Review: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by Marie Kondo

TheLifeChangingMagicOfTid24774RT3Q_f 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 [2011]
ISBN 9780091955106
Length 240 pages
Format paperback

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16 Responses to Review: THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by Marie Kondo

  1. Col says:

    I think I’m a potential hoarder – note the ridiculous number of books, though I can move them on after I’m done. Not sure I want to go the self-help reading book route though.

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  2. I’m glad you found this to be of some use, Bernadette. I don’t much care for a lot of ‘stuff’ myself, although I would hasten to say that books do not count as ‘stuff.’ The last time I noticed how many books I had, I got a new set of bookshelves. 🙂 – But otherwise, I think it’s really useful to go through things and get rid of what you don’t use or don’t like.

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  3. I have too much stuff in my house and have been interested in this book, although have been slightly put off by the whole ‘talking to the socks’ stuff! Sounds quote good though…

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  4. amy says:

    Oh, Bernadette, how you made me laugh! I read the book a few months ago and since we will be moving soonish, I am implementing it. I love it. I do. I was surprised as well that she wasn’t selling a “system” that costs a fortune.
    I did laugh at the sock section, when she said she folds them instead of stretches them into a bunch. She said, dryly, “my socks seem to be able to find each other”.

    This book isn’t for everyone, but it really helped me see I was putting too much meaning into things. Stuff my kids had made that they didn’t even want me to keep. I snap pictures of things now, and move on.

    Delightful review.

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    • Thanks for the kind words. And yes the notion of us putting so much meaning into stuff comes through really strongly – as someone who has had to clean up the stuff of others I can tell you it had no meaning for me.

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  5. Patti Abbott says:

    If I only held on to what sparks joy, I might have a house that only holds my husband and some photos albums. Nevertheless I do like order so I had better check it out.

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    • That would be spartan indeed Patti. Sometimes I feel like I’m not far off that but it has proven interesting to work through her method – she recommends you touch everything before deciding and I thought it was nonsense but it does make a difference – it seems easier to work out what stuff I genuinely want – though I haven’t gotten to the hard categories yet (I really don’t care two hoots about clothes) so I am reserving judgement

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  6. I thought it was an excellent book, and it definitely had an effect on me – though I would say most of my friends and visitors would say they couldn’t see much difference. But a lot of her ideas and decision-making strategies made a lot of sense. NOT about books though!

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    • Yeah I haven’t started books yet Moira. Though I am not too bad. I moved house just over three years ago and got rid of lots at that time and really haven’t accumulated many more since then. I do wonder what I will do with the bookshelves though if I do as she suggests – one set were purpose build for the room and have storage drawers as well that are used for non-bookish things. We’ll see.

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  7. tracybham says:

    I have read a different book by her, maybe I should have started with this one. I definitely agree with what Moira says. I had to totally skip over what she says about books. I spent one third of the book saying “This woman is crazy”, one third disliking her opinions very strongly, and one third liking it. The book I read was titled “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” It seemed very shallow. Yet I am rereading it because some of her ideas are very good.

    The book I read only talks about doing all of the getting rid of stuff all at once and not taking time to do it. I have a tiny house which I share with two other people and I don’t have that much stuff and I still could not do it in one fell swoop. I have been using her suggestions BUT doing it slowly and I am being much more successful at not holding on to things than every before.

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    • It does seem that there are various versions of the book in different countries Tracy so maybe this is a variation? I do understand what you mean by shallow – I thought that too though a Japanese friend of mine did say that some of that can be put down to cultural differences. I figure with most self-help things you take the bits you can use in your life and ignore the rest 🙂

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      • tracybham says:

        I agree, Bernadette, with self-help books you have to glean what works for you. I like her passion for the subject and in the purging I have done since I read the book, I have done it faster and gotten rid of much more and felt happy about doing it. All good. And I did reread the part about books and it isn’t that bad. I would still have most of my books because I do love most of them.

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  8. Rebecca says:

    I haven’t gotten to the book or to this level of tidying, but I did a huge purge when we moved a couple years ago. I remember reading someplace else that you can easily get rid of 30% of your stuff without noticing, and I think I’m comfortable with that instead of going full-KonMari. Having to replace useful stuff after purging it pre-move has made me a little gun-shy, I guess. Good luck as you keep working through the steps, Bernadette.

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  9. kathy d. says:

    Oh, I laughed through this review, especially about the socks. I may give the book a look. There are often valuable suggestions in this type of book.
    I did a purge of books about five years ago, brought many to the library to sell.
    And I throw out papers about every six months. Three weeks ago I threw out papers that had accumulated.
    About five years ago, two friends stayed here over a weekend and they were having a yard sale for charity soon after that — so i stayed up all night and gave them eight garbage bags full of clothes, shoes, kitchen ware, jewelry. I’m still feeling virtuous about that.
    One closet is actually empty.
    But I still have stacks of books on my dining room table, about four boxes of my mother’s belongings to go through and papers in my kitchen where I am now using my computer.
    What I do is drink iced coffee, eat chocolate — and go! Sort, throw out, give away.
    One of my problems is that I have to keep a lot of files but I enjoy purging them every six months or so.
    Sometimes I wonder if I should just throw out all papers from my past, but that never happens.

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