April’s Book Club: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

This online-book club thing is harder than I anticipated. I wish I was hosting an in-person book club. I wouldn’t have to clean up first because I’ve been sharing photos of my mess, and there would be wine and snacks.

Anyway, I thought The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo would be a great book for our first digital discussion because I found it really helpful. It gave me a much-needed kick in the pants and helped me get started on my project. My enthusiasm, I must confess, has seriously waned in recent weeks, so I’m thinking about re-reading.

I hope this is the last decluttering book I ever buy.

I hope this is the last decluttering book I ever buy.

I hope share your thoughts, even if you base your comments off reviews and buzz if you weren’t able to read it.  And I hope you come away with some insights about decluttering. After I chose this book I realized the timing wasn’t great because its popularity has made it tough to get from the library. I’m keeping this in mind for next month’s pick.

Anyway, if you weren’t able to get the book already or if you did read it and want to see what others thought, here are some links:

  • This post from Here & Now includes a nice excerpt about ‘selection criterion’ to help you decide what to part with and what to keep.
  • I liked this post because the blogger shared some additional tips about how she made the book work for her.

What I liked:

  • I found something key in the Table of Contents: You can’t tidy if you’ve never learned how. As kids, we’re told to clean our rooms, but what does that really entail? It’s made me think about what I do with Emma, but so far she’s doing pretty well on her own. I labeled bins and boxes for her and she’s usually diligent about returning things to their spots. But at some point I may have to give her more direction.
  • Decluttering by category is much easier than decluttering by space. Even though it was more time-consuming, pulling all my clothes out and taking the time to handle everything led to me getting rid of a lot of things I didn’t really need or want.
  • I’m still using Marie’s strategy to fold my clothes, and Emma’s too. Since Emma’s currently into sporting mismatched socks, I’m not bothering to be nice to them and am just stuffing them in the drawer. But all my clothes and socks are folded neatly.
  • A list for decluttering komono, which is Japanese for miscellaneous items, was also helpful. I probably don’t need to point out that trying to declutter can be really overwhelming, but having someone else give you a list and a suggested order helped.

What I disliked:

  • I have lots of books, and am open to most ideas regarding ways to pare down my collection. But I was appalled by her suggestion to rip out favorite pages and then donating or tossing the book. The one thing that helps me choose books to donate is the hope that they will make it into a home of someone who will enjoy them. I could never, ever rip up a book. If there hadn’t been so many other useful tips I might have put this book in my donate box.
  • Some of her tips seemed a bit impractical. For example, she talks about emptying her purse every day when she comes home. Even though I always have way too much random crap in my bag, taking everything out daily seems pointless. There’s also a pretty good chance I’d walk out with an empty purse, and get pulled over without my license.
  • Marie’s tip to stop storing seasonal clothes won’t work for us, at least as far as winter gear is concerned. Our coat closet is about to burst, and we don’t have excessive amounts of winter clothes. Bob has one winter jacket. Emma has a coat and a vest, I have a vest, a dressy coat and a long puffy coat I keep to wear to the bus stop. Emma and I also have snow pants. Putting those items elsewhere will mean I get a seven-month respite from cursing every time I attempt to close the coat closet.

What did you think? Share your comments below.


30 Responses to April’s Book Club: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

  1. Tracy- Thanks for picking my favorite organizing book! Maria Kondo has wise ideas. I hope she visits the USA. Here is what I came away with after 2 reads:

    1. Touch each item and keep what sparks joy – very simple and brilliant.

    2. I folded all my tees and tank tops and placed them in my drawer vertically – a novel idea I just had to try to believe. It is so nice to see all my choices at once! I did the same for my son – he said it is weird but it works.

    3. Folding tees freed up room in my closet for dresses and other clothing that was tucked away in the basement closet. Maybe I will start wearing them.

    4. I put a pretty box in my drawer to organize my stockings and scarves. Maria uses shoe boxes to organize things.

    5. I like the idea of having gratitude for my possessions even when saying goodbye to them.

    6. Most intriguing is the Japanese references – the size of a room measured in tatami mats, tangled mess of noodles. The cultural references keep the book interesting. Do Japanese use different pocketbook each day?

    7. The magic comes by being surrounded by only the things you love. Being in touch with what “sparks joy” will lead me to joy in other areas of my life.

