Book Review – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Being a minimalist doesn’t require a lot of studying or practice. Basically, you just need to decide what you truly need in order to have your vision of a peaceful, meaningful life. Those items that don’t fulfill that need should be disposed of. Do you no longer like wearing that green shirt? Get rid of it. That landscape on your wall no longer makes you happy? Out the door. And that metal…thing/part/sculpture/whatsit that’s been in the corner of your garage because you can’t figure out what it is, where it goes, or what it’s supposed to be part of? Bite the bullet and throw it away.

Okay, you say. I get that. But lately you’ve noticed a number of posts or blogs on your Facebook feed promoting books on minimalism. What about them?

I believe we can learn a lot from those who have come before us, through their blogs, Facebook/Instagram/Pintrest posts, and yes, their books. There are quite a number of minimalism books on the market, and a lot of them say basically the same thing. But some stand out, and I will review the ones I feel have a noteworthy message.

I first heard of Marie Kondo in one of my Facebook minimalism groups and was intrigued by the little tidbits I was picking up about Kondo’s “KonMari” method. Her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” was originally published in 2011. The book has been translated and published in 41 regions and countries around the world with over 5 million copies sold. It’s a simple, entertaining, and easy to follow guide on how to get rid of the clutter in your home.

In relaying her personal history, as many authors of self-help books do, Marie tells her readers that she grew up with a need for tidiness, constantly cleaning and decluttering her possessions and those of her family (whether they wanted her to or not). She turned this childhood passion into a thriving career in her native Japan, guiding others as they tidy up their homes. Once you get past her history, the things she did to learn and develop her techniques, you step into the KonMari method of tidiness.

Her process is divided into categories: clothing, books, papers, miscellany (which she calls komono), and sentimental items. And each major category has its own subcategories (clothing has tops, bottoms, accessories, shoes, etc.). Gather each major category into one place and go through it all, making sure to handle each item separately. This is where her key phrase “spark joy” comes into use. If the item does not make you feel good, is of no real use, or you never really liked it and you can’t understand why you ever brought it into your home in the first place, then the item does not “spark joy” and you should get rid of it. Do this with every item of clothing, every book, knickknack, dish, shoe (okay, pair of shoes), every piece of jewelry, your CDs, DVDs, cleaning supplies, everything. Be ruthless and be thorough. Don’t dawdle, or you may find your momentum slacking and you’ll start second-guessing that spark of joy (or the lack thereof).

Once you’re done with the purge and have taken umpteen bags of trash to the curb and–hopefully–more to the donation center, it’s time to focus on what to do with what’s left. As Kondo states in her book, “Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out (page 142).” Put things away so that they’re convenient to retrieve, use, and put back. I’ll add that clutter is also caused by having too much stuff, so if you’ve purged properly and stored properly, clutter should no longer be an issue. You can store items quickly and conveniently and be done.

Before you ask, no, I do not consider myself a KonMari devotee. I do, however, find a lot of her advice to be sound and practical, like holding/inspecting each item before deciding what to do with it and to make decisions quickly. You don’t know how much you have until you gather it all in one place and really examine it all, and you can’t decide if you want to keep something unless you look at each item individually. Get rid of broken appliances, the boxes from new appliances, unidentified electrical cords, miscellaneous keys, and the latest health craze “thing” that you just had to have but only used once or twice (I’m looking at you, AbRoller!) and shoved into the dark recesses of the hall closet. Some of her advice, however, I can’t quite reconcile. Like unpacking my purse every night. Like keeping my shampoo/conditioner/soap in a cupboard outside the bathroom (dried off after every use, of course). Like placing kitchen sponges and dishes outside on the veranda to dry after each use because the sunlight will disinfect them. This statement caused my skeptic’s antenna to quiver, so I did a little research. Turns out sunlight *can* disinfect, but it’s not the best option available. So to sun or not to sun is up to you.

Or, and this is the biggie: going through your entire house in one day to purge and declutter.

One day, you say?

Yes, Betsy.

The whole entire house?


And that includes putting the things I’m keeping away?

Yes, according to Marie Kondo.

Pfftt! Pul-eeze!

Before you freak out like Betsy and say it can’t be done, let’s think about it. The typical Japanese house is about half the size or smaller than that of a typical American house, so the size of your home should be considered before plunging into a one-day KonMari-style purge. If you live in an apartment or a house that is, say, around 1000 square feet or less, a one-day purge might work for you. (Check out this GQ article. The author documented her attempt at the KonMari method and was able to do her apartment in one day.) If you have a larger home, however, try tackling one floor per day or one category per day. Or even one room per day. However you choose to do it, though, the key is to DO IT.

Marie Kondo’s principles are sound, so if you choose to go KonMari on your house, do it with a plan of attack and stay with your plan. Be tough, be brutal, and be thorough. And when you’re done, sit back with a nice cup of tea (or the beverage of your choice) and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with a clean and tidy home.


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