Comedy plus Decluttering: A Winning Combination

Last year I finally got around to doing something that was popular long ago (a sentence said with startling regularity in my life…): I read (affiliate link) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.

And today, I finally do something I planned last year: write a review of it. (The editorial urgency around here is palpable.)

Maybe I’m a bit late to the party, but Ms. Kondo has another follow-up book, so she’s always in the news nowadays. Timely!

Plus, in one of the safest bets ever, I’d wager the lion’s share of my readership hasn’t read it. Informative!

Finally, I think I may be the first dude to have ever read this book. Groundbreaking!

 

I picked this book up to be entertained, not to improve my tidying skills. I had read reviews that mentioned some of the incredibly amusing and goofy things Ms. Kondo does. I needed a reading break with something light, and this slim volume available from the library fit the bill. I thought it’d be worth a good chuckle.

The book begins with Ms. Kondo making a compelling case that she could use some time with a therapist:

  • Growing up her favorite activity at school was tidying up the classroom
  • As a kid, she threw away a lot of her family members’ stuff without telling them – it served the greater good of tidying, you see
  • She feels that folding clothes properly is an expression of love that transmits positive energy into them
  • She treats her belongings like living things
    • She talks to her purse and admires how it is so dedicated (it never complains!)
    • She thanks her shoes for their hard work every day
    • She thinks socks need to rest and recuperate at night (folded properly, natch)

So, yeah. Her mindset is a little…unconventional.

But sensing I’m about to lose you, I’ll deliver a stunning revelation:

This was the best book I read in 2016.

Ms. Kondo is a crafty lass. She’s brutally honest with herself and shares these painfully amusing vignettes not so you’ll question her mental state (though you might…), but rather to show you the experiences and thinking that guide her now-famous “KonMari” (a play on her name) system of tidying.

As I slowly switched from laughing at her to nodding my head, I realized that she was often just stating things that lurk in our subconscious. I actually HAVE felt quite close to some of my possessions. I haven’t had a chat with them, or thanked them for their hard work, but maybe I should have.

What I Liked

Her focus is not on deciding what to get rid of, but on what you should keep. This is the central theme – your stuff should “spark joy”. All you have to do is figure out what will spark joy (discarding everything else) and then store it. It sounds easy, but it can be very hard, especially with nostalgic mementos. She devotes several chapters to help you out with just that.

“Tidying” for her is the beginning, not the end. After you’ve got your stuff in order, you can have the life you’re supposed to have. There’s advice ranging from the practical (“You will never use spare buttons”) to the sublime (“You’ll be surprised at how many of the things you possess have already fulfilled their role.”).

The most Zen-like moments are at the end, when she points out that you’re going to have to deal with your stuff at some point, so why not today? She fights the nostalgia and fears for the future that make us cling to stuff we should let go.

What I Didn’t Like

My modest criticism of the book includes:

  • “Tidy” is an awkward-sounding verb and appears about 10,000 times throughout the book. But my wife says that’s not on Ms. Kondo – it’s the English language’s fault for not having a good translation. OK.
  • Her suggestion that you tidy in one fell swoop rather than over time is well-intended but just not practical. (Or is it? I think her secret strategy is that you’ll be so tired at the end that nothing can “spark joy” and you’ll clear out vast swaths of stuff in an instant.)
  • She didn’t have a kid when she wrote this. I’ll be curious to see her minimalist paradise of joy-sparking awesomeness now that that she’s got a little one.

One charge often levied against Ms. Kondo is that she’s a bit extreme: she’ll have you tossing out practical but non-joy-sparking items you may later need. You don’t have to follow her blindly, though, so I didn’t have a problem with that.

The Verdict: Entertaining and Highly Informative

I think Ms. Kondo may lose some folks mid-way because she is so unique. But if you read to the end, you’ll realize there’s a ton of wisdom in this slender volume. I’ve definitely bought into the “KonMari” method of tidying (yet another sentence I never thought I’d write).

It’s a quick, entertaining read. If you want to giggle at some interesting cross-cultural eccentricity, this book may be for you.

If you want help with decluttering (even if you’re a 40-something dude), it’s definitely for you. Before you know it, you’ll be excitedly living Ms. Kondo’s words:

“Your tidying festival has begun.”

 

Also by Marie Kondo (and also an affiliate link):

Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

Not sure when or if I’ll review that one, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

 

Have you read Ms. Kondo’s master work? Is it next in your queue? (Most importantly) Are you disappointed in me for liking it? Let me know in the comments.

 

9 thoughts on “Comedy plus Decluttering: A Winning Combination

  1. I read the book last year with great skepticism as I am organized and somewhat of a minimalist by nature but my sister was reading it and recommended it. Surprisingly, I learned several things and have incorporated some of Ms. Kondo’s suggestions to great success. One concept she espouses, “like with like” has been especially valuable. It is a small thing but moving all first aid items, cleaning supplies, office supplies, etc. to one place makes it easy to see what I have and to find things. I was REALLY against the idea of vertical storage but tried it and was shocked to find how much neater items remained and how easy it was to see what I have.

    I haven’t started thanking my things for their service but I do look at them with more gratitude and more easily make a decision to move things on when I am done with them. Other systems seem to be about containers and storage systems where Ms. Kondo addresses much more than that and I appreciate that she discourages the reader from going out to buy storage containers. At the heart the book is about identifying what you love and letting go of everything else.

    • I totally understand the skepticism – if you had wagered I’d be embracing some of Kondo-san’s wisdom after reading this book I would’ve bet you all day long.

      Like with like is a key bit of advice, and it also highlights the efficiency of her system. The vertical storage (including in a drawer) is also pretty amazing. The counter intuitiveness of many of her recommendations are why the book is so valuable – you’d never discover them on your own.

      I did find the storage bit surprising – she’s really not into advanced systems or complex solutions at all. Part of the reason is that she spent so many years perfecting them, only to find that wasn’t the root issue – we have her lifelong obsession to thank for that!

      You’ve summarized the book’s philosophy really well in your final sentence – thanks for the note.

  2. Ah, I’ve heard of this book! I do find it interesting–after all, most Americans do own too much crap nowadays. While I think some tidying is good, sometimes the obsession with minimalism and throwing things out goes too far. For example, sometimes it’s beneficial to hang on to things because they’re useful down the road. I save old tin cans without a specific purpose, but they’ve really come in handy for several projects. It’s okay to keep things a little untidy. 😉

    • If you think the obsession with throwing things out goes too far, just wait til you read this book 🙂

      It is definitely worth it for the entertainment value alone, but I was surprised (as was Barb above) that it had some really meaningful insights. You should definitely give it a try (but just know Kondo-san would roll her eyes at your tin cans…).

    • Kondo-san has a great comment in the book. To all of the people who are saving stuff to look at / go through / enjoy “someday”, she says “I can tell you now that ‘someday’ never comes.” You’re just saving it up for your kids to go through and struggle between wanting to throw it out and thinking (probably incorrectly) that it must’ve been important to you somehow.

      She also adds that the spirits of items want to be released if they’re no longer wanted. So you should probably factor that in your planning too 🙂

  3. I have to admit that I’ve never read the book but I’m definitely familiar with it. So many people have raved about it. I am/was skeptical that a book about tidying would capture my interest but I’m definitely going to add it to my queue and at least give it a shot. Thanks for sharing!!!

    • It’s definitely a skepticism-raising work, but I think you’ll find it worth the modest investment. I don’t have much in common with Ms. Kondo and definitely don’t want to pattern my life after hers, but many of the takeaways were universal.

      If you do read it, let me know how you like it – I’d love another guy’s perspective. Thanks!

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