    • I also like the vertical folding a lot, I’ve noticed that I’ve been varying my clothing choices a bit because I can see everything better. I also like the idea of having gratitude for things, and I’m working on that, and the cultural references too. We Americans have a very different philosophy about stuff- I wonder if we took time to feel grateful for our stuff, we’d be less likely to buy what we don’t need?

  2. I haven’t read the book yet (now 94th in line at the library) but I’ve read a lot of reviews and one thing that I’m uncomfortable with is how much people say they throw away when going through the process. You mentioned ripping books, ect. If the book is about showing respect to your possessions I would think that should include respectfully disposing (or rehoming) them as well. I hate to see something useful be thrown in the trash. I realize a lot of people do this anyway but wondering if it is discussed in the book.

    • I don’t really recall that she made a distinction between recycling and throwing out and it is contradictory, the idea of ripping up a book but respecting your things. I never thought of that but have never and will never rip up a book. There’s a lot of talk about storage but not a lot about donating. Sometimes I wonder if people use the phrases ‘throw away’ or ‘get rid of’ as a catch-all term, so they don’t have to distinguish between garbage and good things. I know I say ‘get rid of’ usually but I throw away a relatively small amount of stuff, nearly everything gets donated or recycled.

      • People rip up books?! That’s sacrilege! 🙂

        Plus then what are you supposed to do with the ripped out pages? I go by the Courtney Carver saying of “if you have to buy stuff to organize your stuff, maybe you have too much stuff” rule. Why bother organizing pages when you could just organize an entire book? Or, better yet, donate the book to the library and then check it back out if you feel the need? 😉

        • I would never have ripped up a book- but I used to rip out magazine pages and put them in a file- but I’d hardly ever looked at the files so I stopped doing that. But yeah, ripping out and saving pages from books adds an entirely new category of clutter!

  3. Toss out a favorite page? Are you sure it’s worth reading? I had a favorite organizer type show that I use to watch (and wish) until one organizer suggested tossing ALL the photos AND negatives, after all you have digital copies. Sorry, family pictures on the wall mean something to me and negatives don’t take up that much space.

    I have the book. Haven’t started it. Don’t know how I’ll do at the BC meeting, I’m spending April in total OL immersion reviewing 26 books – one a day except Sunday and I already have an L book.

    Gina, a book dragon, blogging at Book Dragon’s Lair

    • Wow! Good luck! I just looked at your blog and that is a huge challenge.

      I always have trouble with professional/tv organizers who tell people to get rid of specific things- like photos. I could never do that either. They mean something to me and I feel like the goal should be to give away stuff that’s not important so you can make room for what is important, and those things will differ from person to person.

  4. This book is translated from Japanese. Is throwing away (vs recycling) part of the Japanese culture or did translation get lost? Agree that discarded useful objects need a new home not put in the trash.
    So how does Japan get rid of junk?

    Maria’s catalyst book “The Art of Discarding” by Nagisa Tatsumi (Takarajimasha Inc) is written in 2000 in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. I could not find an English version.

  5. Tracy – Thanks for your links. I forgot Marie’s motto ” Cherish who you are now”. This motto will help me with Sentimental items page 114 and Photos page 118. I got a film scanner to convert my negatives to digital. I really love the easy access to digital photos and make photo books in the future.

  6. This suggestion worked out in a very timely manner for me, because I got lucky and found the book at a used book sale just after you selected it for discussion. And I read it straight through and quickly, finishing it on Thursday night, just in time for your post. So, on to my initial comments, which are made from the perspective of having read but not yet attempting to put into practice the book.

    My overall reaction is that I find it simultaneously seductive and terrifying, like the kind of very expensive spa that has you up before dawn for a 10-mile hike (but through stunningly beautiful countryside), followed by an impeccably presented breakfast of one lettuce leaf with a tiny mound of flawlessly shredded carrot with one perfect, edible flower for garnish. Where you’re not sure you can do it because you’re going to end up exhausted and starving, though you know that it’s the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself. The section on books, in particular, is the most frightening thing I think I’ve ever read.

    I find myself dubious of the over-the-top claims she makes about the life-altering effects of her method, and especially that she has no recidivism. But, I haven’t tried it yet, so should I really be that sure she’s wrong?

