Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

 In Book Review, Inner First Class, Outer First Class

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, 2014, by Marie Kondo

tidying up

I recently finished reading this book, which is becoming very popular in the United States. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was originally written in Japanese. Its author, Marie Kondo, is an organizing consultant in Japan. Yes, this is a book about putting your house in order and keeping things tidy. But it is actually so much more than that. It is a personal transformation guide.

The first half of the book outlines the challenges in keeping your house in order and then step by step goes through Marie’s “KonMari” method of organizing. I like that she starts out by discussing why most people’s homes are not tidy. She makes a lot of sense and it’s not about people being messy or blaming anyone. It’s about people just not knowing how to be neat. It’s not something we are taught. Then she launches into her organization process, which starts with a massive overhaul of your belongings. Marie’s method in determining what you keep and what you pitch is asking yourself as you’re holding an object, “does this spark joy?” If it does you keep it and if it doesn’t get rid of it.

The KonMari method works in categories starting with clothing and then moving on to books and papers then miscellaneous items and finally sentimental items. I was very interested in what she had to say about clothing because for years I’ve had a closet overflowing with clothes and yet every time I look at it I feel like I have nothing to wear. I was very excited to start “KonMariing” my clothing. I actually got started doing it before I was even halfway through the book. I was brutal. There were items that I’d been saving for years thinking that someday I would wear them again. Specifically there was a special shirt I’d been saving for over a decade. But honestly in my heart I knew that I never would wear it again. It didn’t quite fit right when I bought it, and it certainly didn’t fit right ten years later. I just was keeping the shirt because I paid a lot of money for it. Unfortunately it was taking up space in my closet and in my head. I donated it.

I ended up with four very large boxes of clothing to donate and threw away about three garbage bags worth of stuff, and this was only my things from my closet. I was left with a very sparse rack of clothing. However, I discovered that it was much easier to get dressed in the morning because everything hanging in my closet I loved and I didn’t have to dig through things that I hated to find them. I also discovered my personal style. This was an unexpected but joyful side benefit. I observed the types of clothing that I had kept and figured out that they were all relatively the same general style. I went out shopping with this in mind. Now it’s easy to get dressed in the morning and everything I’m wearing I love. Plus my closet is no longer overflowing!

One thing that I was surprised that she did not talk about in clothing organization is one of the primary reasons that women specifically and people in general hold on to clothes that they don’t wear. That reason is weight gain. We keep our “skinny clothes” in the hopes that someday we will fit back into them. Unfortunately for many of us this means that we have a full wardrobe for someone who is a size 8, a size 10, a size 12, a size 14, etc. That’s a lot of clothes. The thing that made me part with my skinny wardrobe was not that I was giving up on losing that excess weight. It was because I realized that once I did achieve that waistline again I would be a different person and that different person would have a different style. I wouldn’t even want those clothes anymore. Besides, when you lose weight what is the first thing you want to do? You want to go clothes shopping!

The second half of the book is a variety of tips and tricks to storing items most efficiently. I can’t say that all of her advice would be right for me. For example, I will not be emptying out my handbag every night (since I work from home it doesn’t even make sense) and I do not share her adoration of shoeboxes. If I need to store something in a shoebox size space, I am going to get a decorative container for it. If I had to open up my closets and my drawers and see shoeboxes everywhere it would not spark joy! But, this seems to work for her and it apparently works for lots of other people!

She has some very interesting ideas about the items in your home and your relationship with them. Some people might think that this is very woo-woo New Age, but I think she has a lot of valid points even for people who are not interested in that type of thing. One thing she mentions that struck a chord with me was the “noise” of written information. She talks about labels on various products and the huge claims of what the product does being in your face the moment you open the closet door or the drawer. I’d never really thought about it before but I think I agree with her. Maybe that explains my compulsion to take food out of packaging and put it in glass jars. The bombardment of information is distracting. I can see how reducing this energy suck would make a difference in my life.

One of the most fascinating parts of this book to me was her anecdotes of how her clients’ lives changed after they got their house in order. No longer burdened by things that they disliked, they were free to pursue and enjoy the things that they do like. She reported that many clients lost weight. Others changed careers and are now much happier in their new line of work. Especially for people like me who work from home I can totally appreciate how this could be the case. There may be no hard scientific explanation for it, but I’m sure there is a psychological and spiritual reason. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog having too many things can be an emotional burden. We drag it around with us even when we’re not at home. The weight of all those belongings always seems to be on our minds even when we’re not thinking about them. How many times have we heard stories about people who lost everything and then they later report that it was the best thing that ever happened to them? I think this follows that same pattern.

In summary this book is about how to let go of the past, embrace and enjoy your present, and create a future filled with only things that you enjoy. As Marie says toward the very end of the book, “I can think of no greater happiness in life than to be surrounded only by the things I love. How about you?”



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