The life-changing magic of not tidying up

photo-254Here are some interesting things to know about Marie Kondo. When this young Japanese “cleaning consultant” comes home from work, “I greet the waist-high potted plant by the window and stroke its leaves,” she says. Having fondled the foliage, “My next task is to empty the contents of my handbag on the rug and put each item away in its place.” Not even the wallet or train pass are allowed to stay in her purse. Everything must be put in its designated spot. “Before closing the drawer, I say ‘Thanks for all you did for me today.’”

All this comes from her new book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a best seller that, despite its instructions to purge, purge, purge has, ironically, sold 2 million copies that will no doubt linger on people’s shelves forever. Kondo claims to have a long waiting list of clients. Those she has worked with using her “KonMari Method” have never lapsed. I heard from several people that they found the book intriguing, so I decided to read it.

It is among the most bizarre tomes I have ever picked up.

Kondo’s habit of talking to her plants and purses is interesting enough, though to be fair, there are elements of Shintoism in treating objects as imbued with energy and spots in the household as shrines. Kondo worked as a shrine tender for several years in an earlier career. This blending of religion and practical matters has a long history, and Americans have produced plenty of self-help books claiming that God wants you to be rich, happy, etc. So I tried to read those parts of the book with an open mind. But Kondo is fully transparent that her interest in tidying did not stem from the healthiest of places. She says multiple times that her family didn’t have time for her, that her siblings absorbed all the attention. “Because I was poor at developing bonds of trust with people, I had an unusually strong attachment to things,” she writes. She was lonely, and turned to tidying as a way to be useful and, she hoped, make her family value her. “When I came home, I headed straight for the place I had decided to clean that day without even changing out of my school uniform.”

All this tidying finally ended in a divine revelation of sorts. She had spent years tidying and felt she was getting no where. So she plopped herself in the middle of the room, practically screaming in frustration. Then, a voice came to her. She heard a message, though instead of telling her to sell all she had and give the money to the poor, the voice told her to “Look more closely at what is there.” She should keep things she loved, rather than focus on what she didn’t. The only reason to keep something is an affirmative answer to the question “Does this spark joy?”

With this insight, Marie Kondo launched into a new consciousness of tidying. The book has some decent advice. For instance, this: “Getting rid of other people’s things without permission demonstrates a sad lack of common sense.” You cannot force your vision of the world on other people. You can only act it out yourself and trust that if they see your calm and happiness, they will be likewise inspired. This is much better than the “be sneaky” sort of advice often tossed around in women’s magazines for getting rid of kids’ toys. Also, don’t take the weasel route of handing things down to family members who don’t want them. This doesn’t actually solve the problem. And finally, in our consumer society, you really don’t need to fear getting rid of most physical objects. If you do find you need them in the future, you’ll be able to get them.

Of course, there’s also a lot of questionable advice. Like, when deciding whether to keep a book, “Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgment.” Say what? You shouldn’t decide which books to keep based on what’s in the books? She mentions that she herself only owns 30 books, which is just a bit north of the number I wound up including in our literary Advent calendar. Clearly, we are inhabiting different worlds.

It is hardly unique to Kondo as a self-help expert to offer advice that fits her world, but doesn’t fit others (some readers here might say the same of me!) She lives alone. She doesn’t have kids. The idea of having one major storage place, because you want to make things easy to put back, rather than easy to get out, is fine when we’re talking about reference books. It’s another thing if we’re talking about, say, diapers, and you’re trying to change a soiled, screaming infant at 2 a.m. You want everything you need right by the kid. The putting away is less important than the getting out. Trust me.

Then there were some truly strange moments of advice: “One of my clients cleared out a closet and shed that she had neglected for ten years. Immediately after, she had a strong bout of diarrhea after which she felt much lighter.” I think this is presented as a positive. Shed your stuff and you’ll lose weight! But we already have enough stomach bugs circulating around here. This does not inspire me to clean my closets. I’m hoping this is just bad translating.

But here’s what really bothered me about this book: All of her examples of clients are women. When men appear (and they only do 2-3 times) it is as part of a couple. Kondo never says tidying is women’s work, but the implication is clear. She is far from the only person who believes this, and I’m sure she has this feeling from experience: women are the ones who seek her out.

That’s why I kept having this thought while reading this book: For women, there is often life-changing magic in not tidying up.

I don’t mean living in a disorganized mess. My house is reasonably organized. Kid shoes and coats always go photo-255in the mud room — not stacked in a neat line, but in there — and the 7-year-old’s homework is either on his homework table or in his backpack. I mean letting go of the idea that the domestic sphere is your responsibility alone, and that it is somehow a reflection on your identity. You can be a happy and successful person and still have a multitude of mismatched mugs in the cupboard. You can read a book even if the toys aren’t picked up and there are dishes in the sink. You can write a book with piles of stuff stacked up in your office (see photo), because you are so drawn to the material you are writing about that it would never occur to you to waste time you could be writing, or being with your family, or running, or volunteering, asking if you should stack stuff vertically or horizontally.

