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Kondo Craze: An Organizer's Review


I was recently motivated to pick up Marie Kondo’s international bestseller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, because of a current client of mine. My client loved her instruction to purge by category, so she gathered her books from recesses of her home, and reviewed them ‘all at once’ as the book encouraged.

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I personally enjoyed her book and reading about organizing from a different perspective. Here is my brief synopsis of the book along with my two cents.

What is tidying? – Marie Kondo states that tidying is made up of two things – “deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it.” (pg. 19) She strongly encourages her readers to “…tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little…” (pg. 16).

Why? She wants her clients to see and experience instant results. Making it a ‘special event’ as she states, will empower a person to keep the space in order. All this evaluation of your possessions has an ultimate goal, “…to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order” (pg. 21). I particularly agree with this, the goal I have with my clients is always freedom toward new pursuits as a result of organizing.

How is tidying done? She goes on to describe that tidying done by location is a fatal mistake, instead you need to tidy by ‘category’ and not by ‘place’ (pg. 25). She suggests you start with clothes, then books, papers, miscellaneous items, and lastly you address mementos (pg. 46). She encourages you to gather ALL your clothes, books, etc. This may require you to search through all of your closets so that you can evaluate the entire category in one swoop. Kondo wants you to take each item in your hand and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” (pg. 39)

Once you do this, you are to only keep the things that speak to your heart. I found this particularly interesting as I suspect, but cannot confirm, that Marie Kondo must be a very tactile person. She places a lot of emphasis on touching your items and having the client touch them, rather than just having the organizer show each item. For folks that are highly ‘hands on’ this can be beneficial.

We are in-relationship with our possessions. Marie began treating her belongings as if they were alive in High School (pg. 169). It bred respect in her for the things she owned. She shares that the reason she does this: “…caring for your possessions is the best way to motivate them to support you…” (pg. 171) I found this to be a beautiful way of describing what I call ‘stewarding’ your possessions. She even has particular ways you should fold your clothes. For her, folding is a “form of dialogue with our wardrobe” (pg. 74) and her style encourages clothes being stored in a vertical fashion, not stacked.

Controversial Advice:

Storage Irritation. Marie Kondo and The Container Store may not completely agree when it comes to storage containers. She says that “putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved” (pg. 23). Just “shoving stuff out of sight” (pg. 23) did not solve the clutter problem for many of her clients. They needed to start with discarding. Once the client has only items that “spark joy,” she encourages very simple containers; she suggests common household items like cardboard shoe boxes or Apple Product boxes.

Paper Simplicity. She has a basic principle when it comes to paper – she encourages her clients to throw it all away (pg. 96). But, if you must keep paper, she defines the criteria as ‘currently in use’, ‘needed for a limited period of time’, or ‘must be kept indefinitely’. All your papers are to be stored in one spot and one spot only (pg. 97).

‘Frequency of use’ is irrelevant. When this term ‘frequency of use’ is typically used, it refers to putting things away based on where you frequently use the item. She states as such, “A common mistake many people make is to decide where to store things on the basis of where it’s easiest to take them out.” (pg. 141,142) She is quite clear that she believes this is a ‘fatal trap’. Why would she believe this? “Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort to get them out,” she states (pg. 142). Yet, she does admit a few paragraphs later that in an average Japanese dwelling, it takes ten to twenty seconds to walk from one end of the dwelling to the other side (pg. 143). I know that in America, we are typically dealing with a structure that has 3 bedrooms and 2 baths and this concept would be challenging in larger homes.

She closes her book reiterating the reason for tidying; you tidy up so that you can go on to live the life you want. She writes, “…Pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life.” (pg. 204) Kondo found the ‘magic’ was in the effect that tidying had on her clients. It bred faster decision making as well as confidence (pg. 178 and 179). This book is refreshing and can give a different way to look at what you let into your life and what you choose to let go.