Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is the book everyone has been talking about. I have to say, I willfully ignored it for the first little while. I am not known for my tidiness, and I wasn’t in the mood to be chastised and guilt-tripped. I figured, I was beyond help, and it was better to just accept it than to torment myself.
However, discussions of this book were impossible to avoid, and I finally decided to open up my closet and try figuring out if the clothes in there “sparked joy,” which is a key concept I had heard about. After quickly pulling out several items for the donate pile, I became curious about the book and decided to read it to get a better idea of what the author means by “spark joy,” and how to apply this to my home.
A couple of weeks into the process of discarding and tidying up, I am still quite uncertain if my house will ever look truly tidy. Nonetheless, I have to say that I do feel very refreshed by the small progress I have made and energized to carry on. I also have a sense of the “life-changing” aspect of this method, which really encourages you to examine what things have meaning to you, and why they are in your life. I find myself thinking about this in all sorts of ways, including more abstract things, such as work, food, and relationships.
Here’s a summary of things I took away from the book, which I can sincerely recommend.
What does it mean to “spark joy”?
This phrase is in every summary of Marie Kondo’s book, but what exactly does it mean? What I took away from my reading was the importance of learning to recognize our true feelings and reactions to objects – do they bring us a thrill of joy, or are we keeping them for other reasons? We all have items in our home that we keep because they were gifts, or they were a great bargain or a big investment, because they were a favorite in the past, and so on. If they still bring us pleasure, we should keep them. But if they no longer fit with out style or goals, it may be time to let them go.
When I wrote about my approach to planning a room, I told you that my first step is to define the style I am striving for. I do this by looking at images and identifying the elements that appeal to me. I then add or remove elements in the room, always keeping the goal in mind. To me, Marie Kondo’s philosophy is very similar to this. What is the style of my house? What is my fashion sense? If I keep these ideas in mind, I can evaluate each object and consider parting with those that don’t fit the “image” I am striving for.
One strategy that Marie Kondo recommends is physically handling every item to help get a sense of your reaction to it. Again, does it “spark joy”? I found this very helpful. When I first looked into a drawer or closet, I would scan the items and get a general sense of which I liked and which I did not, but when I picked each one up (I did not follow her method of dumping everything in a pile, but I did pull each item out of the closet or drawer to hold it in my hands) I often found that something looked less attractive – or in some cases more attractive – than I remembered, and this definitely helped me refine my belongings.
Rituals for letting go
It seems so obvious, but I realized that in the past, I hadn’t always followed the author’s recommendation to discard before organizing. I would sometimes busily find a place for things without seriously evaluating whether I actually wanted to keep them. The reminder to review every object before even starting to put them away was very helpful. In fact, there have been several instances when I discarded so many items that I realized I did not even need any additional storage solutions – I ended up with empty drawers and hangers!!
Through the beginning of this process, I realized there are two sentiments at the core of my resistance to discarding and tidying. One is a very strong sense of not wanting to waste things. This was deeply instilled in me growing up – we saved and reused everything. I look at almost every object and imagine some use for it. Certainly, I do think that many creative ideas have come out of this impulse. For example, my upcycled planters or chair makeovers. I definitely believe that there are many wonderful and beautiful ways to re-use objects. That being said, there are more than a few things in my house that I will truly never use, but I have kept them, because I hated to throw anything away. Marie Kondo’s book suggests little farewell rituals that you can use to allow yourself to let go of something that you truly do not love and will not use. She suggests “thanking” your things (I know this sounds nutty, and she definitely takes the animation of objects considerably further than I would, but on a basic level, I found it helpful) for the role they have played, and then allowing yourself to discard them if they no longer fill an important role. This could be something like, “Thank you for the years of enjoyment,” or “Thank you for helping me realize that I don’t like this style.”
The other quality that makes it hard for me to let go of objects is that I am very sentimental. I treasure memories so deeply, and I want to hold on to every person or moment that has been important to me. Marie Kondo reminds us that our memories are not in objects, but inside of us. I have now been able to touch and “thank” many small items like theater tickets or decorative souvenirs, discarding the objects while savoring the memories.
It also definitely helps me let go when I can donate items, rather then just throw them out. My friend Ariana from Revolving Decor wrote a great summary of places you can donate various items, if you are in San Francisco.
Marie Kondo’s book is full of details on how to arrange and store the items you decide to keep. I am not going to write much about these here, because they don’t really lend themselves to summarizing the way the general concepts do. I will mention the one technique that has made a huge difference in my home is her recommendation to arrange clothes in your drawers stacked horizontally like files in a cabinet, instead of vertically. When your clothes are folded and arranged horizontally, you can see everything at once, so it’s easy to find what you want, instead of having things get lost at the bottom of your drawers. It is also easy to take clothes out and put them back in without messing up everything else around them, which is much harder when your clothes are in piles. And this method seems to take up less space, so a winner all-around.
In summary, I definitely recommend this book. As you read it, you may find, as I did, that the author is a bit extreme in her ideas, but you wouldn’t read a book by just an ordinary tidy person, right? You want a book by someone extraordinarily tidy. I do think the most “life-changing” element for me is developing a new lens to evaluate things and why we have them in our homes and in our lives. It is like a muscle that you have to train and develop, and as you do, decisions of all kinds become easier!
Happy tidying, and may you find joy!