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Posted on Jan 26, 2015 in How to simplify, Resources

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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I remember a discussion in a college class, a long time ago. We were talking about cognitive assonance, an experience when new information fits nicely with your own beliefs. The opposite experience is cognitive dissonance, when new information contradicts or challenges your beliefs. Dissonance is uncomfortable for most people, because it is so difficult to hold two opposing ideas at the same time (Here is a nice description). The point of that ancient discussion was that it is very difficult to convince someone in an argument if their fundamental understanding of the world is different from yours. There is just too much to get past from their life. This book is a little of both for me.

In my own life, I have experienced a lot of joy from de-cluttering. Not just reducing possessions to those that I regularly use and love to look at, but removing activities and social obligations that take up my time and bring me nothing positive. In my experience, de-cluttering has brought only empowerment, increased happiness, more time and clearer thinking: real life-changing magic.

You can probably guess that I expected a nice dose of cognitive assonance when I checked this book out of the library. If this were a podcast, now would be the time to play the sound of a needle dragging across the vinyl record (why do they still use that sound when things go awry?  Most people these days have never scratched the arm of a turntable across a record).

One one level, this book is sort of a tough-love version of de-cluttering 101:

  1. Decide to do it and do it.
  2. Keep only what brings you joy.
  3. You can expect to confront your reasons for collecting clutter in the process.
  4. Afterwards, your life will be better.

The book repeats the message over and over, which might be helpful for those just starting out. It only talks about possessions, which for most people is only one part of their clutter. But there were some other messages that are unique to this book:

  1. Do it all at once
  2. Do it all in one place
  3. Start with the categories that have the easiest (least emotional) decisions.
  4. Do it my way because any other way is just an excuse to fail.

The author spent her life organizing and re-organizing her home, and as a child, her family allowed her to discard their possessions during her organizing sweeps if she decided they were not worth keeping. This would increase stress in most households, unless everyone in the house was in agreement on each decision, and working together (I hear that record-scratching sound again).

There is some good advice in the book. Keep your goal in mind as you go through the process, don’t exempt anything from the process, use your own intuition, don’t let anyone tell you what you should keep of your own things. There are some insightful thoughts about why we have trouble letting go of things. On the other hand, a lot of pages were devoted to how to fold things correctly, based on how the clothing wants to rest. For me, spending a lot of time folding my weekly laundry would be a barrier to keeping it up. It makes sense to have a process that is sustainable (simple) than to stroke the clothes until they tell me what they want.

It seems that the core of this process is making decisions. Should the object stay, or should it go? Establishing clear criteria to make this decision over and over is a good idea before you start the process. Finishing the whole job in one clean sweep is satisfying, because it does not allow the objects to migrate to another place while you are progressing from room to room. Surveying your tidy house will fill you with pride. Difficulty with making decisions is a major source of accumulating clutter, though. It is easier to just put something down or hide it in a closet to decide what to do about it. Like most things, addressing the cause of the problem is the key to the solution.  Cleaning house may not be enough.

A lot of people have reported success when using this authoritative do-it-now, you-can-do-it-if-you-do-it-my-way method. It’s kind of like your Mom telling you to clean your room before you can go out to play. You find a way to do it if the motivation is strong enough. I ask myself where the joy and empowerment will come in.

My silliest self keeps picturing her as Niecy Nash coming in with her team and making things fabulous, but this is not the author’s intention.  She tells us that you must do the process yourself for it to stick, and this is likely true for most people. The author says that after implementing her process, most of her customers keep their houses tidy without having to periodically de-clutter. Maybe the thought of doing it again is enough motivation to keep things tidy. And for some, this may be truly magical and life-changing.

It is hard for me to accept that there is one best way that will work for everyone. I will have to hold onto these opposing thoughts for now.

The book is: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Have you read this book? What did you think?

What is your experience of de-cluttering your life?

 Picture credit: Eirik Solheim

 

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