I don’t know Marie Kondo, but she changed my life.

For those of you who don’t know, Marie Kondo is the author of, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” It’s a book about tidying up your living space, but little did I know, it would lead to a clear sense of self and my purpose in life.

How it works:

Discard anything that doesn’t spark joy.

Spark Joy = Basically boils down to whether or not something contributes to making you feel good.

If you feel nothing, or even worse, negative feelings, then you throw it away.

The process took a while, but I forced myself to dedicate an entire month to it and do it all in one go. She has a step-by-step process that goes a little bit like this:

- Clothes
- Books
- Papers
- Miscellaneous items (CDs, electrical equipment, stationary)
- Sentimental items

Clothes was easy, I only wear a couple of pairs pants, shirts, and maybe two jackets. Everything else has just been collecting dust in my closet. Sadly, some of them still had their tags on them. I took out several garbage bags of old clothes and sold them to second-hand shops and donated the rest to Goodwill.

I did the same for my books.

The money I made from selling the used items were funneled back into tidying up my room. Fortunately, with her system, I didn’t have to spend much, as she encourages working with what you have.

I made my way slowly down the list throughout the month and eventually got to a point where I was stuck. My bedroom was empty at this point and I spent about two weeks in limbo trying to figure out what to do with the remainders. The main question = To keep? Or not to keep? Most of these things were old notebooks, pictures, and other sentimental items that were harder to let go.

Marie says to hold every item in your hands and notice how you feel with each item. If it doesn’t provide good feelings then perhaps it is time to let it go. This even applies to things that once made you feel good, but not anymore.

I kept the book on my couch the entire month, referring back to it several times throughout the process. What really helped me was the idea that many items in our lives may have already served its purpose, and if they have done so, then we must have the courage to let it go. Not only does this apply to the physical objects we keep, but it also applies to the relationships we sustain throughout a lifetime. We don’t have to hold onto all the things that come into our lives forever.

Realizing this, things picked up again and I was able to tidy everything up by the end of the month. What helped was finding items that I really loved. It’s easy once you feel that surge of happiness, because then you have a reference point of “joy” you can work off of. I discarded old gifts, postcards, pictures from the past, holding onto only a few items that really made me feel good… things I loved: My very first trophy when I played soccer as a little kid, foreign currency I have left over from my travels, and a handful of my favorite books.

As stated in the book, what I discovered is when you begin to tidy up, and free yourself of clutter, you begin to get a clear look at yourself. It was a bit daunting, because you clean up your living space expecting to feel 10x better after it’s all said and done, but there’s still a part of you that feels a bit cluttered, a part of you that still needs a little bit of tidying up… and you realize that it’s no longer about the space, it’s just about you.

For me it was an issue of being too much of a perfectionist. The two week limbo period made sense. I couldn’t figure out a way to put everything so my room would be perfect. It symbolized my life; and the detrimental effects of having unrealistic standards and being too hard on myself. It became a lesson in allowing my life to be a little bit messy, and to be okay with that. Funny how cleaning one’s room can help you make these personal discoveries.

The most powerful part of going through this process was not just having a tidier room, but noticing the things I missed. During the tidying process, I completely emptied my room. What was once a reflection of who I was suddenly became a blank canvas. And with that, I started noticing the things I wanted to bring back into my living space… back into my life. Reading. Writing. Photography. This blog. I wanted it back, and like a shining light at the end of the tunnel it all became so clear what it is that I must do. It’s simple really. Just keep pursuing the things that interest you and eventually you will have an entire life that sparks joy. My room is a reflection of that now, surrounded only by the things that I love, absent of the things that no longer serve me, and open space for the person that I am growing into.

If you have been going through some difficulties in your life, as odd as it may sound, perhaps tidying up your living space could be of help.

Thank you, Marie Kondo.

by Jason Lam

Originally published at on May 17, 2016.