I dared to read the book…

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

A few days ago, I posed the question Dare I read this book?

Do read the earlier post for an introduction to this best-selling self-help book by the new young Japanese queen of decluttering. Well, your comments certainly emboldened me and I put the TBR Dare to one side temporarily, and I read the book straight away…

lifechangingFirst reactions?

There is a lot of good sense in this book.
She makes some really good psychological points about clutter and tidying.
Kondo’s method is like going on the Atkins diet.
You discover that low carbs is for life.
But life is too short not to enjoy roast potatoes, sourdough bread and chocolate cake.
I simply can’t believe she’s a book-lover.
There’s nothing magic about tidying…
but, good organisation is an art.

It was absolutely fascinating to read though!

Kondo’s clients, trained only keep items that ‘spark joy’, end up getting rid of a mountain of stuff. The treasured possessions that remain each have an assigned place and can simply be returned after using, thus eliminating major tidying forever. That’s her end-plan. First you need to get into the right mind-set – which is not a traditional one:

Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness. Why? Because we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.

How-to-fold-socks-Marie-KondoThat’s fair enough, so let’s get started. What’s first? The easiest category of stuff – Clothes. I can cope with most of this, even if I don’t intend to roll all my tops up and store them end on in my drawers. My wardrobe, amazingly, essentially follows her guidelines already. I can’t cope with her plans for socks though. Here she is talking to a client:

I pointed to the balled-up socks. ‘Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?

Please, Marie – don’t anthropomorphise the socks! I understand why you prefer clients to not fold the tops over, just to roll the pairs up and stand them on edge in the drawer. Apart from needing shallow rather than deep drawers to benefit from that, that assumes that your socks last – so not keeping them in a state of tension is meaningful. I have big feet, and I wear out the toes and heels well before the elastic around the top has time to perish – I will continue to fold the tops of my socks over to pair them up, thank you.

Let’s move on to papers. She says ‘Discard everything’, then tells you what you can keep:  the papers that mean something to you including your love letters etc. , those you must keep, and those working ones needing an action.  She does tell you to chuck away your payslips too, but I’d always keep a couple of years worth.  She’s right about equipment manuals (all online nowadays), files of newspaper cuttings you’ve never looked at, even study materials and so on.

Next comes ‘Komono’ – the Japanese word for ‘small things’.  If you accept that you should only ‘keep things because you love  them – not just because’  of course it’s easier to get rid of the excess of bits and pieces you’ve been saving all over the place, the excess of certain types of items and so on.  Sentimental items are dealt with last:

By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realised it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts so that you can take the next step forward.

That is just too clinical for me. Whittling down is one thing. Mass discarding relies on memory which may fail you – rehandling the items can rekindle the memory. And what about your historical record?  You need to keep enough to let those that follow to get to know you once you’ve gone, surely?

Which brings me to BOOKS!  Books actually come second in her hierarchy of sorting, being the thing you tackle after your clothes.

Put all of your books on the floor

What?!  All thousands of them?  Sort them into categories (General, Practical etc).

… take them in your hand one by one and decide if you want to keep or discard each one. The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgement.

NOOOO! It gets worse – she moves on to the TBR piles:

If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have just been intending to read for ages, then this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it.

THAT’S JUST SO WRONG (for me).  I’ve recently read a book that was on my shelves for twenty one years – The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury, which I simply adored.  It hadn’t missed its time, its time had yet to come.  My TBR piles tend to operate on exactly the opposite way to her quote above – if I miss acquiring a book, I’ll probably never come across it again and I may have missed an absolute corker as this example showed. She says, ‘For books, timing is everything.’ True – but not in the way she means it.

Don’t get me wrong, as I said at the top of this post, there are many good things in this book – and it’s certainly thought-provoking, yet it does smack a little of obsessive minimalism. Who puts their bookshelves in cupboards? Let’s celebrate the spines, let us enjoy the distraction of looking at these treasured tomes.  It’s all a bit sterile.  It’s a bit anti-hobby too, whether you knit, craft, do sports, whatever, having a wide range of bits and pieces and accessories broadens what you can do.  I’ll bet she’s never had a pet either.

I should just mention the translation by Cathy Hirano. It’s very easy to read, I sped through this book, which by its nature is a little repetitive.

In summary:  We can take much from her urban Japanese lifestyle that has to be anti-clutter where space is limited.  However, her methods are difficult to apply to a collection which is how I view my books.  Also, as I previously mentioned, I believe the annual spring-clean is a good way of upping your mood, (and keeping charity shops well stocked). I shall probably apply her ideas in diluted ways to the rest of my stuff and get a bit tidier, a bit more organised. Believe me, that will be an improvement. (6/10)

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Source: Own Copy. 

Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (Vermillion, 2014) Paperback, 248 pages.

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