Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

From Goodreads:
Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international bestseller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.
First of all, before anything, I have to say that this description in no way prepares the reader for the total and complete craziness that makes up this book.  It is probably one of the least sane books I've read.  From a Western point of view.  I mean I'm sure plenty of Easterners also think Kondo is crazy, because she clearly is, but many of my side-eye moments could very well be attributed to living in the US versus China.  I'll go into more detail below, but just be aware if you pick this up as a Western reader, you are going to have some of your own eyebrow raising moments.

The book was originally written in Japanese and translated to English, which is the first important distinction to make.  That said, I think the translator did a lovely job and I feel like I really got the message Kondo intended for me to get: throw it all away.  The premise of the book is that if you get rid of the majority of your possessions, you won't have to spend much time tidying because there won't be anything left to tidy.  That's simplifying, but you get the idea.  She's extreme in her views, but I actually found some very helpful ideas here, if I'm honest.  A few that I've put into practice since reading the book:

  • Take every item you are evaluating for disposal off the shelf, out of the drawer, etc.  Physically pick up and hold each item.  So rather than just glancing into my closet, I took out every long-sleeved shirt and laid it out on my bed before evaluating them one by one.  It's easier to find problem items (damaged, not frequently used, etc) when you're looking closely at each piece and easier to part with an item when it's already off the shelf.
  • Don't keep anything that doesn't bring you joy.  I've personally amended this one a bit, because I'm a homeowner with a husband and pets and a house and not every home item brings me joy (I'm not swooning over my ironing board) but there are some things you need to have anyway.  This is an example of an Eastern vs. Western difference.  In Japan, particularly in cities where KonMari works, everyone lives in teeny-tiny apartments.  I live in a decent-sized home and can own a bit more "stuff" without having to consider it "clutter".  So my version of this rule was to toss anything that doesn't bring me joy or serve a specific purpose.
  •  Rather than being mad at yourself for having bought something and never used it, remind yourself that the purpose the item served was to bring you joy when you purchased it.  Even if it's a shirt you never wore, you experienced the pleasure of browsing and choosing it and it's fine to let that item go if it no longer brings you pleasure.
Entertainment Value
Ok, this is where the crazy part comes into play.  Kondo is pathological about throwing things away.  She has these stories about cleaning obsessively as a child that illustrate that this isn't just a normal interest in "tidiness".  That said, I thought her personality really made the book shine.  She's crazy, but in a way that's really fun to read.  

You can also really see her Eastern mentality in her ideas about the feelings of household items.  Socks need to be folded rather than balled up because they work hard on your feet all day and can't rest well if they're in balls.  You should thank each item of clothing as you remove it for the hard work it put in that day.  Every morning you should touch your houseplants and thank them for providing oxygen.  That kind of thing.  I'm honestly not sure how much is quirk and how much is cultural, but I personally will not be putting any of those suggestions into practice.  I will also not be kneeling and introducing myself to each building I enter or expecting to break out in acne after cleaning because my body senses that I'm purging.  I did, however, find them adorable to read about and could totally imagine Kondo doing each one.

If you go into this with a sense of fun, I think it's certainly entertaining to read and also has some genuinely great ideas for de-cluttering.  I do think most Western readers will need to go into it realizing that Kondo works in much smaller spaces than most Americans live in, especially suburbanites like me, and that we may not be required by necessity to be as ruthless as she is in purging.  It's also going to appeal largely to those who aren't afraid of throwing things away.  If you're already nervous about getting rid of stuff, this could very well bring on a panic attack.  It is a super fun book to read, though, and I do feel like I was inspired to clear out some excess in my life.


  1. My goodness! I've been seeing mixed (but mostly positive) reviews of this one. A particular library patron with a history of not-100-percent-sane rants/raves made it her mission in life to get every librarian to read it, which of course means that I've been refusing to read it. I very much prefer your sane, thoughtful review!

    1. I think if you go into it knowing it'll be on the strange side and if you like quirky people, you'll enjoy it. If you just want straight up organizing advice, you'd probably be better off with something more Americanized.

  2. I loved this book! I just finished it this week so plan on going through all my clothes this weekend. Yes lots of what she said was out there but I definitely think there are ways to apply those to our western lifestyles in different ways that don't feel as weird. I won't do everything she said but will try lots of it. I was telling my sister you can tell some of what is cultural though like her co stand talk about what to do with your many stockings... I mean maybe it's cuz I'm in central Florida and I do get to dress more casual for work, but I do not own stockings LOL.

  3. Hmmmm I just bought this book for my best friend, eek, she may have a panic attack, lol. I love the sound of it and just may have to declutter before the holidays. I am good at it, my best friend not at all, she needs all the help she can get especially to throwing out and de-cluttering, OMG. Fun review, makes me want to read it.