First off, I’m not a slob. Not exactly. I’m just someone who probably has too much stuff, and a bit too much space in which to store it all. I like artistic objects and stray buttons, and keep items of clothing around for sentimental purposes. And even though I went through a big move about three years ago, I still didn’t cull enough of my herd.
I went looking online for organizing assistance. I wanted a book or a guide, not someone who came to my house and organized my stuff for me (that’s way too expensive, not to mention potentially embarrassing). Lo and behold, a highly, highly recommended book popped up on Amazon. It had many glowing reviews. It was a NYT bestseller. Impulsively, I ordered The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.
Kondo is the creator of the KonMari Method—I’d never heard of it, either, but then again, I’m an untidy sort of person—a Japanese cleaning consultant who revels in the empty room. Kondo maintains that, in order to be a tidy individual with a tidy home, you must develop an ongoing mindset of tidiness.
Reading through Kondo’s book is an enlightening lesson on the differences between Japanese and American sensibilities. While virtually every self-help or how-to book I’ve ever read by an American has lists and bullet points, Kondo’s book unfolds in a more philosophical fashion. Like, 206 pages worth of tidy philosophy. Along the way, Kondo shares her personal story. (She sorted and organized her stuff, and her family’s stuff, for fun. I’m surprised they didn’t off her early on.) She maintains that tidying should be done in one fell swoop rather than piecemeal (easy to do in smaller Japanese spaces; crazy making in a big American house), and basically tells you to throw virtually everything you own in the garbage.
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Yes, you heard right. She wants you to dump your stuff. Kondo crows with pride over clients who produced 20 to 30 bags of trash. Forget about reusing, regifting, or recycling. Kondo even goes so far as to discourage you from giving friends or family the stuff you don’t want, saying “We need to show consideration for others by helping them avoid the burden of owning more than they need or can enjoy.” In other words, don’t give your little sister your cast-offs, because she won’t like them any more than you do.
It’s Kondo’s criterion for elimination that’s so interesting, however. She asks you to examine each item (say, as you’re going through your closet), and ask yourself the following question: “Does this spark joy?”
I don’t know about you, but I’m a pretty tough customer when it comes to “sparking joy.” I mean, asking a question like that regarding a two-year-old stretched out pair of panties makes you toss them in the trash, pronto. Those plastic salt and pepper shakers your now ex evil stepmother gave you? Landfill. That purse that you termed “the fumbler” that’s been lurking in your closet? Say goodbye. A solo watch battery, a vase from an FTD bouquet, and a drawer full of makeup samples? Gone, gone, and farewell forever. “Does it spark joy?” is one powerful phrase.
I learned other things, too. Kondo is obsessed with the folding of clothes, and she goes on for pages describing the “right” way to store folded clothing. I’ll save you time: don’t stack t-shirts and other items, line them up instead inside the drawers so you can see every option easily and immediately. Is it a bigger pain to fold the laundry? You bet. But, I have to say that it saves you time in the morning, and my drawers stay tidier.
Perhaps the biggest cultural difference between this book and its American counterparts is the matter of fact Japanese attitude toward bodily functions. Kondo asserts that “When we discard everything in one go… We may get a bout of diarrhea or break out in pimples. There is nothing wrong with this. Our bodies are just getting rid of toxins that have built up over the years, and they will be back to normal, or in fact in even better shape, within a day or two.” She then goes on to discuss her tidied up clients: “Their figures are more streamlined, their skin is more radiant, and their eyes shine brighter.”
All I have to say is, don’t let dieters and cleansing fanatics hear about this, or the Tidy (not Tidy Bowl) Cleanse will be the new big thing. You know, you donate twenty bags of stuff, and then have an unfortunate digestive event in the Goodwill bathroom, leading to a whole new Tidy You.
But I digress. All in all, this is a useful book, if only because it doesn’t ask you to buy organizational stuff to store your stuff. Kondo instead asks you to commit to simplifying your life by shedding non-essential items. And while the environmentalist in me can’t quite cheer Kondo on when she estimates her garbage bag total (28,000 bags, and over one million items), it is a reminder to, perhaps, not accumulate any more landfill in the future.