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 na├»ve.


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.


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