I know this seems crazy, but your cupboards need not be a metaphor for life. But in Marie Kondo’s world, stuff is all about this metaphor. When the energy of our discarded objects is released, we are supposed to experience an awakening. It’s like the Japanese and clutter-oriented version of The Secret: energy you send out into the universe is returned to you as fortune, love, and good parking spots (Kondo doesn’t mention the parking spots thing, but you get my drift). “If you follow this advice, you will dramatically reduce the volume of things you own, experience an exhilaration you have never known before, and gain confidence in your life.”

As she puts it, “your real life begins after putting your house in order.”

I have no doubt her clients believe this. But why are all these clients women? Why are women clamoring to get on her 3-month waiting list in order to spend 6 months purging, so that their lives can finally begin then? Is it possible that men believe that your real life has little to do with the state of your silverware drawer? Is it possible that men think you can have a fulfilling career and relationships and either not pay the drawers much mind, or else find someone else to tend to them? If so, why do women have to put off real life by many months, paying tribute to the domestic gods before they’re allowed to pursue their dreams?

I think these are important questions, and the answers are about patriarchy, not tidiness. Realizing this is life-changing, much more so than tidying up.

In other news: One take-away from the “KonMari” method. I should totally brand my “method” of time makeovers. We could call it the “VandeLa” method. It seems so much more official that way.

78 thoughts on “The life-changing magic of not tidying up

  1. I’ve seen her on TV doing stuff (I live in Japan!), including helping male comedian clean his house, and she actually stopped his wife from helping him to do it. I don’t think that she is saying that cleaning is women’s work, I think that probably most of the people who actually hire her are women, because in Japan cleaning/cooking/everything to do with the house are all seen as women’s work.

    I find it weird that this book seems to be so popular outside of Japan because everything I have heard from the book sounds like advice that would work really well in Japan, but not really elsewhere.

    1. @Jen – fascinating! What is it about the advice that makes it work in Japan but not elsewhere? Is it smaller spaces? Certainly Tokyo puts even NYC to shame in terms of pricey real estate.

      1. Definitely the smaller spaces! It’s not so bad now, as I live in a family apartment with just my husband so we actually have a lot of room for just the two of us, but before when I was living by myself in a tiny apartment, just having a couple of things out in a room in case I needed them made the room look like it was so cluttered and horrible. So if you are in that situation, it definitely makes sense to have a place for everything and to put stuff away. But then everything is still really close when you need it, even if you have tidied it away. I think decluttering is so much more important when you have a small space as well… I only have 6 years of accumulated stuff, and I am not a huge shopper, but I still think that I would need to have a major decluttering session if we ever decided to have children so we could actually have space to store child related stuff!

        Oh by the way, I also expect that the thing about getting lighter was more about having a weight taken off your shoulders rather than losing weight, so it’s just misleadingly translated. Also, Japanese people are quite obsessed with bowel movements (my Japanese friends will happily talk to me unprompted about how they are really constipated or have had really bad diarrhoea all morning), so that sentence doesn’t strike me as weird now, but thinking from an English point of view it’s pretty odd, hehe.

        1. @Jen – That is fascinating. When I visited, I was quite aware that everyone had high-end toilets (compared to our American Standard) — more buttons on the toilet in my Tokyo hotel bathroom than there were on the phone. I guess that makes sense that the obsession extends to what you’re doing while using that luxe commode!

  2. I have not read the book (I did plan to, though after reading your review, I’m less sure!) And I agree it sounds sexist. But she is Japanese, after all, and Japan has no pretensions at being an egalitarian society. I think the bigger question is why are American (women, presumably!) buying the book in spades? Americans often worship advice from other cultures (as in French Women Don’t Get Fat). There again, we like our own self-help advice too, so maybe it’s just that we don’t discriminate.

    1. @Louisa – self-help is a predominantly American phenomenon, and yes, we like importing stuff to see how other people do it. We have a particular affinity for how some other culture does stuff better than us and what we might learn from that. There’s a reason the subtitle on this book is “the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing” — not just the art of those things.

    2. Louisa, read the book! It has been enormously important to me. Laura has a different way of being in the world. We are all different. Give it a try. I LOVE THE KONMARI METHOD, I think it’s brilliant. Blessings, Susan (admittedly a tree-hugger).

  3. I read about this book on Modern Mrs. Darcy, and it’s currently on my hold list at the library.

    I love organizing books, but even without having read the book, I am positive I will not begin stroking plants or emptying my purse every day.

    Also: TOTALLY true that it would be far more possible to have things utterly and completely organized if offspring did not inhabit my house.

    1. @The Frugal Girl – yep, the offspring do kind of make it impossible to maintain perfect tidiness. Unless you become the kind of parent I really have no interest in being.

      1. I hate to tell you this but even with the offspring out of the nest its hard to keep things perfectly tidy. But then you can’t blame the mess on them.

  4. Like The Frugal Girl, I love organizing books (FG: what are your faves?) and have this one on hold at the library as well (either from MMD or Shu). When I read these types of books, I’m not looking to love and embrace the entire book but to pick up a few ideas. There will be no stroking of plants but if I can pick up a few tips, then great!

    1. @Arden – you could just watch the videos of folding online. That might be a useful tip! The idea of storing hand bags inside other hand bags is intriguing, though I have enough space to store the purses I actually like and use without resorting to that.

