Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo

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

Marie Kondo

Category: self-help
Synopsis: Professional tidying expert, Marie Kondo, teaches how to declutter once and live happily ever after.
Pages: 206
Date finished: 25 April 2015

Rating: ***½

[I wrote this shortly after reading the book, then forgot to post it. Thus, the mentions of “springtime.”]

I’ve been on kind of a self-help kick lately. Spring does that to me. No better time to change your life or declutter your house than springtime. My favorite kind of self-help book is the decluttering book. I have a long love affair with them. I read them all, and most help in the short term, but there is maintenance involved in staying on top of clutter.

At least, that’s what most of us think. Marie Kondo begs to differ. She contends that decluttering needs to be done only once per lifetime. And therein lies my main problem with this book. She doesn’t make it at all clear how to move forward once the hard work of a major purge is complete. You have a clean, tidy house, but how does it stay that way? Mail comes every day, hobbies change over time, kids outgrow everything. How does this not require periodic “tidying”? Did I miss something? Maybe it really is MAGIC as the title suggests!


A few other peeves about the book:

I think something was lost in translation with the word “tidying” (used approximately 14,000,000 times in the book). Perhaps in Japan “tidying” means doing an overhauling purge of your entire home top to bottom, but here in America, “tidying” means straightening the pillows on the couch, picking up the leaves the plant dropped, and ordering the items in the pantry. In other words, in Japan, apparently, tidying is done once; in America, it’s done daily (or at least when company comes).

Also, she doesn’t do a very good job of talking about families and “tidying”. She is a young professional living alone in what sounds like a one-bedroom, or even an efficiency, apartment. While the principles of her method apply to all situations, this doesn’t directly translate to a suburban American family with three kids in a three-bedroom split-level house. In fact, she barely addresses children and their otherworldly amount of accoutrements (both necessary and not) at all. Not that I have kids or live in the suburbs, but still….

Moreover, in my opinion, Kondo doesn’t deal enough with the psychological issues that prompt over-keeping. Without addressing the emotional ties we have to our too many things, I’m not sure we’ll be able to break the cycle of over-acquiring and purging. The only way Kondo deals with the emotional aspects of having too much is in speaking to the objects she loves. She thanks her sweater for keeping her warm when she puts it away at night. She thanks her watch, bag, pocketbook, umbrella, shoes, for doing their jobs in keeping her timely, composed, organized, dry, and comfortable, respectively. I think this boils down to a difference in cultures, and possibly, how we see and worship God (e.g., do inanimate objects have souls or feelings?), but it creeped me out just a little.

Lastly, although I’m generally a rule-follower, I also rebel a little bit when I’m told there’s only one way to do something. The only way to sort your clothing is to put all of your clothing on your bedroom floor, pick up each piece individually, and tell it that it can stay or that it must go? That’s the ONLY way? It might be a highly effective way, but it’s not the only way. Other experts in this field use other methods and get the same results. I found that rigidity kind of off-putting and naïve.


What I did like about the book:

The emphasis on joy. Other books focus a lot on a list of rules that determine what you are allowed to keep. It gets complicated and draining. It also makes it way too easy to find loopholes and cheat. And some books and methods disregard the sentimental side of possessing altogether. What this book does well is put the emphasis on the JOY of ownership. Kondo has only one rule: Keep what brings you joy and discard the rest. So simple. (This, however, has its flipside: None of my kitchen utensils bring me joy, but they’re infinitely useful. Also, what if you aren’t able to get rid of much at all because most of your things really do bring you joy, but the situation of bursting closets brings you unease? Maybe it’s all semantics, but sometimes people like me need a limit: you can only keep X sweaters, you only have room for X hand towels.)

Personal Examples. I also appreciated her examples from her own life. You can tell that the items she owns—each one of them—really do bring her joy, and that brings me hope for my own stashes.

All that said, decluttering and organizational books are some of the bossiest books in publication. I find that kind of charming, because I’m secretly a bossy organizational freak myself. So I can take the tone with a grain of salt, and even delight in it a little. On the other hand, I sometimes just wanted to put my arm around Marie’s shoulders and say one of my husband’s favorite lines from the movie Stripes: Lighten up, Francis!

Oh, one more thing, a quote you fellow bookworms might enjoy:

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.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! You think? Yes. I also buy my bread more than two slices at a time, though I only eat one sandwich at a time. If this makes me an incurable hoarder, so be it.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
If you give into the program, no doubt it will work for you. The trouble is, I’m not sure how easy it is for Americans to give into a program like this, especially with nothing more than a book to guide you. Most need more guidance and accountability. The honor system doesn’t always work well for purgers.

If you really need a book about decluttering, I’d suggest the two below rather than this one.

