Since my life feels like it's in an ever-fluctuating state of chaos, I didn't need all the glowing testimonials to be convinced I wanted to read it. I waited for months through the long library hold list until it was finally my turn.
It's a small and slim volume, which was a pleasant surprise since these types of books so often look like they belong in the textbook section.
But after reading the first chapter, the thing I found even more surprising than that was that this little book has such a wide following. I honestly can't believe it's on the international bestseller list--and not because it's a bad book.
But it is, for lack of a better word, trite. Several years ago, I read Sink Reflections by Marla Cilley (better known as FlyLady). I found her book extremely helpful and motivating, but although she certainly has a following of devoted fans, her book is just not bestseller material. It's quaint, it makes bold promises, it feels a little contrived.
Just like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
I felt like both were helpful books. I'm glad I've read both books. But I didn't see anything especially revolutionary about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (unless naming a method after yourself makes something revolutionary and not egotistical). Nothing to warrant its place on everyone's to-read list. Nothing to garner the multitude of praises it's been getting. It's a book about de-cluttering and organizing your life. But suddenly that topic is one of profound interest to everyone. I'm just a little baffled is all.
But let me tell you about it. And then maybe you can tell me what I'm missing.
Marie Kondo is a personal organizer in Japan. Her method (coined the KonMari Method) is based on the idea that "tidying," when done correctly, is a one-time event. You begin by going through all your possessions (clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellany), and sentimental items (in that order)) and only keep the things that bring you joy. That is the key. You physically touch each item, and if it gives you a little thrill, you keep it; if it doesn't, then away to the Goodwill it goes.
Once you have reduced your possessions to only the things that bring you joy, then, and only then, you put them away in your house. You store things by category and make sure that every item has a place where it belongs.
And that's it! Your home will be peaceful, clean, and clutter-free for the rest of your life (because the KonMari method boasts no relapses). Now go fulfill your life's calling.
Okay, so I'm being a little sarcastic, and I apologize for that. I actually agreed with a lot about this book and am going to go through all my possessions while asking myself the simple, but profound, question, Does this bring me joy? My possessions should not be a burden, and I don't want to be a slave to things I don't really care about. Reading this book gave me the freedom to bid a fond farewell to those items I've held onto out of guilt.
But every review I've heard or read of this book has talked about the joy question (as well as how to fold clothes, which I'll get to in a minute), so I'm going to focus on some of the issues I had with this book in the hopes that some of you who loved it (I'm looking at you, Suzanne!) can tell me how to overcome these pitfalls.
First and foremost, I don't think Marie Kondo has children, nor does she spend much time living in her home. I'm not holding this against her, but there is a world of difference between being gone for most of the day and returning to a home exactly as you left it and being at home all day every day with four little boys. I get it that if I reduce our possessions, it will make it easier to keep things tidy, but it will still take a tremendous amount of effort.
Even if we get to the point where my boys get out a game and immediately pick it up after playing it (something we're still working on), there is still a hefty amount of living that goes on in our house. There are snacks and mealtimes (which total at least five a day), play time, accidents, crafts, cooking, running inside and outside, and a baby who lives to make a mess.
Oh, and the laundry! The laundry, people! It is the bane of my existence. I don't think Marie Kondo has any idea the amount of laundry that six people generate on a daily basis. She would be appalled. Even if all four of my kids only wore one outfit a day (a noteworthy event for sure), it would still be an incredible amount of laundry.
Which brings me to the KonMari art of folding clothes, which is this: fold each item into a neat little package that you arrange vertically in your drawer so that when you pull it open, you can see exactly which clothes it contains at a glance. This is an almost heavenly image to me, and, just like heaven, it feels about as attainable. For those of you who have implemented this strategy, I am so curious how you've done it. Do you fold the laundry by your dresser and put each item away as you fold it? Do you fold your kids' clothes in the same way? How do you keep them from rifling through their drawers (because even though they could see everything at once, I guarantee you my kids would still shuffle everything around)? How have you taught your kids to fold this way? Have you been able to sustain this type of folding for a long period of time? These are the pitfalls I see. I still want to try it, but I'm just afraid it won't last.
Now let me talk about the de-cluttering order. First come clothes. I can do that. Then books. I can do that (although Marie Kondo says, "Books are essentially paper--sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It's the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves." She obviously does not have a love affair with books, that's all I'm saying). Then papers. I can do that. And then komono.
Komono is this broad miscellaneous category that includes everything that isn't clothes, books, paper, or sentimental (which comes later). In my opinion, this is where most Americans will falter. Maybe the Japanese are more natural minimalists, and so the komono category isn't overly daunting. But I can see myself going through my clothes, books, and papers and then getting overwhelmed with how to tackle the illusive komono which will include everything from toys, kitchen gadgets, and craft supplies to DVDs, music, and sports equipment. Thankfully, within the komono section, she does break it down into smaller categories, but it still seemed overwhelmingly broad to me.
With all of the praises for this book, I've heard very little said about the fact that Marie Kondo addresses possessions as if they have souls. And that surprises me because those were the places where, in my mind, it went from being practical advice to bordering on the ridiculous. I am a firm believer in taking care of your possessions, but the idea that you shouldn't fold your socks a certain way or that you should empty your bag every day because those items worked hard for you with nary a word of criticism or complaint is just absurd. These were the parts of the book that I read aloud to Mike because they were almost comical to me, and these were the moments where I found it so hard to believe that this book is as popular as it is. Maybe I was reading too much into it. Maybe the translation from Japanese to English tampered with the original tone. Maybe she was trying to convey the importance of gratitude and respect in regard to our possessions, but it doesn't necessarily read that way.
Let me show you what I mean. Here's a brief excerpt:
"When we take our clothes in our hands and fold them neatly, we are, I believe, transmitting energy, which has a positive effect on our clothes. Folding properly pulls the cloth taut and erases wrinkles, and makes the material stronger and more vibrant. Clothes that have been neatly folded have a resilience and sheen that can be discerned immediately, clearly distinguishing them from those that have been haphazardly stuffed in a drawer. The act of folding is far more than making clothes compact for storage. It is an act of caring, an expression of love and appreciation for the way these clothes support your lifestyle. Therefore, when we fold, we should put our heart into it, thanking our clothes for protecting our bodies."And finally, even if I loved everything about the book, I still don't think I could implement it entirely because I believe a home is meant to be lived in, and it should look like someone lives in it. I think things should be neat and tidy, but I'm going to keep my soap by the kitchen sink and my clean dishes in the drainer, and my rolling pin on the counter, and I'm going to be okay with it. I'm okay with people knowing that I cook and clean and eat in my kitchen. I'm referring specifically to her suggestion to keep your soap under the sink and your clean dishes drying on the veranda so that your counters can be completely free of clutter. But this seemed a bit extreme to me.
There were other things I didn't like (taking every photo out of the photo albums to determine if it brings you joy; not keeping a supply of any essential items) and other things I did like (remembering that storage should "reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out"; asking yourself, "Am I having trouble getting rid of this because of an attachment to the past or becuase of a fear for the future?"), but I've touched on my main impressions of the book.
I know all of this probably seems overly critical, but it's just that all the reviews I've read have been heavy on the praise and light on the problems, so I decided to do the reverse. I hope those of you who loved it will comment because I'll bet we actually agree on a lot of things. And I hope those of you who weren't as thrilled with it will also comment so I know I'm not alone (although maybe that's a false hope, and I really am alone--the one person in the entire world who didn't think The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was all that life-changing.)