    Her instruction to go through possessions by category struck me as her most important insight. The order of categories is sensible too: clothes, books, papers, oddments, and memorabilia. Just getting each category corralled into one area for sorting would be a big help. I do think a couple more categories should be added, both from the kitchen: kitchen tools and foodstuffs. Some people (like me) would also add a category for hobbies, such as yarn and knitting needles for knitters.

    Books. Okay, I have some expertise here. I’m sending Tracy a photo of my books, which I was forced to pile downstairs last year while we were having new flooring installed throughout our house’s main floor. That was after we hauled an amount roughly equal to one and a half hotel laundry carts full of books to our local used book dealer (really — they took one look and gave us a laundry cart to take out to the parking lot). Books are HEAVY. It was traumatic, and yet I haven’t been able to keep from buying more at library used book sales. I think she’s wrong about books piling up for rereading — it’s getting to the first reading that’s hard for me. I can discard fiction without a second thought after I’ve read it, but I acquire books I want to read much faster than I read them. “When a man buys a book, he thinks he’s buying the time to read it” is one of my favorite quotes.

    Although she has a lot to say about the other categories, it amounts to more of the same — gather everything of one category that you own, keep only what you truly love, and at the end, figure out their storage.

    I’m no expert, but I know a little about Japanese culture, particularly their traditions of animism (believing that everything has a soul or spirit). While I don’t literally share those beliefs, I think it’s good to adopt them as beneficial fictions or analogies. I have long had the practice of thanking a particularly useful item, such as a favorite purse, for its long and faithful service when it finally wears out and has to be replaced. And I’ve convinced myself that my fitness tracker will be disappointed if I don’t reach the goals it’s urging me towards. If you pretend that your possessions have feelings, that they hate to be idle and like to serve you by being used to make some part of your life better . . . hey, that’s what you got them for, right? Works for me.

    I’ll probably have a lot more to say about this book if I ever work up the nerve to actually put the Kon_Mari method to the test.

    • Anne, I have that problem- acquiring books faster than I can read them. I too usually find it fairly easy to part with books I’ve read but the unread books? Much harder. I liked the details about Japanese culture that made their way into the book- it was fun to see how they regard their things, so different from us.

      I too loved the idea of categorizing, and I added quite a few things to the list- craft supplies and sewing supplies, fitness equipment. I think I’m also a little skeptical about the ‘life changing’ claim- but we’ll see. BTW I loved the photo of all your books! I will try to find a way to share it.

  7. I really enjoyed the excerpt from the Magic of Tidying Up…it is giving me a new perspective on only keeping what gives me joy…then I’ll be surrounded by only what I love — or really like! It gives me permission to ditch accessories I’ve not worn in years and gifts that I’ve received but aren’t my style. I’m grateful for the thought, but these things often take up space that I don’t want to give up. Thanks, Tracy. I’m learning a lot from your blog.

    • Thanks Beth, I am glad to hear that! I definitely relate to the challenge of parting with gifts that just don’t work anymore.

  8. I’ve enjoyed reading this book! I’m only half way through as I have been breaking down the tasks and completing them as I read through, although I’m “stuck” on paper and may just finish the book then reread as I progress through the tasks…

    I thought the “Slightly Critical Review” was interesting, although I agree with Marie Kondo on the implied “life-force” of objects in that they do impact our lives whether we are attentive to that or not. As I have explored acupuncture, natural medicine, and healing practices as well as minimalism and waste-free living and plastic-free living in general I’ve found a lot of value in considerations of how the objects we surround ourselves with impact our physical/mental/spiritual states…

    And as someone that’s fascinated by waste-free living and a lover of knowledge/books I found myself a little frightened by her destruction of the books and of her glossing over of disposal of the “stuff”. Although I have come to a place with my own “stuff” that I am ably to comfortably reduce excess responsibly as I have so little to move out… When I started decluttering years ago that was not the case and a lot was simply donated indiscriminately or trashed. I’ve now become an Ebay queen and moderately capable recycler… and of course I donate as well…

    Since discovering this book I have lovingly recommended it to many of the much-cherished hoarders in my life… (mom, sister, significant other, anyone open to simplification) we’ll see how they progress! I do believe that hoarding is as much an emotional/spiritual state as it is a physical one.

