Thoughts on ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’

April 7, 2015

After reading a bunch of articles about the KonMari method, I decided to read Marie Kondo’s bestselling book for myself and it really resonated with me!

the life changing magic of tidying up

Photo: @lyrebirdkate

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing presents a new way of purging/de-cluttering/sorting your shit. (People call this method “KonMari” for short.) Here’s how it works: Following a very specific order, you go through your items by category, taking everything out. (So ALL your clothes out of your closets/drawers, for example, or ALL your books off ALL your bookshelves.) Once you’ve collected everything in the category in one place, you go through each item one at a time, picking it up and asking yourself if it brings you joy. Only items that truly spark joy get to stay. (And to answer the sort of obvious question, Kondo says that functional but not particularly exciting necessities spark joy in their own way, because having them there when we need them is joyful. Though if you’ve ever hated your annoying piece of shit garbage can for three years, you know that the right everyday objects can bring a certain level of joy.) Kondo says a shift takes place when you start asking yourself what you want to keep instead of asking yourself what you need to get rid of and that tidying becomes much easier in this context. She says her method is truly life-changing, and that once you sort your entire home this way, you’ll be changed for life.

I’ve actually been doing a lot of the things she recommends for the past few months, though sort of unintentionally. When I came to Brooklyn with just a couple suitcases back in December, I could only bring the essentials so I chose things I knew I’d really need, but also the seemingly silly things I knew I’d want. (I also experienced this when I moved from Michigan to Texas in 2010 and could only bring what we could fit in my Blazer.) While I found myself missing a lot of my things before we did the big move, I also got a sense of what possessions I really care about and how much stuff I really need/want to have around me. I found myself missing things that really do make me happy, and very clear on the things that I was hanging onto out of guilt or obligation.

Another one of Kondo’s main principles is that everything should have a place, which was remarkably easy to do when I had about 20 percent of my stuff and a sizable, mostly basically apartment to house it all. I found myself being way tidier than I had ever been before, and it came very naturally; it just felt right and good to put things away each evening. I don’t think of myself as a super tidy person (I’m not a slob but I’m also not anal about stuff) so this kind of surprised me. But as I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a lot of what I’d been experiencing clicked, and I was motivated to be more intentional about pursuing that feeling.

Eric and I are still in need of a dresser, which is causing a huge number of organizational/clutter hurdles in our apartment right now. (I really had no idea how much stuff we actually put in our dresser! Probably because I couldn’t SEE it all, but we’ll get to that in a second.) Until we get one, there’s really no point in doing the entire KonMari method because we don’t have a place for everything. (Though I suspect that once Eric KonMaris his clothes, we could get by without a dresser. We’ll see.) Anyway, I can’t speak to how putting all her tips into practice at once works—though I definitely will after we go all-in!—but I wanted to share some of the best tips I took away from the book.

1. You don’t need a million storage units. “Storage units do not solve the problem of how to get rid of clutter,” she writes. “Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem as been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and some new and ‘easy’ storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral.” She also won’t give you permission to go buckwild at The Container Store. (Sigh.) Kondo says if you do need storage, you should just use shoe boxes or other cardboard boxes because they work well and there’s no magic storage container that will solve your problems.

2. Organizing your shit can and should be simple. “Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first. This principle does not change.”

3. Every item in our lives serves a specific role. Kondo says you to keep this in mind when struggling to part with an item that’s still in good condition or that hasn’t been used much. “Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will be a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the important lesson of who you do like, so you will appreciate those people even more… You’ll be surprised at how many things in your life have already fulfilled their role. By acknowledging their contribution and letting them go with gratitude, you will be able to truly put the things you own, and your life, in order.”

4. Consider how much “noise” branded products add to your space. This was a major takeaway for me, in part because I also recently read this New York Times piece about the sheer number of ads and branding we’re subjected to—without our consent—every day. Labels force information upon us and can make a place feel cluttered even when it’s very neat. Even when it’s hidden away in cupboards (like in a medicine chest), we’re still affected by all that information. “The neater the home, and the more sparse its furnishings, the louder this information feels… Tear the printed film off packages that you don’t want to see, such as deodorizers and detergents. Spaces that are out of sight are still part of your house. By eliminating excess visual information that doesn’t spark joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.” This is one of the things I’m most looking forward to doing.

5. Clutter happens when items don’t have designated spots. “The existence of an item without a home increases the chances that your home will become cluttered again. Let’s say, for example, that you have a shelf with nothing on it. What happens if someone leaves an object that has no designated spot on the shelf? That one item will be your downfall. Within no time that space, which had maintained a sense of order, will be covered in objects, as if somebody had yelled, ‘Gather round, everybody!’ You only need to designate a spot for an item once.” She says doing this will cut back on buying more items than you actually need.

