So I finished reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing – a book by Marie Kondo, a Japanese tidying consultant. Because apparently that’s a job. Her basis premises for tidying is that:
- you should start by discarding a bunch of stuff before you even think about storing stuff
- you should sort through everything by category (as opposed to, say, by room) in the following order1
- everything else except mementos (she refers to this “everything else” category as “kimono” or miscellany)
- for each category, you put every single thing you own from that category into a big pile, then one by one, pick them up and use the following single criterion to decide what to keep (and, therefore, what to discard): “does this item spark joy in me?”
- once you have decided what to keep, then decide where to store it
- whenever possible, store things vertically and in drawers
- store all of the same category in one place and one place only (e.g., don’t store some clothes in your bedroom closet and other clothes on your spare room closet)
On a general level, I can get behind these premises. I’ve held onto things that I never use and don’t really like for reasons like “someone gave me that as a present”, “I might need it someday”2, and “I paid good money for that”3 None of these are actually good reasons. When you think about it, it’s kind of silly to feel guilty for getting rid of a present but not to feel guilty about leaving that same present at the bottom of a drawer where it never sees the light of day. Surely the gift giver didn’t intend that for it to be its fate. The other two excuses comes from my cheapness – I would hate to get rid of something only to then have to go buy that same thing later when I have a use for it. But Kondo points out a good way to think about this – if you think about the cost your home, do you want to use it to store stuff you don’t like/never use or do you want to actually enjoy your space? It’s like my supply chain management prof used to always say: inventory is evil! And saying “I paid good money for that” is just the sunk cost fallacy – you don’t get any of that money back by holding onto the object and if you aren’t using it/don’t enjoy it, you aren’t getting your money’s worth by holding on to it. And, when you think about the cost of your home and your limited square footage, you are essentially spending more money to store it! If it’s a useful object, you may as well donate it so at least someone can get some value out of it. Kondo’s other suggestion that is useful in this realm is to think a bit differently about the value that an object brought to you. For example, you can be grateful for all the times you got to use a piece of clothing that is now worn out. Or perhaps a gift served its purpose by making you happy that the giver was thinking of you and gave you that present (so it’s purpose was fulfilled when you received it). Or maybe a piece of clothing taught you that orange really isn’t a good colour on you, so now you’ll know not to buy any more orange shirts. I think it can be useful to think about things in this way so you feel less guilty about discarding them, and thus it will be easier to let go of them.
This, however, gets to the part where I can’t take seriously what Kondo instructs the reader to do. Basically, she tells you to talk to objects as if they were a person. Thank them for their service before you put them in the trash/donation pile. Say hello to your apartment every time you go home. Take every single thing out of your purse every time you arrive home and put it away, because don’t your objects deserve a home to rest in after they work hard for you all day?? How would you like it if you didn’t have a home?? Similarly, her rationale for storing things vertically is because the poor item on the bottom of a pile will suffer from bearing the weight of all the other items on top of it (as opposed to focusing on the idea that if you store things vertically in a drawer, you can see all of your items, whereas if you stack them, you forget about the item that’s on the bottom because you never see it, which is why I find it useful).
She also makes some outlandish claims. Like her claim that *none* of her clients have ever regressed to being untidy once they have followed her program. Or that if you follow her program you will lose weight, have clearer skin, find your dream job, have better relationships, etc. Of course, there’s no proof of any of this being what really occurs and it would far too easy for her to say that if anyone doesn’t achieve these things, they didn’t follow the program exactly. You didn’t take everything out of your purse when you got home. You weren’t sincere enough when you thanked that pair of jeans for their service. So basically anyone who remains tidy after completing her program must have done the program right, and anyone who doesn’t must not have done it right. She can’t lose!
At any rate, I feel like there’s enough stuff in the book that’s worth trying – I’ve already noticed a few items in my closet that I’ve thought “That doesn’t bring me any joy,” so I know at the very least I’ll purge some items that I’ve been holding onto for years. I also know that I have way too much in the way of papers and Kondo’s advice when it comes to papers is pretty much “throw all of it away!” She does make an exception for a few things that you should hold onto – she keeps talking about holding onto warranties (whereas I would have said to focus on keeping legal documents – tax returns, the deed to my home, my divorce papers, my will) – but for the most part, all the other papers people hold onto have a very low likelihood of ever being needed; if you do end up needing it, you can probably get that information online (or perhaps through contacting, for example, your bank to get an old statement should you ever need it). Even in the event that you need to do that, it will probably take less time than searching for it amidst piles and piles of papers (not to mention not needing to store all the paper that you don’t ever use). I think when I get to the papers category, I’m going to have a giant pile of things to get rid of!
I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures of my before and after piles and there will be a spreadsheet to track how much stuff I end up getting rid of vs. keeping. Because spreadsheets spark joy in me! I’m not sure exactly when I’ll start – I think I’ll need to find some dedicated time, as I think you need to do a category (or at least subcategories) all at once. But when I do, rest assured there will be photos and a spreadsheet. And probably graphs.
- Papers posted by stevenbley on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.
- Drawers posted by Andrea R on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.
- Patriotic Canadians posted by wacky stuff on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.
- Am I the only one who finds these categories a bit unbalanced? I mean, it’s like she thought of three categories and then went “fuck it, plus everything else!” To me dishes/pots/pans is a major category, as is toiletries, but she just lumps that together with everything else in your home. [↩]
- Why is it that so many of us hold onto old clothes saying “I might need it someday when I paint a room!”? You know how many rooms I’ve painted in my entire life? Exactly zero. [↩]
- Just ask Sarah how much useless crap I transported across the country when I moved to Vancouver, as she helped me pack it all while I constantly used those excuses when she said “Are you sure you want to keep this [insert name of piece of junk]?” I’ve gotten better at getting rid of stuff since then, but I still have a long way to go! [↩]