Book reviews, Collectibles, Organizing

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

I am not by nature a minimalist.  I love things like paper and fabric and vintage art and doodads of all shapes and sizes. My rooms have always been full and most of the time that has felt good to me, cozy even. But then sometimes comes that creeping feeling of burden. Of too much. Of being sick of constantly tripping over things, tired of having to move things out of the way to get to other things. It is a heavy, uncomfortable feeling. Perhaps you know it? Since you are reading a blog dedicated to the love of stuff, I am guessing you might.  And while we may both recognize this feeling, perhaps we can also agree that it is often a very hard feeling to act upon? Much work will be involved. Upheaval. And letting go. Sometimes it takes a crisis to force the issue. A few weeks before Christmas, we realized that our hot water heater had sprung an unfixable leak. Water had been seeping under a wall and into my studio for an undetermined amount of time. It was Christmas crazy time and I had been spending every waking hour shuttling small people between Nutcracker performances and holiday pie parties (yes, that is a thing now) so I wasn't spending much time in the studio. The first I noticed of the leak was a musty wet smell. I was poking around in stacks of craft supplies in search of the origin of this elusive and undesirable smell (all the while hoping not to find a dead rodent) when I realized that my slippers were wet. Wet? how...? Water? WATER!!

None of these things that I love enjoy seeping water surrounding them. In fact they are positively finicky about water, one sniff and they begin to change and morph into things far less pretty then they should be. So, I had a big challenge on my Let the husband worry about the broken hot water heater, I was on a mission to save all the goodies. Luckily, the water was fairly isolated so I could merely relocate the stuff from that area to another area and voila! Good plan...except all the other areas were also full of stuff.

And so a 12 hour game of Tub Tetris began. Pack a tub, move it to the storage room. Move all other tubs around to accommodate it. Repeat, trying not to trip on the first tub as you are doing so. And again and again and again.  Plastic tub towers began growing taller and taller. Ran out of plastic tubs, started using cardboard boxes. At the end I was damp, exhausted and convinced--something must be done here. Although I could never admit it before, this *is* actually too much stuff.

I wanted to include a pic of my storage room--this is all real folks--nothing pinteresting here. But the unedited photo was way too embarrassing so I had to employ my abysmal photoshop skills to pretty it up a bit.

The only way to relieve this feeling is to purge. Organizing, while great, won't really help you--or at least not for long. You must whittle down that tall tower of plastic tubs to a smaller tower of plastic tubs. I like to think of it as "deaccessioning"--which is what museums do when they sell off some of their treasures that they can't store or use any more. For letting go of treasures is a process and a sometimes painful or difficult one. But there is a payoff at the end--a burst of energy and air and a feeling of space around you that brightens and refreshes. The bonus is the certainty that you will find something awesome that you forgot you owned.

Enter the genius that is Marie Kondo, organizational guru and author of the new wildly popular book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Kondo has come up with a new way of approaching clutter and she calls it the KonMari Method. If you are a reader of craft or lifestyle blogs, you have probably heard of this drastic but effective method.

The book is deceptively small but it packs a lot of ideas and practices between its covers, many of which run counter to current organizational advice. Kondo states "tidy a little a day and you'll be tidying forever." (p 15) which makes the previously liberating idea of getting rid of 5 things a day seem like a perpetual drag. "Storage experts are hoarders" (p. 22) is not a headline you will see on any lifestyle magazine's January cover but it made me laugh that rueful "I am laughing because this makes me uncomfortable with it's truthiness" laugh.  "Starting with mementos spells certain failure" (p. 44) is another truth not universally acknowledged--who hasn't had a planned afternoon of organizing the filing cabinet be swallowed up by an envelope of forgotten photographs from your college room mates wedding ten years ago?

This is not to say that the book and method are without faults. Kondo can be a bit overzealous, as when she describes whittling down her book collection by tearing out the chapters that she wants and throwing away the rest. And there is an understanding of relative spaces involved that seems to have gotten lost in translation. Kondo is Japanese (the book is translated to English by Cathy Hirano) and she describes clients going through every one of their possessions in their living spaces at once, in the time frame of a day or two. I don't care if you can move with the cartoon rapidity of Speedy Gonzalez, no one is going to be able to sort all the possessions in this house in 48 hours, even if Red Bull is involved. (which it isn't--I always feel like it is going to give me a heart attack.) So although she recommends making your sorting a special occasion and letting nothing interrupt your progress, I have had to adjust and allow eating, sleeping, showering and working to have their place. I am expecting my thorough sorting to take about six months total.

Kondo repeats a certain idea frequently--that your possessions should give you joy. It is a sensation that she asserts that you will feel when you are physically touching the object. If that feeling is absent, the object should be released to find another home where it is needed more. Kondo asserts that you must touch each and every object you own to determine if the feeling of joy is present and as wacky as that sounds, I have found it to be true. She calls it "joy" but to me it isn't a happy feeling so much as a feeling of the aliveness of the object. In the past, I have occasionally had difficulty in letting go of objects that I had once had plans for but this time, if it doesn't feel "alive" I am okay with letting it go. I have other plans and projects now and I need the space, both literally and symbolically. Kondo makes a point to encourage you towards understanding that objects often come in to our lives for reasons other than what we might perceive. Once the object has fulfilled it's purpose, it no longer has "joy" for you and should be released to make it's way to the next person who has need of it.

So far I have gone through all of our children's books and released several hundred books. Our filing cabinet has been cleaned out and ten years worth of utility bills shredded. In the studio I have made great progress in completely emptying a closet that was previously jammed with supplies. Art paper, beads, ribbons, buttons and tons of other mixed media goodies have, like Elvis, left the building. Some have been passed on to friends, some have been given to a local after school art program and others have been bagged, priced and thrown into a box marked "yard sale". As I go further in to this tidying up process I hope to share my progress with you, including details on how to most effectively get rid of the things that don't give you joy.

There is a passage where Kondo states that "tidying up is a dialogue with one's self". And I spend plenty of time dialoguing with myself about all manner of things, but I am curious about what you have to say as well. Have you read Marie Kondo's book? Tried her method or rolled your eyes at the idea that you are crushing the life and soul from your t-shirts by stacking them? Do you feel joy or life when you touch certain objects? Do you think there are things that you are ready to let go of? Let's talk.