The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Your Electronic Life

My Kondoed phone, sitting on my Kondoed T-shirts. Lloyd Alter

I'm a fan of Marie Kondo and her book "The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing." As Starre Vartan notes, "It sounds like hyperbole, but for devotees of the KonMari Method of housecleaning, pioneered by Marie Kondo (who named it after herself), it's reality."

I used to be a packrat and never throw anything out, and am not particularly tidy — despite all my talk about minimalism. I also had a house with a basement and a third floor that I could fill with everything. I found myself in big trouble when we seriously downsized and I no longer had anywhere to put anything. No endless filing cabinets, no basement, no empty third floor. And only four drawers in our new built-in dressers to put all of my clothing. There was no way it was going to fit.

Marie Kondo is considered a decluttering diva, but perhaps she's onto something more. (Photo: Debby Wong/

So I went all Kondo on it. Marie Kondo's key takeaway is simple: Think about what you really want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. She writes:

I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one's hand and ask: "Does this spark joy?" If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge....Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.

I Kondoed my drawers, and now have one that is almost empty. I Kondoed my books, and learned that I really like the old ones and am far less attached to the newer. As Marie notes, you should "Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love."

But I could not Kondo my wife; she still sparks joy, but she's just not interested in the KonMari method. She no longer puts my clothes away after she does the wash, leaving them for me to do the complicated folding. So it's often now messier than it was before, at least until I get around to it. So my Kondo campaign was very personal and had pretty much run its course.

Then I read Christopher Mims in the Wall Street Journal on The Magic of Tidying Up - Digitally, where he brilliantly applies the Kondo principles to his iPhone.

A funny thing happened when I touched each app on my phone and considered tapping the "x" that would delete it. I instantly knew which sparked joy. In just a few minutes, I had Kondo'd my phone just as thoroughly as my closet. I dumped more than a dozen apps from a device whose contents I thought I had already trimmed to the bone. I recommend you try it.

I did. 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.

empty desktop
Look at that desktop! There's nothing on it. Lloyd Alter

Then I hit my MacBook and did the same thing. Until the new Apple Photo cloud storage thing started, I always was fighting for megabytes, but now it too feels lighter, fresher, faster, newer after I dumped everything that did not bring me joy. Like Chris, much of my stuff is now in the cloud, which has become the giant storage locker in the sky that someday I won't make a payment on and they will dump the contents out onto the street (I can't wait for the digital version of "Storage Wars"), but for now my MacBook and my phone are back to their minimalist roots.

Sometimes it's hard to take Marie Kondo seriously, such as when she suggests that we talk to our clothing when we hang it up and say "Thank you for keeping me warm all day." Or her purse: "It's thanks to you that I got so much work done today."

I thought it silly, the idea of thanking objects that supported me through the day. But when I think of my phone and computer, I want to thank them all the time for making my job and my life possible in the way that it is right now. And after being Kondoed, they all seem happier and fitter than they were before. So thank you, Marie and Chris. You have both given me joy this week.