The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

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Three stars, read in January 2016.

Almost every time I was skeptical about something in this book, Marie Kondo persuaded me to give it a try. (I haven’t tried yet, but I now want to.)  This is significant to me because I am stubborn about many things, lazy about others, and picky about the way I organize. I don’t necessarily feel the same way she does about objects having their own energy, treating your clothes like they’re alive, etc. But even the rules that initially sounded the most crazy made a surprising amount of sense once she explained.

The best example: folding clothes. I despise it, and as a childless adult in my thirties, I’ve worked out my clothing storage so I don’t have to do it. The only clothes I fold are pants, because they are so easy; everything else gets hung up or stuffed in a drawer. My husband prefers his shirts to be folded, but as he is never the one who puts away laundry, he is out of luck; he knows that if he wants them folded, he’s going to have to do it himself. (And he doesn’t, because he is lazy, too.) The second KonMari started in on folding, I was shaking my head, knowing perfectly well that she could say nothing to make me even consider it. And then she did.

The one holdout, the suggestion she makes that I can’t see myself following even after hearing the rationale, is taking everything out of your purse when you get home every day. To me, that just seems silly—although maybe it’s because I don’t carry much in my purse anymore. I have my wallet, my keys, my phone, a small bottle of ibuprofen, a pen, a small notebook, a tampon. Occasionally I’ll stick receipts, movie stubs, or granola bar wrappers in there, if I’m not near a trash can, but I always throw those away within a few days. I just can’t see any benefit to emptying those things every day—but this is notable, and I’m sharing it, because it’s the only one of her recommendations that didn’t make me want to try.

  • Don’t downgrade clothes you don’t like to “around the house” outfits.

Time at home is still a precious part of living. Its value should not change just because nobody sees us . . . You are striving 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.

  • Don’t worry about “flow planning” or “frequency of use” when deciding where to store things. Make sure every item in your house has a designated home.

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Unless for some reason it is incredibly hard work, we usually don’t mind the effort involved. Clutter has only two probably causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong.

  • When you put your house in order, you will discover what you really love and what you want to do with your life.

For the majority, the experience of tidying causes them to 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. Although we can get to know ourselves better by sitting down and analyzing our characteristics or by listening to others’ perspectives on us, I believe that tidying is the best way. After all, our possessions very accurately relate the history of the decisions we have made in life. Tidying is a way of taking stock that shows us what we really like.

One thing I couldn’t help feeling is that the word “tidying” is not the right translation. Japanese is more straightforward than English, and there’s a good chance we don’t have just one word to convey the exact same meaning. When I think of tidying I picture a sort of useless, superficial action, like shuffling a stack of papers and trying to make the edges line up perfectly. That’s not what this book is about.

What Marie Kondo describes is a complete overhaul of your house wherein you evaluate every thing you own, keep only the things you truly care about, and designate a specific place for each item. It’s about organizing, but not in the sense of labels, containers, and storage tricks. It’s about minimizing so that, essentially, there is nothing in your home that doesn’t specifically make you happy. And because you look at every item individually, you get a lot of practice honing this sense, learning to make decisions based on what will give you joy. There’s a very Japanese philosophy behind her method, and to me it seems so lovely and natural.

Due to the popularity of feng shui, people often ask me whether tidying will bring them good fortune . . . If you organize your living environment so that it feels comfortable and so that every day you feel energized and happy, wouldn’t you say that your good fortune has increased? . . . I can think of no greater happiness in life than to be surrounded only by the things I love. How about you? All you need to do is to get rid of anything that doesn’t touch your heart. There is no simpler way to contentment. What else could this be called but “the magic of tidying”?

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