You guys have heard about this book that everyone is talking about, right? The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. If you haven’t heard about it yet, I’m sure you’ll see something about it soon on social media or the news or at your next cookout, because it is everywhere. People love this book!
And, I have to admit, when I first heard my dear friend Krissie mentioning the book, it totally sucked me in, too. I mean, c’mon, life-changing magic! If that ain’t a sexy book title, I don’t know what is. Krissie was talking a lot about how the book did literally change her life (and she’s one of my life guides—I try to be a better person everyday by asking myself “What would Krissie do?”), so I figured it was worthy of some of my time. I checked the book out from the library, and read it over the course of two days a few weeks back.
Now my review won’t be as glowing as the nearly 1500 five-star reviews on Amazon are—I had some issues with it—but there were a lot of a-ha! moments that I got thanks to reading the book. Overall, I say it’s worth a read, especially, if like me, you struggle with clutter and untidiness.
My Clutter Backstory
I’ve never been a very neat and orderly person. It just isn’t in my DNA (which is weird, because it should be—my Mama is a super organized person). As I get older, I have learned that it is possible to fight against my disorderly ways, but it is a daily struggle. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t to my husband either. Neither of us are the housekeepers we probably should be.
We’ve gotten better now that Juniper is mobile and into everything—we just can’t leave all of our knives and rusty nails laying out like we used to. But it still is a daily struggle to keep our house orderly. We just have so much stuff. It’s amazing what you accumulate in eight years of marriage! I will say that over the last few years, both Craig and I have been trending more and more toward minimalism. We used to be those people who would cruise the thrift shop, and buy something just because we thought it was cool and we might find some place for it later. With age comes wisdom—and a box full of random thrift store goodies in our basement. Even without this book, we’ve slowly evolved to realizing that our power doesn’t come things. It comes from our relationship. Our daughter. Our animals. Nature. Gardening. Hiking. Not from stuff.
So, I read the book. And I have to admit, some parts of it had me laughing out loud with the ridiculousness (the author claims she isn’t a naturally neat-and-tidy person, but if you get immense joy out of folding things, you are much more Type A than I ever hope to be, Monica Geller).
But, as you can probably infer from the title of this post, we are putting into action some of her plan. There were definitely some places in the book where she dropped truth bombs that made me stop, look around the room and evaluate in a way I never had before. As with everything in your life, you take what you need and leave behind what you don’t. So I’m taking all the good things she gave me (and the motivation to finally get my house in order) and leaving behind all the extra fluff that didn’t resonate with me.
What I Didn’t Like
Before I get to the good stuff, let me talk about the parts of her organizing plan that we are totally ignoring. Some of them just aren’t realistic for our lifestyle, and others are just flat-out silly, in my opinion. Here are the things that I didn’t like about the book:
Everything out before you organize. One of her biggest plan “secrets” is that you must take everything out and have it all sorted before you can organize or put anything back into the place where it’s going to live. You can’t even think about where something is going to go until you’ve sorted through all your stuff. I totally get the idea here, but it just isn’t realistic for the vast majority of families in the vast majority of households. There is no way we can pull out everything we own and have it in piles in the middle of our house for the days or weeks it takes to sort through everything. Especially not with a 10 month old crawling around.
Fold everything. Her obsession with folding things into tiny squares (literally, there is a whole section about how she gets her kicks from folding things into the smallest square possible) is too over-the-top for me. I’m lucky if I can get something folded at all before a baby tears into the pile or a client calls or a cat makes the pile into a bed—spending the extra time to fold into perfect little squares is just a little too much for me. That’s not my idea of fun.
Saying that objects have feelings. There is a laugh-out-loud section where she talks about the horror she gets when she sees a client who has balled up her socks. She talks about how the socks feel and how hard it must be for them to be in the drawer (she wants you to fold your socks in little squares, FYI). She anthropomorphizes objects throughout the book. My hope is that she is doing it just to teach people to treat the items they really enjoy with more respect, not because she truly believes these items have feelings. Yes, if you act like your socks are people, you are more likely to treat them better, but our society is already entirely too obsessed with consumerism to place that much value on things, in my opinion. Things aren’t people. People are people.
Putting everything away everyday. In the book, she tells the story of what she does when she walks in the door at the end of the day. She puts her shoes away (and thanks them for covering her feet). She empties her purse and puts all the items away (and then thanks her purse for it’s hard work). She hangs her clothes (and thanks them for keeping her warm). You get the point. I get that this is something highly organized people do. But I have no interest in being that kind of organized. I use the same purse everyday—I am more than happy with it just hanging on the hook by the door. Hey, at least it isn’t on the floor somewhere!
