete, Hodges did extensive research into where to donate her things. Medical equipment went to a woman who works with under-served people, she said. She found a thrift store that helps homeless families in the Culver City area. Her husband’s clothing was a unique size, she said, so she wanted to spread the donations among multiple charities and thrift stores.
Kondo explained to her that the important part is in the act of giving, not the gift itself – no one will take away those special memories from you, she said. If you can acknowledge that and feel good about it, you can pass it on, Hodges said.
“When you lose your best friend, the material objects in your life have so little importance,” Hodges said. “At this point in our lives, all we wanted to do was take road trips and visit funny little towns. Now that that’s not happening, it’s like, I like my things, but I don’t need 45 wine glasses or coffee mugs.”
Since the show was released on Netflix, Hodges has been inundated with messages from all over the world – including Algeria, Qatar and Germany, among others – and the KonMargie hashtag has exploded in popularity.
Hodges said she feels a sense of accomplishment for taking on such a big project.
“I can’t begin to explain the lightness I feel. It made me so happy after such a dark time in my life,” she said. “There’s so much going on in the world outside of my stuff. I want to go forth not feeling bogged down.”
Her advice to those looking to use the KonMari (or KonMargie) Method in their own lives is to commit to the process, even if it means setting a timer in order to help focus.
“Although outwardly my house doesn’t look that different, inwardly is where all the changes are,” she said. “What I learned moving forward is all of your stuff weighs you down.”