You might also enjoy:
Two of my favorite books on this topic are It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh (also his Enough Already!) and Scaling Down by Marj Decker and Judi Culbertson. Walsh’s strength lies in his ability to help you identify why you hold onto too much (hint: it’s never about the stuff) and how to cut the psychological ties to it. Scaling Down is good for its practical advice on what to keep and how to organize it.

A P.S. I did try the Kondo folding method, and my shirt drawers bring my unexpected joy. Seriously, try it.


Monday, July 27, 2015

It's Monday! (7/27/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
I finished two books last week. Mary Oliver's Blue Horses was good, but it didn't knock me over. I found two poems I really liked in the collection. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is a YA (YA in our library anyway, I wouldn't call it YA) book that I wasn't sure about at first but ended up loving.
I'm slowly winding my way through Mansfield Park. I finally feel invested in the characters, but now my audio rig-up is giving me problems. We'll see if we can fix that this week, so I can get back to the book.

This week I'll be reading Go Set a Watchman. I've tried to avoid all reviews and buzz so it's fresh to me, but that's mighty hard to do.

And that will be it for July reading. I'm still putting my August list together. I'm having trouble deciding what I feel like reading--mostly because I'm forcing myself to read off the TBR a bit in August, and nothing much is striking my fancy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (diversity)

This week: Ten Books That Celebrate Diversity/Diverse Characters (example: features minority/religious minority, socioeconomic diversity, disabled MC, neurotypical character, LGBTQ etc.)
I decided to share a list of ten-ish books I've read this year that are in one way or another diverse.

Link up at The Broke and the Bookish.

Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson, African-American girl’s childhood
Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller, child raised by hoarders
Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, discusses Italian, Indian, and Indonesian cultures 

Girl in the Dark, Anna Lyndsey, discusses psychosomatic condition
Half Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls, discusses ranching and its environment
Hammer Head, Nina MacLaughlin, a female in a male profession

Life is Short (No Pun Intended), Jennifer Arnold MD & Bill Klein, memoir by Little People
Like a Beggar, Ellen Bass, lesbian poetry
No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin, discusses President Roosevelt's disability

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo, Japanese author
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Terry Ryan, poor family in the mid-20th Century
Under the Banner of Heaven, Jon Krakauer, discusses Mormons and their history

We Knew Mary Baker Eddy (vol. 1), Christian Science Publishers, discusses Christian Science


Monday, July 20, 2015

It's Monday! (7/20/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
Last week I finished three books, and I really liked them all.
First was my re-read of Love, Loss, and What I Wore. The autobiographical parts were a bit darker than I remember, but I enjoyed the flow nonetheless.
I also finished The Talented Clementine, the second in the series for young readers. Clementine is funny, sweet, and clever in her antics. She just can't help but get into trouble. The books are clean, but anything but boring. I adored this book as much as the first book, and I'll likely be reading the entire series now.
And this weekend, I finished Jen Lancaster's I Regret Nothing. I loved this book! It's similar in feel and writing to her The Tao of Martha, but I think I enjoyed this one even more. She writes about her life, in sort of a friendly, personal, blog-type style. She's full of life and fun. I adore her books.
This week I'm continuing with Mary Oliver's newest book of poems, Blue Horses. Good as ever.
I'm also listening to Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. I kind of detest the audio version I bought. The narrator's voice is too high, too shrill, and too British. Because of this, I'm having trouble following the story and really getting into it. And that's too bad because I was really looking forward to this one.
I began reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate this weekend, but I think I'll put it down as soon as my copy of Go Set the Watchman arrives this week. (Which, as luck would have it, is delayed in transit!)

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A Walk in the Woods, Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail

Bill Bryson

Category: Nonfiction
Synopsis: Bill Bryson and his friend hike the Appalachian Trail.
Pages: 274
Date finished: 14 January 2015

Rating: ***

I always tell people that I like Bill Bryson, but the more of him I read, the more I think I like the idea of Bill Bryson. Maybe Bryson is funny in ideal, but not so much in practice? I don’t know. I read this book because a movie based on it is coming out this year with Robert Redford in the leading role. It’s been on my list for so long, I figured this was a good reason to force myself to finally read the book. After all, you have to be ahead of the movie. (Of course, I’d like to know why the move is coming out 17 years after the book. Is this a hope to capitalize on the Wild success? Because maybe they never saw Wild and don’t know that it stunk, and was, therefore, not successful? Anywho…)

I have to tell you folks, I did not like this book much at all. I loved every word of Bryson’s One Summer. That book elevated him to genius in my mind, but this book… How could they be written by the same author? This book was drivel (maybe he’d prefer “twaddle”) compared to One Summer. And I’m still kind of mad about that. How can one man’s writing be so uneven?

