Magic Tidying

There are two ways I could go in reviewing The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (2015) by Marie Kondo.

  1. I could rave about what great ideas this book contains for organizing and tidying and how when reading it I felt motivated to clean my house and let go of the stuff that has been piling up.
  1. I could make fun of how ridiculous some of this book’s suggestions are. Talking to one’s belonging and getting rid of most books sound crazy to me. She also promised that once the house is in order, you will likely lose weight.

While many of the reviews I saw on Goodreads leaned toward option number 2, I think I’m leaning toward my first reaction. Yes, the book says some silly and ridiculous things. I can’t help but think that has something to do with culture and language (it is a translation), and that I’m not one to judge when it comes to how people want to find happiness and contentment. Overall, I had a good experience with this book.

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A few years ago, I wrote about decluttering my home, all because of a book. Kondo’s book is the latest craze in home organization, and I knew my home was in need of a deep tidying again. Things tend to add up, especially when kids bring home so much and are constantly growing out of clothes and toys. So as I read, I stopped and tidied. I felt motivated to organize drawers, go through old papers, and clean out closets. I donated a lot of things, and I sold some as well. I will continue to do so over the next few weeks.

Here are the results of my daughter’s drawers.

Before:

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After:

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Before:

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After:

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The basic concept is to ask, “Does this spark joy?” Kondo suggests holding/touching each item and asking that question. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. This can, of course, be taken to an extreme. I don’t like my toilet brush, but I’m not going to get rid of it. I don’t like my couches, but I can’t get rid of those (immediately) either.

She organizes this process into several parts. First, clothing. She suggests taking out all of one’s clothes, from all over the house, and laying them in one big pile. Go through each item in the pile and keep it if it sparks joy.

You repeat the same process with books.

And then with papers.

And finally with komono, which is the miscellaneous category that includes all other household items.

I haven’t followed her method exactly, but just by asking myself if an item sparks joy or not, I have found it easier to part with things that I no longer need or want.

If you’re looking for motivation to organize and declutter, this is the latest way to do so.

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44 thoughts on “Magic Tidying

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  1. Well, my shelves are cluttered with accounting material. Does it spark joy? NO. Can I get rid of it? NOT if I don’t want the I.R.S. on my case. And there are many such examples. So what to do? I really need to take care of the house, it’s just that each time I want to do it I get this feeling there’s something much more important I should use the time to attend to. Like accounting, writing or work-mailing … Darn …

  2. I’ve no idea where I read it or heard it or what kind of pizza I ate before bed to dream it up, but an adage I’ve always stuck to is “books can never be ‘clutter’.” It’s one of few foundational beliefs I hold, along with the one-rock-in-scotch rule and my loathing of Tina Fey.

      1. I tend to think of books that I will not re-read or books that I could easily get from a library to be clutter. I only came to this conclusion after years of keeping all books. Those books begin to get dusty and sun-worn and every time we moved they were heavy and clumsy. Books can get a little moldy if it’s too humid in your home, and I definitely have found a cat hair or two in the pages. I later realized that books were actually making me sick because they create a lot of allergens. For these reasons, I’m a fan of e-readers and libraries. I keep books from small presses and books I teach or love and read again and again.

  3. Does it talk about how to convince kids to let go of stuff? Because that’s my problem. I live in a household of hoarders with no one in the least bit interested in tidying up.

    1. It basically says that you can only worry about your own stuff, but as you tidy and your family sees you doing so, they will join in. That didn’t happen for me, so I tend to engage in it with my kids and “force” them to go through things while I help them. It is a constant battle!

  4. In truth I immediately distrust a book that tells you to get rid of other books, like I am weary of people who ask why you bother to keep a book after you have read it. Apparently the potential chance of wanting to read it again doesn’t occur to most people I know.
    Everything else though does sound like it makes a great deal of sense, and I might try it. Unfortunately I’m a sentimental soul so i do have to ask myself when i take things out of a cupboard, whether I could genuinely remember that i had put it there, and whether I was likely to utilize it.

