What I Learned From The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

February 15, 2016

What I Learned From The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

So you may have heard me mention I was reading the popular book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing. Or, if you’ve spent any time around me in person in the last month, you’ve heard me talk a lot about it.

If you haven’t heard about the book, in short it is a guide to decluttering your home penned by Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo. She takes you through her step-by-step method for simplifying, organizing and storing in your home.

It’s a short read (about 200 pages via iPad) and declares that if you follow the method exactly as prescribed, your life will be free of clutter for all the years to come. While I read the book and learned quite a bit, I also had some qualms with it. I did however spend five hours one Saturday discarding and cleaning out my room. I ended up with two massive trash bags of garbage and 4 bags to sell/donate.

Today I thought I’d share my biggest takeaways from the book…

Discard in Categories

Marie notes that often we discard by room. By closet. Or by particular space. But what you should do is start with all of your clothes and then move onto the next category  (the order of categories you work through is important, she says). This ensures you eliminate missing anything as you are working through discarding. So pull out all clothes. Those that are on coat racks, under the bed…anywhere (in the laundry being the exception.) Then begin to discard or keep things. You’ll find a place for everything and organize it after you’ve decided what’s staying and what’s going.

When Deciding Whether To Discard, Think of “Joy”

Marie believes everything within our homes should “spark joy.” So when you’re evaluating an item in your home, it should either serve a purpose or spark joy. It gives you free reign to toss cords you don’t know what they belong to and get rid of items that you keep around without them bringing you any sort of happiness. Living in New York however I know I am holding onto plenty of things right now that don’t serve a purpose or bring me happiness. Take my Cusinart. It’s too cumbersome to use in my apartment and it certainly doesn’t spark joy but one day when I move into a bigger place, I will use it. And until then, I’m going to hold onto it.

Leave Sentimental Items Till Last

Sentimental items are the hardest to toss so leave them till last. And don’t do it in front of loved ones. Sometimes you want to toss something and a family member may have their feelings hurt. Marie argues that most sentimental items can be gotten rid of but I actually disagree. I know how much it meant to me growing up that my parents handed down things to me that meant something to them in their lives. I’m probably overly sentimental but I know I’ll someday want things that may not have any purpose in my life right now but someday they will mean something hopefully both to me and others.

Not Everything Marie Says Can be Applied When Living with Roommates

While a lot of what Marie says and justifies makes sense, it’s not really feasible when you live with roommates in my opinion. With roommates you’re living with a friend’s furniture that can’t be parted with or three of the same pot. You’re living with items that aren’t your taste and you just have to deal with it. There will be plenty in your space that you can’t discard or give away. So for this exercise I focused on my room but I’m sure I’d have a heyday doing so throughout my apartment.

Discard. Then put away

This process I found helpful. Discard, discard, discard. Put things in the trash or in piles to give away. Leave the things you need to put away to the side while you do all of this. The point being that when you start to look for a new home for something, you can derail the discarding and de-cluttering process. It makes for one hell of a mess but it was worth it.

Do it all at once

When you don’t tidy in one big effort you’ll never achieve the task properly Marie says. She even goes as far as to say you should start early in the day so you have the best light in which to evaluate things. When I started out my tidying it took me over five hours and that wasn’t the whole of my room so I definitely recommend setting aside a day per large space in your home.

Folding vs. Hanging

Marie says you should fold as much as possible but I’m not able to do that in New York. I hang most things in my closet and then fold my tees, workout gear, shorts and pajamas. The rest of my drawers are dedicated to undergarments, socks/tights and linens. In my closet I have a tetris game of shoe boxes, jeans folded on a shelf and then cascading hangers. My clothes don’t really have room to breathe like Marie says they should but it is a product of too much stuff + one rather small closet. Then there’s the rolling rack my roommates and I put jackets and coats on, too. It’s a lot in not a lot of space, but we make it work because, well, #cityliving.

That being said, I did try out Marie’s method of folding which is that “everything should be in a rectangle” and this was rather life changing. I ended up with two fully empty drawers after I folded everything like Marie says and I was shocked at how much more room I had. Instead of folding things like you see in stores, fold things in rectangles and then place them in the drawer so that you can clearly see everything from bottom to top. This way you can pull out exactly what you need and not have to riffle through the pile wondering where something is. Brilliant!

Everything Should Have a Place

The biggest takeaway I had from the book that has made a lasting impact the past few weeks is having a place for every item and after using something, putting it back in the place it belongs. It’s created far less tidying on an ongoing basis and you realize how easy it really is to just put things back where you got them (like your parents always told you to…ha!) My room has been cleaner ever since I started practicing this and I absolutely love having a neater space on a regular basis.


So there you have it! Those were my main takeaways but I have no doubt I’ll revisit the book when I move into my next place. I feel like since finishing the book I am looking at things with a more discerning eye and much more quickly deciding whether to “keep” or “toss” and that alone is valuable to me.

Have you read the book? If so I would love to hear your thoughts!

[Bekka Palmer Photography originally seen in this post]

comments +

  1. Merritt Beck says:

    Wow thanks for sharing these mini takeaways from the book!

    The Style Scribe

  2. Lauren says:

    I read the book and didn’t find it to be as great as everyone has claimed. I mean it’s pretty much common sense to get rid of things you don’t like. As for the folding, I too was amazed at how much space I had left over. Just wait till you take out a sweater or t shirt to wear. Her folding method causes clothes to wrinkle much more! I stopped using her folding method when I found I had to iron or steam a shirt every morning before wearing it.

    • Meghan says:

      So I agree that it isn’t life changing but I did find some of the takeaways helpful. I’m never going to be one of those super neat + tidy people but I did have room for improvement and that’s what I liked about reading the book. And good to know about the folding for certain fabrics! I for one wouldn’t ever fold silk or hard to iron items but I also SWEAR by Downey Wrinkle Release. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it!

  3. islandvista says:

    thanks Maxine you re right; it doesn t necessarily mean more stuff comes into the cleaned out space. It can mean any kind of abundance, even abundance of more space in which to think, to breathe, to meditate, to concentrate focus without distractions. It can even open up space to consider what s next in your life; the way is made more clear. I know to some that may sound woo-woo, but it has proved true enough for me.

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