"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" (Book Review)

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Does it spark joy? If not, discard it! With this simple mentality, Marie Kondo teaches people how to revitalize their homes and, by extension, their lives.

Marie Kondo has the astonishing ability to make tidying sound exciting. In her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” Kondo teaches people how to arrange their homes in such a way that they are surrounded only by things they truly love. Her selection criterion is simple: “Does it spark joy?” If the answer is no, get rid of it.

We live in a world swamped with organizing tips and storage solutions, which are all part of the concerted effort to deal with our stockpiles of stuff. Kondo eschews all of that. She doesn’t believe that nifty solutions and tips are going to permanently deal with the clutter that haunts most households.

She writes: “Those storage ‘solutions’ are really just prisons within which to bury possessions that spark no joy.”

People who rely on faulty storage methods will continue to rebound, reverting to the cluttered state that creates so much extra work and stress. Many will continue trying to tidy a little bit every day, which, as Kondo points out logically, means “you’ll be tidying forever.”

Kondo’s method, rather, is to tidy everything, all at once, in such a way that you’ll never have to do it again. She divides tidying into two parts – discarding and organizing. She recommends discarding by category, bringing all items together in your home and sorting through them, one by one. If anything doesn’t spark joy immediately, it should be discarded. At the end you’ll probably have a fraction of the possessions you started with.

The organizing part of her method means designating a place for each thing and limiting storage to a single location in your home. Kondo recommends vertical storage, i.e. folding clothes so they are stacked on end in a drawer and each piece is visible.

Kondo’s method is unique because, in a way, she gives permission to people to let go of things to which they’ve clung for too long. Even I, who thought I’d reduced my possessions to a sensible level, suddenly felt comfortable letting go of several bags of clothes that no longer delight me.

"When we really delve into the reasons for why we can't let something go, there are only two: attachment to the past or a fear for the future."

I like that Kondo’s approach to tidying is an alternative form of minimalism, one that does not focus on reducing one’s possessions to the smallest possible number, while feeling conflicted about what to keep and what to purge; instead, her method weeds out the precious from the unwanted, which makes one feel light and relaxed.

Fellow TreeHugger Lloyd Alter describes his success applying Kondo's method for tidying up to his computer and phone: "It was a revelation. Since I own the basic phone, I have always been bumping up against its limits. Now it has gigs to spare. It FEELS lighter."

Kondo’s method clashes somewhat with my tendency toward frugality and ‘making do’, born from my almost pioneer-like upbringing, where I was taught to use everything I have for as long as it lasts. And yet, that’s precisely why I connected so well with her book; there are many things I hold on to because they’re functional, not because I like them, hence the sense of liberation at having ‘released’ so many items from my home.