I confess. I only read it because the title is ludicrous. Clearing out my stuff could be life-changing? Hah! The skeptic in me sent my sister disparaging text messages while I read, but a hidden piece of me hoped that maybe there was more to this book than rubbernecking a ridiculous-sounding bestseller.
I actually enjoyed The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I even told my mom to read it.
Yes, there are eye-rollingly woo-woo tips like taking your clothing’s preferences into account when deciding how to store it. Yes, there are ridiculous anecdotes about the author’s neurotic history with tidying. Yes, there are some cultural oddities that don’t match with American lifestyles.
But Marie Kondo’s key messages about what we own – and how much of it we don’t even like – resonated with me.
“Keep only those things that speak to your heart.”
So much of what we own is tied up with our emotions – we went shopping because we felt sad, we felt inadequate so we listened to the advertisement telling us a product would fill that void, we kept that heirloom because it was our grandmother’s, we hang onto that shirt because it was kind of expensive. But what if we disregarded those negative associations – guilt, obligation, wishing we were better – and used joy to help us choose what we want to own.
At first, joy seemed like an odd filter for items we need, boring things like hammers and printers. Sometimes, it’s not the object itself that inspires joy, but what it allows you to do. A hammer with a comfortable handle and a good heft will let me finish jobs much more easily than a poorly made tool.
It’s a challenging exercise, sorting through what I think I should feel to get to how I actually feel about my possessions. But as Kondo explains, some possessions have already served their purpose – a gift that doesn’t suit me was a way for the giver to show me that they care about me. I don’t have to keep the item forever to accept or appreciate their care.
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”
Kondo recommends holding each of your possessions and considering it – looking for the joy we find in it. But in the process of finding the objects that bring us joy, we must work through all the items that…don’t. “The process of facing and selecting our possessions can be quite painful,” Kondo explains. “It forces us to confront our imperfections and inadequacies and the foolish choices we made in the past.” Abandoned hobbies, failed projects, things bought but never used – cleaning out house confronts us with our past choices, but offers us the chance to choose anew. What is important to me now, not in the past? What enhances my life now, not the future?
My snowshoes, used three times? My beading supplies, untouched since an aborted Etsy shop several years ago? My slow cooker, a gift buried deep in the closet under the stairs? I can pass these things, and more, on to new homes where they’ll be appreciated. Happily, for items not needed by friends and family, Kirkland’s an easy place to share the love, using my local Buy Nothing Facebook group. (If you’re not on Facebook, Craigslist, Freecycle, and Nextdoor Kirkland are other options for giving things away to your neighbors – and you can always donate usable good to thrift stores.)
Everyone gets something different out of the book.
While I thought Kondo’s technique for storing clothing was over-the-top, my mom sent me photos of her newly-tidied drawers – her shirts now a beautiful gradient, her silk scarf collection now tantalizing and easy to grab. A simple change made her enjoy her possessions again.
After I laughingly texted my sister that Kondo suggested we thank the stuff we use every day, she wrote back the next morning that she jokingly thanked her teapot…then immediately felt bad for letting it get so dirty. An instant lesson in appreciating what she owned.
What will you get out of it?