I am the daughter of two hoarders – the type who could easily have had one of those embarrassing reality TV shows made about them – and have had to sort on my own through mountains of their accumulated detritus twice. Once when they moved from the home my mother had lived in for 75 years and again 10 years later when they had to move into a nursing home rather suddenly. Perhaps because of this (or perhaps because I was born an anti-hoarder) I have grown to hate stuff. For years now I’ve been following minimalsim blogs and dreaming longingly of living in a tiny house and generally attempting to have as little stuff as possible but never feeling like I’ve achieved quite the right amount. And so I came, somewhat warily because I don’t really “do” self-help books, to THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by professional Japanese declutterer Marie Kondo.
To be technically correct it’s not a self-help book. At least not at my local bookstore where I hunted it down in the hobbies section. Who knew cleaning was a hobby? But a rose by any other name and all that. It is a book that describes a problem and offers a step-by-step solution to that problem. Some aspects of this solution are entirely practical and some are the same kind of hippy dippy nonsense that turns me off the entire self-help industry. In Marie Kondo’s world, for example, one’s socks (and all other inanimate objects) have feelings. What the…?
At 240 pages of large-ish font and a higher than normal amount of white space the book is a short read which is in its favour. As is its structure which is simple and sensible. There is a relatively short section describing the problem the book is going to help readers resolve – called keeping one’s house in order here – and then dives into the solution. In summary that solution is to sort through one’s accumulated stuff in an order that Kondo has devised over time based on her experiences with clients to allow people to deal withe the easiest stuff first. The focus is on what to keep (rather than what to throw away) with a view to only retaining things that spark joy and saying a grateful goodbye to everything else which has served whatever purpose it had in your life. Once you have pared down your stuff she then provides guidance on how to store it all so that you always know where everything is and your house is never messy again.
If, like me, your first thought is ‘none of my underwear sparks joy’ there’s no need to be alarmed. In the end I think most followers of her methodology (and believe me she has millions of followers, just google KonMari which is Kondo’s nickname and the name by which her method is known) come up with some personal variation of the joy-sparking sentiment. My own approach is something along the lines of
“Does this spark joy? If not, not is it useful enough in my current life to keep until I can replace it with a more joy-sparking example of its type?”
So far this is working pretty well. And I still have enough underwear to get by 🙂
Kondo draws on her own experiences as a lover of all things tidy living among messy people as well as the wealth of examples she has from her client base so the book does have lots of practical ideas and suggestions based on real life. I was impressed that in the second part of the solution Kondo does not propose any expensive storage “systems” and instead opts for using what you’ve got (old shoe boxes for example) and a different way of folding things (hint: think vertically rather than horizontally). I like it when self-help gurus aren’t trying to sell me something. The more outlandish ideas – such as her suggestion to thank your socks (or whatever) for all the hard work they’ve done for you – are at least completely harmless even if they do make you feel a bit foolish. And I do think some of her more fanciful notions are helpful to get people over the mental blocks they have about stuff. She does, for example, spend quite a bit of time on the difficulties people have in getting rid of things that others have given them and her approach is to help a person re-think what purpose that item might have had in their life before letting go.
The book is not perfect. Kondo makes a couple of pretty broad generalisations which set my teeth on edge. And she glosses over the issue of how to get rid of the stuff you no longer want (you’re left with a vague impression that all your bags of rubbish will magically disappear). And I remain unconvinced that talking to my socks is going to demonstrably improve my life. But I will reserve judgement on that for a bit 🙂
Kondo suggests you need about 6 months to work through the average house using her method and I’m only about a month into the process so I suppose I can’t really say whether or not the book is successful. But I’m definitely planning to finish the process and will try to remember to report back on whether or not I achieve and maintain a nirvana-like level of tidy. As for whether or not I would recommend the book…I think on balance yes. I’m not sure yet that it will be life-changing (so few books are when you get right down to it) but it is practical and sensible, even with its hippy dippy sentiments (my socks might not appreciate their post-washing thank you but they’ll probably last longer now that they’re neatly placed in their drawer and there’s enough room for them all not to be squashed like sardines). I like the fact that the book’s core approach tackles the problem at its source – as in how our minds think about our stuff – and addresses logically many of the arguments people have for hanging on to stuff that they ought not to. Perhaps the best one can say about any self-help book is that there is nothing in it which could hurt you.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator Cathy Hirano
Publisher Vermillion Publishing 
Length 240 pages
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.