      1. Laura, I am a mom of five and had some wonderful take aways from her book. I don’t understand why her book gets bad reviews at all. She is very open that this is her take on life and her ideas. She even says that people can live just fine without tidying up, but for her it’s her passion and she’s seen many positive results for many people. I read it knowing she did not have children so she would not have that side of life to give an opinion on. But the concept of releasing your items when they are done and keeping only what you need/love is great and will work for my kiddos.

  5. I have not read this book and, at this point, have no intention of doing so. I’ve read “reviews” of the book on other blogs that were more positive than yours, and I still found myself thinking pretty much the same thing – “why on earth would you based your happiness on the state of clutter in your house alone?” Frankly, the book sounds silly to me, and I think it just preys on people’s (mostly women’s) idea that there is ONE THING that will make things better – you’ll be happier, thinner, more relaxed, make more money etc. That’s just bonkers…

    1. @Rinna- we do love the idea that one thing will dramatically improve our lives, or make real fuller lives possible. It could be clearing the clutter, or it could be losing weight, or finally paying off loans, or whatever. While these can all be positive things, it is entirely possible to live a happy life before they are perfectly achieved, too.

    2. No need to base your happiness on the state of clutter in your house. But if that clutter causes you problems (can’t find anything, not enough space, embarrassed surface manipulations before your guests arrive…) then this book offers some useful solutions. Take it or leave it, all up to you.

  6. If you start saying “the VandeLa method,” I am unsubscribing!

    Just kidding. Sort of. 🙂

    I had so many great takeaways from this book, despite the woo-woo of so much of it. (And I hated the lack of male examples too, especially knowing that she must not have any to draw from from her personal experience.)

    I hear what you’re saying about how NOT cleaning is its own sort of magic, especially for women. She doesn’t say this explicitly, but so much of her method reads as straight productivity advice: clear the (physical and mental) clutter and minimize decision fatigue.

    After reading the book, I cleared out a ton of old tshirts and aspirational clothes (face it: I’m never wearing turquoise skinnies). My husband was wowed, and did his own side of the closet. That day. It’s so much easier to use now.

    I hear what you’re saying about choosing not to let the clutter bother you—especially if you’re a woman. But that advice reminds me of my uncle, who trained himself (his words) to drink coffee at any temperature, and no matter how long it had been sitting on the burner. It saved time and money, he said.

    Sure, you COULD do that. But why would you want to??

    To each his own… Or hers. 🙂

    1. @Anne – as you can imagine, I’m not opposed to organization. Indeed, while many things are “messy” at my house, they’re not disorganized at all. The kids produce a wee bit of chaos, to be sure, but there are rules for certain things. Three drivers sharing 2 keys for the van means they always go in a certain cupboard. There may be a bunch of other crap in that cupboard, but the keys have their spot. My problem with this book is that it elevates organizing and tidying far above where it should be, especially for women who already likely spend too much time cleaning. I’m happy to clean and purge after I’ve dealt with professional responsibilities, read to my kids, run, read the books I’m interested in (including this one!) etc. But I don’t think it should be a top priority.

  7. Huh, I could see reading this as a way to peak into a completely different mindset than mine, but as my post today shows- I am of the mindset that I only have to have things organized ENOUGH, not all the way organized. I used to aim for perfectly organized, but then I realized that the goal wasn’t an organized house, it was a happy life- so now I don’t worry about the stacks of paper on my desk. I feel the same way about the “inbox zero” people, really- WHY should I get to inbox zero? As long as I can find the emails I need, what difference does it make if I have hundreds of old ones in my inbox?

    1. @Cloud – I’m with you on the inbox zero thing. There’s no point, and there’s definitely a time cost. An inbox isn’t like a dishwasher that can’t be used unless it’s emptied.

      1. While I am definitely NOT a “practitioner” of Inbox Zero, I understand the draw it has — for many people, anyway. There’s a psychological “relief” when you reach zero messages in your Inbox: everything that needs taken care of has been handled [in some way — which may include putting off for later, more in-depth review/handling]. Also, it could speed up the handling of future/on-going messages: with everything else already handled in some way, it “frees you” to address each message as it comes in, rather than let it build up to a point at which it’s either forgotten about or lost (which has a “cost” of its own). Looking things up [later] is supposedly more efficient, because you don’t have the “clutter” of irrelevant messages to sift through. There’s even the subjectively noticeable increase in the speed of your email server/service: clearly it takes less time to retrieve 10 messages that might have accumulated over the past hour than it would to retrieve 10K messages that accumulated over the past few months/years…
        But just because some of those things may be — or indeed are — true, doesn’t mean that other things cannot ALSO be true. To wit, your point about things being “messy” but NOT “disorganized”. For example, I currently have over 13K messages in my Inbox at work — yet of ANY of my co-workers (some of which are “Inbox Zero” followers), if there’s a message to be found, if I’m not the ONLY one who can find it, 97 times out of 100 I’ll be the FIRST to find it. (There’s only been 2-3 times I can count when someone else found it before I did, and even then, it wasn’t by more than 30 seconds.)
        I liken it to how you organize your finances: for some, allocating their paychecks as they come in isn’t really a necessity, but it’s more comfortable for them and makes “more sense” to them. For me, even though I’m paid bi-weekly, I budget for the month as a whole — based on the AVERAGE amount I would expect in a month… For me, bills come in more of a “monthly” (versus bi-weekly) basis, so it’s more comfortable for me to allocate my money that way. And I don’t have to worry about which day of which week it happens to be: if I’m on the 15th of the month, I know I’m roughly half-way through the month and therefore roughly half-way through the budget.
        But to say that one method is “better” — or worse, “best” — for EVERYONE?!? No.
        Yes, it’s DIFFERENT, but there’s no “right” or “wrong”, no “better” or “worse”… Instead, there’s more or less “comfortable” and/or “understandable”. And even that isn’t something that’s set in stone: each of those is more comfortable/understandable for a particular period of time or set of circumstances… When things change, what used to be less understandable may suddenly make more sense — or vice-versa.

