Spring can feel like the ideal time to declutter and simplify your life and home. Books and blogs suggesting how best to do so have been popular for the last few years. The most famous, Marie Kondo’s The Life-changing Magic of Tidying, has even spawned a TV show. But can a book really inspire you to change your life?
The Life-changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo
Even if you haven’t read it, chances are that you’ve heard a lot about this book. Most people will have heard her suggestion to get rid of items that don’t spark joy. Before you read the book it’s easy to be dismissive of her approach. Can basic household items really spark joy? However, this is an over-simplification of the book’s messages.
Kondo suggests decluttering one category at a time, starting with clothes. She recommends leaving sentimental items till last as they are harder to part with. One obvious piece of advice she gives is to gather all items from a particular category together so you can see exactly what you own. That’s how I discovered that we owned five different measuring jugs. Needless to say, we did not need that many! You’ll probably find that you have similar items stored in different places in your home, making it hard to spot duplicates or unused items.
Kondo works with clients all the time to help them declutter their homes. She also struggled in the past with holding onto items unnecessarily. All this experience makes her a pro at knowing the tactics people use to avoid letting go of items. One is passing things on to a family member so that we don’t really need to say goodbye to them. She says we should not burden others with our unwanted items, or let them ‘save’ items they don’t need just because we are getting rid of them. She also advises throwing items away first and then dealing with storage. It’s very easy to look at your over-filled home and think you just need more or better storage. But the reality is, you almost certainly need less stuff.
Decluttering books can be a touchy topic for some people. Despite what some may think, Kondo does not suggest getting rid of all of your books. Her method involves gathering all your books and laying them out on the floor or a table. Scanning the spines of your books on the bookshelf is not as effective as holding each one individually and asking yourself if it really sparks joy. She says that in reality you will probably not reread many of your books. This technique led to my giving away 14 books that had survived previous culls. None of them were bad books but did they spark joy? No. Did I see myself rereading them? No. Was I keeping them because I felt I should? In some cases, yes. As a lifelong book-lover I found it hard to avoid keeping books I felt I should, so there are still some in my collection that don’t quite pass the Marie Kondo test. Perhaps I’ll have another go in a few months’ time!
The book contains short sections on all sorts of items, from personal letters to greetings cards to unwanted gifts. Kondo suggests considering an item’s real purpose. The purpose of a greeting card or gift is to show us that the giver is thinking of us and wants to show us their love. Greetings cards have served their purpose as soon as we read them and therefore do not need to be kept. A gift might not suit our lifestyle but its purpose has already been served when we receive it so we can thank the giver and pass the item on (to charity, for example) without feeling guilt.
Some aspects of the book are probably a bit extreme for most readers. Thanking your possessions for their service, emptying your handbag every evening and believing socks get uncomfortable if balled up are not for everyone. But it’s easy to skim over these parts of the book if they’re not for you.
Overall, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying is as life-changing as you let it be. It’s not a quick fix and Kondo suggests taking around 6 months to complete all categories. So far I have sorted out clothes and books but truthfully I think I could go through both categories again and be more honest about how each item makes me feel. But without reading Kondo’s book, I know I would still have items sitting in my house that didn’t need to be there. Including several measuring jugs!