Review: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

photo (24)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.

As Molly Young writes for The Cut,

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.

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15 thoughts on “Review: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

  1. Oh, to have a tidy and organized house. I do try sometimes. But, with 3 growing kids, 3 cats, a dog, two guinea pigs, and a huge lack on interest on my part to clean the house (not to mention a husband), it is a losing battle over here. I do what I have to do – the dishes, laundry, bathrooms, sweeping – then I’m done.
    And, I’m with you on the need to have things around, just in case. I loathe running to the store to do an errand, and make my husband do it whenever possible (it makes up for his lack of tidying skills). I always have to have a big supply of toilet paper on hand – I can’t stand the thought of running out.
    I also have a hard time getting rid of things with sentimental value – I would be interested to hear what she has to say about that. I have sometimes taken pictures of things before getting rid of them, but that mostly just goes for the kids’ school projects.
    I understand the concept of only keeping the things that ‘spark joy’, but that really only works if you live alone. Just because it doesn’t spark joy for me doesn’t mean that it doesn’t spark joy for someone else in the house.
    Ok, enough from me. Instead of reading your post, and rambling on about my house-keeping skills, I should be cleaning the house, right? Ha!

  2. I haven’t read the book but I, like you, love to organize (and loathe the dishes 😉 ) so this seems interesting. I appreciate your review, Thanks for sharing!!

  3. I think I’m just weird, ’cause really, it stresses me out to be in a house where every little thing is in its place and its virtually sterile. I helped a friend move once. Another female friend of his and I were standing in front of his desk, preparing to pack the contents. I opened the top drawer and it was totally unreal how organized it was…I mean every pencil and pen was perfectly lined up, etc. In fact I opened it fast enough to throw some of them out of place a bit. She and I just gawked. My comment: “Yeah, that’s why we’re just friends and dating didn’t work for us…” LOL Now with that said, I should/could definitely clean more, organize more, etc., and I would still never get close to such perfection. And the books?!?? No way! Although I appreciate your review and you did make it sound way more interesting than just a “here’s how to organize” book, I’ll leave this one to those who are truly interested…that doesn’t include me! 🙂

  4. I look forward to your Theory of a Personal Library. I have a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction. I always think I will read books more than I actually do (thanks internet!!!) 🙂 So many times I bring home books from the public library and renew and renew and then have to return them before reading. Or I get a new book on the library waiting list and all of a sudden it is my turn, and I only have three weeks to read it, but I’m already in the middle of other books. Sigh. Also, I am very choosy about what I will spend my reading time on. I guess it is good that I have become more critical while I am reading. Makes those “books you just can’t put down” all the more special.

    How do you get through all those books people ask you to review? I’m sure many of them aren’t your cup of tea. I have been dying to ask you how you do it. For instance, the latest book I picked up has so many characters with similar names in just the first two chapters I feel as if I need to write a crib sheet to keep track. And it is just a “cozy” mystery. Oren and Owen. It is no wonder I mostly read nonfiction these days.

    • I have the exact same problem with library books! As for review copies, I’m pretty picky about what I accept and even more so about what I request; I generally have a pretty good sense of what I will like. But usually I have a pile of 15-20 that I’m late in reading; I always seem to be behind. And my review policy is clear to publishers that if I’m not loving a book, I’m going to stop reading it.

      • That’s good that you have a clear policy with the publishers. Your time and expertise and reviews are too valuable! Here is a link to that made me think of you.

        Also, the teaser for a book review on Slate said something like “is the unit in poetry a poem or a book?” It linked to a review from April 7 of a book by Terrance Hayes (I may have spelled the name wrong.) I have wondered the same thing about poetry. Often we see poems by themselves, or in a collection of poetry or literature in a college course. Or maybe a children’s book of poems. I went on to study science, not literature or writing. How important is the publishing of a book of an individual poet’s work versus encountering poems separately? Kind of like in music, an album versus a “best of” collection, or listening to the radio. Maybe you have already discussed this?

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