Book Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So after hearing about The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo a fair bit in the media I borrowed a copy from my library and started to read.  After all I’ve had passing flirting with minimalism over the years so I figured it couldn’t hurt.  But to be honest, I didn’t expect to learn much from the book. Damn I was wrong.

For for being a fairly short book Marie manages to pack in a lot of insightful comments on people’s behaviour to our stuff.  The first one to struck me as being hugely helpful is the average person is never taught how to purge or organize anything except in a haphazard way from family or perhaps friends.  So what happens is our homes (no matter how large or small) tend to build up WAY to much stuff.  Now how messy you are will determine how obvious the problem is, but volume still often exceeds what we can reasonably store in our homes.

Then people try to deal with this huge backlog of things but often try to do it just a little at a time which is like trying to swim up a river a foot at a time.  You might make some progress but you are going to feel exhausted from it all the time and likely give up.  So Marie’s solution is simple…do one monster size purge in your life and then you are done (it may take months to finish).  This isn’t to say you don’t need to do a little purging once and a while afterward, but organizing your stuff if pointless until you get rid of a huge amount of it.

Marie’s method is interesting because she doesn’t focus on what to purge, but rather what to keep.  Her criteria of it must ‘spark joy’  as you handle each item sounded weird to me until I stumbled on the idea of  that means: do you love the item?  So by default there is no maybe pile…you either love and keep it or it gets purged.  It’s a somewhat brutal method, but given the amount of crap people own it is surprising effective criteria.

Then to hone your decision making skills she points out a method of doing it by category of object for the entire house instead of by room.  That way you get practice on the easier decision items and work down to the hard decisions like sentimental items.  Her suggested list is clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany) and lastly mementos.   Komono is further broken down into CDs/DVDs, skin care, makeup, accessories, valuables (passports, credit cards…), electronics and cords, household equipment (stationary, pens, sewing kits…), household supplies (expendables like tissue, detergents, medicine…), kitchen goods/food supplies and other.  Your stop point for purge is when you feel comfortable with what is left.

After you do your monster purge then you start to organize things .  At which point most storage solutions are not really required since you actually have like 25 to 80% less stuff.  Then the trick to preventing clutter from all from coming back is to keep everything in its place.  Assign a home for EVERYTHING and put it back when you are done using it.  She cautions not to try and organize as you purge as you will lose focus and then stop.

Overall I’m done clothes, books, DVDs and still working on papers…I got side tracked by having to finish my taxes.  I have to agree with the idea of the monster purge idea as once you get going you hit a sort of momentum that makes the effort of keeping going easier.  My motivation for this is the dream of waking up in  house where I love everything that is there…my neglected items are gone and I can FIND things easily.  She rightly points out without some kind of goal in mind the process really won’t work.

This isn’t to say that some of her ideas are a bit odd like unpacking your purse or bag completely at the end of each day after you get back home from work.   Umm, no thanks. Too much work for no real point. Or that she treats objects like they have personality and you should thank them for their service.  So feel free to ignore the really odd ideas in the book…I am.

In the end, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the book and I am finding it useful so far.  It remains to be seen if I can complete the process, but I’m enjoying the results so far.  So have you read the book yet?  Do you think Marie is nuts or brilliant…or perhaps in between?

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

  1. I had a quick read of this in Indigo a few months ago after a friend raved about it. Am still on the waiting list at my library.
    She is Japanese, so there’s a tendency towards anthropomorphizing objects which is alien to the western world. I did finally get rid of some shoes that I liked in theory but not in wearing (so cute! but not comfortable so they sparked pain and not joy) after reading it but in general am pretty minimalistic and unsentimental.
    My main issue tends to be worrying that this thing I have has been “wasted” because I didn’t use it properly and nobody else wants it – so I always donate clothes etc that are still in style as soon as I no longer love them. One reason why I love donating stuff to goodwill – hopefully someone who needs or wants this thing but can’t afford to buy it will get the use out of it that I didn’t. But you seriously stop buying superfluous things when you get that. My main criterion for buying is “will I possibly have to donate this x months from now?”

  2. I actually bought the book, which I normally don’t. I loved the book! I felt like I was having a conversation with her and having a counselling session. I keep it by my bedside and give it a quick read whenever I fall off the wagon. Got rid of a lot of clothes, papers, shoes, and nick backs. Now getting dressed before going to work is a snap. Anything in the closet is fine because there’s no more junky clothes to sort through. Hmmm,,,, since you posted this article….. I think it’s a sign for me to go purge some more….bye bye. 🙂

  3. I moved recently and did a big purge. My current goal is to only own things that I can move by myself with a cargo van, as I’m living more nomadicly right now. I still have a desk and table I want to swap out with more portal ones, but otherwise most of my life fits in about a dozen large bins. I need to go through the items once more at some point.

    It’s also giveaway weekend here so I’m looking forward to putting a few odds and ends out on the curb for people to take away for me. People take anything. I feel bad for them but good for me.

  4. I will definately have to read this; I’ve been in the process of trying to de-clutter/purge for several months and the hardest things I found to let go of were past passions/hobbies that for the last few years held no joy for me. One was my cello, a gift from my husband some 15 years ago that sat unused. The other was approximately $900 worth of home photography equipment I had acquired in the years before the kids came with the intent of making it a side gig. These sparked guilt, not joy, and when I finally listed and sold them on craigslist, I couldn’t believe the relief I felt. Both items I sold to young people who appeared to have the same passion for art/music that I had at that age and I felt good that they would benefit from the things I had loved at one time. One thing about purging, once you make up your mind you got to stick to it- there may be someone (husband, parents, friends) to question your decision “but you loved/spent so much/were so good at it?!” Its natural that our passions and hobbies change over time and when we don’t have constant reminders of lost loves, we can focus and enjoy what we love right now.

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