Reviewing the Magic: The Marie Kondo Method of Tidying Up

 I don't usually review books.  Though I love to read, for the most part, anything on my bedside table is likely to be a mystery, something comedic or a biography.  Not exactly Entertaining Grace material.

Of late, however, I can barely open a web browser or read a news feed without hearing rave reviews about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - a book that's getting incredible amounts of attention for its "new" approach to decluttering and organizing.  As both of these topics are ones that I write about and research often, I felt I couldn't ignore the buzz and bought my own copy.

To begin with, I should say that I have a bit of a bias against books of this nature (hence, why you'll rarely catch me reading one).  In my opinion, anything that claims to be "life-changing" is, at best, egomaniacal and, at worst, snake oil.  I feel the same about trendy diet books - "cut out [select one] carbs/sugar/gluten/calories/fat/meat and you'll never have to diet again!!"   (Clearly they are completely unrealistic about my willingness to permanently give up Oreos).

To be fair, most of these books have SOME nuggets of truth in them - pieces of advice that are sound and based on longstanding proofs.  But anything that makes such grandiose claims (for example, this book claims in the introduction that, by following this method, you'll "never be messy again")  I tend to view with caution.

Aware of my prejudices, however, I did my best to go into reading the book with an open mind.  If the methods described were that revolutionary, perhaps a little bit of self-aggrandizing was warranted.

The Magic

Author Marie Kondo begins the book with an introduction that touts some pretty fantastic claims and even more enthusiastic reviews.  Multiple individuals credit the KonMari Method (please know how hard it is for me to not roll my eyes at the name - and the fact that she had to explain it) with not just improving their day to day lives and living situations but also being the impetus for following forgotten dreams, increasing business sales, improving marriages, encouraging a divorce (perhaps that's what improved the marriage...?), and losing significant amounts of weight.  By the end of the introduction, I felt fairly certain that spontaneous pregnancy or the gift of flight might be possible by the last chapter.  (Open mind, Emily-Grace, open mind...)

Once I got into the book however, I found myself agreeing with much of her methodology.  Kondo believes (as I do) that the best way to approach an organizing overhaul is to begin by addressing the contents of your entire space (rather than room by room), grouping like things, honestly evaluating every item and streamlining by paring down.  Although she doesn't describe it in these words, this process is essentially like hitting a reset button on your entire home.  Truly, I'm a fan of this idea.  If only there were a reset button with weight. (Hey look! I'm a size two again!  And my skin is completely firm!  I promise I'll always strive to appreciate and maintain this shape and... damn it, WHO BROUGHT OREOS?!)

One of the main tenets outlined in the book is that, when evaluating an object, it's important to quite literally touch every item and decide if that item truly brings you joy. If it doesn't, it's not worth keeping.  What I particularly appreciate about this idea was that Kondo stresses how important it is to view the process as determining what to keep as opposed to what to throw out.  This spin does seem to have some merit.  Anything with a more positive goal sustains hard work for longer than something with a negative one.

Keeping with the positivity, she also believes that the items you choose to discard should be thanked for their time and whatever purpose in your life they held (even if it's "Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you").  I have to say this new-agey act is a little out of the box for me, BUT, once again, I see the benefit.  The gesture allows the sorter to release any negative feelings about the process or themselves and move on without guilt.

Kondo uses a lot of anthropomorphism, which did, at times, annoy the crap out of me.  The idea of giving my socks "a holiday" or only hanging clothes that look like they would be "happier that way" is a bit too spacey for me.  That said, I was impressed at how well this manner of speaking underscored the notion of truly respecting our possessions.  While I'm not sure if I'll ever thank my purse for a job well done, it did cause me to evaluate ways in which I could treat my things a little better.

