Organise first, throw things out later: 'Smart tidying' with South Korea's Queen of Organising

Ms Jung Hee-sook has helped to declutter 2,000 homes since setting up her own company. PHOTO: JUNG HEE-SOOK

SEOUL - South Korean people are the worst at throwing things away, laments Ms Jung Hee-sook when the topic of organising comes up.

They attach too much jeong (Korean for love and emotion) to their possessions, making it hard for them to part with the items.

But it's OK, she adds, because tidying up does not require you to be "throw happy".

She should know.

Hailed as South Korea's Queen of Organising, Ms Jung has helped to declutter 2,000 homes since setting up her own company in 2012.

The TV regular is the author of two books and owner of a YouTube channel dedicated to helping people master the art of "smart tidying".

She is also known as South Korea's answer to Japanese organising guru Marie Kondo, but Ms Jung does not advocate the minimalist Kondo method of getting rid of anything that does not "spark joy".

"Korean culture is such that it's difficult for us to throw things away," Ms Jung, 49, tells The Straits Times.

"Most Korean people are obsessed with wealth and showing off their wealth to other people, so they attach a lot of value to objects, wanting people to think they look rich. But they also feel jeong towards the objects, so they cannot throw them away easily.

"If you feel really sad throwing something away, then don't do it. Let's organise first and throw last."

For those who have no idea how to organise their home, Ms Jung suggests taking everything out, sorting things out and putting them back. Start with something simple, like all the jeans, then all the socks.

South Korea's Queen of Organising Jung Hee-sook demonstrates how to fold spaghetti strap tank tops on her YouTube channel. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

She recommends taking photos of the messy places that need tidying up, such as the inside of closets and drawers.

"Many people keep their things inside closets and drawers so it looks neat outside. They think everyone lives like this because we're all too busy to organise," she says.

"But when they see the mess through a photo, they feel shocked because the photo makes it more vivid and they realise the severity of the situation. Organising is not about keeping things, it's about using the things you own."

Ms Jung's interest in cleaning and organising started at a young age. "I'm obsessed with cleaning away dust and hair," she says with a laugh.

The idea to make a career out of organising took root only after a five-year break from the workforce to get married and have two children.

Life at 40 was dull and depressing, "so I went to see a counsellor and was told I need to go to work to release my energy".

"But it was not easy to find a job at that age, so the people around me encouraged me to pursue organising as a career," says Ms Jung, whose sons are now aged 12 and 15.

Eight years on, she has become the top organising consultant in South Korea.

She has two books to her name - Jung Hee-sook's Smart Tidying Ways published in 2016, and The Best Interior Is In Organising, released in May this year.

Her clients run the gamut from ordinary families to company chief executives and K-pop stars, such as girl group Mamamoo member Hwasa.

She charges from one to seven million won (S$1,165 to S$8,140) for each case, working with a team of 15 employees.

Celebrities, she notes, are fond of displaying their possessions, especially designer labels, while CEO homes are always filled with books, paintings and fresh flowers.

"Why do CEOs need organising consulting when they already hire so many housekeepers? That's because housekeepers will just put things away in drawers without organising. People think it looks neat when you don't see objects, but real organising means sorting out the hidden things."

On YouTube, Ms Jung has 121,000 subscribers and her 180 how-to videos, with subtitles in English and Chinese, have garnered over 14 million views.

A November 2019 video in which she demonstrates how to organise a dresser drew nearly 1.2 million views, while a June 2019 video of her turning paper bags into drawers - one of her many recycling ideas - attracted almost 670,000 views.

She said her basic organising style is adopted from the United States and Canada, but she also innovates and creates her own methods, such as folding spaghetti strap tank tops in a way to reveal the "bunny ear" straps, so they can stand out easily in a drawer.

Ms Jung hopes to grow her YouTube channel further to spread the "culture of organising, so viewers can pick up valuable tips".

So, how does she determine what can be thrown out and what to keep?

"If the object is no longer used for the purpose it was first purchased for, it should be trashed," she said.

"But if you still need it and are happy to keep it, you don't need to throw it."

Additional reporting by Jane Lee

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