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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying - Book Review

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by KJ (subscribe)
Published July 17th 2016
A book of tips & advice from decluttering expert Marie Kondo

Originally published in Japan in 2011, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying was written by professional de-clutterer Marie Kondo and has become an incredibly popular book worldwide.

Like many others, I really enjoyed the book and it made me change the way I look at my belongings and household items.

Marie seems to understand and appreciate the attachment that people can develop to 'things' (even if they don't use them). She offers wisdom and gentle advice such as:
Encouraging readers to 'let go' - both emotionally and physically - of things that no longer serve them. This may include a dress that has never been worn or a book that they bought years ago and planned to read 'someday'.
Understanding that the purpose of a gift is to be received, and that gifts are less about the physical object, and more about being a means of conveying someone's feelings. Marie believes that people shouldn't feel guilty for letting go of an item that was received as a gift, if it doesn't spark joy or suit their tastes.
Being considerate when decluttering, by not passing items onto family members to store, or pressuring family members into taking discarded clothing. As Marie says, "We need to show consideration for others by helping them to avoid the burden of owning more than they need or can enjoy" (p. 66)

Marie's experience in decluttering is evident throughout the book, as she relates stories about situations she's encountered in client's houses, and how this experience has enabled her to refine her decluttering methods.

She believes that decluttering and tidying should be seen as an event, to be performed "thoroughly and completely within a short span of time", rather than the more common method of tidying "little and often".

I didn't follow all of the tips and systems outlined in the book, however some of the tips that I found particularly useful were:

Declutter Your Electrical Cords
"Keep only those cords you can identify and get rid of the rest"

Marie Kondo, Quote, Electrical cords
Our box of electrical cords

We used to have a huge box of electrical cords, cables, USBs, TV antennas etc that we'd unwittingly collected over the years. I didn't realise how many doubles we had until I went through and sorted them.

We discarded about three-quarters of what we had (mostly cords for items that we no longer own) and downgraded to a smaller box, freeing up some cupboard space.

Overall, we kept more cords/cables than Marie recommends, simply because the cords were in working order, and we'd prefer to have a small box of cord 'clutter', than to spend money on new cords, in the event that one breaks or we need to connect a new device.

Fold and Take Care of Clothing and Linen

Unfortunately, I'm guilty of stuffing fitted sheets into cupboards without a second thought.

One of the things that Marie Kondo emphasises is the importance of showing respect towards belongings, and one of the ways of doing this is taking care folding linen and clothes (even socks). According to Marie, socks should not be rolled, but instead folded, and stockings should also be folded (not tied in a knot).

Sort Your Photos Last
"Photos tend to emerge from the most unexpected places when we are sorting other categories, [so] it is much more efficient to put them in a designated spot every time you find one and deal with them at the very end"

I thought I was quite organised with my photos, but random photos turned up everywhere once I started sorting. I got a storage container and put the photos in as I found them, to sort through once I'd finished doing the rest.

Discard and then Store
"Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and some 'new' and easy storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral."
KonMarie, Marie Kondo, Storage Boxes
Marie Kondo suggests that clients resist the urge to purchase storage products until you've discarded items you no longer need.

Marie explains that tidying must start with discarding things first, and then once you've decided what you want (and need) to keep, you can start to store things away.

In the past, I've found myself taking the quick and easy option of storing things away (out of sight, out of mind) instead of taking the time to consider whether I really want to keep them. Since reading the book, I've started to set aside time to sort and discard, instead of storing straight away.


The Tips I didn't Follow:
While many of the sections resonated with me, some pieces of advice didn't really apply or seem seem practical for my household situation. Some of these included:

Decluttering papers - Discard Most of Them and Don't Keep Multiple Files and Folders

Marie Kondo advises, "My basic principal for sorting papers is to throw them all away...I recommend you throw out anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited time, and must be kept indefinitely"
Marie Kondo, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
I use a selection of basic, 2-ring binders to store documents

I decluttered a lot of my papers (old rental leases, electricity bills, payslips etc) after reading the book. However, I still use my 2-ring binder system (with separate folders for household documents, car documents, tax and employment documents etc) and hang onto more documents than she suggests.

If you do plan on discarding old papers and you've moved around a lot, I strongly recommend keeping at least one document with each of your previous addresses on it. The reason for this is that some organisations may require proof of a past address (eg. The state Revenue Office in Victoria requires proof of past addresses if you find and lodge a claim for unclaimed money)

Another source of papers that I didn't cull as much as Marie recommends, was my children's artwork. I've reduced it down a fair bit, but not quite to the level recommended in the book.

Sort by Category, not by Location

"When we tidy each place separately, we fail to see that we're repeating the same work in many locations and become locked in a vicious circle of tidying. To avoid this, I recommend tidying by category"

An example of sorting by category is gathering all of your books together in one place (cook books, children's books, textbooks etc) and sorting them in one go.

While I understand the reasoning behind this, in our household (with three children), I generally found it easier to sort by location, by going through each room, one at a time.

Ask the Question, "Does it Spark Joy?"
When considering whether to keep or discard an item, Marie advises readers to handle each item and ask themselves, "Does this item spark joy?".

I found this to be a good guide with my belongings, but I'm also conscious of the fact that in a household that's shared with four other people, there are many items that don't spark joy for me (noisy toys, high-pitched recorders etc) but definitely spark joy for other family members.


Overall, I really enjoyed the book and got a lot out of it.
I'd recommend it to most people, but I'd also suggest that each person takes into account their own, unique household situation and their preferred method of tidying.

If you feel as though you're suffocating due to the amount of clutter in your home and need a drastic change, then Marie Kondo's approach may be perfect, however if you are happy with the items you have, but just want your house to be a bit more tidy, then perhaps just take some of the ideas from the book, to suit your lifestyle.

Marie Kondo, Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, Back cover of Book
The blurb on the back cover of the book

One thing I'll also mention is that the book doesn't contain any illustrations, so if you're more of a visual person and like diagrams and step-by-step instructions, I'd recommend Marie's recently-released follow-up book titled, 'Spark Joy', which goes into greater detail and includes illustrations showing folding techniques, how to organise cupboards and drawers and more.
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Your Comment
Brilliant review, KJ, very balanced and informative.
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12626) 2328 days ago
I am currently reading this book, (but my copy has a pretty Japanese floral cover). It is very interesting reading Marie's ideas, but you are right about taking on board what is relevant to you.
by Jenny Prior (score: 3|4244) 2329 days ago
A great review KJ. I'm pretty sure I could get a lot out of this book.
by Gayle Beveridge-Marien (score: 4|10118) 2328 days ago
I think I could take one or two tips from this book!
by Chloe Doyle (score: 3|1468) 2328 days ago
I was given this book as a birthday present but haven't looked at it yet. After reading this article I am now enthusiastic to read it and start organizing my life.
by carol (score: 0|3) 2327 days ago
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