The Life-Changing Magic of ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’
I read Marie Kondo’s book eight years ago; here are the lessons I still practice
Eight years ago I used Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up as a guide for cleaning out and organizing my childhood bedroom. I was a year out of college and still living in my parents’ house, and have a lifetime worth of stuff stuffed into that room: knickknacks and old toys making each year of childhood, magazine cut-outs of favorite celebrities from the teenage years, more books than could fit on my bookshelves, clothes old and new, and everything my sister left behind when she moved out.
It was a lot. Every cranny, nook, draw, and shelf was filled with something or the others. Possessions were easily lost and hard to find in the clutter. And almost everything in the room had some sort of sentimental memory attached to it.
Cleaning out that room was both a multi-day chore and an emotional journey. But it served me well in a practical sense when it came time for my move out of my parents’ house to my first place. It also served me well in an emotional, mental, and monetary sense as I looked more meaningful at how I sent my money, arranged my living space and attached emotions to objects.
Now, I haven’t done any big, Kondo-level sweep and reorganization since then, but there are four life lessons I picked up the Kondo method that I use in my regular cleaning, tidying, and organization life to this day and I don’t plan on giving up any time soon. Despite the Kondo method being a target for jokes and backslash, I bet these lessons are ones that you might just find powerful too.
How to fold my clothes
Let’s start with the most hands-on and practical lesson: how to fold your clothes and organize them in your bureau drawers. Before employing this method, I always struggled with keeping my drawers orderly. I would fold and stack clothes in the drawers only to mess it all up when I frantically dug through it all to find the shirt I was looking for.
I cannot adequately explain the method in text, so please go watch this video instead.
I’ve adapted this method to different dressers, with different clothes (the exception for the sock drawer), and have almost always not messy drawers (the expectation being when I stuff clothes back in unfolded in one of those I can’t find the right thing to wear panics) and almost always find the first garment without digging (the exception being when I have to find a specific black shirt amongst many black shirts).
If you struggle with messy or unorganized drawers, adapt the Kondo method and make your clothing side of your life just a little more organized.
Bend your organization to your lifestyle
One of Kondo’s organizational philosophy is once you have your junk cleaned and organized that you should remain tidy by (1) having a designated place for everything and (2) putting things away immediately instead of letting them pile up. I’ll be the first to admit to not always following the putting away things immediately trend. However, whenever I manage it for a few days in a row, I do see the effect. It is a habit I should try harder to change, but I digress…
But in pursuit of the two goals listed above, when choosing designated spots for items you should make these decisions to fit your life and not the other way around. Here’s an example from my life to illustrate.
When I moved into my new and current place, I put my shoebox of nail polish (because that is the type of person I am) on the bureau in the corner of my room. However, all my nail polish kept ending up on my desk because that I where I would paint my nails, partially because there was better lighting there. Instead of trying to force myself to return the nail polish to the dresser, I moved the shoebox of nail polish to my desk so they could get put away immediately.
So if you are trying to remain tidy or more organized, but your coat, your keys, your shoes, your whatever, keep ending up in a place other than the spot they are supposed to go, maybe reconfigure your space or how you are organized to fit into that natural flow in your life.
Obviously, we have limitations of how our living quarters are arranged, but consider how to make your organization fit the flow of your life in any room where you live.
‘Sparking joy’ to get rid of clothes
This is the most joked about part of Kondo’s books and methodology. The idea that people should declutter their possessions on the criteria of what brings you joy and what doesn’t. It is also the most misunderstood by people who just take it on a surface level. For example, many utilitarian things would, under Kondo’s definitions, spark joy — a toothbrush, an umbrella — by the nature of making our lives easier and more enjoyable. Even if they don’t spark the excitement of a beautiful piece of art or an x-box or whatever does it for you. However, if you have an umbrella doesn’t open right unless you jiggle it in the exact right way and is in fact more frustrating than useful…. No joy.
While I haven’t done a big Kondo-style clean out since the great childhood bedroom clean out described in the opening, I still semi-regularly clean out my clothes and shoes using this method.
Most people tend to slowly (or less than slowly) add things to their wardrobe over the course of a year. But over the course of the year, a lot of things can happen — our bodies change, our style shifts, or our lifestyle changes (different jobs/professions demand different types of outfits). Never mind the clothes we impulse buy but that we never seem to wear because it just doesn’t fit right or doesn’t match the rest of our wardrobe.
If you apply the philosophy of cleaning out your clothes with keeping that which ‘sparks joy’ and discarding the rest, you might find that you actually get the nerve to clean out all the clothes, shoes, and accessories that don’t fit right, don’t fit your style, looked good in the store but not at home, hope to fit into again someday, and so forth.
And once you clean out those clothes the first time, the upkeep of gleaning your wardrobe — like I do — only usually removes a handful of garments. You get better at buying clothes too when you realize the pattern of what you impulse buy and then never wear in reality. On top of all that, putting your outfits together in the morning gets a lot easier when your wardrobe is all clothes you like and fit you well.
More doesn’t mean more happiness
I am hardly a minimalist. I see the joy in having stuff in both a practical and aesthetic way. Nor am I a neat freak. I tend to live in a state of mild contained untidiness that, once getting over a certain threshold, gives me anxiety until I’m uncluttered again.
However, you don’t have to swing hard into being a minimalist or neat freak to glean practical tips and philosophical lessons from Marie Kondo’s book and philosophies. The goal of being a tidier or more organized person is not to pat yourself on the back because there is some inherent moral superiority in being tidy or organized. The goal is to make your life easier.
Kondo’s first step to being tidying is decluttering with her spark joy method with the end goal for there to be less stuff. Less stuff means less stuff to clean, to organize, to find a place for, to put away… you get the picture. With that less stuff, you can find organizational methods that fit the flow of your life and keep yourself a little tidier overall.
In a consumerist culture, sometimes it is hard to correlate “less” with a happier, easier, or more fulfilling life. To reiterate one last, lasting lesson from Marie Kondo consider this: Imagine looking at your bookshelf and every book on it is a book you love. Imagine looking at your closet and every garment is something you like wearing. Imagine not having to dig through your hall closet in a desperate rush to find the one umbrella that isn’t broken.
Wrapping it up
Honestly, I can’t recommend Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for anyone who feels overwhelmed by the amount of stuff they’ve accumulated. From the very opening passages, it is very clear she is a lady with a strong passion for being tidy and organized, and her guidance makes it less of a burden for the rest of us.