Chances are that by now you’ve run across Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up; it’s a big bestseller, and I know my Instagram feed has definitely featured before and after pictures of friends’ clothing collections.
In brief: Ms. Kondo, who is a celebrity in her native Japan thanks to her wildly successful books, shares her prescription for tidy living. It is a one-time process (though it may take weeks or months to finish) that involves sorting through every item one owns, according to categories (clothes, books, papers, etc.) and relinquishing those that do not “spark joy.” In her experience, clients who try her system not only find themselves in a tidy, clean space (very important in Japan, where housing is smaller and even more expensive, than, say, Boston, ahem), but also find myriad other benefits to living a tidy life.
Kondo doesn’t nag. Instead, she urges a kind of animistic tenderness toward everyday belongings. Socks “take a brutal beating in their daily work, trapped between your foot and your shoe, enduring pressure and friction to protect your precious feet,” she writes. “The time they spend in your drawer is their only chance to rest.” Purses merit similar reverence: “Being packed all the time, even when not in use, must feel something like going to bed on an empty stomach.” Kondo’s thesis—that the world is filled with worthy recipients of mercy, including lightweight-microfiber ones—is as lovely as it is alien. It’s empathy as an extreme sport.
I wanted to read this book because I love organizing. I loathe doing the dishes and try to make existential jokes whenever I’m forced to vacuum, but show me a closet in need of sorting, and I am there for you.My son (nearly 4) has seen me organizing with glee often enough that he requests it at least once or twice a month (6:30a.m.: “Mama, Daddy! Today we or-nize my dressah!”). Ms. Kondo advocates folding clothes in squares, to be lined upright in drawers, which is a method I saw on Pinterest quite a while ago, and friends, it is awesome and I had a marvelous time folding laundry during that happy week.
But this is a serial sort of organization, never truly finished, that Ms. Kondo claims will be unnecessary once her method goes into effect. I believe her, and so I’m a little afraid to try it and lose an activity that I find both calming and absorbing.
The other reasons I’m wary of the Konmari method, as she calls it, can be found in this excellent essay by Lisa Miller (also in The Cut). I don’t really believe, in my heart of hearts, that if I’m without something, that I’ll always be able to run out and replace it. First, there’s the simple convenience factor; I much prefer having a pair of stockings in the drawer for the one time a year I’ll wear them—though they decidedly do not spark joy—than finding out 30 minutes before the wedding or party that I’ll have to run to Target. Second, I’m prone to anxiety, and that anxiety extends to the possibilities of layoffs and apocalypses, and if either of those things happens, I’d like to have backups of backups of things already in our apartment.
Then there’s the chapter on books. I leave you to contemplate the possibility that I will put all 1000-odd books I own on the floor, touch each one, and discard a great many before replacing the ones I truly love on the shelves.
[Sidebar: Coming later this year is my Theory of the Personal Library.]
Anyway, I think this book could be very helpful for people who do want to engage in major cleaning and tidying projects, since it’s not a self-perpetuating system and does not involve the investment of thousands of dollars in Elfa products. I also like some of Ms. Kondo’s strategies for letting go of objects with sentimental value, though don’t ask me how I’m faring with that. It’s also fascinating in terms of its tidbits about Japanese culture (shrines and charms get their own section, for instance) and about Ms. Kondo’s own life; she’s very honest about the reasons she thinks she became so interested in organizing.
And then, of course, you could ignore the spirit of the book and pick and choose some of her organizational strategies. Not that I did that with my socks, or anything.