Magic of Tidying Up?

The type of closet referred to in the book. Photo: sakura-house.com

The type of closet referred to in the book. Photo: sakura-house.com

At long last I have read the Marie Kondo book so I can weigh in! It has been a publishing sensation, selling millions. As you would guess, it’s a short book about decluttering, organizing and storing your stuff. I have been reading books, blog posts, and magazine articles about these topics for years. I wondered how Kondo could possibly have anything new to say.

Tidying Up

I doubt that anyone who is “lazy or messy,” (the author’s words) will pick up this book and read 200 pages on the topic. Anyone who is just curious would lose interest quickly. It will mostly be read by people like me, a self-professed neatnik, looking for even better organizing tips. The author is a fanatic. She has lived and breathed household organizing since she was five years old!

For me, the best part of reading the book was the author’s voice. When talking about herself and her weird childhood (spent organizing her family home, to their great irritation), she sounds endearing and vulnerable. By the end of the book, she has embraced animism, thanking her possessions for serving her. This aspect of the book was so whimsical/fantastical compared to my Western sensibility that I thought it was very sweet.

Sleeping quarters (Photo: bartman905 at wordpress)

Sleeping quarters (Photo: bartman905 at wordpress)

The author talks only about personal possessions – her categories are clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, and mementos. That’s it! 140 pages in, she recommends that you “start by sorting only your own things.” Household functional items like dishes and rugs are barely mentioned; I imagine that storing things like lawn mowers and snow blowers would be entirely out of her league! She refers often to the tiny size of Tokyo apartments and the way they are laid out, especially their typical bedding closets. There is no emphasis at all on frugality or “buying quality;” in several places she suggests discarding things and to “buy a new one” if you need it later (at one point even saying that a shirt with a missing button is probably ready to be discarded anyway).

Example of Japanese apartment for family of 3.  Videos I've seen show apartments a half or quarter of this size! From: jnto.go.jp

Example of Japanese apartment for family of 3. Videos I’ve seen show apartments a half or quarter of this size! From: jnto.go.jp

Much of the book is not relevant for a big, North American family home with a yard and a garage. I would recommend it only if you are an aficionado of Japanese culture. I read it in one day and enjoyed that aspect of it.

However, there are some significant statements buried in there that deserve airing:

  • Choose a category (such as clothing), place every single piece in one room, handle each and every item, and make decisions about them. I like the idea of pulling things like clothes and books out of their usual habitats and being required to look at and to feel each one. I think people underestimate how much stuff they have when they never have to look at it, move it, or examine it.
  • For mementos, such as photos, letters, heirlooms, and gifts, “By handling each sentimental item…you process your past. To put your things in order means to put your past in order.” I believe this!
  • KonMari advocates living in the present and minimizing sentimental attachments: “The space we live in should be for the person we are becoming now.” Possessions are meant to support our lifestyles.
I think this was taken when KonMari appeared on a cooking show. But I just chose it to emphasize that she knows all about cute! (Photo: salute-withgas.jp)

KonMari (centre) knows all about cute! (Photo: salute-withgas.jp)

I am a fan of Peter Walsh (do you remember Clean Sweep on TV?), and he espouses many of the same beliefs and practices. But KonMari has developed her approach into a very marketable, adorable cultural product. Kawaii!

Have you read it, and if so, what did you think? Are there any other organizing books you swear by?

PS – Am I planning to insert all my T-shirts into my dresser drawers edgewise? No.

41 comments

  1. I have read it, and enjoyed it. My socks are on vacation right now 😉
    My favorite tidbit was about non attachment to gifts… That the power of the gift was in the giving, not in you needing to hold on to it for the next 40 years.
    My favorite organizing/de cluttering book is Clutter Free by Kathi Lipp.

  2. Fi

    I haven’t read that book but I do think there is life-changing magic in tidying up! I really like her blend between honouring the past by handling mementos but also accepting that possessions should also be about defining who we are now and who we are becoming. Perhaps one of the problems for people with excessive amounts of clutter is difficulty embracing change, letting go of some elements of the past in order to define clearly what their life is about now. I don’t really read a lot of organising books; I dip in and out of blogs more often to solve specific problems. The more we have pared down our possessions though, the less organising we have had to do.

