Book Review: The Simple Art of Simplifying

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Marie Kondo (2014)

In the ten months since reading this book, I’ve been amazed by the number of friends and acquaintances I’ve encountered who have purchased and/or read Life-Changing Magic, eager to tackle the clutter in their lives. Every time, I happily launch into an enthusiastic endorsement for the KonMari Method. I don’t exaggerate when I say, that for me, this was a truly transformative reading experience.

In case you haven’t heard, Japanese tidying expert Marie Kondo has become a one-woman industry, creating and marketing a “revolutionary” method of de-cluttering and organizing one’s living space. Her KonMari Method can be summarized in two words: spark joy. Basically, if an item doesn’t “spark joy” for you, then you happily let it go. Following Kondo’s advice, you begin by piling together everything you own of one particular type (starting with clothing) and then, after you marvel at the amount of stuff you own, take each item in hand and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If not, you thank it for whatever use, purpose, or meaning it had in your life, and then you let it go.

While this may seem overly simple (or perhaps stupid), the essence of Kondo’s method is liberating, even for someone like me who doesn’t tend to hold on to much stuff. Reading Kondo’s book gave me the freedom to go even further, jettisoning those things I’d kept because “some day” I might need/want/fit into/find a use for whatever was aging in my closets, cupboards, shelves, and under the bed. Everything found a new home. Books that friends had gifted or passed on to me that I knew I would never read were scattered among multiple Little Free Libraries, to be discovered by more interested readers. Clothing I was keeping just in case I ever needed them for a job interview (ha!) or formal event (ha ha!), were finally sprung from the closet. The same went for shoes spanning two decades and another lifetime ago. Everything was donated to the Salvation Army and a women’s shelter. Back issues of Cooks Illustrated were finally scanned and recycled. Tchotchkes that were gathering dust were thanked and passed along and old T-shirts with sentimental value were relinquished to the rag bag. Take a photo, it lasts longer!

Between the act of culling my stuff down to just that which gives me joy and learning how to organize items in the KonMari way—her folding method alone is reason enough to read this book—my home was simplified and organized for greater efficiency. I felt good about giving away clothing and items I wasn’t using, genuinely happy to send these neglected items off to a second life. With less stuff around, I felt lighter and happier. Using the KonMari Method to fold clothes, I suddenly had plenty of room for everything and, best of all, I could see everything I had. It was like gaining a new wardrobe, with forgotten items back in rotation.

With less stuff, I got smarter about organizing for accessibility and ease of use. Suddenly, I had room for everything in my linen closet and under the bathroom sink, and I could see at a glance what was there. My kitchen underwent the most dramatic overhaul. Dishes and kitchenware I’d bought or inherited but never used were liberated from the cabinets they’d been long stashed away in, and now I had room for everything I regularly use. I found a virtual garage sale page on Facebook and quickly started selling items of value and donated the rest. Now—and here’s a big win of the KonMari system—everything has a place, therefore everything is put back in that place, leaving the overall living space clean and tidy. And because everything has a place, it’s a self-perpetuating system of organization and clean surfaces.

So, enough about the method and back to the book itself. Self Help is not a genre I read, but after years of constantly fighting the wave of accumulating stuff in my household, the topic of this book spoke to me. Loudly. The book is small and easily read in a few hours. It’s also a tad repetitive so skimming speeds things up. Kondo’s philosophy is decidedly Japanese, where homes are smaller and space at a premium, and some of her ideas can seem wacky. For instance, she suggests drying your dishes outside and doesn’t believe in collecting books, urging people to keep just a few special volumes in an entryway cupboard or closet. Hardly!

Kondo also ascribes feelings to objects, which contribute to the ritual of acknowledging and thanking each item before letting it go. Take this sentiment for what you will. I personally like thanking each object for its role in my life, acknowledging the memory, and giving closure and permission to let go. It’s a ritual I can buy into.

At the very least (or perhaps I should say, the most) The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up sparked joy for this reader, giving me a fresh way to look at my belongings and deal with them in a productive, meaningful, and, I believe, lasting way.

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