Will I experience the life-changing magic?

Posted November 22, 2017 by Lory in brief reviews / 40 Comments

A couple of years ago, when The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo was all the rage, I scoffed at it without having read it, largely because of what I thought was her impossible advice for tidying books (maintain a library of 30 books maximum, and keep them in a closet). However, now that I’ve actually read the book and the follow-up volume Spark Joy, I see that this is not what she says; she has 30 books and keeps them in a closet, but that doesn’t mean it’s what everyone should do. What is important is to keep only possessions that “spark joy,” a seemingly vague, highly individual criterion that, according to her, can have startling effects upon one’s entire life.

My possessions could definitely use some tidying up, so I decided to embark on her program and see where it takes me. I’m not 100% convinced of all her assertions (I don’t think socks actually feel pain when you ball them up, and I don’t think it’s a cardinal sin to have unread books on the shelves), but I am excited about the prospect of becoming more conscious about what I own and paring it down to what’s really essential to me. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in knowing and valuing one’s self, in not letting external pressures get in the way of recognizing what one really wants.

One of Kondo’s main mantras is “tidy by category, not by room,” so I started with her first category, clothes, and this worked quite brilliantly. I enjoyed identifying which garments “sparked joy” and feeling free to abandon the rest, even if I’d been hanging onto them for years out of a sense of obligation or guilt. My wardrobe now makes me feel much lighter and happier. And yes, I folded my socks instead of balling them up! I like how they look in the drawer, regardless of what their feelings may be.

The next category is books, and this may be more challenging, but I’m motivated to give it a try. I’ll share more details about that phase when I get to it.

Have you tried the “KonMari” method? What do you think about it?

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40 responses to “Will I experience the life-changing magic?

  1. Books most definitely spark joy! I always roll my eyes at Kondo, but I have started being really diligent about de-cluttering, especially since we just moved, and it feels good. I can’t say my criteria is “sparking joy,” but I like the overall concept. And I think there’s something to be said for the “by category” part…I find so many extras of so many things I don’t even know I had when I declutter.

    • I think when she sticks to principles it works, because it can be adapted to anyone’s situation. When there are too-specific prescriptions it starts to sound compulsive and wacky. I especially like the “sort by category” idea and discarding first before organizing. Otherwise I tend to just move things around without really penetrating into their reason for existence.

  2. “sparking joy” didn’t work for me, because very few of the many mundane, praciticle items of clothing and houseware do that for me. When I sorted my clothes, the only things that actually sparked joy were my favorite dress from when I was 2, a pair of boots that have needed new laces since 1999, a Parisian dress of grandmothers that fit me, briefly, in 1988, and a jacket of my grandmother’s that I actually can wear. So not enough to get me to work and back. But good luck to you!

    • Hahaha, I know, I wondered at first how I would manage to keep any t-shirts and pajamas – could they really spark joy? But if I defined “joy” as anything from a mild glow of appreciation on up, it worked. There were things that didn’t even meet that test and then they had to go.

  3. I haven’t tried this method (nor any methods, beyond the “stuff it all into a drawer or closet when company’s coming”!), but it seems to work for a lot of people, so perhaps one day I’ll give it a whirl. I did recently sort my socks by color, which makes my top drawer more rainbowlicious, so hey, that does spark a little joy. ;D

  4. I think lower-income people tend to be “hoarders” and richer people are able to make more “minimalist” living spaces. if you don’t have much, you will hold onto any little thing that comes your way. You got a new tv, but you still keep the old tv because you know things can break. You keep extra boxes of macaroni and cheese lying around because there will be a week when you don’t have money for groceries. You hold onto your stacks of books and clothes because those are your assets, physical evidence of where your money’s gone.
    I realized this when I was reading one of those declutter your space articles and it suggested getting rid of duplicate highlighters and pens. Pens! It suggested that you needed one or two working pens, so if you had extra you should get rid of them. That was when I saw that minimalist living is tied to having spare money, because the idea is that of course you can just go out and buy a replacement thing whenever the first thing breaks. You keep only what you need at that moment, because you can always buy more later.

    • That’s a really good point. It’s kind of a luxury to declutter in this way. However, I find that it’s making me more conscious of what I acquire; I don’t want to get more stuff that I have to clear out at some point, which reduces my impulse buying.

  5. Isn’t she saying basically the same thing as William Morris – have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful? Mind you I could do with someone to help me de clutter my house. I know that within the next couple of years I am going to have to downsize and it would be easier if I had had a really good clearout before hand.

    • Yup, I think this is the Morris ideal with some practical methodology applied. If you’re interested in decluttering I think it’s worth reading, though the actual practical advice would probably boil down to a magazine article — there’s a lot of repetition and personal anecdote included in the books. And her somewhat compulsive attitude (okay, really compulsive — she’s been obsessed with tidying since she was five years old) puts some people off, but I say take what is useful to you and forget about the rest.

  6. Yeah, I tried this, but I couldn’t get going after a while. It’s too bad, because there are areas in the house that definitely need decluttering. As a sentimental person, though, it’s hard to get rid of anything, because it all sparks joy. I do, however, now have everyone’s socks properly folded and sorted by color. That’s a start. Do let us know how your progress with this is going!

    • Well, if it really sparks joy I guess you should keep it! And if your sock drawer is a thing of beauty, that’s definitely an achievement.

  7. I have heard of this method, but haven’t tried it, so I appreciate you sharing your experience.

    I consider myself to be a minimalist out of necessity, but I also know I can become extremely attached to inanimate objects and have to watch out for that!