    • I could not agree more that tidying up is life-changing, and if the book brings that realization to more people – great! An aside, though – when Link was young, I decided NOT to establish a habit of cleaning up all the toys every day. Inevitably, there were ongoing projects (such as LEGO cities or “Beanie Babies going to school”) that unfolded over several days or weeks, and I found it really squashed creativity to disassemble those every day and start over. Similarly with any art or craft projects later.

  3. jamielredmond

    I haven’t read the book, but have been devouring articles and blog posts about it. And I am trialling having my t-shirts on their side. I wasn’t going to attempt it at first, but I mentioned it to my husband in conversation and he said it sounded like an idea worth trying. I have turned my underwear and shirt drawers, and his underwear drawer as a start. He is really liking his underwear turned. I’m still deciding. It looks good when the drawer is full, but half-way through the week it all starts to fall over and look messy. And I just wear the same black t-shirts over and over each week anyway!
    We’ve lived in 4 houses in the last 13 months and have culled a lot over that time, but there is still more work to be done. I have different sections in our double garage, as I am part-way through organising our ‘stuff’. Everything around the walls has been culled and organised. Then there is a stack of crates about the size of a small car sitting in the middle, waiting for my attention. I know we won’t be here forever and it will have to be moved again at some point if I don’t go through it, so that is good motivation to get on top of it!
    I’ve read a few organising books over the years but I find the best motivation is looking at photos on the internet. I get new ideas, and seeing well-organised spaces makes me get up from my seat and do it right away – even before I finish reading the article or post!

    • I moved 10 times in my adult life (not as many times as you have in the last few years!) and I got fed up moving certain things, so that led me to pare back a lot. In particular, I do not take home discarded books from the library any more! I have a Wall of Shame, which is a large stack of collections and items that are carefully stored in plastic crates. They are things I don’t need or use, but can’t seem to give away yet. I am working on it!

  4. Ginger R.

    Are you reading my mind? Just today I was wondering if you had read this book and what you thought of it. I’ve read it. I enjoyed it. I also found her categories interesting. Miscellaneous (or Komono) is everything else. There are free printable lists of KonMari Method categories and subcategories all over the Internet.

    My big takeaway was to keep only those things that spark joy. I’ve held onto far too much because it cost money and was perfectly useful. (Except I didn’t use it.) Or it still fits. (But I don’t like it so I don’t wear it.) Another takeaway was to break things down into categories and subcategories. I did that with clothes but tend to lump other items into broader categories or think about decluttering by room instead of by category. (The basket of unused lotions in my bathroom linen closet and that upper kitchen cabinet of unused glasses – bugging me now.)

    I’ve been following a group on Facebook (The KonMari Method) and I’m amazed at how many people are following Kondo’s recommendations. They are “KM’ing” the hell out of their homes. I’m impressed. It makes me want to get busy doing it also. I’ve also watched a few YouTube videos of people using the KonMari Methods.

    I’ll bet the charity organizations and resale shops are seeing a huge increase in donations.

    I’m interested in hearing how people from the KonMari Method Facebook group feel about this a year from now. Will they regret tossing any items? Will they continue keeping only things that spark joy?

    • I really enjoyed the book too! I thought it was fun to read. Maybe she was preaching to the converted. 18 months ago, I finished a complete home inventory, during which I sorted everything I owned into categories and subcategories, handled every single item, and decluttered every area of the house. So maybe I was already a KonMari convert and didn’t know it! I have also seen that there are thousands of posts and videos about people using her method, and as Fiona said, I think it really does change your life.

      • Ginger R.

        I’ve enjoyed your posts about the whole house inventory. I was inspired to do my clothing after seeing your list. I’m working on one without fully intending to do so. We have an inventory of clothes and a household inventory of appliances, electronics and tools. I inventoried my craft closet and the utility closet. I may download the KonMari list of categories and subcategories and use that for an inventory guide.

      • Thanks. I need to do an update on mine!

  5. Love the japanese apartment. I’m pretty good at decluttering anyway and have taken two things away from your post this morning. The bit about minimising sentimental attachment and living in the present and about handling each item to make a decision about it.