What I disliked about the book was there was a definite feeling of exclusivity to the TYPE of person that she was primarily addressing.  As though the various priorities and/or needs of the average person's lifestyle were incorrect if they didn't align with her own.  Yes, I would love to sit and sip tea and admire my possessions at the end of the day (I'm not being glib - she genuinely says she does this), but frankly, I consider a day a success if I have time to get a shower and put on clothes that lack baby spit up.  I'm one of the most organized and tidy people I've met and yet if you looked at the floor of my living room at the end of any given day there may be baby toys from when my daughter was playing there, my running shoes from when I took her for a long walk, a dropper I used to give her her medicine and, undoubtedly, my notebooks and laptop sitting hopefully in the middle of it all just in case I have a spare second to get some work done.  It's not that these things don't have a place (or "a home" as she refers to it).  It's that I place higher value on the people and experiences in my life than I do on living in an austere environment.  And yet, there's something in the tone of this book that makes me feel that thanking and putting away my shoes immediately should be more important than pulling my little girl out of her stroller, feeding her and giving her a good cuddle after we return home.  (I am, perhaps, overstating it, but hopefully you understand my point).

From a practical standpoint, I felt that there should have been more emphasis on donation.  Kondo refers to throwing out things on nearly every page but only mentions donating and recycling a handful of times.  Perhaps her concern is that this will slow down or impede the process, or perhaps she felt donation was implied, but I think it's important to remind readers of the value of taking care of our environment on a grander scale.  Besides, the items that we say goodbye to could still be appreciated by and useful to others.  And bags and boxes are just as easily dropped at a donation center or scheduled for charity pick up as they are put in trash cans. 

As a book I found it sometimes a little repetitive and disjointed.  Certain concepts didn't become clear until she visited them later on in other chapters.  The methodology is not necessarily revolutionary, but a mishmash of other ideas.  Then again, most "new" things aren't actually new, and it certainly doesn't negate the potential for great results. 

Despite all that, I feel it's most important to point out that Kondo is very good at recognizing the need to preclude things like guilt, embarrassment or any negative self image.  I honestly think this may be her greatest asset.  Her approach is factual, fast and to the point but full of gratitude and joyful expectation. These positive attributes make it an easy and likable read that instills confidence in those overwhelmed by the organization process.  Even for anal retentive,OCD types seasoned organizing veterans like myself, Ms. Kondo inspired me to take a harder look at some of the things I've been holding on to and pass them forward with gratitude (Do I really need or even like 20 different vases?  Not so much.).

While I still feel that calling it "life-changing" or "magic" may be overstating it, and the faux mystical qualities given to the process might make me roll my eyes, ultimately I think it's a book worth reading for anyone intent on making major changes in their surroundings.  So if you're looking for a little inspiration yourself, kick off your shoes (with thanks), curl up in a chair (that brings you joy) and settle in with some KonMari goodness.  And don't forget the Oreos. 

A Few Additional Concepts Worth Sharing:
 "When we really delve into the reasons why we can't let something go, there are only two: attachment to the past, and fear for the future."

- Sentimental Items: When sorting through pictures and cards and other sentimental items avoid the guilt for letting things go.  "The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not the person we were in the past."    (I really like this notion and am carving out some time to sort through pictures, letters and other things I tend to hang on to!)

- Folding: Kondo believes in storing everything vertically. This means folding clothes into small drawer-height "packages" and filing them.  I'm currently trying out this theory. I like that I can see what I have at a glance (which means I'm less likely to forget about something) and that it truly does utilize space well.  However it does have the tendency to create a bit more mess when you pull out a shirt or pair of pants if you aren't careful.  Still, as it's not really any more work to fold this way, I think I may keep it up for now. 

- Stockpiling: Stockpiling items (hotel shampoos, paper goods, gifts, canned food items, etc) is a fast way to clutter.  Donate and/or toss them.  "You may think this is a waste of money, but reducing your stock and relieving yourself of the burden of excess is the quickest and most effective way to put your things in order." "The fact that you possess a surplus of things that you can't bring yourself to discard doesn't mean you are taking good care of them." 

- Filing: Kondo is not a fan of paperwork and suggests throwing out as much as possible.  What she doesn't really mention is that most documents (instruction manuals, statements, etc.) are available online.  In addition, other important items (warranties, etc) can always be scanned and kept digitally if you're not a fan of filing. I, personally, LIKE having detailed files, but that's just me.

- Creating spaces: Designating a space for each thing reduces the chances that you will allow space to become cluttered again.  The repetition of consciously using that space for that item will make putting things away second nature and, ultimately, will cause your possessions to last longer.  "The reason every item must have a designated place is because the existence of an item without a home multiplies the chances that your space will become cluttered again." 

To read more from Marie Kondo, check out The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up at

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