You likely know the story: a middle-aged English guy and his friend decide to hike the Appalachian Trail, and they set out unprepared and out-of-shape without much of a plan. But this isn’t really even the story. There is no story. They have some adventures. They come home. Bryson does part of the trail himself. They go out again. Or something. Along the way we get a history of the trail, which I enjoyed. But the trail tales—I often didn’t buy them, and I never thought they were as funny as Bryson did.

All in all, I just didn’t enjoy this book. Maybe I was unfairly comparing it to Wild (the book, not the movie), and wanted it to mean something, but it just doesn’t. Also, I don’t understand how Redford will play Bryson. Can Redford even smile, much less crack a joke?

Those of you who adore this book, set me straight please. What am I missing?

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Nope. Bryson has better books, and so does the memoir/arduous hike genre.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday (last 10 purchases)

Click to link!

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for a list of the last ten books that came into your possession. I buy books every two weeks, usually four or five at a time. Here are the last ten I purchased. I've already read two of them, and another five are on my July reading list.


(Well, no this hasn't arrived yet, but my copy is reserved.)
What have you bought lately?


Monday, July 13, 2015

It's Monday! (7/13/15)

It's Monday! is sponsored by Sheila at Book Journey.
So far July reading has been fabulous. I chose some books I was a bit dubious
about, but I'm having a blast with them all.
Last week I finished Jane Smiley's Early Warning and Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. I recommend them both--and in Krakauer's case, highly. Both really drew me in, and both were well written and intellectually engaging.
This weekend I had a lot of uninterrupted reading time, so I finished Jim Gaffigan's Food: A Love Story and Dominique Browning's Around the House and in the Garden. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Gaffigan's book. I thought it could be a bust, but I actually found it quite funny. I've added his Dad Is Fat to my TBR now.

This week I'll be reading:
 Jen Lancaster's I Regret Nothing (love that cover),
the second in the Clementine series, The Talented Clementine (I simply adore Clementine, so funny),
Love, Loss, and What I Wore (a re-read, love the artwork of the outfits),
and the audio of Mansfield Park (it's taking a bit to get into it, but I'm enjoying it now).


Whew! That's a lot of books. What are you devouring this summer?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

Doris Kearns Goodwin        

Category: Biography
Synopsis: Kearns Goodwin looks at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s life together and in politics.
Pages: 636
Date finished: 10 January 2015

Rating: ****

I think you would just have to call this one of, if not the, definitive book on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’d wanted to read something by Doris Kearns Goodwin for awhile now (well, I’d read her Wait Till Next Year years ago, but I don’t really remember it), and I have a fondness for World War II history, so this is the book I settled on. I’d have to say it is very comprehensive, almost tediously so in parts. It’s well-researched, well-written, and well-documented.

Unfortunately, I read this after watching the spectacular Ken Burns 14-hour series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Kearns Goodwin was one of the Roosevelt authors whose expertise was used in the documentary. She’s so delightfully plain and straightforward, I fell in love with her while watching the series, and it moved this book up my TBR list. But No Ordinary Time not being my first major introduction into the Roosevelts, much of the 636 pages slogged. I felt like I really didn’t learn much that I hadn’t learned from the documentary or other books—all of them produced since Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, I must add.

The one thing I did learn was just how progressive Eleanor’s political beliefs were. Her ideals were liberal in every sense of the word. I kept thinking how remarkable that must have been in the 1940s, because it seemed to me that the laws and policies she fervently wanted enacted were way ahead of her time. She was concerned with race and class at a time long before the Civil Rights movement and public welfare. In fact, as liberal as FDR was, she was way to the left of him. The things she believed in are common core ideals for today’s Democratic party, but they made Eleanor stand out.

And yet, I found I didn’t care much for Eleanor. Part of the draw of this book for me was to finally read something that showed Eleanor in context of her husband’s presidency, and I have to say, had she been my first lady, I’d not have the patience President Roosevelt had with her. Case in point, when Franklin was concerned with little more than keeping America out of the second World War, or helping Britain build munitions, or feeling the burden of being a Commander-in-Chief in the greatest war of our time, Eleanor was pressuring him to fix the racial divide so that a better, fairer system would be in place when the black soldiers came home. Of course, this is a compassionate stance, one few had at the time, but she didn’t seem to understand that if Franklin’s priority wasn’t in fighting and winning the war, there’d be no black soldiers coming home, or indeed, nothing for black soldiers to come home to. I found Eleanor’s single-mindedness maddening.

Overall, though, I would recommend this book. It was thoroughly researched and, I think, fair, in its portrayal of both Roosevelts, the Roosevelt administration, and the home front during the war. If, however, you’ve read many other books about the couple or watched the Burns miniseries, the information here will be very familiar. Which, I suppose, means it’s accurate.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. If you have the stamina.

You might also enjoy:
FDR’s Funeral Train