        1. @Eric- thanks for your comment. I, too, am pretty quickly able to find messages from the past. Also, my tendency not to get rid of stuff meant I was able to find addresses for Christmas cards for people even without having an Excel file of all of them. I had a receipt from a present I’d sent for a new baby with the address. Very quick! I think on clutter/mess/etc. it is all about personality. If you know you need to have an absolutely clean desk or house before you can concentrate, then you’d better keep your desk and house clean. But I’ll admit that I think this would be a problematic mindset (I won’t use the word *bad*…) since life is not static and something that is clean will not always stay clean, particularly if you live with other people.

      2. I do practice inbox 0 (blindly throw everything into one archive bin, and my inboxes are emptied out every time i check email) but that’s just becuase i prefer to have everything “to do” in one space, my planner. it annoys me to have some tasks in emails, some written down, etc. however, i can see how some ppl use email inboxes as more of a to-do list and that could make sense, too.

  8. It’s always interesting to hear your take on books, Laura, and I agree with many of your opinions on this one. That said, I found some valuable insight in this book that wasn’t just geared towards women cleaning more. For example, her view that people shouldn’t feel guilty discarding something they’ve never used because it has fulfilled it’s purpose by showing you that you’re not the kind of person who needs it. It might smack of psycho babble, but it is also sound advice for accepting a sunk cost and moving on. Many people do have a hard time letting go of not just stuff, but bad jobs, relationships, etc. If the author’s message resonates with readers and improves their lives, then it is indeed a successful self-help book.

    With books, I take the librarian position that there is a book for every person, but no book will please everyone. You read this book expecting that it wasn’t for you and proved yourself right.

    My favorites of your book reviews are those on books that you heartily recommend. I appreciate that they often motivate me to read something that I would not have encountered otherwise, or because they give me a different lens to approach a book that is making news. I hope you find one of those soon and share it with your readers. In the meantime I’m looking forward to your upcoming new releases!

    1. @Anjanette – thanks! Perhaps I should have listed that insight as one of the more intriguing ones of the book, that the purpose of some objects is to give you a thrill in the store, and then teach you something about what you like and don’t. It is a decent way to get over the sunk cost problem. I hadn’t recognized that perhaps I’ve been writing a lot of negative reviews lately. I’ll have to seek out some books I’ll like!

    2. Disclaimer – I adored this book, because of all the random wtf? moments I had when reading it, and because it was a peek into a completely different culture. And because I love organizing books.

      But I agree with Anjanette – one of the biggest takeaways for me was the idea that even the stuff you don’t need/want/use had a purpose in your life – to show you that you didn’t need it, or to give you a rush when you bought it, etc. She likens it to bad relationships, which is a belief I’ve had about my own – I can’t say I “wasted” 5 years with an ex, because in those 5 years I learned valuable things about what I do and do not want in a long term relationship. I kind of like the idea of extending that lesson to our stuff and being absolved of the guilt 🙂

      1. @ARC – you and Anjanette may be happy to hear that I’m writing an essay on sunk costs, and this idea of things serving the purpose of teaching a lesson. I’ve had book projects in the past that didn’t pan out quite as intended, but they did teach me how to write books.

  9. Saw that Modern Mrs. Darcy post.
    Thought it was bizarre. Agreed with your response. Disagreed with the passive aggressive responses to your comment, but apparently my passive aggressive responses (saying that hoarding is a psychological disorder and not the same as clutter, and that procrastinating by doing something joyful instead of something icky like cleaning means that you’re more likely to never get the thing you’re procrastinating from done) were horrible enough to get deleted and now I’m on moderation!
    To be honest, I’m beginning to agree more and more that this compulsion for complete cleanliness and order and organization is a psychological disability. And it’s one that is being forced on women, in blogs, in advertisements, in women’s magazines, in books like this. Men, of course, when they have the same need for cleanliness are called OCD and get psychological help. But when women don’t have this problem, they’re considered weird and they get shunned. Of course, without this manufactured guilt who is going to buy product?

    1. @Nicoleandmaggie – I really am not sure why the de-cluttering thing is as big a modern phenomenon as it is. Reasonably affluent people often do have a lot of stuff. Also, it taps into a desire for order as a way of control when certain aspects of life can’t always be controlled.

      1. Oh yes, my need for tidy ratchets up to a NEED when I’m stressed and it is all about control. I can’t make a baby sleep or a 4 year old stop being needy but I can throw stuff out and clear surfaces.

        1. Ding Ding Ding! Absolutely. When I am stressed, the time and space-management books come out.

          But I will say that when I need to do creative things, I need to have a clear, open space, otherwise I just get distracted by everything around me.

