Last year, like everyone else, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I’ve historically been a defender of physical mess. In college I even felt pride when friends expressed surprise at my messy room – I took it to mean that I pass as a neat, competent person in public. And I feel like it defies an irksome stereotype that smart people (particularly women) are organized.
It may be a paranoia of mine, but I think there’s a different expectation of how smart women operate compared to smart men. A ‘ disorganized genius’ paradigm is more acceptable for men – it seems reasonable and typical that a smart, talented man might spend all his time focused on his work and his thoughts, leaving him with a living space cluttered with books, food, and other evidence of brilliance. Meanwhile, a smart, talented woman is assumed to be organized – she probably succeeded because in high school she kept neat binders with colorful tabbed separators for each of her classes. So Hermione Granger is portrayed as an earnest note-taker who draws up study schedules for herself and her friends, while I bet no one would assume over-tidying character traits for brilliant male students like Dumbledore or Snape.
It’s good to address stereotypes, but eventually I decided to prioritize my own happiness over personally rebelling against them. I think Kondo’s book advocates self-knowledge and prioritizing your personal space in a way that’s unrelated to my conception of potentially gendered and annoying neatness.
Summaries with Some Thoughts by Chapter
- Why Can’t I Keep My House in Order?
- Many “authorities” on organizing suggest that cultivating a gradual habit that move towards being more organized is the way to change the orderliness of your space, but these are unlikely to cause significant change. Instead, Marie Kondo urges the reader to seek the achievement of perfect organization in one major bout of tidying, as the recognition of a perfect space is necessary for the motivation to maintain a perfect space.
- I think this is great, because my main problem with conventional organizing is the earnestness and mental effort involved – effort I think should go towards more important pursuits. The seeking of a perfect space also appeals to me. When it comes to trivial things, often the best approach is to think very hard about it and finding an ideal solution, and then stop thinking about it altogether. This works better than deciding “I’m going to let myself waste a little bit of effort every day trying to be slightly more X.”
- On the other hand, I did have a great time throwing out one thing a day (or one class of things a day) for a month back in 2012. I think this is fundamentally different from the gradual habits that Kondo disdains, because I committed only for a month, and I meant for the change to be conscientious (I even wrote about what I threw out each day and why). This exercise altered my perspective because it revealed what objects are useful and it changed how often I acquired new things.
- Finish Discarding First
- The first step in Marie Kondo’s method is to examine every individual object you own and decide what to discard before making any decisions on where to place objects. Kondo suggests making discard decisions in categories, from least sentimental to most sentimental groups, and decide to keep only objects that “bring you joy.”
- I love the thoroughness of this approach and the innateness of the decision criteria. Kondo frequently disparages rule-based organizing tips, like “keep things that you’ve used in the past 12 months” or “keep shirts that work with at least three outfits,” and I agree – following conventional rules is being a slave to societal expectations, and a considered life doesn’t rely on other people’s rules of thumb. Joy, meanwhile, is visceral and internal, and if you’re not constrained by cash or availability of material goods, it’s easy to hold individual objects and decide “joy – yes or no?”
- Tidying by Category Works Like Magic
- This chapter gives more specific recommendations for specific categories of objects, for example, noting that books and papers are generally not needed, and that statements like “I might read this someday” do not reflect the presence of joy. Kondo also emphasizes the importance of reaching a critical, noticeable point of tidying where the objects you keep feel inexplicably right.
- It’s funny how after discarding by category, everything fits. For clothing, I used to have a full closet and four boxes within an ikea shelf unit, but now everything fits easily in the closet and one drawer under my bed.
- Storing Your Things to Make Your Life Shine
- After the paring down of owned things, Kondo moves on to storing objects in a way that maintains orderliness. She recommends storing things with the goal of making it easy to put away, rather than trying to anticipate use cases of objects. Having few, simplistic places to arrange objects visibly is the best.
- I found the point about ignoring use cases to be revelatory. It can feel so satisfying and clever when you need something and it’s right there, so it’s hard to admit that you’re wrong about use cases most of the time. For a long time I kept losing my scissors because I’d leave them close to where I last use them, expecting that I’d be nearby the next time I’d need them, but really this meant I often used nail clippers or knives for scissoring tasks when I couldn’t find my scissors.
- It’s also much easier to store your things when you have fewer things and the things you have all bring you joy. Storing things you don’t love is a chore.
- Folding things according to Kondo’s method is not hard. I thought that physics would prevent standing up fabric, but it works, and it’s uniquely delightful to pick out outfits from this configuration.
- The Magic of Tidying Dramatically Transforms Your Life
- Tidying up in one event leads people to gain confidence in their decision-making abilities and helps them uncover what is meaningful to them.
- I followed this process loosely, and it did help to clarify my priorities, but this have been more a result of progressing in my career or finding a supportive partner. I have more conviction about the stuff I still own. However, I don’t thank my objects on a daily basis.