the life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing
2016 Book Challenge: a book that was originally written in a different language
by Marie Kondo
I picked this book up from the library after seeing several references to the KonMari Method on Facebook and among the various Bullet Journal groups I follow. I know that it’s been around a while – the book was published in 2011 (though I think the original Japanese was published earlier) – but it’s only recently come to my attention. The premise sounds good: clean up your life by cleaning up your living space. And it’s Japanese: from what I’ve heard, Japanese homes tend to be smaller (sometimes MUCH smaller) than what Americans are used to. With less room, they have to have some trick of keeping everything organized, right? At least, that’s what I was thinking when I picked up the book.
And the truth to it? Well, while I was reading the book, I wasn’t visualizing Japanese living spaces unless Marie specifically described them. I was thinking about (American) homes I’d lived in or seen. I was thinking in terms of Western housing, and the method still (mostly) worked. There were some things that I have a harder time visualizing – for instance, unless it’s a walk-in closet, I don’t know that Western closets will fit everything she suggests storing there. But the way of choosing what to keep and what to discard, which is at the heart of the KonMari Method, will carry over across cultures.
“Does it spark joy?” is what you’re supposed to ask yourself when deciding what to keep. For some people, this doesn’t need any further elaboration. Other people will have lots of questions. Marie tries to cover all aspects of what this could mean, but there’s one category where I think she falls a little short. For me, I have things which don’t spark joy themselves, but which I use for things that make me happy. For instance: my mixing bowls. These are not designer bowls. Yes, I have seen some lovely mixing bowls, and they would probably make me happy to own them. Mine are not like that; they are simple metal mixing bowls. When it comes down to it, they’re just bowls. Useful but basic. However, they are easy to use and make cooking easier, and as such I enjoy my cooking more. Not because of the mixing bowls themselves, but because of their usefulness. I have read other reviews where the readers couldn’t make this leap, and they were complaining that some items were just items and didn’t need to “spark joy” – that joy wasn’t their purpose. In some respects I agree with them, but I think that by taking the implications along with what Marie actually wrote, we can get a better use out of the book.
(Random thought – what if your house itself doesn’t “spark joy”? Or your car? Those are a lot harder to discard and replace, but if I’m understanding the KonMari Method correctly, you’re supposed to discard everything that doesn’t spark joy. Hmm. Interesting thing to consider.)
So, that’s a bit of what I think of the method. What about the book itself?
There are times when it’s clear that the book was translated. Every now and then the word choice seems to be a little more suited to the Japanese then English language. However, in general it is a smooth translation and seems to maintain the author’s original intent. The writing is clear, and I found it to be a fast read. One of the main things which I had to keep reminding myself of was that in this case, “tidying” meant “decluttering.” Day-to-day cleaning wasn’t what was being discussed in this book. This isn’t the magic of vacuuming, but the magic of getting rid of unwanted belongings.
At times I did think there was a little (or a lot) more repetition than was necessary. I had to remind myself, however, that this is a self-help book, and some people need the content described in different ways in order to fully grasp it. Marie could have stuck to one example each, but that would not have been serving her audience well since some of her readers wouldn’t have connected to her examples and therefore would be unable to translate the KonMari Method into their lives. It got a bit annoying to me, but not so much that it stopped me from reading the book. (On the other hand – I had checked out both this book and Spark Joy from the library, and the repetition in this one made me return the second one unread.)
This is definitely worth picking up if you think you need help with getting your house in order, or if you want suggestions on a good way to keep your space tidy. It seems that the KonMari storage method will work quite well, though I’m guessing since I haven’t tried it yet. One word of warning: if you pick this up because someone else thinks you should, I don’t think it will be any use at all. As with most self-help books, it will only do you any good if you actually want it to.
As a sidebar, you may recall that I added the KonMari Method of tidying to my 101 in 1001 list of things to do. I had started this book when I wrote that list, but I hadn’t gotten very far into it by that point. I had planned to wait to start implementing the KonMari Method until I had a little more free time. However, now that I have finished the book, I find that I’m excited to start it NOW. So I’m going to start now, while the inspiration is there. I realize that this means I’m starting to tidy while I’m already busy with other things, so I might not move as quickly through the process as intended. However, Marie also mentioned that this one-shot tidying could take 6 months, so I guess I’m not expected to finish in a weekend or something unreasonable. Also, it is possible that the act of tidying will free up space in my home and life for the other things which are keeping me busy.
I do still intend to work at the KonMari Method for 3 months, and see at that point how useful I feel it is. I may keep going indefinitely; I may adapt the method at that point to suit my needs and desires; I may quit entirely. Some of the aspects of KonMari make a lot of sense to me (such as organizing by category and not by location) while others don’t make any sense at all. For instance, I scoff a little at the thought of talking to my things to thank them. (My attitude seems to be more common among Westerners, yet I do recall seeing some anime films/shows where the characters thank inanimate objects. I suspect it’s cultural.) But I will try it, since that is part of the KonMari Method. Who knows? 3 months of thanking things before I donate them may change my mind. It will certainly have the bonus of making me aware that there is always something to be grateful for.