Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This book was a mixed review for me.  I gleaned a few helpful hints, but for the most part I think the author has severe OCD.  She actually admits that "tidying up" is an obsession she has pursued since childhood.  But she has taken it to extremes.  I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that the "peculiarness" of her methods and ideas are enhanced by translation (from original Japanese) and cultural differences.  The title itself is a perfect example.  Ms. Kondo's system goes way beyond the American idea of "tidying up"
People can not change their habits without first changing their way of thinking. (p. 5)
Whether they call it organizing, de-cluttering, purging or tidying up, most of those who specialize in this area have a common theme - discard excess, then organize what is left.  Ms. Kondo puts her own spin on the idea with two phrases:  1.  "Sparks joy" - her philosophy in a nutshell is to own nothing that does not spark joy in you.  2.  When sorting and tossing, don't focus on what to get rid of.  Rather, focus on what to keep.  Spread out all belongings from a specific category (clothes, bedding, pictures) and choose your favorites to keep; the ones that give you joy. 

My issue with this theory is the number of objects I own that do not spark joy, yet I have to own them - lawn mowers, cookie sheets, cold medicine . . .  While I can be thankful that the new mower cuts the time I spend on that awful chore; or I can enjoy the results of using cookie sheets, neither of these items gets a reaction anywhere near joy.

Here are the points where Ms. Kondo and I agree:
  • Finding better storage options is not the same as tidying.  "Out of sight, out of mind" doesn't apply well here.
  • You must discard those things which have outlived their purpose.  I have a tendency to keep items I feel sentimental about but, truthfully, most have served their purpose and no longer "spark joy" sitting in a drawer.
  • Don't save old clothes as "lounge wear".  Oops, totally guilty.  I love days when I never get out of my "lounge wear", but I feel so much better when the lounge wear is not frayed, stained, or torn.  It is worth the money to own pretty pajamas or a coordinated jogging suit (even if you don't jog).
  • "My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away." (p. 96)  I love that line!  I have lived by that theory for years.  However, I have learned that keeping a certain amount of paper is both convenient and required by law.  (Ms. Kondo does acknowledge that fact and tempers her own statement.)
  • Don't keep gifts just for sentimental reasons.  The green ceramic vase you got as a wedding gift, the lotion in a scent you don't wear, the blouse that's too small - it is not necessary to keep (much less use) any of these items just because they were gifts. Re-gifting, however, is tacky (my opinion, not from the book).
  • "Mysterious cords will always remain a mystery" Point taken.  The tangled mass of random cords for outdated technology that "I might need someday" is gone!
  • Once boxes of memorabilia are packed, they will never be opened.  This advice is aimed at young people storing items at their parents', presumably, larger home to save space in their own.  They rarely come to retrieve these items.  Same applies to the half-dozen boxes I have hauled through the last half-dozen moves without opening.  I'm not sure I even remember what's in some of them.  How much joy are they sparking?
  • Store all items of the same type in the same place.  Much easier to find what you're looking for if you only have to look in one spot.
  • Clutter is caused by failure to return things to where they belong, therefore storage should reduce the effort required to put things away (not to get them out).  Genius!  Failure to execute a full and complete return is my biggest failing as a homemaker.  "A place for everything and everything in the general vicinity" just doesn't cut it.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure how this well this bit of brilliance translates into reality.  
These are all good points that will make life a little easier.  However, the rest of the book is what caused one Goodreads reviewer to describe Ms. Kondo as "bat-s**t crazy".  If you've got time and need a laugh, I recommend reading the reviews on Goodreads or other sites, just for the laugh! 

In general, Ms. Kondo has a relationship with inanimate objects that the rest of us rank from "a little odd" to "just plain creepy."  She unloads her purse completely every night, and repacks it every morning. She thanks her clothing, as she removes it, for a job well done.  She has rules for laundry:
 "Every item of clothing has it's own "sweet spot" where it feels just right - a folded state that best suits that item...There is nothing more satisfying than finding that "sweet spot"...It's like a sudden revelation - So this is how you always wanted to be folded! - a historical moment in which your mind and the piece of clothing connect."
"Never ever ball up your socks...The socks and stocking in your drawer are essentially on holiday.  They take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet.  The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest."
But it is her relationship with books that I found most disturbing.  She started well, with the advice to discard books you have read but did not love, because it is unlikely you will reread them.  "Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love.  Isn't that image spellbinding?  For someone who love books, what greater happiness could there be?"

