The life-changing magic of tidying up – book review

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As you may know, our family moved out of our home of twelve years last month and into a smaller apartment. We’re renovating our home, and fingers crossed, we’ll be back in before Christmas this year.

And as all of you know, moving house means touching EVERY SINGLE ITEM. The clothes that the kids have outgrown. The one special kinder painting of a sunflower. The cake decorating cricket set I used for Mr 12’s 7th birthday cake which may or may not be used for Mr 6. Every single water glass, wine glass and coffee mug. And that honours thesis on nineteenth-century women writers in the filing cabinet – everyone has one of those, yes?

And the books. Goodness, the books in our house!

We culled so much, and it’s lovely to live with less. Many trips to St Vinnie’s to drop off objects that someone else might be able to use. Many garbage bags full of rubbish. A few things – including our dishwasher! – dropped off to friends and family.

I wouldn’t call myself sentimental – I prefer space to stuff – except when it comes to books, of course. But I do live with four other people, and sometimes one person’s rubbish is another person’s treasure.

So, I found the words from Marie Kondo’s book echoing in my head all December and January. I’d read her first book, The life-changing magic of tidying up, the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing last year but I read it again, and also read her second book Spark joy, an illustrated guide to the Japanese art of tidying.

Marie writes in an accessible, almost conversational manner and tells many stories about clients who cannot see the floor of their house because of all the clutter. She’s not preachy but passionate about the joys of tidying-up. And honest – ‘the process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful. It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past’.

She has many concepts:

  • if you can tidy up, you can change your life
  • you only need to do it once – properly
  • most people make the mistake of clearing by location – bedroom, kitchen, family-room, hall cupboard – but it’s more effective to clean by type – clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous items like kitchen ware, linen, hobby materials, then finally sentimental items.
  • you need to hold every object in your hands – hug it, even
  • you need to ask yourself, for every object – does this spark joy?

I have to agree with most of her ideas. In the past, I would have used logic to declutter – is this useful? Would we miss this item? But intuition – for me, anyway – is a far more accurate measure of how I feel about most things, and decluttering is no exception.

Be warned – some of her detailed views on folding clothes and thanking your discarded items might be viewed as quite extreme!

‘I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask:”Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.’

Like many things, a cluttered or minimalistic-style house is subjective – I’m sure I have friends who would think my house is cluttered and equally, friends who think my house is tidy.

Apart from slowly seeing how her approach has worked for me (so far, I’ve completed sorted our clothes and books), what I love most about her philosophy is the mindfulness aspect. Why surround ourselves with stuff which is meaningless or useless? Why spend time and energy storing or tripping over items which hold no personal value? Why shouldn’t we surround ourselves with only items that bring joy?

Let me know what you think about decluttering in the comments!

8 comments

  1. How funny you should write about decluttering Karen. I’m decluttering my office right now ready for an eventual move to our reconditioned garage. Eventually. I’m completely unsentimental and if I asked myself that question, I’d pretty much be left with 20 things but I can be terribly indecisive. Good luck with the renovations 🙂

  2. Hi Karen! I heard about Marie Kondo’s book on the BBC Woman’s Hour. She had such interesting things to say about an item either ‘sparking joy’ or not, and if it doesn’t, you should get rid of it. I know I always feel more centred with a tidy house and less stuff in general. I hope your de-cluttering brings you joy! x Isabel

    1. Hi Isabel, thanks for your comment. I love a tidy house – wish my kids did! I felt as if I had lost 20 kilos after we moved and culled so many unnecessary things! Will make another start on decluttering in the next school holidays. Hope you’re surrounded by things that spark joy for you.

  3. I love having beautiful things around me but I don’t like clutter and mess. I need space and ‘surfaces’ (as Eddie in Ab Fab would say) to breathe. We don’t have loads of storage at our place so we tend to do an annual cull. I think it’s best to take the ‘ripping off a band aid’ approach – don’t think about what you are tossing too much.

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