    • I’m now kind of fascinated with our relationship to inanimate objects. Kondo goes so far for some people (like imagining socks have feelings, and talking to her purse), but really it’s about seeing your personal environment as a reflection of your inner life. Each can affect the other in a positive — or negative — way, and it’s up to us to manage that.

  8. I tend to think of myself as a disorganized person, but I actually love going through things and purging—I actually think I just did this process on Bloglovin’ today, actually—think I was using the “spark joy” criteria without really knowing it. 🙂
    Clothes is a great place to start. I have gone through my closet now and again, getting rid of things that I keep out of guilt or nostalgia and I feel much better afterward!

    • Yes, I’ve done periodic purges (books too) and I find it a good process. But I’ve never gone through everything before — except when I was moving, and at that point I was not really concentrating on the “joy” factor, as well as being stressed out and in a hurry. So I’m curious how things will turn out if I take my time with this method.

  9. I found this book very helpful, especially when deciding which clothes to keep, and in dealing with all that paper we tend to collect. It even worked with my books because, while I have WAY more than 30, it did help me only keep the books I love and/or want to read again and to let the rest go without feeling guilty. I really liked this book. 😀

  10. I can see how cleaning up and organizing things can make a huge difference in one’s life, I am all or nothing, I am super organized with some things but a complete mess with others.

    The organized part is lot better.

    I love the idea about tidying up by category.

    • I’m also only partly organized. Going by category helps (and the categories can be subdivided, e.g. by types of books). Once you have one sorted it’s more likely to stay that way.

  11. I had much the same reaction to this book: sensible principles, sometimes wacky prescriptions. However, as I know to my dismay, like any self-help book it only works when you actually put it into practice. I wish you both luck and self-discipline, and hope I’ll have more of both next time I tackle my own clutter.

    • Thanks! I think my main challenge is carving out a substantial enough amount of time that I can dump all my possessions in any one category on the floor and be able to clean it up before driving the other members of my household crazy.

  12. Like you I dismissed this because it just sounded flavour of the month.. then I began hearing a bit more of her approach which got me thinking maybe ther was some value in the book after all. Just at the point I was going to buy a copy I heard that she has a routine of coming home and saying thank you to her coat, bag etc. At which point I decided that she was not for me…. Ive been decluttering but following a different approach of removing at least one item from the house every day. Slow yes but much easier than a huge declutter.

    • I know, some people find her habit of talking to things too cuckoo. I wonder if it might be considered less strange in Japan, which is such a ritualistic society.

  13. I found some good in this book and have tried to follow some of the guidance. It has helped me get a better handle on my clothing. I am currently working on fabric and paper crafts now.

  14. I think that I was quite skeptical as well, but I’ve reached the point where irritation at the clutter around me may now be outweighing the temporary pain I’ll feel at getting rid of it.

    Thanks for reminding me that this book exists. I’m going to see if the library has it.

  15. I put this off for a long time, feeling dubious as well, but I also found some of her ideas really helpful. I loved tidying by category. It was a great way to consider everything. Only keeping that sparked joy generally seemed like good criteria for choosing what to keep. And I’ve also found myself feeling lighter and happier as I get rid of things, but I do still ball up my socks 🙂

  16. I haven’t read this and am intrigued by how your journey pans out. I think her approach to buying things, really considering whether you need something or not, is very important and one which we all need to adopt if we’re not to utterly trash the planet with our rampant consumerism. And I do also think that having too many possessions weighs you down – this is something that as humans we’ve only really had to deal with in the last 200 years, it’s interesting.

    I do also agree with Jeanne above though, I have for some time felt that the philosophy of abundance, i.e. assuming that you can always get anything you need, is indeed only really applicable to relatively wealthy individuals in relatively wealthy societies. And that draconian method of throwing away everything extraneous – get rid of all those extra pens – shocks me, aren’t you just making your own space pleasant while contributing to landfill?

    And a whispered confession: I actually do have a problem thinking that everything has feelings, and anything with a face on it (including old socks and highlighter pens and postcards) is really problematic for me. So perhaps I should read this book.

    Anyway, good luck and keep us posted!

    • You definitely must read the book then – you and Kondo are kindred spirits (and there are others out there too, fear not).

      I think the two-pen person is too extreme. The point of this method IMO is not to promote an intellectually based minimalism, but to focus on what is valuable TO YOU and to help stop our unconscious, addictive acquisition of things we do not care about and won’t ever need. Yes, a problem of the wealthy perhaps…but still a problem.

      Anyway, it has certainly sparked some interesting discussion!

      • You are right (I hope I didn’t come over as snarky!), it obviously is challenging people to stop consuming thoughtlessly and just for that, irrespective of anything else, it is doing us all a service.

        The discussion IS interesting and it’s a book that does seem helpful to a lot of people. I’m definitely keeping an eye out for it. 🙂

        • No, of course I didn’t find you snarky — I do think that’s a really good point about the relationship between clutter and wealth/poverty and could give rise to some interesting sociological study. I don’t think it means decluttering is bad for the wealthy, but we should definitely keep in mind those who don’t have that luxury.

  17. My sister swears by this book. I haven’t read it, but I do like the concept of only keeping things that ‘spark joy’. It’s helped me clean out my bedroom a few times, and especially identify some books I didn’t really need to hold onto.

    • It’s a simple yet powerful guideline — as long as you can find joy in everyday things, otherwise you will end up with no sweatpants or screwdrivers.

  18. I need to read this book! I keep our town house quite neat because clutter gives me anxiety, but I’m sure I could add some more things to the donate pile after reading that book! 🙂

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