Thursday, September 21, 2017

Nonfiction Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

In the spring, I was at the check-out counter of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT, mostly buying gifts for other people, when I grabbed a copy of Marie Kondo’s best-selling mega hit The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I figured I should finally read it for myself to find out what all the fuss was about! We have lived in our home for 22 years and raised two kids here, so we could definitely use some decluttering, and I like having things organized. Kondo has some good advice in this slim book and some interesting ways of approaching these tasks, but I also came away thinking she’s a little bit nutty!

There are a couple of unique approaches about her KonMari Method. The one aspect I am most likely to use from her book is that she focuses on what to keep instead of what to get rid of. I am probably like most people in that I approach decluttering with an eye on what I can throw away or donate – flipping through my closet the night before a charity pick-up, thinking, “Hmmm…I haven’t worn this in years, this doesn’t fit anymore, etc.” Conversely, Marie Kondo recommends going through your stuff and for each item, considering whether it sparks joy. This was intriguing to me, since I like to focus on joy in my life, but – again thinking of clothing – I know I keep items that fit me and are OK, but I don’t really love. Kondo says to get rid of those and keep only what sparks joy.

The other unique part of her approach that won’t work for me but might for other people is that she does not recommend going room-by-room or one closet or bookcase or dresser at a time. Rather, she recommends working through one category of item at a time. So, when you are decluttering and organizing your clothing, she says to pull out ALL of your clothes at once – every item in closets, dressers, etc. – and go through it all at once, holding every single item to decide if it sparks joy. Same with books – every single book in your house! That makes logical sense, but with my very limited physical stamina, I would manage it for an hour or 90 minutes and then run out of energy and be stuck with all my clothes or books in the middle of the room! But I can see what she’s getting at – it’s hard to make progress one small bit at a time. I do think she is right about having to take everything out of the closet or dresser or wherever because I know I don’t accomplish much when I try to go through items still packed together.

So, why did I say that Marie Kondo is a little nutty? Well, she goes pretty far afield in her recommendations on storage and organization, after you’ve finished decluttering. She is really into folding and says everything should be folded and stored standing on its edge like books (but she is talking about clothing). She also fervently believes that your stuff needs to “rest” when you are not using it. Here’s what she says to one client:
“I pointed to the balled-up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?’ ”
She also recommends completely emptying your purse every single day when you get home – again, so that it can rest in between uses. She says we should thank our things for their service – at the end of the day and before we get rid of them. She concludes, toward the end of the book, with this:
“Everything you own wants to be of use to you. Even if you throw it away or burn it, it will only leave behind the energy of wanting to be of service. Freed from its physical form, it will move about your world as energy, letting other things know that you are a special person, and come back to you as the thing that will be of most use to who you are now, the thing that will bring you the most happiness.”
O.K. I think I am just a bit too logical and analytical for that! She also focuses on attaining an ideal that I’m really not interested in – a very spare home with nothing out in the open and all items able to be stored in a single closet. Maybe this is somewhat of a cultural difference, as I know that is more of a Japanese ideal than an American one. I enjoy being surrounded by things I love. Of course, as an avid reader, I can’t imagine purging books as thoroughly as she suggests, and I have heard other book lovers say the same. I love having a full bookcase in every room of my home! Those definitely spark joy. Still, I could certainly use some culling and decluttering.

Marie Kondo’s book spent 99 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and sold over six million copies worldwide, so it seems that she and her methods are very, very popular. She offers some excellent advice in this slim volume (and she wrote a sequel, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, for those who want more detail). Some of her approaches are different from what you normally read in decluttering and organizing advice, though her methods may not be practical for everyone. Although I don’t think I’ll be thanking my possessions for their service or emptying my purse every day, I do hope to put some of her advice into practice.

206 pages, Ten Speed Press (Berkeley)

I’m interested to hear what YOU think of Marie Kondo’s methods! Have you tried any of the approaches in The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up? What were your experiences?
I purchased this book myself.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. Purchases from these links provide a small commission to me (pennies per purchase), to help offset the time I spend writing for this blog, at no extra cost to you.


  1. I have heard so much about this book, but your review really explained it to me. I also like the idea of thinking about what to keep (what brings joy) and I do like a good de-cluttering session, but this book sounds like it's a bit nutty.

    1. More than a bit! ha ha It's a very popular book with lots of avid followers...but there are also some hilarious 1 star reviews on Goodreads!