Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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Marie Kondo has taken the planet by storm with her New York Times best seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up; The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. And lest you think this topic doesn’t pertain to you, keep reading.

With the litmus test of “does this item spark joy in my life?” coupled with a ruthless when-in-doubt-throw-it-out mindset, she is master of the elimination universe. And her clients have had some incredible insights as they have purged garbage bag after garbage bag of clothes, books and miscellany.

“For the majority, the experience of tidying causes them to become more passionately involved in their work. Some set up their own companies, others change jobs, and still others take more interest in their current profession. They also become more passionate about their other interests and about their home and family life. Their awareness of what they like naturally increases and, as a result, daily life becomes more exciting,” says Kondo of her clients.

Yes, please.

Tidying is a single event, says Kondo, and assures the reader that when done right the first time, one time is all you need. Ever. First you discard, and then you organize your space intensely and completely. Her KonMari method (which is a combination of her two names) employs the strategy of ikki ni, which is Japanese for “in one fell swoop.”

Some other KonMari-isms are:

  • The moment you start you reset your life
  • Storage experts are hoarders
  • Starting with mementos spells certain failure
  • Unread books: “sometime” means “never”
  • Discard first, store later
  • Your living space affects your body
  • Your real life begins after putting your house in order

Totally debunking the myth that you should tidy a bit each day and for life, Kondo claims that the ikki ni route is critical to long-term success. She writes, “When you tidy your space completely, you transform the scenery. The change is so profound that you feel as if you are living in a totally different world…. The same impact can never be achieved if the process is gradual.”

While quickly tidying in one fell swoop does not imply over a single weekend (this process can take weeks/months), she insists there is a right order. And if you start wondering where you will put things even as you are discarding them, you are doomed for failure, per Kondo.

Discard first, store second.

In choosing what you want to keep instead of focusing on what you want to get rid of, you touch every single item (every shirt, every pair of socks, every book, every piece of paper) and you ask the magic question:

“Does this spark joy?”

If it does, you keep the item. If it doesn’t, you ditch it. And the trick is to handle each item, one by one, and in a precise order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany and then mementos.

As someone with an extensive book collection, I found her wisdom on sorting books both novel and liberating:

“If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it. There’s no need to finish reading a book that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway.”

As a serious sentimentalist, I like the idea of discarding mementos as a way to process one’s past. She states that the purpose of a letter, for example, is fulfilled the moment it is received and that hanging on to artifacts keeps us buoyed in the past.

“It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

(Off to the keepsake box – okay, boxes! – later today.)

Invariably, you will come across items that don’t necessarily spark joy, but that you find yourself struggling to discard (“I might need this one day,” or “My beloved Grandmother gave me that”) warns Kondo. She instructs we must ask ourselves:

“Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or because of a fear for the future?” Kondo insists it’s always one of the two when we hedge.

Questions to ponder:

  • In thinking by category instead of by room, which one are you most drowning in (clothes, books, paper, miscellany, or mementos)?
  • When you think about organizing “intensely and completely” what you have left after discarding, what do you think about?
  • In future shopping trips, what might the criteria of “does this spark joy?” yield for you?
  • Who have you become as a result of a meaningful past relationship…personal or professional?
  • What might be possible in your personal or professional life if you get your dwelling in order?

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