The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

This post is a little different from my typical posts, but if you’ve seen me in the last few weeks you have likely heard me talking about this book. I have a lot of positive things to say about it, and I think most everyone should read and implement it. I say most because, as the author Marie Kondo says, “Tidying is not actually necessary. You won’t die if your house isn’t tidy, and there are many people in the world who really don’t care if they can put their house in order.” If you’re someone who falls into this category, that is fine. However, most people I know WANT their spaces to be clean and organized but do not know how to make them so – and most of all, to make it last. And because I found great value in this book, I thought I would devote a post specifically to it.

In short, I think you should read it. It’s a quick read and the benefits of following through with her process, which she calls the KonMari Method, are significant. She says it best, but if you want some of my thoughts from reading her book and following her process, here they are.

Background

Prior to reading this book last month, I had heard about it multiple times, though I can’t remember when or where I first heard about it. I was already planning to do some cleaning and donating over Christmas break, so after a few friends shared their positive experiences from reading and implementing it, I thought I would read it in preparation for my planned cleaning. And it made a huge difference!

Some of you may be surprised to hear this because I have always been very organized and kept a clean room, but when I read this quote a couple of months ago from The Minimalists blog, which I sometimes read, it really resonated with me:

“Ultimately, though, organizing is nothing more than well-planned hoarding. Sure, both sides go about their hoarding differently, but the end result is not appreciably different. Whether our homes are strewn with wall-to-wall material possessions or we have a complex ordinal item-dispersal system, color-coded and alphabetized, we’re still not dealing with the real problem. No matter how organized we are, we must continue to care for the stuff we organize, cleaning and sorting our methodically structured belongings.”

This quote resonated with me because I realized organizing my possessions was an on-going process and consumed some of my mental energy. It put into context something I’ve thought about generally before. Still, I have never been sure how to reduce my possessions in the context of minimalism. Should I limit myself to 100 items? 200? Am I a minimalist if I have a “whopping” 500 items?! (Side note: Once, with a couple friends, we each actually made and then shared our lists of the 100 items we would keep, if we had to. None of us actually did.) This minimalist approach never felt specific enough to implement, while also allowing for my own personal taste, style, and interests.

Kondo makes comments in her book similar to the quote I read from The Minimalists blog. She says “…storage ‘solutions’ are really just prisons within which to bury possessions that spark no joy” and “storage experts are hoarders.” However, she also says it’s okay to have 100 pairs of shoes, if you love shoes and each pair you keep truly bring you joy. This made sense to me (not necessarily with shoes, but in general).

The book’s basic premise

The basic premise is to keep everything which brings you joy and discard the rest. You should discard by category in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items, and then sentimental items. Only once you have discarded can you begin to put things away – and everything needs a place. And this should all be done in one go.

She contends that if done room by room or cupboard by cupboard over an extended period of time, you will constantly be in a state of tidying or never feel you’re making any progress and ultimately give up.

At a high level

  • She has “assisted individual clients who have thrown out two hundred 45-liter [almost 12 gallon] garbage bags in one go.”
  • “The average amount discarded by a single person is easily twenty to thirty 45-liter bags, and for a family of three it’s closer to seventy bags.”
  • From her experience, the process should be done quickly and “‘quickly’ means about half a year.”
  • “As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you.”

My experience:

For me, it took about two weeks from reading the book to completely finishing the process. Note, however, that I have roommates and did not do the common areas (except the things that I own). I am also organized by nature and utilized some of my days off over the holidays to do this once and quickly.

On December 30th, I donated 196 items, in addition to the many items (mostly papers) I threw away, recycled, and shredded (which I did not count).

By way of comparison, in November I donated 23 items. In August I donated 38 items. Prior to reading this book, I was in the habit of adding items to a shopping bag when I realized I no longer wanted them or hadn’t worn them for a while and would then donate them once I had accumulated a decent amount (usually one or two filled bags). I share these numbers to illustrate that while I was already in the habit of getting rid of things, I drastically increased this number (23 or 38 items to 196!) after reading Marie Kondo’s book.

Kondo claims that completing her method as she describes and all at once means you will never have to do so again, even if you aren’t organized and tidy by nature. She says, “the only tidying I do is once or sometimes twice a year, and for a total of about one hour each time.”

