Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I try to be pretty light on my possessions, but I can always use more inspiration to clear more stuff out.  So I was curious to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo–though not so eager that I couldn’t handle waiting when 400 other people were in line at the library before me!  The book got to me eventually, and it was interesting…though a little odd too.

A fairly slim book, Kondo lays out her method for clearing out possessions, and why her views are different than some of the conventional wisdom.  She advocates for one massive tidying-up, and promises you will then be so inspired to keep things tidy that you will never have to do this again.  It starts with discarding–but rather than choosing what to throw out, she recommends going through your possessions by category (clothes, books, papers, kitchen items, etc), picking up each item, and keeping only those that give you “a thrill of joy.”  Naturally this means a radical reduction in what you keep.  At that point, find a place for everything, and keep it that way.

At the root, I think she has some good ideas, though she gets rather hyperbolic about the universal and absolute success rate of her methods.  Still, certainly cutting down possessions is key to keeping a home neat, and I absolutely believe in a neat home for inner serenity (or, as Gretchen Rubin says, “Outer order contributes to inner calm.”)  I like the idea of only owning things you love…except Kondo doesn’t make much allowance for things like, say, a cutting board.  I don’t love it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need it.

But maybe Kondo loves all her practical belongings too.  Which leads me to where it gets a little odd.  Some of this may be cultural differences or translation problems, as the book was originally written in Japanese.  Kondo waxes very enthusiastic about loving all your possessions, and also waxes enthusiastic about the way they love you back.  Right down to your socks wanting to serve you, and you should place them properly in the drawer so they can rest when you’re not wearing them.

Kondo and I clearly view different objects as being of different importance.  After going on about how to keep your socks happy, she moves to the book category.  She wanted to discard a number of books with quotes she liked.  First she thought of writing out the quotes, or copying the pages, but it was too much trouble…so she ripped out the pages she wanted to keep.  !!!  Every book-loving friend I have mentioned this to has shared my horror.

As this suggests, I can’t say I don’t personify objects at times–but Kondo (apart from her book murdering) is on a whole other level in how she regards her belongings.  And I honestly find something sad about it.  She uses her own life as an example and discusses how she came to this philosophy and method.  Near the end of the book she talks about her childhood, that she felt ignored as a middle child and had trouble making friends.  And then she remarks, fairly in passing, that she first learned about unconditional love not from her friends and family, but from her possessions.

And then it all makes more sense–not as an insightful philosophy, but as a child’s coping method.  And that’s sad.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t good ideas in here, or suggestions that would be helpful.  It’s a run-away bestseller, more than 400 people wanted it at the library, and I did clear out two bags-worth of books from my shelves (all with every page intact!!) after reading it.  But I still have to look at this a little bit sideways and wonder how healthy this philosophy is when taken to an extreme.  Not a bad book–but one I have to read with quite a bit of salt.

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
The Frugal Girl
Grechen’s Closet
Grumbling Grace
Anyone else?

Buy it here (though I wonder if Kondo herself would advise it?) : The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

  1. dianem57

    I haven’t read her book yet, but I want to. I think there must be some translation issues and cultural differences to contend with. But yet I think she would have ideas to offer, especially to a culture that is so driven by consumerism and the collection of ever more stuff. The Japanese seem to value minimalism much more than we do as Americans. I like that and I think we can learn from that. Her methods might be a bit odd, but we can take from her what is useful and disregard what is not. I was also interested in Gretchen Rubin’s review of her book since they both value order so much.

  2. Nicole Nally

    I’ve read it too and those things that you’ve pointed out did strike me as a little odd as well. But I implemented her method on my clothes and managed to clear out a lot of stuff that just wasn’t right for me. 5 bags in fact. It’s definitely a book to read and worth implementing some of the methods when you’re wanting a BIG change.
    Glad I wasn’t the only one who found the possessions thing a little odd.

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