          So it’s not just me trying to control life chaos – it actually does help productivity, and that’s definitely my personality type.

          1. @ARC – definitely a personality thing. Having a dedicated home office has been a fairly recent thing in my writing career (last 3.5 years). I used to write in our NYC apartment bedroom, which often had its share of stuff around. Even now, my kids like to come in and use my office to draw during off hours. If I had to wait until I’d perfectly cleaned the office to write, I’d never write.

  10. I always liked the saying, “An empty desk = an empty mind,” but people get really offended by that (even though women who don’t mind clutter get called names all the time). I find it jaw dropping that an entire book could be written on the subject of — not just cleaning — but a *philosophy* of cleaning. This woman either has OCD or waaaaay too much time on her hands.

    1. @omdg – I might vote for options A and B… 🙂 I did have the thought a few times in this book – I wonder what happens if/when she does decide to have children. Then again, she’s phenomenally successful and will likely have the resources to try to preserve whatever systems she wants

      1. @sarah – very true that people can, and do, write books about anything. I get the Publisher’s Lunch daily reports and yep, publishers are buying some bizarre-o stuff. At least this book is actually selling!

    2. I think that’s a narrow minded and offensive thingto say. The author of that book is a very successful business woman who literally created a business out of thin air, I think that she’s worthy of respect. I don’t understand the hating.

      If you don’t want to declutter then don’t, if you don’t want to be organized then don’t, but obviously a lot of people find the act of decluttering and organizing to be Zen. And their experiences are just as valid as your own.

      1. my comment was in response to the commenter above who said that the author of the book must have OCD or way too much time on her hands.if she has clients lined up on the three month waiting list and she obviously doesn’t have too much time on her hands and implying that she must have a mental disorder because she likes to only have things around her that she loves is offensive

      2. How is it that being a successful businesswoman suddenly makes her immune to concepts of mental illness when literally everyone else is canon fodder for them? She fits the OCD bill far better than many diagnosed with other conditions and it’s strange that people come to her defense when everyone springs to offense for those who aren’t as successful.

        More than implies a level of narcissistic thinking when it comes to whose experiences are valid and whose are not.

  11. I like a certain amt of organization, and I do live it up with the spreadsheets for things like addresses and cost comparisons, but there’s a limit to how much energy I’ll spend specifically on organizing for the sake of it. It’s a cyclical thing for me, I let the mess pile up a bit, I tidy as a means of physically acting out the mental tidying I need to do when stressed. I naturally tend to just have a balance of neat/mess.

    As an aside: “Getting rid of other people’s things without permission demonstrates a sad lack of common sense.”

    This made me laugh as PiC, the man I’ve had to jolly and nudge into looking at things with a much more critical eye so that he can bear to part with them, has gone on such a purging kick he sold off my heart rate monitor watch that he gifted to me several years ago without even consulting me about it. He was right, I’m not using it, and I don’t actually mind but it was a hoot that he’s somehow gotten so into our purging and Craiglisting that I’ve been tracking back at the blog that he completely forgot to tell me he was selling off my things too.

  12. First, two caveats:

    1) I’ve been a mild Japan-o-phile for some time (Murakami obsession, etc)

    2) I love organizing and the idea of having no more than you need

    SO — as you know, I really loved this book. But, what I wanted to point out was that Josh was the one who brought it to my attention and he seems to be very much on board with bringing the ‘Konmari’ method to our home (YES I agree her naming scheme is rather over-the-top).

    I guess I just really love the idea that you should be purposeful about your things, just as you are about your time. I want a closet that only has things in it that spark joy, and really I think the book is more about getting rid of unnecessary things than it is about having the dishes put away all the time.

    That said, somewhat agree about the diapers 🙂 Although each kid really has their own stash (and size) diapers so maybe there really is just one spot for each . . . okay, plus the ones in the diaper bag. but that’s it!

    1. About the name of it… it’s actually the standard way that names are shorted in Japan. Like, for example Tokyo Daigaku (University) – You chop off the beginning of the two words and squish them together, so it becomes Todai. So, in Japan this would be the obvious shortened name for the method (her name as well would be pronounced not like Marie in English, but more like… ma ree ay (to rhyme with day), so chopping off the final e completely gets rid of a sound), but it is a bit weird in English!

    2. I’m with you. I did the capsule wardrobe thing (am such a sucker for organizing trends!) and it does actually “spark joy” every freakin time I have to get dressed.

      Everything I have fits and looks good! Nothing needs to be repaired or has stains that won’t come out. Most things coordinate so I don’t have to spend time or effort putting together a decent outfit when I have a last-minute client meeting. That sort of thing.

