The fact that an organizing book has made the best-seller lists yet again proves just how hungry Americans are for advice on how to manage their homes and businesses in our culture of speed and abundance. A few years ago, it was David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” that I spied on every client’s desk. This year, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by professional Japanese tidier Marie Kondo is on everybody’s night table.
Kondo’s book is a tidy, hardbound little sky blue volume, and the quality of the paper is much nicer than the usual pulpy, churned-out book on organization. As an object, the book itself inspires trust and soothes anxiety.
For me, what makes the content so appealing is the completely unapologetic way Kondo describes her no-frills “KonMari” methodology. With a few exceptions, I agree with her beliefs about getting a house in order, although it is probably easier to convince a client in Tokyo with a tiny home to part with everything that “does not spark joy” than it is a Californian with two large homes, a barn and a couple of storage units.
Very importantly, Kondo says that tidying up, what most of us call getting organized, is not meant to be ongoing, but should be a dramatic, rare event. You will want to go through every single thing you own at home, at the office and in storage, so that you see the complete picture of the volume of what you have and can make clear decisions about each item.
This is nearly impossible to make happen with the responsibilities of work and family, but the results are much more lasting and satisfying if everything is reviewed in as short a time period as possible. My clients who schedule only enough time to look through one box or file drawer end up postponing decisions or backsliding into disorder because they have not seen the full picture.
Also, I agree with Kondo that disorder is less about the stuff than it is about underlying decisions that have not been made. Sometimes these decisions are as deep as, “What do I really want to do in my spare time?” If you have not decided if you truly enjoy golfing, sewing, or canning, you can’t decide to keep or let go of the golf clubs, sewing machine or canning jars. Organizing/tidying is life-changing when these deep questions are answered and you are freed to “follow your bliss.”
Kondo stresses that when organizing, start with the easy, less emotional items first. For example, sort clothing before attacking photographs and mementos. In my experience, getting the easy wins out of the way really motivates my clients to keep going and gives them some experience in sorting and categorizing to increase their organizing confidence. You can always open the laundry closet and stare at all the perfectly sorted sheets and towels to keep you going on the photo organizing project spread out on the dining room table.
Where I disagree with Kondo is on the subject of storage. It is true that most people think organizing is all about cool containers. Most of the people I work with already own every container we need to complete the job. I repurpose existing storage and containers as much as possible. But where Kondo says cardboard shoe boxes and sunglass boxes as drawer and cupboard dividers are perfection, I prefer plastic or bamboo, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where water is a factor. The other day, my make-up leaked into my bathroom drawer divider. If I’d used a sunglass box lid, it would have been ruined, but since I use bamboo dividers, I simply wiped it out.
I think my favorite thing about Kondo’s book is her passion for her subject. She stresses gratitude for her possessions throughout — she talks to and practically anthropomorphizes them. By thanking items for their service and caring for them lovingly, it is perhaps easier to let them go when they have served their purpose. Being in a relationship with your things makes the decision making easier — it’s the stuff you never look at in drawers, cupboards, boxes and storage that causes the overwhelm.
I could go on and on about the simple wisdom in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” but read it for yourself and let me know what you think.