    • I have not managed to master sentimental attachment! I am chipping away at it gradually. In some ways, I feel the opposite. I don’t get much joy from having a perfect house with nice decor, but I get a lot of happiness from looking through old concert tickets (from the days of paper tickets) and my kid’s artwork from school.

  6. I think I see a future business for you. When do you head off on your trip?

    • It has crossed my mind; but I am not sure I could cope with other people’s attachment to their hoards of stuff! I have several weeks yet before travelling.

  7. I understand, but that is where the value comes in, getting them to think about their attachments versus needs. Readers Digest has a nice feature this month where they have a “keep” or “toss” comparison. Some items they suggest keeping, while some should be tossed. People have too many flower vases and water bottles – give the former away with flowers and donate the latter.

  8. I’ve only read snippets in book stores (which always feels so naughty!).

    Having stayed in a Japanese house, it’s interesting. My room was the tatami matted room, and it really had nothing in it but a wardrobe, and then the mattress/futon appeared from it! Interesting, there was a large wardrobe downstairs, near the main bathroom, and I regularly saw Mum and Dad seeking out clothing, Dad often in a singlet and boxers! So very different to the concept of wardrobes in one’s room! And there was no chairs for dinner, we sat around what a Western person would think is a coffee table. There were cushions to soften things! There were also a high trinket level in the home I stayed in, which fit with my expectations!

  9. I noticed you were reading this on goodreads and was thinking you were the ideal audience. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! While I do enjoy purging and organizing, I’m not sure I could read a whole book on the subject. Plus I feel pretty good about where we are, possession-wise, right now. I’ll keep it in mind in case I need a kick start in the future.

    I’ve read a few other blog posts about it recently if you’re interested:
    http://www.risingshining.com/2015/03/the-magic-of-tidying-up.html
    http://eliseblaha.typepad.com/golden/2015/05/tidying-life-changing.html

    • Thanks for the links- btw, I think Kelsey’s (risingshining) closet and wardrobe look amazing! I don’t think this is an essential book especially for someone who is already tidy, but as you say, it would be a good motivator/reinforcement.

  10. You know I’ve been tidying up since August, it’s a long road. I love the idea of handling all the possessions. I think that will help with going through my books.
    I did do that when I sorted through photos because I organized them into categories, so I had to look at each one to decide and I thought about nearly every one. It is very healing.
    Thanks for sharing!

  11. I’ve heard of the book, but haven’t read it. I am #120 something on the ebook hold list now though. After reading your post I looked some others about it I was anxious to give it ago so I tried doing my clothes today. I did put 30 pieces into the giveaway and trash piles. But there were some parts I just couldn’t do. With small rooms in a small house, there’s not much room to pull everything out at once and I abandoned the spark question after a bit. For clothes, it seemed much more important to try them on and see how I felt in them. I think it could be a beneficial question when it comes to sorting stuff and sentimental items. Also I’m keeping a lot of maybe clothes right now that I don’t love, but I’m a bit desperate for summer clothes at the moment. My promise to myself is that for every piece I buy, something I don’t really love will go.

    • Hi Candi, Hope you are well! I was on the library list for the book for ages, too. I did check online and there are lots of worksheets and videos based on the book, so it would be easy to use the method without reading it. I did like it for enjoyment’s sake, though. When I went through my clothes, I tried on everything too, and asked myself Does it fit, Does it make me feel good to wear, and Do I realistically have occasions to wear it?

  12. gk

    I think it’s interesting us first world folks privileged enough to own too much have to buy books to help us grapple with our belongings, while swaths of the world suffer from too little. The tyranny of possessions is what I call it.
    We’re in the middle of lifestyle upheaval with various family members dispersing to different continents so, of course, where to disperse the possessions has been a topic of discussion as of late. Aside from perhaps a stack of boxes (enough to fill a small closet), I’m okay with ditching it all.
    In any case, haven’t read the book, and don’t think I will unless it passes through my life somehow, but it does seem to be encouraging a lot of people!

    • Dispersing to different continents, yikes! Are you, yourself, staying put? I know you are fine with less, e.g. little to no furniture.