6. Store things where you will put them away. “A common mistake is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out. This approach is a fatal trap. Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore storage should reduce the effort to put things away, not the effort to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Clutter has two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong.”

7. Being able to see and touch the things you own is crucial. “Most people realize that clutter is caused by too much stuff. Why do we have too much stuff? Usually it is because we do not accurately grasp how much we own. And we fail to grasp how much we own because our storage methods are too complex.” I also like this point because it (like many of the tips in the book) is also really important if you’re trying not to spend all your money.

8. “Store everything similar in the same place or in close proximity.” Seems obvious but it’s crazy how often we don’t do this.

9. Don’t create piles; opt for vertical storage instead. “If you stack things, you end up with what seems like inexhaustible storage space. Things can get stacked forever and endlessly on top, which makes it harder to notice the increasing volume.”

10. Don’t let your family see you tidying. And don’t send all your extra stuff to your parents’ home (or accept their offer to house it all) because you can’t bring yourself to get rid of it. “It’s extremely stressful for parents to see what their children discard. The sheer volume of the pile can make parents anxious about whether their children can survive on what’s left… When they see what you have chosen to discard, they may feel guilty at such blatant waste, but the items they retrieve from your pile just create unnecessary burden in their homes. And we should feel ashamed of forcing them to carry this burden.”

11. Decorate your closet with secret delights. If you have a collection of things that are purely for your own enjoyment (like memorabilia, charms, and other kinda weird items that you love) but don’t want everyone to see, display them in your closet. “Transform your closet into your own private space, one that gives you a thrill of pleasure.”

12. Don’t save clothes that don’t really spark joy with the plan to just wear around the house. “The real waste is not discarding clothes you don’t like but wearing them even though you are trying to create the ideal space for your ideal lifestyle. Precisely because no one is there to see you, it makes far more sense to reinforce a positive self-image by wearing clothes you love.”

13. Tidying using the KonMari method builds your self-esteem because you get more confident in your own tastes and interests. “Tidying means taking each item in your hand, asking yourself whether it sparks joy, and deciding on this basis whether or not to keep it. By repeating this process hundreds and thousands of times, we naturally hone our decision-making skills. People who lack confidence in their judgment lack confidence in themselves.” She also writes about how this process has played out in her own life: “When it comes to the things I own, the clothes I wear, the house I live in, and the people in my life, when it comes to my environment as a whole, although it may not seem particularly special to anyone else, I am confident and extremely grateful to be surrounded by what I love, by things and people that are, each and every one, special, precious, and extremely dear to me. The things and people that bring me joy support me. They give me the confidence that I will be all right. I want to help others who feel the way I once did, who lack self-confidence and find it hard to open their hearts to others, to see how much support they receive from the space around them and the things that surround them.”

14. Our things are important. “It is important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.” I think it’s easy to dismiss her notion that things bring joy as shallow, but as someone whose love language is gifts, this makes perfect sense to me.

15. Tidying in this way can actually be extremely uncomfortable. “The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past… The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves.” She also says that once our homes are tidy, we have less distraction and have to think about the things that are really bothering us.

16. The way she tells you to fold socks is goddamn mesmerizing. Watch!

While the idea of being told to get rid of SO MUCH STUFF or having strict rules about the way you do it can seem intimidating or stressful, I actually found the book very warm and friendly. It’s not tough love so much as a kind friend asking you why on earth you own things you don’t like. She has a lot of love for all the things you don’t need; she basically says they deserve better than to be in a home where they are tossed aside because they aren’t useful.

She also doesn’t preach a minimalist lifestyle, which I really appreciate. I find minimalism in design so intimidating and cold, and I don’t want my home to be devoid of things. I love things! KonMari is all about figuring out what amount of things you should own, and that number is based on how many things truly make you happy.

Eric and I are currently listening to the audiobook version of the book—I wanted us to be on the same page if we’re going to KonMari our lives. And for now, I’m working on emptying my bag every evening, getting rid of more non-joy-sparking stuff as I come across it, and trying to find the right dresser for our apartment ASAP.

Further reading…

Read an excerpt from the book

Will Tidying Guru Marie Kondo’s Cleaning Advice Really Change Your Life?

Marie Kondo Will Change Your Life

What Happened When I Tried KonMari On My Toddler

Marie Kondo’s Reddit AMA

Kissing Your Socks Goodbye

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