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Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

tidyingupAfter gaining much recognition and popularity in Japan, Germany, and the UK, Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing secured the #1 New York Times Best Seller standing in the United States.  Its popularity suggests that its message is relevant and interesting to cultures across the globe.  I can attest to such interest myself, so with much eagerness I reserved the book at my local library.  Much to my surprise and dismay, I was #178 on the waiting list! The immense waiting list only piqued my interest even more.  Thankfully my library’s e-book borrowing queue was much shorter and I was able to satisfy my intrigue with a very short wait.

In the book, Kondo describes a system she developed to help people declutter and organize which she calls the Konmari Method. Her methods detail the best order of categories to tidying up, the ideal way for sorting and arranging one’s clothes, and the best way to store items.  Along with her methods, she dispenses many useful tips such as folding shirts into squares and standing them up in the drawers.

Kondo believes tidying should be an event, not a daily chore.  Contrary the common understanding that we should spend 15-30 minutes a day to slowly chip away the clutter, Kondo insists that decluttering must be treated as an event where you spend however much time is needed to finish.  The immediate result is gratifying thus enabling you to function and think better.  Once your house and belongings are set, there is no need for 15-30 minute daily chores.  Your work will simply be putting things back to where they belong.

If I could distill the book to few points, the essence of the method is:

  1. Take everything out in the open.  Everything means everything.  If you are decluttering clothes, you take all the clothes out of your closet, crevices, and miscellaneous places you might stash your clothes.
  2. Discard items you don’t want.
  3. Decide where to put the items you are keeping. Everything must have a place or a home.
  4. When selecting which item to keep, you must hold the item in your hand and ask the question, “Does this spark joy?”  If it does, keep it.  Discard if it doesn’t.

These four steps, particularly steps 1-3 must be done in order. The idea whether an item sparks joy is intriguing to me.  It is a concept I thought to be irrelevant to tidying and initially I doubted its usefulness in deciding whether to keep stuff.  However, I was proven wrong.  I asked the question “Does this spark joy?” when decluttering recently, to my surprise, it helped tremendously. It made it much easier to part with things I don’t regularly use. However, as useful as this question has proven to be, for many people, it has its limitations.  Even though my oven, phone charger, and utensils don’t spark joy, it doesn’t mean I need to discard them.

Readers may find Kondo’s practice of anthropomorphizing her clothing, furniture, and house odd.  She thanks her socks and sweaters for keeping her warm, and thanks her dresser for storing its contents wonderfully.  She also dresses up, rather than down, when tidying her house because she believes that the act of tidying is paying respect to her house, and dressing up is a gesture of paying respect to someone.  This particular practice is based on Shintoism and makes sense in her culture.  This certainly doesn’t take away the tidying principles she teaches, though for some perhaps, it may provide an atmosphere that helps them!

I found the book helpful and especially enjoyed Kondo’s non-Western perspective on decluttering. I recommend this book to anyone interested in learning how to declutter better.

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