Live Well, Do Good

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

January 19, 2016 - Meg McConkey

Decluttering. Downsizing. Simplifying. These words have become mantras for a generation of my peers: the baby boomers. We who grew up in an era of unprecedented material growth, are now swimming in a pool of our own belongings. Much as we love them, they are bogging us down. And, according to a 2014 book by Marie Kondo, our possessions are holding us back.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing provides both practical and philosophical advice. A friend recently recommended it to me – hesitantly. She knows that I am embroiled in a yet another desperate mission to reduce my own belongings. She warned me that Kondo’s book is “a bit different.” But who knows? This one just might work!

Kondo grew up in a Japanese household, and began to organize spaces at a young age – possibly as a means of connection with the world around her. With an air of delicate sensitivity, she describes feeling like the over-looked, middle child in her family. Naturally drawn to “tidying,” it became Kondo’s personal path to contributing and belonging, at home, at school, and in the community. It has also made her very successful, as a writer and owner of the “KonMari Method” consulting business in Tokyo. Kondo works personally with her clients, individualizing her input to meet their particular needs.

According to Kondo, “tidying” (we call it “decluttering”) should be a once-in-a-lifetime undertaking. Now that caught my attention! Although, to be thorough, the process could take up to six months to complete. Don’t “tidy a little a day,” Kondo says, or “you’ll be tidying forever.” Also, start with the least emotionally laden category of belongings. Kondo suggests clothing. Gradually work up to personal items and memories, after practicing her method of choosing and discarding. So far, not too radical. It’s good advice, but Kondo goes deeper.

Tidying Up A major criterion for what to keep and what to chuck, she insists, is to ask yourself: “Does it spark joy?” We have a relationship with our possessions. They impact our mood, our use of time, our outlook. By “releasing” possessions that have served their purpose, or are past their time in our lives, we also clear space to live more fully today and tomorrow. This is good, Kondo explains, both for ourselves, and for our possessions. “Put your house in order, and discover what you really want to do.” Discipline is the unspoken mantra of her method.

Ultimately, according to Kondo, tidying / decluttering is really about three things.

First, it’s about creating a living space that is joyful. By tuning in to the emotional impact of our home and belongings, we can select those items that are useful or comfortable, and joyful to use or have around us.

Second, it’s about making peace with the past. By sorting, holding, reviewing, and letting go of much of our emotionally laden memorabilia, we can begin to put it in it’s rightful place. And in turn, we “free” the belongings that have served their purpose. “Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude.” The effect is to open up room in life. Room for the future.  

Third, it’s about allowing space to tune into creative interests. Creativity flourishes in a positive, relaxed environment.

Kondo’s book DID inspire me to action. I’ve just finished sorting category No. 1: “clothes.” And she’s right. Parting with “things that don’t bring you joy” – like the clothes you really don’t wear often anyway – is a good criterion. So far, I’m not feeling any twinges of regret, but rather an eagerness for the next, and for me, bigger challenge: “books” and then “paper.”

I’m already starting to feel lighter; more energetic. I’m looking forward to taking a good, long look at the past, and all the nooks and crannies it resides in, and making my peace with it. What is useful, or brings me joy, is what will stay. For the rest, it is time to go. I’m marching on. Thanks, Marie.

* * * 

See also:

Marie Kondo on Amazon.com     (on Amazon.ca)

Ways to Leave a Legacy

Reflecting on Consumption

Downsizing Your Home

Live Well, Do Good

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