The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up [Marie Kondo Book Review]

If you’re into minimalism or decluttering, then you’ve likely heard about the KonMari Method. Developed by Marie Kondo, a Japanese cleaning consultant and now well-known tidiness guru, the method boils down to one simple question: Does this item spark joy? If not, you discard it. If it does, you keep it. Her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, acts as a guide in this process, dispelling common decluttering myths, assisting with the process of identifying what “sparks joy”, and then offering suggestions of how to store what you have left so that your home never clutters again. What makes this different from any other articles you’ve read on the subject is that not only is it a very specific, step-by-step guide, but also the surprising fact that none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed back into chaos. With a track record like that, you can’t help but be intrigued.

“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”

She begins by throwing everything you thought you knew about tidying up out the window. Kondo tells you to tidy all at once instead of a little every day, to not be afraid of aiming for perfection, and to sort and clean out by category rather than room or location. This is something I haven’t even thought of before. The natural instinct seems to be to choose a cupboard, or a bookshelf, or a certain room, and organize that space before moving onto the next. It’s counter-intuitive, but also kind of ingenious. That way, you get to see everything you own in that category, discovering duplicates you might have forgotten about an realizing the crazy amount of things you own. When it’s all just scattered around the house, it can be hard to realize just how much extra you own.

But let’s be honest, letting go of stuff can be hard, and that’s recognized in the book. Still, Kondo is unapologetic when it comes to telling you how this has to do with you, personally. She says “..when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future”. We might not want to admit that we’re overly attached to something, or that we’re genuinely afraid, but when we’re honest with ourselves, isn’t that the truth? I know many of my belongings fall into the latter category. I always think that maybe I will need it later, or maybe I can use it for something one day. But how often does that one day ever come? Most likely never.

When Marie Kondo gets past all the decluttering, she talks about how to store things to avoid the clutter from piling up again, something we no doubt are concerned about. But again, she has two simple reasons for the cause of clutter: “…too much effort is required to put things away, or it is unclear where things belong.”. So, her suggestions here focus on how to make things easier to put away, and finding a “home” for each item.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up [Marie Kondo Book Review] | The Curious Button

A little tidbit that, though simple, actually really makes sense is the suggestions of storing things vertically, upright, rather than in piles. One reason for this is because piles squish the things that are on the bottom, and it exhausts them to bear all that weight. While I think that this tiptoes across an “inanimate objects have feelings” line that emerges here and there in the book (she tells you to thank your socks for their service), her other reason is very legitimate. Stacking piles makes it harder to notice the increasing volume, and because they can often be stacked almost endlessly, you could be accumulating a bunch more stuff without even realizing, and next thing you know, the space feels cluttered once again.

Even as I was reading this part of the book in my living room, I glanced up at my roommates’ video games under the TV. Half of them were standing up vertically, like books, while the other half were piled up on top of the DVD player. Not only does the vertical row look neater, but it also gives you a much better sense of what is actually there. It’s a neat psychological trick that surprisingly works quite well.

But, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a major concern while reading the book.

The book, and the KonMari Method as a whole, clearly encourages discarding a large amount of stuff. While I do think that this can be beneficial to your stress levels, peace of mind, and overall home aesthetic, how you dispose of these things concerns me. I really hope no one just dumped it all in the trash. Some things are easy – paper can be recycled, books can be gifted in good condition, or donated to a library or school. Home decor items or furniture requires slightly more work, but it can be resold, given away or donated. But when it comes to clothing, we know that it would be such a waste to just toss it in the trash. We also know how harmful clothing donations can be for the developing countries they are sent to if they aren’t put out for sale at the thrift store. But trying to resell your clothing can be time-consuming, and unless you’ve got some fancy designer pieces, you’re not likely to make much money off of it anyways. Once you’ve decided what you want gone, you probably want it gone ASAP. Still, it’s not impossible, its just an annoying task that needs to get done.

Kondo writes “…we need to consider each object with care and not be distracted by thoughts of being wasteful”. I agree that while deciding if you want to keep it or not, you shouldn’t worry about it so much. It might stop us from getting rid of something that will end up in the back of some dark corner again. After all, it is a sunk cost – you’re not getting the money you spent on it back. However, once you’re facing that bag or box or pile of stuff you want out, I think being wasteful should be one of your primary concerns. To just throw it in the trash is one of the most irresponsible things you could possibly do, both from an environmental and social perspective. The environmental implications are obvious. But there are social ones to consider as well – someone might not be able to afford what you have. If you can’t sell it, give it away for free. It’ll do more good there than it’s doing here with you.

So what’s my overall verdict? As with most things, take it with a grain of salt. The book is filled with lots of helpful tips and hints, and though I have yet to actually apply the KonMari Method, doing it makes so much sense, and I’m pretty inspired to take on the challenge – with, of course, my small ethical and sustainable tweaking. I’d also suggest just breezing over the parts that refer to treating your stuff like they are alive – the knowledge you find if you can work past that is worth it. A fascinating read, regardless.

[UPDATED] Here are a few other blog posts about Marie Kondo and how to use her method sustainably from fellow ethical bloggers!

The Eco-Friendly Magic of Tidying Up – The Mindful Mom Blographer

What Marie Kondo Taught Me About Conscious Consumerism – restitchstance

You’ve Watched Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up, Now What To Do With All Your Stuff That Doesn’t ‘Spark Joy’ – The Green Hub

What do you think of the KonMari Method? Have you tried it? Let me know in the comments below!

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  • Thank you for your review – I’ve been hesitant to read this book for two reasons – the over spiritual wibe that she has – and the fact that I’d never get my boyfriend on board. I did however, never think of the waste that her method might create.
    I always keep stuff that is useful, so that I can find it a better home. Though it can be exhausting holding on to things that I am “done” with. But it is worth it for all the reasons you say.

    What I will take away (something I’ve watched endless youtube videos about) is her method for storing things. I currently have 3-4 big items that have to “home” in my home, and they are the cause of major clutter. They are: My computer, my bags, my hats and library books…

    • Hi Johanne, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I agree, her method for storing things do sound quite helpful. I’ve started applying bits and pieces of it to my closet, and it already looks much better. The spiritual vibe I found was not overbearing, and pretty easy to just read past and move on to the actual information. Though I wouldn’t go to the extent that she does, I think it touches on the importance of truly loving the things you own and taking good care of them, which makes them last longer, leading to less waste over time, and also how it can make you more mindful and conscious of your life in general, which is great for your mental health! As for getting your boyfriend on board – I’m not sure my boyfriend would jump right on to it either! But I found that just by living more mindfully every day, it tends to rub off on the people around us, slowly but surely 🙂 It might take some time, but I think once people see the real benefits it brings you, there’s hope!