In the first chapter of Marie Kondo’s book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up she shares this testimonial:
Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.
That sums it up. At times you might think she’s crazy but the book is a passionate read and full of useful ideas to help get and keep things in order – whatever they may be.
Over 4 months this past year, my wife and I worked through the methodology and donated or threw out over 30 bags of stuff from our one-bedroom apartment. A couple weeks after we had finished the process, the apartment had developed a bit of clutter and we decided to clean up. Fifteen minutes later we looked at each other:
Are we done already?
I think so!
We were both surprised. After the deep clean, things had a place. The time necessary to clean our whole place had dropped significantly.
Here’s a summary of Marie Kondo’s approach:
You’ll want to complete this process in one big go. While it’s unreasonable to tidy everything you own in a single day, or even weeks if you have a modest amount of stuff and a busy schedule, it is important to set out a plan and schedule it in until it is done. A proper tidying for us was a multi-month process. We picked a category each week and went down the list.
A core part of Marie Kondo’s philosophy is to start with the things you are least emotionally attached to and progress into more and more emotionally-loaded categories. The order is important. In the early weeks you are training yourself on the method, and getting in the flow for how you make decisions on what to keep or not. As you get to the categories with more emotional attachment, the time and persistence necessary to tidy up items goes up.
While the exact order may vary from person to person, here’s a collected list of the order that Marie Condo presents things throughout the book:
The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, kimono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.
If you can, start with off-season clothes as there is less emotional attachment to things out of season.
This quote sums up her approach in this category:
My basic principle for sorting papers is to throw them all away.
If you have many items related to a particular interest or hobby, such as ski equipment or tea ceremony articles, treat these as a single subcategory)
Tidying by category is an alternative approach to tidying one room or one drawer at a time. Pick a category like clothing, books, or kitchen goods. Go through each room and drawer and closet and cranny in your house and gather every item you find in that category. We enjoyed brining all of the items to our living room and creating a giant pile.
At first, you run your fingers along your bookshelf and think these are all books worth keeping. However, as you take those books off the shelf and carry them across the room something changes. Another trip? Why on earth do I have all of these still? As your items amass, your perception of how you wish to interact with them also changes. You notice duplicates and common themes. You start to contemplate their utility in a new light.
The process of gathering stuff in one place can have a significant effect on how you think about your belongings.
Once you have things in the pile, the next step is to pick each item up individually and ask yourself: Does this spark joy? No doubt, this step is easy to poke fun at. After the initial hesitation, we found it to be an easy way to have a laugh and share stories.
Just as you might notice a grammatical error if you read a sentence aloud that you otherwise missed when just reading it on the page, engaging with your decision on whether to keep or discard something forces you to recognize additional details about the decision you are making.
I found peace in discarding many old documents and art after snapping a photo. Will I ever look at the photos? Who knows. But the step helped me let go. Often, I didn’t even recall I had the items and the resistance to let them go was just a hope that I might be able to smile about the related memories again some day.
The book does not address how to organize digital clutter. The same principles can be applied in many cases but you won’t find much insight in Marie Kondo’s book that directly addresses applying the philosophy to your digital belongings and the potentially infinite memento-like space they take up.
An enjoyable part of the book is the fine line between sound advice and absurd, absolutist claims. Below is a handful of quotes from the book that I found enjoyable:
Cooking skills and recipes are passed down as family traditions from grandmother to mother to daughter, yet one never hears of anyone passing on the family secrets of tidying, even within the same household.
The ultimate secret of success is this: If you tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little, you can dramatically change your mind-set.
When people revert to clutter no matter how much they tidy, it is not their room or their belongings but their way of thinking that is at fault.
Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake.
The root of the problem lies in the fact that people often store the same type of item in more than one place. When we tidy each place separately, we fail to see that we’re repeating the same work in many locations and become locked into a vicious circle of tidying. To avoid this, I recommend tidying by category.
[P]eople who can’t stay tidy can be categorized into just three types: the “can’t-throw-it-away” type, the “can’t-put-it-back” type, and the “first-two-combined” type. Looking at my clients, I further realize that 90 percent fall into the third category–the ‘can’t-throw-it-away, can’t-put-it-back” type–while the remaining 10 percent fall into the “can’t-put-it-back” type. I have yet to find somebody who is purely the “can’t-throw-it-away” type, probably because anyone who can’t throw things away will soon end up with so much stuff that their storage space overflows. As for the 10 percent who can discard but can’t put things away, when we start tidying seriously, it is soon obvious that they could discard much more because they produce at least thirty bags of garbage.
Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.
Believe me. Until you have completed the once-in-a-lifetime event of putting your house in order, any attempt to tidy on a daily basis is doomed to failure.