      I fully get that it’s a personality type that finds joy in these things 😉

  13. I think your post has missed the point of her book. It was written in Japanese and for a Japanese lifestyle, primarily. There was a rather condescending tone to this post — as if we in the West know better. Which explains an entire market share based on off-site storage, I guess.
    But much of what she says is applicable to all.
    First, if you’re not interested in having a tidy and orderly home, don’t buy the book. It’s that simple. No one’s forcing you.
    Her first piece of advice isn’t about tidying at all — it’s about envisioning your “ideal” lifestyle. You may not want a perfectly clean room, clear desk. You then tidy according to your vision of what you need and desire. She’s not pushing a particular vision on anyone.
    She then speaks to the failure of most people to remain tidy — the fact that we focus on what to discard, rather than what to keep. That is a universal, no matter what
    We also tend to think in terms of individual rooms, rather than categories. This means we’re reorganizing the same stuff over and over, just in different places. When we know exactly what we have, it makes it easier to determine what to keep and where to put it.
    And, we don’t really appreciate our belongings. If we did, we wouldn’t accumulate, clutter, misplace, and mistreat them.
    You mocked her tendency to speak to plants, thank her belongings for their contribution — this may not be Western culture, but perhaps it should be. While directly addressing these items may not be “our” way, appreciating them through gentle and thoughtful care might keep us off the consumerism wagon.
    Her admonition to not start reading the books in the midde of sorting makes incredible sense — you do lose focus. Besides, you bought the book and you should know what’s in there. If you don’t, why keep it? If you haven’t needed the information from it, chances are you’ll find it on the internet anyway.
    I doubt she’d have any problem with the baby’s items. They are put away. They are where you need them. Simple.
    I just got the book 2 days ago, and haven’t yet had the chance to put the practices to work. But this is the first time I felt as if I could tackle the sprawl of stuff in my suburban home. My home will not be like hers — I have dog hair, dust from the yard, student papers to grade, a husband who prefers to live in denial about his clutter. But her basic advice is sound. And I love that she says quite specifically that you don’t need to go out and buy bins and dividers. Amen.
    It sounds as if you’re pretty content with your organizational style. That’s great. Then you have no need for this book.

    1. thank you for the comment on speaking to plants. We in the west grew up with this notion that the world around us is ours to control and exploit, could this have to do with the biblical injunction to make the world our bitch, resulting in fracking global warming and so on. Folks in the East have a different out look, and speaking to plants and expressing gratitude to your socks might just be what we need to find a happier and more connected place in this world.

  14. At my house we regularly refer to Vanderkamian Theory. But then, 168 Hours is re-read as a New Years’ tradition every year at my house too!

  15. My life HAS been changed by Marie Kondo’s book. I felt helpless and overwhelmed with stuff. Every closet and drawer made me anxious. I wasn’t able to get rid an increasing accumulation of stuff. I LOVE her method–it has worked for me and my daughter. A number of men have made videos about how it has worked for them. I find the book charming and brilliant. Are we writers (I’m author of poemcrazy: freeing your life with words) perhaps jealous of her wild success? I’m forever grateful to adorable Marie Kondo. In my world she’s an angel. My home is a peaceful and more joyful place because of her help and gentle guidance…

  16. As others have noted, Japanese apartment space may have something to do with it. I’m a male entrepreneur. I live on my own, and my apartment, while very pretty, is not full of expansive rooms you’d find in a house.

    So when I have stuff around, I feel it, and my works slows. I bought the book for that reason.

    To my own amazement I just now folded my clothes following her method and my drawers all look spacious. And I arranged my closet “from left to right with heavier items (darker, larger) on the left”. As I did it, I mentally grumbled that it could never work.

    But actually it did! My closet now significantly better.

    After doing those two exercises I resolved to at least try exactly what she says unless I have a clear rationale for not doing do. For instance, I won’t be following her book advice – I’ve built a small library of about 1200 books, and love it.

    Though I’ll probably follow her exercise of taking all books off my shelf and evaluating them. Chiefly as a way to better categorize them when I put them back, but also to weed out any cruft in order to make space for new ones.

    So I think there’s probably something to it, though I’ll have to try the system for longer to be sure about it. I suspect it’s also more important if you have smaller spaces, or have to work in places that can fill up.

  17. Laura, as you said, you already have a reasonably organized house. If life is working for you, great! But for someone who is in a “disorganized mess,” what do you propose? This is a self help book. If you don’t feel you need help, you’re free to move along. I don’t know if anyone is saying YOU need help, but we’re all different, and I need help. I do appreciate your tempering of Kondo’s strong rhetoric and tidying zealotry, but I can tell you being extremely disorganized does feel like being trapped. And that feeling of knowing what’s important to you can be hard to come by if you’ve lived in a confusing jumble of things, because that jumble can represent your thoughts and feelings. This book is not about tidying. It is about figuring out what’s important to you and putting it front and center. It sounds like you feel like you’ve done that, so I congratulate you.

  18. Funny article. I’m post-animism myself, but I am all about verticalizing now, having struggled with disorganization for most of my life. It didn’t stop me from doing other things, but it was just ~ ah ~ unpleasant.

    I do the housework around here, ‘cuz hubby works 12 hour days at the factory, trying to downsize the debt I racked up “following my dreams” in the past.

    But I thought you might find it amusing that I found you by googling “Time Management Marie Kondo” or something like that. I liked many things about her method so much (the suggestion of talking to inanimate objects notwithstanding), I wanted to see if there were any parallel time management schemas to inspire me. And lo & behold I landed her! So I’m gonna check into the VandeLa Method, & I am hopeful. 😉

  19. Hello! I really enjoyed your article that give a unique and different perspective on the book. I found your observation that the only examples of people in the book are female, which a very good point. As a man, I would like to share my perspective on the book. I’m a married man of 14 years with three children. I only started with this method a few weeks ago, and it’s dramatically made a positive impact on my life, and the seemingly unneeded clutter in my home. Time will tell if I can stick to this ritual, but so far it’s been nothing but positive and energizing. I too went off script and worked room by room. I don’t blame Marie for giving advice that isn’t perfect, everyone has to adjust the rules to fit their lifestyle.

