Friday, December 11, 2015

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Book Review)

Every year, well-meaning individuals read tons of books, magazine articles, and blog posts on decluttering and organizing your living space. Yet despite their best efforts to apply what they learn, the goal of perfection is elusive or temporary, and everything reverts to how it once was. If you’re like me, when this happened, you’d blame yourself: “I didn’t work at it hard enough,” “I didn’t evaluate my storage needs correctly,” “I’m just lazy,” etc. Maybe that’s true, but maybe it isn’t. Did you ever consider that the method was the problem?

That’s the position of professional organizer Marie Kondo (blog; other website) in her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Ten Speed Press, 2014). This book is cute, feminine, and an easy read, but most importantly, its method works. Unlike your favorite magazine, Kondo doesn’t want – and doesn’t have – repeat customers. Why not? She teaches her clients how to conquer their clutter problem once and for all.

No, this is not a promotion on the “minimalist” lifestyle. The “KonMari method” is not about getting rid of things for the sake of getting rid of them. It’s not about “learning to live without.” Rather, it’s about conquering the suffocating clutter that rules people’s lives by helping the reader see her possessions in a whole new light.

That was true for me. I’ve had a lifelong battle with clutter, forming bad habits early on, learned from my hoarding parents. Rather than enjoying my possessions, I clung to broken Barbie dolls I’d long outgrown just because of a fear of not having anything. I “saved” boxes worth of Lisa Frank products, only to find the pencil erasers disintegrated and stickers unusable years later. I kept stuff just because other people wanted me to keep them, and I concocted bizarre scenarios to justify saving the strangest things. And even though I had so much, I was never happy because, rather than ruling my possessions, I was letting them rule me.

After decades of reading hundreds of resources on storage and organization, I had no results. Then I read Life-Changing Magic, and it gave me the “Ah, ha!” moment I’d been searching for. I needed to quit buying into the lie that clutter is manageable. I had to conquer it, totally and completely. And that meant getting rid of stuff…a lot of it. I asked myself, “What do I want to keep?” instead of asking, “What can I throw away?” I forced myself to be honest about not wanting to finish certain projects. I tossed conference papers and seminar notes that I had no desire to read. And I gave my collections of books, music, and mementoes their first real purges.

Whew! What a relief! I really am a lot happier now. It’s a slow process, which Kondo admits, but I can see results already, especially in how I view my possessions. They now work for me, and I can eliminate what I don’t enjoy quickly and guilt-free.

There have been hurdles. Kondo doesn’t address joint ownership and what to do when your spouse isn’t onboard with the program. She also doesn’t anticipate people’s tendency to keep things longer if they think they can sell them, something that’s incredibly time consuming and rarely pays off in the end. Maybe garage sales and Craigslist don’t have the same allure in Japan as they do here in America.

There has also been some skepticism on my part. I remain unconvinced that everything should be stored upright. It’s worked pretty well for somethings, like socks, but I’m sure Kondo’s ruining her laptop by storing it like a book! I also think that she discounts the enjoyment that storage containers with their sleek, uniform look have over old cellphone boxes and such. In my opinion, cardboard boxes need to go.

All things considered, however, I love Life-Changing Magic. If you have a problem with clutter ruling your life, than I wholeheartedly recommend you take a look at Kondo’s book. Sure, it reads a bit awkwardly, possibly due to the translation. And as Japanese culture and the Shinto religion permeate the book, you might have to think about how to “translate” it into American culture. But I hope that none of this will discourage you from giving the KonMari method a chance. I’m sure glad I did.