      1. Same here. I’ve managed to get rid of some of my history books from my university days, but the only way I could was to donate them to my uni’s library because I knew then they were going to a good home.

  5. A friend of mine who is a “mimialist” recommended this book. “I look at everything asking
    Does it give me joy?” she says.

    I think it’s hard for creative people to declutter. It does feel good after a drawer is sorted or clothing is sent to the Habitat. I look at this friend who lives in a little townhouse. She loves culture. Attends all the latest plays, events, etc. I live in the country in a HUGE and rambling ranch house with many out buildings, all which need constant maintenance. I could attempt more sorting out and giving away, however, life moves too fast with l0 kids and 26 grandkids, volunteer work, blogging, a little writing, etc.

    Perhaps a once a year plan might work. I could slip away to the ti-pi and hide out. However, my husband won’t part with one single thing and he’s always watching to see if something I’m tossing might be his.

    Getting rid of stuff is a good idea. You never know what “gem” or treasure you might have forgotten you have. In fact, I’ll write about my family when I was 15. I found information about that in my diary that was found when I recently tackled my truck when I put things I want to keep if we’re ever evacuated in case of a fire in the forest.

    1. I like the idea of getting rid of things too. And I have a husband just like yours! I focused on my own things (and my children’s) this time around. Maybe someday he’ll feel inspired to dejunk as well. I would love to be a minimalist like your friend, but I just can’t pull it off in practice, especially, as you point out, with family and kids. My house had hardly anything in it and it was always clean before I had children!

  6. I think anything that doesn’t have utilitarian purpose needs to be held and cause a spark. I know so many people who keep things because they were important at one time, or because it represents another time. Usually, those things end up in a closet. Take the thing out; do you want it displayed? Are you willing to care for it once it’s displayed (even dusting the item). If your answer is no and no, or even yes and no, then you should get rid of the thing.

    1. I like your description of how this best works. It sounds similar to what I was doing while reading this book. I didn’t follow her method exactly, and I’m still working on things, but yeah, utilitarian stuff can definitely stay.

  7. I’m still mid-way through this one. You take what works for you, and leave the rest.
    There’s something to be said for letting go of the mental/physical clutter of things that no longer fit our current lives.
    And I can see that taking control over your physical possessions can lead to claiming your dominion over other areas of your thinking/behavior. It ignites a spirit of initiative, awareness, and ability in you, so that you begin to tackle all the deadweight in your life.

    1. Agreed! This book overstates some of those benefits, but tidying is definitely worth the time and effort and CAN affect other aspects of your life. I really liked this book, despite the hyperbole.

  8. I loved this book. I picked it up right before I moved into a home with smaller storage. I feel like I have more space than ever. The only part I couldn’t bring myself to do was the books… I couldn’t part with a single one! Oh well. It was still very helpful overall. Thanks for sharing this!!

  9. Hmmm…well, I’m not really in the mood to de-clutter or organize right now. Though I have been donating stuff from closets, etc., that I haven’t even looked at, let alone used in over 10 years. I culled a ton when I moved in with my now-husband about 15 years ago so that helped a lot. And I have asked friends not to purchase “sit-around” stuff for me. I have NO room and it’s time to stop accepting things and feeling guilty if I don’t keep and display them. That has helped a lot! I encourage friends to just spend time together and that is the “gift”! 🙂

  10. I took a chance on reading it, despite all the scorn, and my house has never been more organized or cleaner. She’s an odd duck– I call her the Temple Grandin of decluttering– but she does have a gift for cutting to the heart of the problem of possessions and giving us simple ways to loosen those ties.

  11. I have way too much stuff for the small flat I live in, so I’ve recently begun decluttering. Clothes, CDs and various other kinds of stuff were actually very easy to get rid of, but so far I haven’t managed to part with any books. I need to, though, as I’ve run out of space on my shelves and I can’t squeeze in another bookcase. A friend recently told me about this book, and she said it helped her to get rid of some stuff she’d been hanging on to for no good reason. So I thought I’d try the ‘does this give me joy?’ approach, to see which books I could get rid of. I think I need to redefine my concept of joy, because the answer was yes to all but about three books 🙂

    1. Of course! Books bring us joy with few exceptions. The book has a few more ideas for parting with them. You might read it just to get the motivation and some further advice on how to decide which books to let go of.

