Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Hello from the other side! I hope you’ll forgive me for getting this review out a little late. I read the book quickly, in two very agitated sittings, but it took me the rest of the week to put it into practice. It was a real struggle not to get up and start tidying after the first 20 pages, but I was determined to do everything by the book so I summoned my meager self-control and powered through. Here’s what I learned…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

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Two sentence summary: A one-time, organized approach to radically reducing your possessions and keeping only items that “spark joy.” If you do it right, you’ll do it only once and will transform your space and your life.

First things first, did this book magically change my life?

It may be too soon to tell. For reasons I’ll explain below, I don’t feel like my tidying transformation is complete, but I’ve gone far enough to make major improvements in my space and to subscribe more willingly to the belief that surrounding myself only with items that produce happiness will have a positive effect on my attitude elsewhere. I’ve yet to experience the life-changing magic of having movers, and the burden of unloved possessions is one I’ve felt quite literally over several New York moves, so I’m an easy target for this book’s minimalist philosophy, but it does make a certain amount of sense. Do I expect to lose 10 pounds, start a business, and win the heart of Oscar Isaac because of this book? Maybe not. But I do expect I’ll spend less, want less, and feel more satisfied having raised the bar for retention to things that “spark joy.”

Really useful tips:

  • Folding and vertical storage:  If you use this book for nothing else, use it to learn how to fold and store your clothes. You’ll be able to fit more in your drawers and see everything that’s in there. Kondo claims that after discarding and folding this way you’ll need to store very little in your closets and will not even need to put seasonal items into storage. This turned out to be absolutely true. Here is evidence:

Obvious but surprisingly helpful advice:

  • Tidy by category, not location: A key step in Kondo’s process is gathering all items of a certain type (clothing, books, papers) from their various locations in your home in a single place, where you can see them, handle them, and make decisions about whether or not to keep them. I live in a small apartment so this didn’t seem too daunting but I was surprised at how many different places similar items had been hiding. It’s an extra, tiring step but afterward I felt confident I had combed through everything. The effort of putting items back after getting them out also helps you think twice about what you really want to keep around.
  • Discard first, store later: For me this was a big fat duh. Of course you have to reduce before you can reorganize. This is an early and insistent refrain and at first it had me skeptical about the level of insight I’d get from this book. Pile system, I get it–keep or don’t keep, sure. But a few days into tidying, energy running low, I unknowingly convinced myself I’d gotten so good at it I could skip the pile system completely. I ended up rotating items around, forgetting to discard the things I’d set aside, and feeling generally confused and unproductive. It was then, with a sense of deep shame, that I appreciated the earworm. Discard first, store later. Don’t cut corners, don’t skip the pile system, and keep your storage areas far away until you’re really ready for them.
  • Keep only items that spark joy: When I first read this I thought it was just a nice, positive way to frame the process of discarding: You aren’t getting rid of things you don’t like, you’re keeping the things you do. The more I sorted, though, the more useful and selective a criterion it became. Despite the squishy phrasing, it sets a high and attractively impractical standard. We’re talking top tiers of Maslow’s pyramid, folks! Against more traditional advice concerning frequency of use, I felt empowered to throw away items that were extremely useful but somehow still contributed nothing to my life. I ended up getting rid of a blah work dress I wear every week and keeping some colorful tops for a vacation I may never take, and it felt great. In a few extreme cases, I discarded things I depended on heavily in the hope that their absence would motivate me to find more desirable replacements. Overall, I filled about 10 bags with my discarded clothes, books, and sundries.
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Goodbye, all these clothes!

Most shocking suggestions:

  • Throw away all your papers: With very few exceptions, Kondo wants you to throw away all your papers. If it’s not your birth certificate or your current lease, throw it the hell away. Papers don’t spark joy. As the proud owner of a filing cabinet, I was very much not ok with this but was obligated to give it a try. In the end, I did get rid of about 80% of the papers in my filing cabinet, but I saved many more than Kondo would have liked by defining joy as the security of having my negative-option gym contract on file for when they try to sucker me into a long-term commitment. I did, as a concession, download the CamScanner app so I could at least take receipts out of the equation.
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I had some help.
  • Don’t keep seasonal clothes in storage: Keeping seasonal clothes in underbed containers was the only reason I was able to even jiggle the hangers in my closets before reading this book. I did successfully reduce and store well enough to bring my summer clothes back into the light and this seems to me more desirable everyday. I didn’t think I’d want to see these out-of-season clothes all winter long, but it’s nice to have a bit of color in my wardrobe and reassuring to so easily keep track of everything I own.

Omissions:

  • Pets and kids: Kondo is convinced that the best way to motivate families to tidy is to set an example; they’ll soon fall in line. This argument is supported with a little anecdotal evidence and it seems optimistic for the adults in a household, let alone for the little scamps and scapegoats we blame for not being able to have nice things. My cats are perfect in every way, so this was not a major personal concern but it seems like an important question for families. Even sharing a space with a clean and obliging boyfriend made it difficult for me to feel like I’d truly tidied all the way by addressing just my stuff.
  • Disposal: Aside from not forcing your unwanted things upon your mom/little sister/roommate, Kondo doesn’t have much advice for what you should do with you the hundreds of bags of items you are expected to jettison. Much of what you discard will be perfectly useful and you won’t want to trash it. It’s up to you to find better ways.

Unexpected bonus: fodder for conversation. This book is a great conversation piece! Everyone has opinions about tidying, and some people even have opinions about this book. If they don’t, you can troll them with its more woo-woo arguments, or you can convince them to give it a try.

Overall recommendation: Read the book! It’s fun, it’s a little silly. You may, like me, get a little discouraged by the speed of transformation if you share a home or have to spend more than a few days living with bags of soon-to-be discards, but you’ll be inspired and tidy better than ever.

Overall rating: 8 out of 10 sparks of joy

Books read: 1 of 50

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One thought on “Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

  1. Now, *this* is a great review of a self-help book! This is a book I’ve heard about, read about, seen parodied, but hadn’t actually read, and thought that I probably didn’t need to read it because I knew enough about it. But I didn’t, I don’t, so now it’s on my list. Love the in-process pictures, too!

    Liked by 1 person

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