The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — Book Summary

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo (Ten Speed Press, 2014)

A little bit about the author:

Tidying expert and consultant Marie Kondo wrote the New York Times bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I actually follow her on Instagram and I’m a bit fan of her new Netflix series, Tidying Up. You should give it a shot.

You could also take a look at her website KonMari.

Kondo writes with elegant minimalism and brevity, even when presenting her more incongruous ideas – such as that once you’ve read a book you should get rid of it, or that you should address your screwdrivers aloud and thank them for their service. She presents these notions in the same matter-of-fact manner with which she describes how to fold and roll socks. Her refusal to explain somehow makes these concepts seem almost reasonable.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — key points:

“Decluttering”

Do readers follow Marie Kondo’s advice?

She’s sold more than two million copies on guide to getting rid your unwanted and unneeded items. Her approach to decluttering is heartfelt, detailed, specific and ritualistic. She intends her directions to be actionable but does her commitment to this program and the spiritual benefits she envisions encourage readers to engage in.

But applying common sense would reveal that she provides myriad fine shortcuts that could replace her giant leaps, lessen the clutter in your home and conceivably make you feel better about yourself.

One small step might be considered in bulk what Kondo urges taking on one item at a time. Maybe a quick lap around your closet with a garbage bag in hand could produce some measure of the spiritual growth you’d earn contemplating each item of clothing on its aesthetic, joyful and soulful merits.

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Sparse but Sincere

Kondo, happily, turns out to be a profoundly uncluttered stylist. She writes – and Cathy Hirano translates from Kondo’s Japanese with sparse elegance and astonishing charm and likeability. Kondo skillfully avoids passive voice and offers instruction which more than 200 pages worth in a cheery, non-authoritarian style.

Happily, she prefers clear, short sentences which is great for speed reading but could be daunting if done while trying to follow her advice. Gracefully telling people what to do for that many pages is no easy feat, yet she does so with ease. Her message is simple. And she knows how to engage a reader.

Kondo is not a novelist. She’s a guide.

Be aware that her book is a manual of action, and she wrote it to be read and followed in segments. Her apparent intention is that you read a few pages and do everything she suggests in the order she recommends, step by step.

Depending on the segment and number of steps involved, decluttering your home according to her guidance should take about six months. If you have the dedication and concentration to devote six months of your spare time to her method, more power to you – and clearly amazing results.

So, carry out a couple of segments, and see what works for you and what does not.

When you complete a segment, she suggests reading a few more pages and following her guidance once again.

If you repeat this sequence as she offers throughout the book, the result will be that your home or office will have considerably less clutter.

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Rectangles and Buttons

Kondo’s ability to create scannable, fast-moving prose almost undermines her intention to have you work steadily from category to category. You may want to slow down a bit as you read the precise rituals she describes in minute terms.

She says to pick up and seriously regard each item in a category, consider its utility, and whether it “sparks joy,” and then keep it or after thanking it for its service, discard it. 

While you may follow some of Kondo’s advice, you may not end up scrutinizing every single item of clothing you possess, jettisoning those that don’t speak to your soul and folding each of the remaining items into the neatest, smallest rectangle you can manage. You also probably won’t throw out any garment missing a button.

Kondo’s button philosophy reflects her tendency to go a little too far in making a point. She wants readers to approach purging their belongings thoughtfully and with rigour. She describes precise techniques for each category of stuff: furniture, books, clothes, dishes, appliances, paperwork, and more.

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In pursuit of that paring down, Kondo maintains that any item of clothing missing a button is too old or in too poor a condition to wear.

She takes this position to underscore her dictate that you should throw out the extra buttons that come with your shirts, jackets and coats. Aside from simply being silly, this view suggests that Kondo operates in an income bracket that encourages rapid replacement of any slightly worn item. It also underscores one of her dominant themes:

Never be sentimental about anything you own.

Although, I would suggest being a little bit considerate and frugal when dealing with our personal items since we might not be making as much money as Kondo is. And wastefulness is a crime.

Careful Assessment

She urges you to thoughtfully assess the purpose and aesthetics of every item and she means every single item in your home: artwork, forks, sheets for guests, old love letters, the whole stack.

You must also assess your response to each item. For example :

  • Does a particular shirt or book or photograph stir your soul?
  • Does it give you joy?
  • Do you actually wear your supposedly beloved coat more than once a year?
  • How long has it been since you opened and read your favourite book or watched your favourite DVD?
  • Why do you keep those old postcards or ratty T-shirts?
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Though Kondo doesn’t often make her theme explicit, the deeper meaning of her considered sorting and heartless throwing away becomes increasingly clear the more pages you read.

Kondo calls herself a “cleaning consultant,” but her higher aim for her readers is mindfulness.

Core Connection

Kondo believes attachment to material things and excessive clutter reflect a disconnected state of mind. She holds that hoarding, collecting and refusing to throw out or becoming attached to possessions either reduces or obscures your awareness of your true emotions about your life and your past.

Therefore accumulated belongings reduce your consciousness of the moment-to-moment passage of your life. Kondo may tell you to throw away any shirt that loses a button, but she really means that you should contemplate your life and how you live it. And again, wastefulness is a crime.

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Reflect on the role of your possessions and whether your self-definition derives from what you possess. Can you throw away most of what you own without feeling diminished? Do you surround yourself with distractions that prevent you from understanding your soul and the true sources of your joy? The fewer distractions you cling to, Kondo argues, the more present you become in each moment.

In her chapter on komono, the Japanese word for “miscellaneous items” – Kondo asks point-blank:

  • Why do you hang onto all the unnecessary tiny things?
  • What good do they do you?
  • Do you cling to material objects “just because?”

If you do, these objects are likely to clutter your mind, spirit and soul as much as they clutter your home. Tossing them out makes for a neat home and also becomes a conscious act of liberation, meditation and enlightenment.

Kondo’s hit show on Netflix clearly demonstrates what her book suggests: she is witty, cheery, neat, happy and eager to share.

Learning from the show that she is not a hypocrite and that her persona reflects her prose only makes this book more likeable. So, you may really, really enjoy it.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do a single thing she suggests although it would be a good idea to try.

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up —Rating & Should you read the book:

I would rate The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — 7/10 for simplicity and 8/10 for practicality.

Although you could learn as much from her show as to reading her books.

She’s awesome. And there’s also KonMarie’s Spark Joy.

READ MY OTHER BOOK SUMMARY AND REVIEW

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Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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