Behavioral ChangePersonal Development

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

The life-changing magic of tidying up

One-sentence summary of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is an introduction to the KonMari Method, a storage and tidying method that will transform your messy living areas into spaces of beauty, peace and inspiration.

By Marie Kondo, 2011, 270 pages

Original title: Jinsei Ga Tokimeku Katazuke No Maho

This is a guest chronicle written by Amanda Saurin from the blog Amour, Mode & Beauté

Book chronicle and summary of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:

The KonMari Method in 2 points:

  • Get rid of useless things
  • Organise your living space once and for all

Marie Kondo explains that living in an orderly space positively affects all the other aspects of our lives. An untidy room is the reflection of a mind that is in the same condition. A spectacular reorganisation of your interior can lead to dramatic changes in your lifestyle and your vision of life.

Feedback from some of Marie Kondo’s former clients:

“After taking your course, I quit my job and launched my own business doing something I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a child”.

“I’m delighted to report that since cleaning up my apartment, I’ve been able to really increase my sales”.

“My husband I are getting along much better.”

“I’m amazed to find that just throwing things away has changed me so much. I finally managed to lose 3 kilos”

Chapter 1: Why can’t I keep my house in order?

According to Marie Kondo, the art of tidying is not acquired naturally, and we need to be taught about storage methods. That is why it is perfectly normal that we do not master the art of tidying. With the right approach, the rebound effect (the kind of yoyo effect you see in dieting) will never return and your living space will be permanently tidy.

How to proceed when it comes to tidying your living space (home, office, etc.):

  1. Tidy properly and once and for all
    Tidying everything in one go should lead to a dramatic change in your state of mind. You have to definitively forget any notion of throwing things away little by little, because it is the best way to become a slave to tidying and to lose all motivation. Marie Kondo says that to tidy to perfection, you simply need to know what you have to discard and where to tidy what you keep.
  2. Sort by category, not by location
    Instead of deciding to tidy this or that room today, the best thing is to set yourself the objective of tidying by category of items. For example: tidy every single item of clothing today, then every single book tomorrow, etc.

We have to face two kinds of tidying in life:

  • Everyday tidying (putting something that you use over the course of a day back in its place)
  • Special tidying (tidying that you only perform once, in one go)

Once the day of special tidying is over (and it happens very rarely), all you have left to do is the daily tidying. This makes “perseverance” in matters of tidying unnecessary, given that the real tidying only happens once.

Chapter 2: Finish discarding first

Step 1: Before discarding, you need to visualise your desired lifestyle. You have to imagine your dream interior down to the smallest detail. For example, having a house that is as uncluttered as a hotel room, a clear view of your favourite painting, etc.

Step 2: Ask yourself why you want this kind of space.

To do this, ask yourself the following question about each item you want in your interior:

  • Why do I want it? (e.g.: why do I want a minimalist bedroom?)

Through the answers to these questions, you should arrive at the conclusion that in the end there is only one purpose when it comes to deciding what to throw away and what to keep: “to make us happy”

Step 3: Take stock of your possessions

Step 4: Choose what to discard and what to keep. The best way to do this is to hold the object (or item of clothing) in your hands for a moment and ask yourself whether it sparks joy (makes you happy). This is the path to finding yourself in an interior that makes you happy.

Chapter 3: How to tidy by category

To make discarding and tidying easier, you should proceed category by category, in the following order:

1. Clothing

KonMari Method

Gather every item of clothing you own in one place and rank them by sub-categories:

  • Tops
  • Bottoms
  • Clothes you hang up
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Handbags, etc.
  • Accessories
  • Clothes for specific occasions (swimwear, hats, etc.)
  • Shoes

What not to do:

Never downgrade clothes you wear outdoors to clothes you only wear at home (except for cotton t-shirts). It is the perfect strategy to put off that moment when you get rid of clothes that no longer spark joy. We spend a lot of time at home, and it is not because nobody sees us that we should turn a loungewear item of clothing into a second-grade item of clothing. In fact, it is precisely when nobody is looking that you should strengthen your self-image by wearing indoor clothes that are comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. Loungewear clothes should be purchased in specialist shops or departments and please you visually.

To better determine whether the item of clothing that you are holding in your hands brings you joy or not, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What place does it have in my life?
  • When did I get it?
  • What importance did it have at the time?

2. Books

The KonMari Method recommends laying out every single book you own on the floor with the cover facing up.

KonMari Method books

If you have too many books, they should be separated into 4 groups:

  • General reading: books you read to relax
  • Practical reading: reference books, cookbooks, etc.
  • Visual books: collections of photos, etc.
  • Magazines

The idea is to only keep the books that make us happy on our shelves.