  12. Emily, I don’t know if it sparks joy, but may be a small sense of accomplishment. We live in a reasonably, neatly cluttered house. So, when we have people over we make the clutter a little neater and that does soothe. Joy, though, may be a stretch. But, whatever floats one’s boat…BTG

    1. So true. My dad’s house is full of interesting things, and while he thinks it is cluttered, I think it is amazing. I love going there. There’s so much to see and it is always neat, so if you can have lots of things that “spark joy” and keep them organized, why not?

      1. My wife would kill me for describing our house that way be we love to read and partially or to be read books are available. Plus, with three kids and their friends we live in blissful chaos. We are neat, but I would not trade the blissful chaos for an orderly house.

  13. I really enjoy the way that clutter can look but I feel like it all has to be very beautiful objects to work. I try to be very selective about what I buy and make sure that even normally boring utilitarian things such as dust pan and brooms, small appliances and even the toilet brush is beautiful so that everything sparks joy. It makes it rather difficult to cull things though!

  14. tee-hee! I like the way you reviewed this book, Emily J. I bought it a couple of months ago and I read bits and then put it down, thinking “that’s silly….but…!…then again, I’m going to try out her idea regarding (fill in the blank).” Looking at your before-and-after photos I feel that Marie Kondo, and her editiors and publishers missed an opportunity to SHOW-OFF the success of her ideas.

    1. What a good idea! I ended up having to watch some of her videos to understand her folding techniques. That would have been a helpful addition to the book! Glad to hear that your reaction was as mixed as mine was. 🙂

  15. I haven’t read this book yet, but now I want to!!! Having worked for a professional organizing company in the past, I’m curious to see what sorts of things the author talks about! Adding this one to my to-read list.
    I agree that books are difficult to part with, especially if they are favourites!!!!! Although, I do find it easier to cull our collection of children’s books, especially those that haven’t been read in a while or that we’ve outgrown.
    Also, I love the before and after shots of your organizing efforts, Emily J 🙂 It’s great to see the results!!!

  16. I’m reading this now so I was interested in your take. I agree about the translation issue. I just moved and am not tidying all at once but giving some of her ideas credence. Also wanted to tell you I absolutely love your blog. I am a complete voyeur when it comes to bookshelves so this is wonderful!

  17. One of the other bloggers I follow recently reviewed this book. It seems to be very popular at the moment.

    I enjoy being tidy, but I find that I go through periodic bouts of tidying up rather than maintaining a constant level of tidiness (if that makes sense!). I’d like to get into the habit of doing the latter. Last year, I took all the clothes out of my drawers and closet, and donated lots of items. It felt great! 🙂

    As I’m starting my Masters in a month, one of my main organizational/tidying priorities is to get a desk. During my undergrad degree, when I wasn’t on campus I did most of my studying and writing at the kitchen table. But I need a better space to study — a space in my room which is dedicated to my research and where I can easily store books and papers.

    1. I’m like you! I tend to have bouts of it as well, and then things pile up again and I have to go through it all over again. I’m trying to be more tidy consistently, but that’s hard with kids who bring so much home and insist in keeping random rock collections and every single craft!

  18. Any book that can motivate someone to clean or de-clutter is worth reading!
    We have our own annual de-cluttering motivation event – every August we go camping for 2 weeks to our favourite place in the world. By the time we get home, we’re in a minimalist mood and tend to get rid of the most stuff this time of year. After camping for 2 weeks with nothing but a few clothes, a few dishes, food, and a big box of books, you realize how little you really need to be happy. 🙂

    1. That is so true. We don’t need as much as we think we do. We are probably happier with less. I love reading a book like this every year or so just to motivate me. 🙂

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