But when it comes to the TBR (to be read) pile, she reverts back to crazy.   
"It seems to me that people have far more unread books than they once did, ranging from three to more than forty.  It is not uncommon for people to purchase a book and then buy another one not long after, before they have read the first one."
Buy a second book before you've read the first one?  I am shocked!  So, I should read every book as soon as I purchase it?
"You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven't read it by now, the book's purpose was to teach you that you didn't need it. The moment you encounter a particular book is the right time to read it."
All sarcasm aside, personal experience tells me differently.  Many a book has sat on my shelf, sometimes for years, awaiting it's "right time".  My reaction to a book depends almost as much on my current situation as it does on the plot or the author's skill.

Ms. Kondo realized that some of the books she was keeping because she loved them, were really only in that category because of a few phrases or passages that were memorable.  All she really wanted to save were those pieces.   
"My idea was to copy the sentences that inspired me into a notebook.  Over time, I thought, this would become a personal collection of my favorite words of wisdom."  
As a lover of beautiful words, I have a "Quotes" page here on my blog where I save favorites.  I completely understood the logic of keeping only the pieces and making space on the shelf.  She tried copying the quotes by hand into a notebook, but found it too time-consuming.  She also tried using a copy machine, but also found that time-consuming.   So she "decided to rip the relevant pages out of the book".  What? 

I can only assume that she either doesn't own a computer or is computer-illiterate, but since she managed to write a bestselling book, I find that hard to believe.  Point 1: These are books that had survived her rigid criteria for remaining in her house, books she purported to love.  Point 2:  This is the woman who refuses to roll her socks because it might cause them anxiety.  But she feels nothing about ripping pages out of beloved books?  Of denying another reader the chance to love those same words?  I guess it's a good thing I have recorded some of her words here in this post.  Maybe that will keep me from ripping up her book.

On a scale of 5 stars, this book gets 2.  One star for the helpful tidbits to be gleaned amongst the crazy.  And a second star for making me laugh out loud!


  1. Whoa - crazy lady alert - although she did have some good organizational thoughts. I liked several. Coming from the OCD world, but now too tired to continue, I do agree with having a place for everything. And I think it's okay to toss something when it has served its purpose. Good post Tami . . . now let me get back to folding my towels in their "sweet spot"

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    1. I added more to what I said earlier below.. Too bad we have no edit button or I haven't found it yet.. Gosh... I am clutter this post now. Sorry!

  3. I admit that she did help me with my closet and dresser, but I'm finding her way less helpful in the rest of the house -- and you point out why

  4. I have started reading this book and It really has some very useful tips. I think "sparks of joy" can be meant many ways. I must admit that I wear "lounge wear" but at the same time I balance with living. I step over toys that are proudly displayed ect... I love the discussions on this book because it is a mixed review for each of us. The reason is because we choose to examine our own life and how we keep it. So it becomes personal. I am so glad this blog is up! It opens up my reading shelf and shhhh. I have many books on my shelf I have not read.

  5. Hahaha!!! I think I totally forgot all the ways in which she is bat shit crazy. But even this morning as I was driving the girls to school I was thinking to myself "wow, this bra sparks absolutely no joy...can't wait to take it off and throw it away when I get home." (it doesn't fit well and I rarely ever wear it...). In this way her ideas really have stuck with me and while not practical for the other parts of the home...I have whittled down some of my kitchen cabinets by tossing extras or things that I've been holding onto for "one day" or "just in case.

  6. Oh, yeah, some of those things are bat shit crazy! Although, maybe the point she was ultimately getting about with the socks is to not stretch them to make them into balls because it will wear out the elasticity sooner. That sound less crazy? Also, I'm keeping a toilet plunger in my house even if it does not spark joy. Unless she considers unplugging a toilet joyful.