You need to get rid of:

  • Books you have never read
  • Books you barely started or stopped halfway through

Owning fewer books amplifies the impact of the information you read. When you come across a book, it is time to read it.

3. Papers

Marie Kondo advises us to throw away every single paper that does not fall into one of these categories:

  • In current use
  • Of limited usefulness in time
  • To keep indefinitely
  • Warranties

Gather all the papers to be sorted in one place, and the same applies to papers that need to be kept indefinitely. The papers to keep can then be separated into three different storage piles. One file for papers that do not need to be consulted very often (lease, contract of insurance, etc.), one file for the papers that we use more often and one file for warranties.

What not to do:

  • Hold onto documents distributed at seminars. Marie Kondo is convinced that if we don’t put everything that we learn over the course of such seminars into practice, it is precisely because we hang onto this documentation.
  • Keep account statements and empty chequebooks.
  • Keep user manuals (except for computer or camera guides).

4. Miscellaneous objects (coins, small objects, gadgets, etc.)

Marie Kondo calls these various objects Komono. They are scary to sort, but if we do it in the right order, it becomes very easy.

magic tidying

How to sort miscellaneous objects:

  1. CDs, DVDs
  2. Skincare products
  3. Make-up
  4. Accessories
  5. Valuable items (passport, bank card, etc.)
  6. Household appliances (digital camera, electrical cords, anything that seems vaguely electric)
  7. Household equipment (writing implements, knitting needles, etc.)
  8. Other household supplies (medicines, detergents, tissues, etc.)
  9. Cooking utensils, food.
  10. Others

The next step is to get rid of each of the useless objects on this list, and to keep and store those that bring us joy (respecting the order of the Komono sorting list).

Coins

It is not a good idea for coins to accumulate in various places around the home. They should all be kept in your purse (not in a piggy bank) or deposited at the bank.

Throwing away things that we keep “just in case”

You know what these objects are – they can be identified instantly as intended for the bin without even asking yourself “Does this bring me joy?”

List of these objects:

  • Gifts
  • Storage boxes for mobile phones
  • Unidentified electrical cables
  • Spare buttons
  • Boxes for household appliances
  • Televisions and radios that do not work
  • Sleeping space for friends who never come to stay
  • Samples of cosmetic products that you keep for travel
  • The latest health products
  • Free publicity gadgets

5. Objects with deep sentimental value

Souvenirs

These are objects we find it difficult to separate ourselves from, because we are afraid that we might forget the precious moments associated with these souvenirs. In reality, we must tell ourselves that precious memories do not fly away just because we discard these tokens. We have to live in the present moment, and there is no use in hanging onto memories of the past that we would have forgotten without these objects. The pleasure and enthusiasm we feel in the present moment are more important.

What not to do:

  • Give these objects that have strong sentimental value to your family as they will in turn become disorderly

Photos

Marie Kondo recommends gathering every single one of your photos in one place and only keeping the ones that stir up emotions inside you.

What not to do:

Keep photos that belonged to people who have died (for example, photos that belonged to your grandfather).

We should not be cherishing the memories, but the person that we have become thanks to these past experiences. Our interior is intended for the individual we are in the process of becoming and not for the person we were in the past.

Once you have added order to your interior and the volume of your possessions has decreased, you should be able to perceive the nature of your true values. You will know what is really important in your life. The possessions that we have too many of, but which we cannot bring ourselves to separate from are not the ones that we take the most care of – in fact it is quite the opposite. By returning to a volume of possessions that we can reasonably manage, we re-energise our relationship with our things. Separating yourself from things that are of no use is not wasteful.

Follow your intuition and all will be well

Marie Kondo explains that the procedure for selecting objects is very personal. To avoid the rebound effect, you must create your own storage method using your own standards. That is why it is so important to understand your feelings about each one of your possessions.

The process of selecting objects that bring you joy allows you to identify what you love and what you need. The possession that you are holding in your hands triggers a number of emotions. These feelings are authentic. By basing yourself on this intuition, you can lead a more harmonious life and observe some dramatic changes over time. Marie Kondo goes so far as to say that it will be as if your life will be touched by grace. Tidying your interior will be the magic behind a happier and livelier life.

Chapter 4: Storing your things to make your life shine

Designate a place for each thing

Without predefined storage compartments for each object, it is very difficult to know where to store things after using them. The solution is therefore to have a specific place to store each category of possessions. As soon as you use an item or introduce a new item into your living space, it must be stored in its rightful place. In this way your interior will remain orderly.

Discard first, store later

Tidying, even if you adopt the most efficient method, is of no use unless you first get rid of everything that is superfluous (everything that does not spark joy). The rebound effect will be inevitable.

Storage: pursue ultimate simplicity

To keep a room tidy, the secret is to search for the ultimate simplicity. It is preferable to opt for the simplest storage method possible in order to remember what possessions you have.