    I want to first point out that I am by far a more “minimalist” and clean person than my wife. As with every marriage, there is always going to be a difference. Maybe it’s a stereotype, but it seems that 99% of the time it’s the women that are cleaner and clutter free. I’m not surprised all that the book only has women for examples. The male clean freak is a very rare species.

    After binge reading Konmari articles and watching Youtube videos, I became so inspired that I went to our bedroom and immediately started going through my clothes. I am 6’ 4”, which means that I wear XLT sized clothing. Before the Internet finding any clothing that was tall size was next to impossible unless you wanted to spend a lot of money at big and tall store. My only option was to buy XXL sized clothing that never fit me well. Needless to say, throwing away those clothes were easy. Shirts and ties were mercilessly tossed into the donation pile. I’m happy to say that I lost 45 pounds over the last year, and I was hanging onto a couple pairs of my old jeans to remind me how hard I worked to lose the weight. They were trophies to me, but ultimately I came to the realization that they didn’t spark joy. The jeans only reminded me of a time that I don’t want to remember. I also threw out a lot of clothing that fit me, but didn’t make me happy.

    The clothes folding technique is actually something that I have really enjoyed. I can certainly understand that it simply isn’t going to work for a lot of people. After discarding all the clothing, and folding my clothes in the new way, half of my dresser was barren. I then took clothing out of my closet and put it into my dresser. After a couple hours I was finished. I can now see the back of my closet, and I only had clothing that I wore, and truly made me happy. I can not express how much of a positive feeling it was to do this. When I see my clothing now, it not only brings me joy, but it also reminds me how successful I was at completing the task. I would like to point out that how you fold different things should be tailored to where it’s being stored. If I fold my towels according to her method, I’m losing space where they are stored. You need to be flexible and make changes depending on your storage options. Rules are made to be broken.

    I then started working on our living room, kitchen, and bathrooms. I didn’t use the method of throwing everything into a pile. My children and dog would have severely hampered my progress. This was a little more challenging as I had to have my reluctant wife involved. However we did make a lot of progress. You can really see the difference, as well as the walls and tops of tables. I threw out outdated electrical wires I had for electronics. I really had no idea why I was holding onto them. Tackling the bathrooms was eye opening. It was amazing how much useless stuff was jammed into the bathroom cabinets. The kitchen was a little more challenging. My wife and I love to cook, and unfortunately we have a small kitchen. We didn’t get rid of too many items, but we did come to the conclusion that we needed to move infrequently used items out of the kitchen.

    The latest room to tackle is the garage. This is still a work in progress, but the hard part is done. We parked our cars in the driveway, put most of the stuff all over the garage floor.
    I moved one of the built in storage shelves that is 1 foot deep, and put it in a better area of the garage. I then built a new storage shelf that is 2’ deep. We went from 1’ of shelving space to 3’ of shelving space. Putting all of our stuff on the floor, and using the Konmari method really made it simple to discard items we previously could not part from. After much internal struggle, I have decided to donate the table saw that I barely use. The big hardware stores will cut lumber down for you, so the table saw simply became obsolete. At least for the projects that I do.

    With regards to making progress with my children, they were extremely difficult to work with. Understandably, their toys really are their only possessions. What I had them do is put all of the toys they don’t play with in laundry baskets. I then put the toys in a storage closet and tole the children they can go play with those toys any time they want. After about a month, they haven’t used the toys at all. It’s been a great learning process for them.

    To sum, Konmari has had a huge impact on my life. Not just with clutter in my home, but it really has helped me with clutter in my life outside of the home. I’ve found myself doing activities that I love, but haven’t done for years. Being in my home has become far more enjoyable than it has for over a decade. The biggest challenge has been to get everyone else in my home as excited as I am, which I don’t think is ever going to happen. At least for me, I feel so much better. I can’t recommend this book enough to people.

  20. I am writing from the perspective of being an Home Organizer who has not read the book. My the focus of my work is too help people get unstuck after experiencing a loss such as a death of a parent, divorce, loss of a job and so on. I do not believe in perfectionism I think it is a set up to fail. It is this drive towards perfectionism for some that stops the process in the first place. I truly try to empower my clients to make thoughtful decisions and to make space for their new lives. Many of my clients have purchased this book but what they need is someone to physically support them in the process of moving forward. When your home becomes as cluttered as your mind you have reached a place of zero peace. I do believe objects have energy negative and positive particularly when you are closing up a chapter of your life. My role is help my clients make thoughtful decisions and edits.

  21. “Laura Vanderkam questions the status quo and helps her readers rediscover their true passions and beliefs in pursuit of more meaningful lives.”

    I am not even sure why I am reading this post. Your about me section completely contradicts this post. You belong to a typical “American mind” saying you tried to be open minded when you read this book in fact you really didn’t. Obviously you haven’t been to Japan either so you know nothing about their culture. Please explain your Vandela method too.