Avoid stockpiling things. She goes on a little rant about people stockpiling items. She says it just adds clutter to your home, and we live in a day and age where we have no need to stockpile. I agree with her on some aspects—I have no need to have 10,000 cotton balls stored in my house, even if they were 4939% off. But I strongly disagree with her when it comes to food. By producing and buying as much food as we possible can while it’s in season, and preserving it for the winter months, we save a ton of money, eat healthier, and promote a more environmentally friendly method of eating. I think the “no stockpiling” philosophy is also a very urban mentality. There are times, when us rural folk literally cannot get to the store for what we need. There was more than one snow storm this winter where I was very thankful for my well-stocked pantry.
She claims she isn’t neat or tidy. The next two are over-arching themes in the book that really drove me crazy. This first one, I mentioned above, but she claims throughout the book that she isn’t a naturally neat person. I call bullhockey. An unnaturally neat person doesn’t spend her time as a teenager perusing home magazines looking for newest storage and organization ideas. An unnaturally neat person doesn’t get thrills from folding things into tiny squares.
She’s got a little bit of an ego. I suppose, if you have a New York Times Bestseller on your hands, you are allowed to pack an ego, but her’s is a little over-the-top for me. She talks at length about how she changes people’s lives (which, may or may not be true, and if it is true, I’d much rather hear it in testimonial form from the changees instead of the changer). She gives you license to throw away other people’s stuff without their knowledge—all for the good of organization. Basically, she’s giving you the right to be your house’s god of stuff. Which is so not cool in my book. And, the most ego-centric thing of all, she named her cleaning system KonMari (a hybrid of her names). The self-naming thing is really just a personal pet peeve. I know it is done in all fields, all across the globe, amongst all genders, but it rubs me the wrong way.
What I Did Like
Okay, I swear I did actually like the book for the most part—even if the above list suggests otherwise. There were a lot of things we did take away and are actually implementing in our house right this very second. Here’s what I loved:
Keep items that spark joy. You’ve probably heard a million different ways to sort through your clutter. Get rid of something you haven’t used in a year. Keep the things that you might use in the future. So on and so on. Her method is a brand new one to me, and it really resonated with me. Only keep items that spark joy. By using this guideline, I was given the permission to get rid of books that I will never read, but kept because I thought I should. I was able to keep that dress that I love, but only wear once every three years. It’s a much happier (and I think, healthier) way to think about objects. And it removes any kind of guilt that you may have with keeping or discarding objects.
Each item has a purpose. This goes so far beyond the idea of items accomplishing tasks. This isn’t about scissors and their purpose being to cut things. It’s more about the metaphysical purpose of an item and how it relates to a human. The purpose of a greeting card is to be read and enjoyed—and after that it’s purpose is fulfilled. Why keep it? That half read book from three years ago, maybe it’s purpose was for you to only read through half of it because everything you needed to know was in that first half. And now its new purpose it to go to someone else who will love it. The purpose of a gift is to be received, so maybe don’t hold onto so much guilt if you are getting rid of that sweater you got from your Aunt Maude three Christmases ago but never wear, because the sweater already fulfilled it’s purpose. She’s all about thinking about objects in a different way. This really helped me remove some of the guilt with discarding items. The hippie environmentalist in me loathes throwing perfectly good things away (and more on how we aren’t doing that later), so I always had a lot of guilt over getting rid of something that was perfectly good. But thinking of the object as something that has a purpose with someone else really helped me remove that guilt.
Nix the paper. When I first read her chapter all about throwing away your paper, I was totally aghast. But we need all of those copies of bills and receipts! But the more I read on, the more I realize, she was right. In this day and age, there are very few things we actually need to keep paper copies of. Almost everything is available online, and that’s if you even ever need to use it. How often do you actually refer to your toaster manual? I went through our filing cabinet and we’re getting rid of about 95% of the paper we were hoarding. We’ve gone from a two-drawer filing cabinet, plus three filing boxes, to just one filing box. I even got the nerve to get rid of about 75% of our old immigration paper work (that’s what this stack I’m holding in this photo is). I feel so much lighter!
You have enough storage space. This was a truth bomb that almost knocked me off my seat—no matter how much storage space you have, you have enough. If your stuff can’t fit in your storage space, you have too much stuff. I’ve often (and loudly) lamented the lack of storage space in our modestly sized house. We don’t have a coat closet or a linen closet. Our closets are small. I always thought, “Now, if I just had a linen closet, I’d be so much more organized!” This book snapped me back into reality. This is probably our forever home. And we’re probably never going to knock down walls to build a linen closet. So I gotta work with what I got—and that means getting rid of the extra 20 sheet sets we have and the extra 10 ratty towels. Store within your means.
Skip the storage gadgets. I always thought to get my house organized I’d have to spend a small fortune at the Container Store buying bins, boxes, and containers. Not only does she say you don’t have to do this, she actually recommends against it. Her point, and it’s a good one, is that storage gadgets don’t help you store, they help you hide clutter. You have a beautiful storage bin on the top shelf of your closet with your scarves in it. It looks nice and neat, but inside that box are 10 scarves you never wear anymore. The storage gadgets are giving you a false sense of organization.