Don’t scatter storage spaces

The rule is to put all the items from the same category in the same place and not to scatter storage spaces. If several people live in the same place, it is essential to define, insofar as possible, one location per person. Having your personal space is a source of happiness, and gives you the feeling that it belongs to you only, making you want to keep it tidy.

Forget about ‘flow planning’ and ‘frequency of use’

Storing according to a flow plan means storing according to the manner in which the inhabitants move around a home. All that this achieves is to scatter storage spaces around the entire house. The same applies to the frequency of use of a given object.  There is no point in storing objects according to their frequency of use. It is much easier to store everything as simply as possible in relation to the living space, and that is that.

Never pile things, vertical storage is the key

Never pile things

The KonMari method recommends never stacking things. Stacking your possessions gives an impression of having endless storage space. Marie Kondo explains that vertical storage is essential, even for clothes. In fact, she has developed a vertical folding method that she says is extremely efficient. Vertical storage is also a form of respect for our possessions, because no object has to bear the weight of another on top of it.

No need for commercial storage items

The only storage compartments we need are simple drawers and boxes, nothing special or sophisticated.

The best way to store bags is in another bag

The most efficient way to store your bags is to place them one inside the other. Nevertheless, ideally you shouldn’t store too many bags inside one other bag, two is a good compromise. Remember to allow the straps of the “host” to hang out so as not to forget the existence of the bag being hosted.

Empty your bag every day

Emptying your bag allows you to throw away useless things that you accumulate over the course of the day (receipts, handkerchiefs, etc.) and to give it a “rest”. An empty bag will keep its shape for longer and bring us greater satisfaction on a daily basis. The best way to empty your bag is to store its contents vertically (apart from what you are throwing away) in a drawer or a box (like a shoe box) placed in a nearby location to the bag in question.

Items that usurp floor space belong in the closet

According to the KonMari method, it is much more efficient to put all our storage elements in our closet or wardrobe (even suitcases).

Keep things out of the bath and the kitchen sink

It is preferable not to leave anything on the side of the bath to avoid any slimy deposits under the products and to facilitate cleaning the bathtub. The same applies to the kitchen sink, the ideal being not to leave anything on it and to dry dishes as soon as they are washed.

Decorate your closet with your secret delights

Certain elements that you like and that you do not want to display (posters, photos etc.) can be used to decorate the inside of your storage areas. Your storage spaces are your own personal paradise.

Unpack and de-tag new clothes immediately

Unwrapping and taking the tags off clothes helps the clothes to move from the status of “shop products” to that of personal belongings.

Don’t underestimate the “noise” of written information

By removing the superfluous visual information (storage compartment labels, tags on new clothing, plastic advertising covering on some detergents or deodorants, etc.) which is of no joy, we can manage to make our interior much more peaceful and comfortable.

Appreciate your possessions and gain strong allies

Saying thank you to your personal belongings on a daily basis for the good services they render over the course of one day and assigning them a very specific place inside the home is beneficial to them. Handling your belongings with respect allows them to display greater vitality and therefore to last longer.

Chapter 5: The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life

Put your house in order and discover what you really want to do

Marie Kondo states that her clients frequently tell her that since they tidied their living space, they have discovered what they really want to do in life. Some start their own business, others change jobs and still others take a greater interest in their profession. Her clients also feel more enthusiasm for their hobbies, their home and their family life. Tidying makes us more aware of what we love and makes our daily life more exciting.

The magic effect of tidying dramatically transforms your life

Tidying changes life dramatically and this is true for everyone, 100%. That is what the KonMari Method calls “The magic of tidying up”. The impact of the “magic of tidying up” is phenomenal and one of the magical effects of tidying is increased confidence in our ability to take decisions.

In fact, tidying your living space means that you have held several hundred or even several thousand objects in your hands and wondered whether they bring you joy and whether you want to keep or discard them. This process naturally enables us to increase our capacity to take decisions and our self-confidence.

Gaining confidence in life through the magic of tidying

Marie Kondo here refers to her problems of the past and explains that a reassuring interior increases self-confidence. If we have confidence in our belongings, in the clothes we wear, in the people around us and in our environment, then there is a strong chance that we will feel more self-confident. These things and these people are all special, valuable and incredibly dear to our heart, they bring us joy, support us and help us to believe in our capabilities.

An attachment to the past or anxiety about the future

The two real reasons that make it difficult to separate yourself from an object are the following: commitment to the past or fear of the future.

If you can recognise your commitment to the past and your fears about the future by observing your property in complete objectivity, you will be able to perceive what is truly important for you. By trusting in your decisions and taking action with enthusiasm and without being hampered by any doubt, then you will be able to find more success.

