Getting Rid of Stuff: Marie Kondo’s ‘Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’

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Photo by Dustin Lee @ Unsplash

De-cluttering, getting rid of stuff, tidying up… minimalism is very trendy these days. There are countless lifestyle blogs and articles about keeping unnecessary, unwanted and unused possessions to a minimum. This minimalist approach has also been extended to money and finances, with bloggers such as Cait Flanders writing about shopping bans and saving money by rejecting consumerism. Because, after all, you need money to acquire the stuff and experiences you actually want.

On Saturday morning, I started clearing out. Inspired by Marie Kondo’s New York Times best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, I spent the whole day focusing on tidying up my bedroom. Despite having a fairly ruthless (or so I thought) sort-out when I moved house a few years ago, I found clothes I’ve owned for 10 years or more. My drawers held clothes that, I kid you not, I wore to my first teenage job as a waitress. Time for them to move on.

Marie Kondo’s all-or-nothing method is effective because, she claims, it’s much easier to maintain future tidiness. If you tidy a little bit every day, you’ll be tidying forever, she says. It’s far more effective to do it all in one go and then simply make sure you put things back in the right place and in good condition once you’ve finished using them.

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I don’t look like this when I’m tidying…. 

So that’s what I did. I took every single piece of clothing out and systematically sorted through the clothes I like and want to keep; the pieces from my past that I’ll never wear again; the clothes that I wore a lot and are now showing signs of wear; and the pieces I bought new and didn’t wear. I rarely buy clothes that I don’t wear, so this last group only had two items in it.

When I added up the items of clothing relegated to bags ready to schlep to the charity shop, I had more than 30 unwanted pieces which were taking up storage space. Marie Kondo’s belief is to only keep things which ‘spark joy’. Obviously you can’t apply that to everything in your home — a toilet brush that sparks joy, anyone? And perhaps if you have to wear a uniform to a job you hate, your uniform probably doesn’t spark joy but you’d be in trouble if you binned it.

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Photo by Sarah Dorweiler @ Unsplash

Marie Kondo’s book has been translated from Japanese into English — Kondo herself doesn’t speak English — and I wondered whether some of the translations reflect a cultural approach that is unusual in the West. Thinking of clothes as if they’re animate objects, for example — every day after she gets home from work, Marie Kondo says ‘thank you’ to her shoes for doing a hard day’s work on her feet.

Another of Kondo’s exercises is to get her readers to draw one arrow pointing up to the right and one pointing down. We prefer the upward motion, she says, and so she suggests hanging heavy items, like coats, on the left and progressively moving toward lighter items on the right. I organized my wardrobe like this, although I’m not sure it will make much difference!

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Part of my newly organized wardrobe

Kondo teaches that you must begin with clothes, and then move on to books, papers and komono (miscellaneous objects like DVDs, CDs and make-up). Following this approach worked well for me — sorting clothes was the most time-consuming, but books and papers only took a couple of hours. As for komono, that’s one area I haven’t tackled yet…

What have I learned from this tidying session?

  • Getting rid of stuff is immensely satisfying. Many of us live with stuff we’ve accumulated that we no longer need or want. Passing it on to someone who genuinely does need it (via thrift stores/charity shops/Goodwill) is much better. I tried to find an organization who could ship clothes to refugees — there are 75,000 refugees living in camps in Greece, and more in Calais — but I struggled to find one.
  • Marie Kondo’s book is really motivating, even if I won’t be adopting all of her methods (talking to my clothes? Nope).
  • Living with a tidy, easy-to-clean space frees up time for other activities and is easier to keep together. Much easier to clean, too — a place for everything and everything in its place.
  • The best way of tidying is to do it all in one go, as Kondo says. It seems like a lot of work and you need to set aside an uninterrupted block of time, but the end results are worth it.
  • I wouldn’t say that it has changed my life (yet), but it is calming and relaxing to have a tidy space — tidying and living without clutter has benefits for mental well-being.

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying? If so, what did you think? Do you have preferred tidying/minimalist methods?

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22 thoughts on “Getting Rid of Stuff: Marie Kondo’s ‘Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’

  1. I’m so glad you reported back on your experiences after reading this book! Having heard all sorts of opinions across the spectrum about Kondo’s book, I do think there is a cultural aspect to it that Westerners aren’t used to and can easily scoff at. In my experience, translating Asian languages into a Western language was one of the biggest hurdles (compared to if it was one Asian language being translated into another Asian language), since the cultural contexts by nature differ so much. In any case, I’m happy that you found the book helpful in some respects and this has definitely inspired me to do some cleaning out of my own!

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  2. I read a little bit of her book. I struggled with the concept. My white cotton pants don’t spark joy, neither does my sock drawer, but I can’t really throw them out.

    I do like the concept of a big clear out though and I often struggle letting go of old clothes, more because I associate certain times and memories with them! So I’m looking for an alternative decluttering method!

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    • I hear you. It’s hard for those everyday, utilitarian but necessary items to spark joy.

      I like her approach because she doesn’t follow time-bound de-cluttering rules that I’ve read elsewhere, e.g. “get rid of something if you haven’t worn it in the past six months”. So I think she’d probably say it’s okay to keep your old clothes if they still spark joy through the memories they bring to mind. 🙂

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  3. I feel the same way you do about the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying! I enjoyed the book, tidied, buuut I won’t be talking to the things I own, haha. It does feel wonderful to have things organized and be surrounded by the things that spark joy!

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  4. Pingback: What would you grab? | Broadside

  5. Pingback: Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (2/5) | Taking on a World of Words

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