When you tidy your space completely, you transform the scenery. The change is so profound that you feel as if you are living in a totally different world. This deeply affects your mind and inspires a strong aversion to reverting to your previously cluttered state. The key is to make the change so sudden that you experience a complete change of heart. The same impact can never be achieved if the process is gradual.
Various experts have proposed yardsticks for discarding things people find hard to part with. These include such rules as “discard anything you haven’t used for a year,” and “if you can’t decide, pack those items away in a box and look at them again six months later.” However, the moment you start focusing on how to choose what to throw away, you have actually veered significantly off course. In this state, it is extremely risky to continue tidying.
[F]ocusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.
[T]he 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.
…the trick is to handle each item.
Gathering every item in one place is essential to this process because it gives you an accurate grasp of how much you have. Most people are shocked at the sheer volume, which is often at least twice what they imagined. By collecting things in one spot, you can also compare items that are similar in design, making it easier to decide whether you want to keep them.
The process of deciding what to keep and what to discard will go much more smoothly if you begin with items that are easier to make decisions about. As you gradually work toward the harder categories, you will be honing your decision-making skills. … The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, kimono (miscellany), and lastly, mementos.
Marathon tidying produces a heap of garbage. At this stage, the one disaster that can wreak more havoc than an earthquake is the entrance of that recycling expert who goes by the alias of “mother.”
Every object has a different role to play. Not all clothes have come to you to be worn threadbare. It is the same with people. Not every person you meet in life will become a close friend or lover. Some you will find hard to get along with or impossible to like. But these people, too, teach you the precious lesson of who you do like, so that you will appreciate those special people even more.
So let me introduce a secret for maintaining the neatness of closets that you work hard to organize. Arrange your clothes so that they rise to the right. Take a moment to draw an arrow rising toward the right and then another descending to the right. You can do this on paper or just trace them in the air. Did you notice that when you draw an arrow rising to the right it makes you feel lighter? Lines that slope up to the right make people feel comfortable. By using this principle when you organize your closet, you can make the contents look far more exciting. …. When you stand in front of a closet that has been reorganized so that the clothes rise to the right, you will feel your heart beat faster and the cells in your body buzz with energy.
When I see high school students wearing high socks that are loose at the top, I long to tell them how to fold their socks properly.
Be careful not to bury clothes in the cupboard even if they are off-season. Clothes that have been shut up for half a year look wilted, as if they have been stifled. Instead, let in some light and air occasionally. Open the drawer and run your hands over the contents. Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of “communication” helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer.
The most common reason for not discarding a book is “I might read it again.” Take a moment to count the number of favorite books that you have actually read more than once. How many are there?
If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.
Realizing that what I really wanted to keep was not the book but certain information or specific words it contained, I decided that if I kept only what was necessary I should be able to part with the rest. …
I finally decided to rip the relevant page out of the book. Pasting pages into a notebook was also a pain, so I sampled the process by slipping them into a file instead. … Two years after launching this “bulk reduction method,” I had a sudden flash of realization. I had never once looked at the file I created. All that effort had just been to ease my own conscience.
People often insist, “I want to restudy these materials sometime,” but most never do so. Moreover, the majority of them usually have materials for multiple seminars on the same or similar subjects. Why? Because what they learned at the seminars did not stick.
Used checkbooks are just that — used. You’re not going to look at them again, and even if you do, it won’t increase the amount of money in the bank, so, really, get rid of them.
I pull out a drawer in a client’s home and discover a strange little box, just waiting to be opened — like a tantalizing book that promises some fascinating tale. But for me there is no excitement whatsoever. I know exactly what I’ll find inside. Loose change, hairpins, erasers, spare buttons, wristwatch parts, batteries that may or may not be dead, leftover medicine, lucky charms, key rings. And the list goes on.
The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not “things” but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. When viewed from this perspective, you don’t need to feel guilty for parting with a gift. Just think of the joy it gave you when you first received it.
If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for, chances are you’ll never use it again. Mysterious cords will always remain just that—a mystery.
You will never use spare buttons.
Because photos tend to emerge from the most unexpected places when we are sorting other categories, it is much more efficient to put them in a designated spot every tie you find one and deal with them all at the very end.
Sometimes people keep a mass of photos in a big box with the intention of enjoying them someday in their old age. I can tell you now that “someday” never comes. I can’t count how many boxes of unsorted photographs I have seen that were left by someone who has passed away.
Once you’ve experienced the freedom of a life without surplus stock, you won’t want to give it up and will naturally stop stockpiling. My clients tell me that now life is more fun because when they run out of something they enjoy seeing how long they can last without it or trying to substitute other things.
As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you.
Let’s say, for example, that you have a shelf with nothing on it. What happens if someone leaves an object that has no designated spot on that shelf? That one item will become your downfall. Within no time that space, which had maintained a sense of order, will be covered with objects, as if someone had yelled, “Gather round, everybody!”