Learning that you can do without

Discarding objects that provide no joy has no harmful side effects. That is why once you have finished tidying up using the KonMari Method you will not suffer because of it. This proves that before tidying you spent all your time surrounded by things that you did not need.

Do you greet your house?

Greeting your home every time that you enter it is an infallible way of honing the capacity to know what objects are useful to you and in their rightful place. Remember to systematically greet your house when you arrive with a simple “Hi, I’m back” or “Thank you for giving me a roof” out loud or in your head and you will feel that it responds to you. That way, you will gradually be able to know what part of your house wants to be tidied and where it would like us to put things. The process of tidying is the opportunity to express our gratitude to our home for everything that it does for us.

Your possessions want to help you

Everything we own, without exception, has one desire – to be of use to us. That is why, once it has gone, an object will leave the energy of its usefulness behind it. Freed from its physical form, it will evolve in our world in the form of energy, revealing to other objects that we are a special person.

Your living space affects your body

Once we own fewer things and we “cleanse” our home, the same process of detoxification also takes place within the body. The main reason that tidying up has a positive effect on the body is the satisfaction you experience through the process. By observing her clients, Marie Kondo noticed that when they got rid of books and documents, their ideas became clearer and when they reduced their quantity of beauty products and tidied the space located around the sink and the bathtub, their complexion was clearer and their skin softer.

Is it true that tidying increases good fortune?

Organising your interior to be comfortable, dynamic and happy each day is good fortune. By tidying your home, you can live naturally. Choose things that give you pleasure and cherish what is really and truly precious to you. Nothing can bring you greater happiness than to act in a simple and natural manner. If you want to call that good fortune, then putting order into your home would be a good way to benefit from it.

How to identify what is truly precious

Marie Kondo explains in this part that there is no doubt whatsoever that her clients have a different reaction depending on whether or not they love the object that they are holding in their hands or whether they are unsure about their choice. When they hold an object that is a source of pleasure, the decision is usually made instantly and their eyes shine. On the other hand, if the object does not spark joy, their hands become still, their heads look up and their brow furrows. This is why the author can succeed in identifying at a glance which objects bring joy to her clients or not.

Being surrounded by things that spark joy makes you happy

If the object you want to keep is nonsensical and makes you almost ashamed of it, but it brings you real joy, then you must keep it. If you are able to say with certainty “I really love it!” no matter what others may say and if you are proud to own it, then you shouldn’t worry about what other people think.

Your real life begins after putting your house in order

Tidying should not be a daily task: we are not supposed to spend our entire lives on it. Tidying should be done thoroughly and quickly, in one go. The only task that you will have to perform at the end of each day is to choose what to keep and what to discard and to love the things that you decide to keep. Let’s spend our time on the things that give us pleasure, on our mission in life. Marie Kondo is convinced that tidying your home will help you to find the mission that speaks to your heart. That is why life will only really begin once your house is in order.

Conclusions about The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up:

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up presents storage methods in a new way. Tidying up becomes an art that can transform our lives dramatically. Tidy and discard in one go to only keep objects that bring us joy and make us happy, because afterwards we will be surrounded only by the things that make us happy. The magic of tidying up also allows us to increase our decision-making power and self-confidence and offers a clearer vision of what we really want from life once all the superfluous things have been removed from our living space. A new life is available to us once our house is in order.

I myself have applied the KonMari Method, although perhaps not as radically as the book recommends, but I can assure you that this tidying has already transformed my life. I feel I am in a better state of mind, the time I spend at home is even more enjoyable, I no longer have allergies and curiously, I feel even more productive and passionate about my work. And, I have even made savings, because I no longer buy things without a valid reason and I am very careful about what comes into my home. The selection process is ruthless, but the things that will be lucky enough to take their place alongside the things that are already present in my interior will have earned their place.

The American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, author of Tools of Giants explores the theme of decluttering in his bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek and in fact, he has even made it one of the pillars of his life balancing method.

Book critique of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

You can sense that Marie Kondo’s doctrine is firm, but not unkind. Readers of her book on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up will feel that they have been taken firmly by the hand, but never judged on their weaknesses. I am convinced that if the precepts of the book are properly applied by the reader, life will improve in a much more significant way than you could ever have imagined at the outset.

Strong Points :

  • A fast and enjoyable read
  • The benefits of each action that you can put into place are explained
  • Short, interesting and sometimes amusing stories illustrate some passages

Weak Point :

  • The exercises to apply (especially for the “clothes” part) lack illustrations

The 5 principles of the KonMari Method:

  1. Only keep the things that bring joy to your life.
  2. Only declutter one kind of object at a time instead of tidying the various spaces within your home.
  3. Understand that “someday” means “never”.
  4. As you de-clutter, pick up each item individually.
  5. Treat the items that remain with respect.

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