    • I’m glad you liked the book! I found it easier to read the whole book first, then I started working my way through each section as I decluttered. I also found myself wondering what was done with all the things she got rid of, hoping it’s not all ending up in landfills. I agree with you about hoarding too- it’s definitely complicated!

    • This reply resonated with me as it brought up EBay. I truly could live out of a very large suitcase happily (freedom!) but my house if full of “stuff” because I can never decide whether I should/could sell the good stuff! So it all sits in bins in a closet waiting for its next life. 🙂 I wind up donating at least a couple bags when the ARC trucks are in my hood… And I toss or recycle items that are are past it. But to sell or not to sell paralyzed me.

      • I’ve been working toward perfecting the art of moving things along these last few years! It’s hard. What has helped me is imagining how unloved the item might be or how it’s time for my life to change, and for that to happen the given item must move on to it’s next adventure. I’ve found Ebay is great for name brand stuff, consigning is great for average stuff, and goodwill is great for most other things. I think to start with the big purges and then slow progress through the harder stuff. The smaller my “stuff” quotient gets the more I am able to work through the “tough stuff”. I like the Marie-Kon method for this reason… You get rid of the easy stuff and then have the energy for the hard stuff. Best wishes for your efforts! 🙂

  9. Just wanted to chime in as someone who empties their purse out completely everyday: it may be impractical for some people but it’s definitely not impossible! Depending on my schedule (gym, errands, lunch at work, etc) I may need completely different items with me and since I use public transit I need to be able to carry everything. Instead of staying in one purse, my wallet has a spot it lives (unsurprisingly, next to my phone and keys) and it gets dropped into whatever bag I am using that day. Putting together my bag every day quickly became a regular part of my morning routine, but even better is coming home, taking everything out, and knowing that I am done and can relax for the rest of the evening.

    • Thanks for sharing! I do wonder if my purse would remain more clutter free if I cleared it out daily, it’s worth revisiting down the line when I have a better handle on some bigger issues. 🙂

    • I’ve started doing this off and on now, and am finding it helpful! I am able to address the “clutter” that accumulates and address things I might otherwise forget… like my missing sunglasses… where are they?

  10. I reviewed the book for 365 Less Things and I felt that the Japanese to English translation was great, but I felt that someone from the organising/decluttering world needed to do a final translation as I felt the word ‘cleaning’ was over used and in most places it would have better to use ‘organise’ or ‘declutter’ or something similar. I have also wondered since if her ‘throw it out’ has also been under-translated too as apparently she has since responded to the Green movement of the West that she is all for recycling and donating, but it isn’t the main focus of her work.

  11. I also was shocked to read her take on books, I personally have gone from thousands of paper books to just a few but her stand on unread books certainly caused my eyebrows to hit the top of my head. I have since rattled it around in my head and come to a realisation that I usually have at least one dress in my wardrobe which still has a tag on and invariably it will end up in the donate pile. I don’t like that I do this but it seems to happen. This made me realise that if I can donate an unused dress, it isn’t a crime to donate an un-read book too. I’ve had to think this thru a number of times to come to this conclusion. Obviously some connection didn’t happen, so let it go.

  12. I have been decluttering for 5 or so years and am very happy with the results – and have been putting off doing photos as my last big project. I have been following KonMarie’s method and the more I practised her advise, the easier it has become, in fact I think I need to go back to the front of the album and do another sweep. Sometimes it felt a bit like Sophie’s Choice especially with baby photos, but we had all the negatives digitised 5 years ago and so it isn’t entirely lost to us, but to make an album interesting I really had to limit the number of photos relating to an event or era. I have picked photos which aren’t repetitive and keep the visual story of the event moving along. I am very happy with the results and even my 20 year old son commented that he actually enjoyed looking at thru the albums now.


    • I too found her book very helpful in donating things that I no longer need. I really like the part about keeping only things that bring you joy. In the past I use to think I could sell this or that and make some money but came to realize that I never would and my stuff just kept on growing and causing clutter. So I am very happy to say that her book has helped me to give a lot of things away and actually it brings such pleasure that I am making someone else happy with my past treasures.

      I also like reading books on organizing and also liked organizing when I was a kid…I don’t know about you but I still have so much stuff to part with. I hope one day I will have a place for everything and everything in it’s own place.. I am working every day on doing just that..

Tell me, tell me...