Use what you have to organize. She does admit that there are some places where you need organizational gadgets, and I really appreciate her suggestions to use what you have around the house. She even specifically recommends using Apple boxes for drawer organization because almost everyone has one (or five—ahem) of them around the house, they are strong and sturdy, and they are the perfect size to fit in drawers. And she is right! They are perfect! We’ve been using plastic food storage containers, old tins, basically anything we have that can keep stuff contained.
Put value in your home life. A particularly poignant part for me was when she spoke about how some of her clients will want to keep old, ratty clothes for lounging around the house. She immediately questions this with “Why is your home life less important than your outside life?” MIND BLOWN. I don’t work outside of the home, so I spend the vast majority of my time in my house, but I was “saving” my good clothes and accessories for the once or twice a week when I went out to get groceries. Your home should be the place where you feel the most wonderful about yourself—so why are you dressing in grubby clothes that make you feel terrible? You should feel wonderful in your home! And the only clothes you should own are ones that make you feel that way (although, I am making an exception for one set of painting clothes).
Store it where it’s easy to put away. This was a total a-ha! moment for me. She talks about the issue with people wanting things “within arm’s reach” is that it’s a philosophy that puts the emphasis on the wrong part of the process. It’s easy to get something. When you’re in the middle of making cookies, it’s easy to run downstairs to the basement to grab some extra flour. Or if you’re working on a project, it’s easy to run to the far-off closet to get the extra glue. It isn’t easy to put things away. So we should be focusing instead on storing items where it is easy for them to be put away—in other words, store items where you use them. This is a huge issue in our house, because we have a secondary pantry in our basement. The buffet right next to our basement stairs is constantly (CONSTANTLY!) full of items that need to go back downstairs. Think about the items that are always put away in your home—they probably live where they are used. Make it easy on yourself! If you aren’t naturally neat and tidy, you shouldn’t make it more difficult on yourself to be so. Accept that your instincts are to be disorganized, and figure out a system that works within that reality.
How It’s Going
The interesting thing about this book coming into my life is that it came at a time when we were already beginning a massive declutter. We’re in the process of moving our bedroom upstairs, and we’re having a yard sale in May, so we were already in the stuff liquidation mindset. So reading this book came at the perfect time to help give us some methods for our decluttering process.
I have to admit, it is taking us forever. Her method of really considering each item isn’t a quick one—and it doesn’t help that I’m pricing each thing for a yard sale as we go. We’ve been decluttering off-and-on for about three weeks now, and we have two more weeks until the yard sale day, so we better be done by then! We’ve finished Juniper’s room and our bedroom. We’re currently working on our office/craft area (which is basically where all of our extra stuff went to die, so it’s taking a while). And then we move onto the kitchen and living room, which shouldn’t take too long—we keep those pretty clutter-free. Our two biggest clutter mountains to climb are our basement and our pole barn. We started going through our basement over the winter, and I’d say we need another good solid day of work down there and we’re done. And then, last weekend, my parents joined us to help work in the pole barn (it’s a shared space). We’re very close to being done down there.
Where is all the stuff going?
By being so ruthless with our cuts, we’re generating a lot of waste that needs to leave our house. Some of the more expensive stuff, we’re selling on eBay and Half.com (and making a nice chunk of money to help us build up our savings!). And, most everything else, we’re having a big, giant, three-family, yard sale the second weekend in May in Indianapolis. If anyone in the Indy area is interested in more info on it, shoot me an email. There will be some seriously good stuff there, and we’re donating a portion of the proceeds to a local charity. Everything that is leftover at the end of the yard sale is going directly on a charity truck—nothing is going back in the house!
Anything that has been deemed not yard-sale worthy (but is still in decent quality) is going to be donated. All of the trash, paper, etc. we are recycling if we can and, of course, throwing some stuff away. I have to admit, I’m really proud of how little trash is actually coming out of this process. We’re not contributing to the landfill nearly as much as I had feared we would be. And my hope is that with our shift in mindset, we’ll be more conscious consumers of goods moving forward, and in general, reduce the amount of stuff we’re contributing to our planet.
We’re feeling lighter already!
We’re obviously not completely through the process of getting our house in order, but I think what I’m loving so much is that we’re cutting through all the visual, emotional, and literal clutter that kept us from truly enjoying the items we love. By having hundreds of books on bookshelves, the dozen or so books that really changed my life are drown out. By keeping every craft supply I might ever need, I never remember I have the ones I truly do need. We starting to clear out the noise, and the items that are left truly feel like friends. I can now look over at my bookshelf and feel love for each and every book on that shelf. It’s an amazing feeling!
I think, even without the book, we would have gone through this purge, but the book gave us the extra push to really be ruthless with our cuts. If it doesn’t bring us joy, it doesn’t need a place in our home. I’m so excited for our home to only be filled with items that we love, and to be able to turn our focus from our stuff to the more important things in life. If you struggle with clutter or disorganization at all, I recommend picking up the book from the library (after all, you don’t need to add to your clutter by buying it), and giving it a read. It might just actually change your life!