Even as someone who is very organized and generally clean and tidy, I benefited greatly. I was guilty of being in a semi-constant state of organizing. By doing it all at once, I don’t have to think/worry about it on an ongoing basis. (I realize this may not be true for  most people – I’m a little crazy :), but with my personality I was spending mental energy thinking about the things I own.)

Following her very specific process, as described in her book, helped me to complete the process all at once, once and for all. Though to be fair, I should probably give a follow up report a year or so from now.

Some advice from her book which really helped me:

  • She explains that the purpose of a gift “is to be received.” After it is received, the true purpose is past. It’s great if the gift brings us joy, but we do not need to feel guilty if it doesn’t. The joy came from the gift being given to us and we can now move on. I know I have kept gifts in the past (or other cards and notes) for a time so I wouldn’t feel guilty, only to discard or donate them the next time I organized my things. This book helped me overcome that and instead appreciate the gift in the moment it is given but then move on from it if it does not bring me joy.
  • In her process, she says you need to touch each item, and I found this really does make a difference. For example, when I went through my socks I first tried to go through them by just looking at them in the drawer. However, I wanted to follow through with her process, so I picked up each pair individually. Socks I would have kept if I had just looked through the drawer were easily moved to the discard pile after touching them. It helped me recognize socks that I was used to seeing, and even liked and would have kept, but when I actually picked them up I recognized were worn and should be tossed.
  • Her method of folding saves space and makes it much easier to organize drawers and immediately see what’s in them when opened.
  • She suggests going through printed photos and keeping only the few from each event that you really like. Especially when pictures were taken on film, many of the pictures are not worth keeping at all. I found her advice in this area to be very helpful. I waited for a day when I was actually in the mood so it wouldn’t be such a drag and began going through my pictures. I discarded all those that didn’t bring joy, kept those that did, and organized them into broad categories (growing up, high school, college, etc.). I seriously feel lighter knowing I have completed this process. It also helped to do this last in the process, as she suggests, because I had so much practice in deciding what to keep from going through things that were less sentimental, and therefore, easier to discard.
  • Some may wonder if I feel that I have very few clothes (or perhaps belongings in general) now. The opposite is actually true. After donating a significant number of my clothes, I love everything in my closet. This makes it easier to pick out an outfit, and I don’t feel at all like I have nothing to wear…because everything there is something I want to wear. I actually wonder just slightly if I still have too much.

Financial benefits

In addition to the benefits of having a clean space (she describes many), there are financial benefits to this process, and since this is a financial blog, let me comment on those as well.

First, donating items is a tax write-off and by donating a large amount of items all at once, you may notice a significant financial impact on your taxes for that year. However, I suspect the following to be the two biggest financial benefits:

  • When you know what you own, you avoid buying duplicate items and unnecessarily spending money. Have you ever purchased items at Target because you couldn’t remember if you needed more shampoo or paper towels? Have you ever purchased a shirt only to realize later that you already own something very similar? When you can see what you own and you own what you love, you are less likely to make these duplicative, unnecessary purchases.
  • After going through all of your possessions and discarding a significant number of them, you realize you are happy with less. This makes it easier to not buy things. Additionally, by going through every item you own, you learn a lot about which items truly bring you joy and you get a lot of practice in making decisions. This also makes it significantly easier to buy less: you remember what you own, you’ve learned what brings you joy, and you only want to add items which do the same.

One little note:

The way she describes possessions as having feelings and that we should talk to them and thank them can feel strange and quirky. Her love for tidying is slightly over the top. Some parts may seem almost neurotic, but I don’t think this at all takes away from the value of the book and her method.

Conclusion

While this book and her method may be a trend right now and some other organization book may come along, the process helped me discard items that do not bring joy but which I was holding onto for a variety of reasons (guilt, obligation, concern that I may need them one day, lack of clarity about how to tidy all at once, etc.). It also helped me eliminate storage solutions for items I don’t really care about (even if the storage solutions kept these items organized and out of the way) and free up the mental energy I spent going through my possessions. I love that it’s a one-time process.

You can probably tell, I REALLY liked this book and can talk A LOT about it. I’d love to hear about your experiences – I know some of you have already gone through it. And, if you want help or encouragement, let me know.

Here’s to tidying up and Letting Luc!

Lucy

 

Previous What I’m Reading post: December 2015


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