You only need to designate a spot for every item once. Try it. You’ll be amazed at the results. No longer will you buy more than you need. No longer will the things you own continue to accumulate. In fact, your stock on hand will decrease. The essence of effective storage is this: designate a spot for every last thing you own. If you ignore this basic principle and start experimenting with the vast range of storage ideas being promoted, you will be sorry. Those storage “solutions” are really just prisons within which to bury possessions that spark no joy.
Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort need to get them out.
(I)f you stack things, you end up with what seems like inexhaustible storage space. Things can be stacked forever and endlessly on top, which makes it harder to notice the increasing volume. In contrast, when things are stored vertically, any increase takes up space and you will eventually run out of storage area. When you do, you’ll notice, “Ah, I’m starting to accumulate stuff again.”
Basically, the only storage items you need are plain old drawers and boxes—you don’t need anything special or fancy.
The most common item I use is an empty shoebox. I have tried all kinds of storage products, but have never found any other that is free and still surpasses the shoebox.
The best way to store bags is in another bag.
The process of storing bags inside another bag, of finding the right combinations, is a lot of fun, much like making a jigsaw puzzle. When you find just the right pair, where the outer and inner bags fit so well together that they support one another, it is like witnessing a meeting that was destined to be.
Just between you and me, while writing this book, there have been times when I came home and fell asleep on the floor without even changing my clothes.
There is no need to keep soaps and shampoos out when we are not using them, and the added exposure to heat and moisture when they aren’t in use is bound to affect their quality. It is therefore my policy to keep everything out of the bath or shower. Whatever in use in the bath should be dried after use anyway, so it makes far more sense to just wipe down the few items we use with our bath towel and then put them away in the cupboard. While this may seem like more work at first glance, it is actually less. It is much quicker and easier to clean the bath or shower without these items cluttering that space, and there will be less slime buildup. The same is true for the kitchen sink area.
Where do you store your oil, salt, pepper, soy sauce, and other seasonings? Many people keep them right beside the stove because they want them close at hand for the sake of convenience. If you are one of these people, I hope you will rescue them right now. For one thing, a counter is for preparing food, not storing things. Counter space beside the stove , in particular, is exposed to splatters of food and oil, and the seasonings kept here are usually sticky with grease. Rows of bottles in this area also make it much harder to keep clean , and the kitchen area will always be covered in a film of oil. Kitchen cupboards are usually designed to store seasonings and spices, so put them away where they belong. Quite often a long, narrow drawer is located next to the oven that can be used for this purpose.
People commonly assume that it is cheaper to buy things in bulk when on sale. But I believe the opposite is true. If you consider the cost of storage, it is just as economical to keep these things in the store, not in your home. Moreover, if you buy and use them as you need them, they will be newer and in better condition.
When I got my new cell phone, I hit upon the idea of texting my old phone. It was my first replacement and I was probably feeling quite excited. After thinking for a moment, I typed the simple message “Thank you for everything” and added a heart symbol. Then I pressed SEND. My old phone pinged immediately and I checked my texts. Of course it was the message I had just sent. “Great. My message reached you. I really wanted to say thanks for all you have done,” I said to my old phone. Then I closed it with a click.
A few minutes later, I opened my old phone and was surprised to find that the screen was blank. No matter which button I pressed, the screen did not respond. My cell phone, which had never broken since the day I first got it, had gone dead after receiving my message. It never worked again, as if the phone, realizing that it’s job was done, had resigned from its post of its own accord.
When you treat your belongings well, they will always respond in kind. For this reason, I take time to ask myself occasionally whether the storage space I’ve set aside for them will make them happy. Storage, after all, is the sacred act of choosing a home for my belongings.
Tidying dramatically changes one’s life. This is true for everyone, 100 percent.
But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or fear for the future.
There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die.
Yet despite the drastic reduction in their belongings, no one has ever complained that they had a problem later because I told them to get rid of something. The reason is very clear: discarding those things that don’t spark joy has no adverse effects whatsoever.
Of course, I am not saying that my clients have never regretted discarding something. Far from it. You should expect this to happen at least three times during the tidying process, but don’t let it worry you.
There is another reason that my clients never complain about discarding things—and this is the most significant. Because they have continued to identify and dispense with things that they don’t need, they no longer abdicate responsibility for decision making to other people.
Human beings can only truly cherish a limited number of things at one time. As I am both lazy and forgetful, I can’t take proper care of too many things. That is why I want to cherish properly the things I love, and that is why I have insisted on tidying for so much of my life. I believe, however, that it is best to tidy up quickly and get it over with. Why? Because tidying is not the purpose of life.