The life-changing magic of tidying up

the japanese art of decluttering and organizing — Marie Kondo

A new entry on my series of book summary + review. A friend gave me this book recently, coincidentally when I’m about to move across country and deciding what to discard. It was a very inspiring read and I hope to share some of the learning I got from that book with you in this post.

I have read and considered different discarding methodologies through time and I have never found one that works well for me. Most methods teach creative ways to make better use of your space to organize thing and have your place look tidy. Other methods propose to chose what to discard based on utility, time since last use or monetary value. Her method focuses on first discarding the things that don’t make you happy, finding a good place for everything and maintaining the low footprint, the advice is pretty good for physical possessions and other decisions in life.

There are five parts to the book, understanding what’s keeping you from keeping your things in order, discarding, sorting by categories, storing correctly and recognizing how to apply this in your life.

Why can’t I keep my house in order?

Many people attempt to get rid of things and then organizing, but not having a proper methodology will prevent you from doing it correctly, doing it little by little also doesn’t help. She recommends using a good methodology, aiming from perfection from the start, doing it in a single sitting and consider it a special event.

The most important part taught in this chapter is understanding why do you want to keep your things tidy. We all have different reasons, but most of us can agree that our goal is to be happy, productive and dedicate our time to the activities we love. If you are clear on your goal and you internalize that having a tidy place will help you towards it performing all the activities will be a pleasure and maintaining the tidiness will be much easier, almost like an automatic process. Unlike other things we do in life, once you’re done you will see automatic results, and there’s no need to compare yourself to others, your progress is your personal decision, yours and only; it’s not about having the least amount of things or becoming an expert on storage, is about having only the things that make you happy and keeping them in a way you can reach them when you need them.

Finish discarding first

Before starting to tidy up and putting everything away it is very important that you get rid of all the things you won’t need and to understand what space is available for you. Do all the discarding at once, by categories, visualize your destination, and do it by yourself. Deciding what to get rid of is a very personal decision, some throw away lots aways, others have already very little. The important thing is to look at thing by thing and ask yourself, does this bring me joy? if so, keep it, if not put it away. Keep only those things that speak to your heart.

Do the work by categories, starting with the things is easier to classify so you can improve on your process with time. Don’t start classifying by location, find all the things that belong to a category and put them together, otherwise you might forget stuff tucked away in some drawer or box and that can interfere with your process.

Organize your things in that order. Starting with clothes is usually the easiest, we know how to tell when clothes are too old to keep, what we won’t ever wear or need to keep around anymore. Books are a bit harder, since we tend to keep books we think we love or we want to read in the future. Mementos are best left for last, to discard once you have mastered the method. Don’t keep things that you feel you might use but are not sure, try not to look at things by their cost. Keep with yourself only the things that make you happy.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

Tidying by category works like magic

This is mostly a continuation of the previous chapter, but it goes in depth into every category, with special and lengthy advice to help you recognize how to select things in every category. Including sub-categories like off-season clothing, work documents, manuals, electronics and the sort.

Couple of things mentioned in this chapter are, don’t consider storing things at your parent’s or storage unit as discarding, when you’re getting rid of something go all the way; and, trust your intuition, only you know what makes you happy.

Storing your things to make your life shine

After you decided what are you keeping and got rid of the rest start putting things away. The chapter comes with a lot of details on how to fold your clothes correctly, what where to put them, what not to do and how to better take advantage of your new space.

A few highlights from the chapter. There’s no need for specialized storage products, once you learn to organize correctly you’ll find that your house probably has more than enough space. Never pile things vertically or in a way that you won’t be able to easily distinguish them. Don’t store things by ‘flow’, put all everything on the same category together, even if it seems inconvenient at first having to go to your bedroom to to fetch a battery, having things in their place will make it easier to maintain your home tidy for longer. Unpack everything as soon as you get it and get rid of the boxes, tags and put your new belongings where they correspond. Avoid labeling and marking things, they will add more noise than benefit.

The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life

Keeping your house in order will help you realize what you really want to do, specially after you ensure that everything around you brings you joy. Letting go is a hard thing, and with this process you learned a lesson that you can now use in the rest of your life. You can look at your friends, relationships, work and other activities and apply a similar principle. Consider when you go shopping, does this bring me joy? and if the answer is not avoid it. Use this new found confidence of yours to help guide your decisions and live a happier life.

Look at the things you didn’t love but yet you had trouble getting rid of, the reasons tend to be either anxiety for the future, or an attachment to the past. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life. A person that has anxiety about the future will cling to harmful relations afraid of being alone. Someone attached to the past will have trouble moving on to a new place or work. The process of selecting things can be quite painful and it can force you to confront your imperfections and inadequacies. That’s why she’s against letting things pile up or throwing things away indiscriminately; alone take everything piece by piece and think about the joy it brings or not. You can face your fears and recognize what is important to you now and achieve much more.

I hope that this summary was helpful and you soon get started on a path that can change your life for the best. I recommend buying the book if you want to get the full thing, I found it very valuable and you might too, there’s also a few videos online, or you can hire their consultants if reading is not your thing.

Bonus video of her on YouTube folding clothes and discussing her method.