    1. God forbid people didn’t find the book valuable, you can either think it’s amazing and god spell truth or, if we don’t agree with it, we must surely be asses that didn’t understand it… Simply not having liked it is not an option. -_-

  22. At one point this lady says 80% of her life has been dedicated to tidying –the thought came to me that only 20% of her life then was for other things—this seems a shame from where I’m looking.

  23. I had to copy down some of the sentences you wrote because they speak to me so much. I spent so much time and thought on chores and tidying up, it’s almost compulsive, constantly thinking it’ll help me gain total control of my life – ha, not at all. It just deprives me from having time to do fun stuff.

  24. Laura, interesting blog post! You should know there’s an entire subculture on YouTube full of moms who post vlogs about cleaning their houses. They have tons and tons of videos just on cleaning tips and routines and advice. You can literally watch someone clean their entire house. I find these videos strangely calming to watch. But then it’s perhaps a little sad that cleaning their homes seems to be their main activity and source of pride. Although, I guess we all need to take pride in what we do every day.

    I agree that we shouldn’t make it seem like your can’t have a good life without a clean home, but what if a clean home really does make you feel better? Neatly stacked files definitely boost my mood.
    I can see why this book has a strong following. An orderly outward world can make us feel more orderly inside.

    1. I’ve seen those kind of videos too, they are interesting to watch but they do make you questions why it’s only women who feel the need to do this.

  25. My son gifted me the ebook version after he himself successfully applied the Konmari method to his minimalist NYC room that doubles as his work studio. Home making had been my career for over 25 years. Early on in my marriage, my partner and I agreed to “divide-and-conquor” which meant he was solely responsible for the income and I was in charge of all things domestic. To make a long story short, the Konmari book came to me when I was about to take my homemaking game to the next level. Her “philosophy” helped me finally get over the obligatory responsibility I felt toward things, events and commitments that did not spark joy. After about 6 months of applying the method to our home, we created an environment close to our ideals. The surprise was we had so much free time as a result. So I went back to work for the first time in 25 year. That is where you, Laura, come into the picture. I read your book about women who were doing it all. I looked at my time, and now that I have simplified it with the Konmari method, I,too, can join the others who were having it all. Two years later, I am successfully building my carrer, raising children, continuing to throw dinner parties, volunteer in the community, purposefully filling my space and time with what brings joy.

  26. Really absurd review, it’s clear you only read the book for the sake of giving an alternate version of reality for attention, and that you didn’t actually absorb the moral of the story, so to speak.

    I have an infant, and the solution is to keep the diapers near the baby. How hard is that?!

    The magic is in making spaces so organized and worth living in that they cant get messy.

    She has 30 books and you have 300? If you genuinely think you’ll read and enjoy those books and you love the sight of them and they spark joy, great! Those are your items that make you “you”. But I found incredible liberation and mental clarity and focus by reducung the books significantly. If I really want to read something again, it’s at the library, and I’m not confronted by the guilt of many books that I thought I would read but never would, or that were gifts I was given that I knew I would never be that interested in.

    I have unbelievably clarity, peace, and focus after applying this method vigorously to my life. I was always “messy” but am very clean and organized now.

    My only area of disagreement is keepsakes. Just put them in a box, your children or grandchilren might like to see them one day.

    1. Really absurd comment, it’s clear you only read the review for the sake of giving an alternate version of it for attention, and that you didn’t actually absorb the moral of the review, so to speak.

      Talk about being judgy and preachy! Not everyone likes the same things as you do, I personally have found Kondo’s book hardly useful, it said lots of weird things and banalities. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and stop judging people!

  27. Interesting assessment given that I personally adore her method. I’m male and while I noticed many of her clients mentioned were female, I wonder if it has to do with how much (unfair) responsibility women are given in term of housework whether or not they work as much as the men they share it with. This means they probably notice how untidy their space has gotten, while a man who hasn’t cooked or even looked in the cupboard in months wouldn’t be bothered if his pantry was messy. My point here is that yes, women should give themselves a break and let things be less than perfect, but we should be encouraging this at the same time we encourage men to take better care of their things and other family possessions.
    While the book often has a strict tone in some cases, I think this seems more due to translating than anything else. She mentions several times that everyone is different and then she goes on to explain her method saying things like “you should” and “do this”. This is not saying everyone should do this, as she already stated but is rather an easy way of directing you to do it her way.
    She also admits that she isn’t perfect-sometimes clothes go unfolded or a purse un-emptied after a long day. The idea is just to make things easier to put away and save you energy…being able to see all your kid’s shoes at a glance and know exactly where their jacket is saves any time list carefully placing them back, and relieves stress.
    Again, I it’s totally fine if it doesn’t work for you. I just think she has some valuable insights that might be worth at least trying. It is important to note that many things we find strange boil down to her culture, and while they may not be something you understand or wish to incorporate, it may be wise to still speak respectfully about them. I’m specifically referring to her Shinto beliefs (how she treats objects as if they had a soul of sorts) and how her and many of her Japanese clients believe that cleaning impacts health or leads to certain good things and balance.
    I love reading and learning about methods that work for different people, so it was very insightful to see yours! I think whatever makes you happy at the end of the day is all that really matters.

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