      Looking back on the mid-2000s before the recession, it seems ridiculous how everyone was over-mortgaged and taking out loans to do home renovations and buying so much home decor. Not long from now, the rest of us will probably start thinking, “Why, oh why did I accumulate so much stuff that I had to “declutter”?” Both seem like cultural manias.

  13. I wasn’t super impressed with the method. I loved some of the points of the book, such as “don’t let your parents know what you are getting rid of” (My mother is very concerned every time I mention we are getting rid of stuff) and “think of your ideal lifestyle.” But when I actually did the method, it didn’t work as well as I was hoping. We already had got rid of a lot of stuff by that point, so the impact that our home is clean was very minimal. Also, the folding method is great with toddler clothes, but it did not work in our dresser very well. I find things such as zero-waste as better motivation.

    • I agree – I found books like No Impact Man, Zero Waste House, and Overdressed, to be more inspiring for me. Glad this has caught on and introduced more people to mindfulness about possessions, though.

  14. I’ve never heard of this book/method before. I’m a little surprised that she would own a dresser – maybe there isn’t enough closet space in those small apartments? I’ve lived without a dresser for years now. I hang up everything! I understand the reasoning for the weird t-shirt folding she’s advocating but you can see things much better when hung on hangers. However, I do love the sentiments she’s expressing. Very interesting.

    • I would guess that your clothes collection is the right size and that you can see everything on the hangers. Rom has about 75 T-shirts hung up in his closet and they are packed so tight, they are hard to see, plus they get squashed and wrinkled! The one thing I have concerns about is knits, such as any kind of sweaters/pullovers – I wouldn’t hang them up because they can get stretched out. But I do agree it works fine for most things.

  15. Thanks for the great book suggestion, I am definitely adding it to my “need to read” list! Minimalising and organizing and tydy-ing up are my kinds of fun pastimes!

  16. Margie in Toronto

    From Margie in Toronto – I bought the book – read it – and it is now in circulation with many of my friends. At first I was a bit resistant to some of her methods but I have become a convert. After sorting through hundreds of books and thinking I was done I found more in boxes and cubbies in various rooms so I now understand why she recommends piling all similar items in one spot and then going through them all once and for all!
    I’ve also reduced and reorganized clothing and I am a convert to her method of folding and stacking on end – I had my doubts but its amazing how neat everything looks and how much I can get into one drawer – sometimes I just open my dresser drawers just to look at everything! I find it calming! 🙂

    • Hi Margie, If I hadn’t already decluttered the house, I’m sure I would have been a convert, too! I really liked her writing style. PS – I also feel unstressed when I look in my spare, clean closet!

  17. I am lazy and messy and I’m hoping another lazy/messy person will chronicle the Konmari process. I have it from the library now but will need many refresher courses. According to Kondo, once you complete the project you will never have to do it again.

    For the lazy/messy, the best books I’ve found are those aimed at the ADD crowd: books by Susan Pinsky and Judith Kohlberg.

  18. I tried putting my t-shirts in edgewise for a few weeks…I put them back in piles! They kept catching on the edge of the drawer when I pushed it in, no matter how small I folded them! The book did help me to do a lot of decluttering though, and I have a pretty minimalist household!

  19. Debbie V.

    It’s been on my Amazon wishlist since Christmas – thanks for the info. I may just see if I can do an interlibrary loan.

    • If you haven’t done a big declutter before, you will find it useful, but everything about the method is also available online (loads of YouTube videos from people who have tried it). I enjoyed her writing style but I didn’t feel the need to own a copy.

  20. I have read the book and like you I read it to see what there could be that hasn’t been said. I also agree that it left as much out as she put in and some things I didn’t really agree with and felt are wasteful. As you will see from my posts earlier in the year which have stopped abruptly at the moment I began sorting through some of my drawers Kondo style but then developed my own to see how it would work for me. The t-shirts on edge is definitely not for me but I tried it for my leggings and it worked. I also took note of the ‘potato’ socks and no longer roll mine together but stack them. I enjoyed the read and have taken certain things from the book and also watched her on You Tube. I also read the minimalists book but again certain aspects of their take on ‘stuff’ I know is not for me. I think it is all about finding your own way – for me it is reducing down to an amount which enhances my life and doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it.

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