The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Summary Written by Carol-Ann Hamilton
"When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too."

- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, page 4

The Big Idea

You’ve Never Been Taught to Tidy

"People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking."- The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up, page 15

Isn’t it so? Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach. Contrary to traditional advice, if we tidy a little each day we’ll be at it forever. The reason we never seem to finish is that we’re not tidying in a short timeframe in one fell swoop. Instead, when we properly simplify and organize once, we’re done for good.

Success is 90% dependent on our mindset. If this aspect is not addressed, rebound is inevitable no matter how much is discarded or how cleverly things are organized. It turns out 90% of people are a combination of “can’t throw it away” and “can’t put it back types”; the other 10% of the population can discard but can’t put things away.

Insight #1

Finish Discarding First

"Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest."- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, page 42

Kondi therefore asserts: Do not even think of putting your things away until you’ve finished the process of discarding. In fact, if you start to think midway through, “I wonder if (the object) will fit in this drawer,” you will grind your progress to an immediate halt.

To get us thinking, here are several suggestions:

  • Visualize your destination. Spend some time imagining what it would feel like to live in a clutter-free space.
  • Your only criterion will ultimately be whether the item sparks joy. If yes, keep it. If not, discard it.
  • Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

Many people have particular trouble discarding things they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information and those with sentimental ties (emotional value). That’s why it’s advisable to start by discarding objects that are easier to make decisions about.

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Insight #2

Sort by Category, Not Location

"In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions and the house they live in."- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, page 190

Another issue is that of dispersing storage of a particular item throughout the house (e.g., books, clothes). Don’t think “I’ll tidy the bedroom first and then move on to the living room.” This approach is fatal. When we tackle one place at a time, we can never fully grasp the total volume of similar items scattered throughout.

To demonstrate the steps involved, let’s turn to the example of clothing:

  1. Search every room of your abode.
  2. Bring every piece of clothing you find to the same spot. Spread out each article on the floor.
  3. Pick up one piece of clothing at a time and see if it sparks joy. Again, those and only those are the ones to keep.
  4. If you have too many clothes, you can make sub-categories such as tops, bottoms, socks, shoes, and more; examine your clothes one category at a time.

By the way, starting with mementos spells certain failure. Things that bring back memories, such as photos, are not the place for beginners to start. The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, miscellaneous items, and lastly mementos.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful.

I can personally support the efficacy and uniqueness of Kondo’s approaches. Having pretty much tried every method out there, the mindset behind her revolutionary approaches finally did it for me. A self-described pack rat, I wondered if I’d ever overcome my reluctance to let go of my “stuff”.

Read the book

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Marie Kondo

Marie “KonMari” Kondo runs an acclaimed consulting business in Tokyo helping clients transform their cluttered homes into spaces of serenity and inspiration. She is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (also a best seller in Japan, Germany, and the UK, with more than 3 million copies sold) and was named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2015. She is the founder of the KonMari Method.

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