The life-changing magic of tidying up.

The life-changing magic of tidying up.

This book caught me at the right time. 

We moved six months ago. I thought we did a good job decluttering before the big day, but I can’t tell you how many things I’ve given or even thrown away since then. I can’t believe how much stuff we moved that we don’t need—or don’t even like.

life changing magic

I don’t read a lot of organizing books, but when I heard about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up I was intrigued, because I was ready to tackle my stuff.

Kondo is a Japanese personal tidying expert (she doesn’t like to call herself an “organizer”), and she caught my attention with her radical approach and phenomenal success rate. She claims that her relapse rate among clients she’s personally helped is zero.

To understand her method, forget everything you think you know about decluttering. Kondo’s method is extreme, but it works. Read on for the basics of her approach.

The life-changing magic of tidying up. Forget everything you thought you knew about decluttering. Click through to read 7 tips to get your house in order once and for all.

1. Discard first, store later.

Kondo believes (much like FlyLady) that you can’t organize clutter. The first step is to get rid of everything you don’t need.

2. Tidy a little a day and you’ll be tidying forever.

“Tidying is a special event. Don’t do it every day.” If you do the job right, once and completely, you won’t have to do it again.

3. Storage experts are hoarders.

“Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved.” But organized clutter is still clutter.

4. Sort by category, not location.

“Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake.” Sort by category instead, in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and then things with sentimental value.

5. “Does this spark joy?”

If it does, keep it. If it doesn’t, get rid of it. (Important documents not included, but there are fewer of these than you’d think.)

6. Never pile things.

Vertical storage is the key. Stacking has two problems: you can stack much more than you can store vertically (not a plus if you’re aiming for clutter-free), and stacking is hard on the things at the bottom.

7. Learn how to fold.

Kondo is adamant about proper folding technique, which enables you to store things standing up rather than laid flat. I couldn’t visualize her technique from the book but this video helped. This method is amazing for visual types because you can see everything at a glance, much more effectively than you can if your clothes are hanging or vertically stacked.

I disagree with some of Kondo’s methods (her chapter on what to do with books made me want to cry) but I loved her philosophy of storing and organizing clothes. I put her tips to the test this week and reorganized several of our closets and dresser drawers, getting rid of a whole lot of clothing in the process.

This is Jack’s t-shirt drawer, which used to be two t-shirt drawers. Now everything fits in just one drawer and the contents are much more visible. (Jack is ten. For more info about the life-changing magic of tidying up for kids, click here.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up. Forget everything you thought you knew about decluttering. Click through to read 7 tips to get your house in order once and for all.

This is a drawer of my t-shirts and tops. (Kondo recommends organizing tops from light to dark. I’m learning.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up. Forget everything you thought you knew about decluttering. Click through to read 7 tips to get your house in order once and for all.

This is Will’s sock drawer, which had so much extra room after I rolled his socks into little jellyrolls that I could fill the empty half with neatly folded t-shirts. (I don’t usually even open my husband’s sock drawer, but I was dying to experiment! He says to tell you he didn’t mind.)

The life-changing magic of tidying up. Forget everything you thought you knew about decluttering. Click through to read 7 tips to get your house in order once and for all.

If you want to tidy up once and for all, this is the best kick in the pants you can get for ten bucks. I’ll be attacking more of my clutter in the weeks to come while I’m still riding the motivational high this book delivers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on getting organized, stuff that sparks joy, and Kondo’s methods in comments. 

P.S. The life-changing magic of tidying up, six months later, and planning for visual types.

The life-changing magic of tidying up: your cheat sheet. If you want to tidy up once and for all, this is the best kick in the pants you can get for ten bucks.

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191 comments

  1. Nancy B says:

    I got a lot out of Organizing Solutions for People with ADHD by Susan Pinsky. Her main idea is to take away extra (often unnecessary) steps in organizing. Don’t nest things, for example, because then the ADHD person will never put away that large bowl. It’s just too many steps to take all the bowls out of the cupboard, put the large bowl in the cupboard, and put all the other bowls inside of it. Folding a thong is another good example. Pinsky would probably take issue with the organizer in the video saying that as long as that thong is in a drawer with nothing but other thongs, it’s organized enough. Who needs it to be in a neat little package.

  2. RJF says:

    I think there’s a lot to be said for having less stuff. It’s easier to have a place for things and to find them. I declutter partly to avoid re-buying stuff we have already. Regarding toys: my kids accumulate loads of stuff they don’t play with and they would rather give it away and have more space. The konmari folding and organising techniques for clothes are great: it is a real pleasure to get dressed in the morning when you’ve organised the closet according to her instructions. Also, since clothes need folding anyway, it’s not more time-consuming to do it this way than any other. If you have a housekeeper then just teach him/her how to do it or give them the video url. I did that, and also taught my sons how to do it. Maybe they will one day be good husbands!

  3. Aimee Wiley says:

    I read your review of this book a few weeks ago, after hearing about it from a friend. A few days later, it magically arrived at the library after being on hold for forever. I read through half of it before heading on vacation, reluctantly leaving it at home, since I wouldn’t be able to implement her ideas while away. I did manage to part with probably half of my wardrobe, though, before I left (and I subscribe to the 40 hanger challenge Ruth Soukup wrote about. Somehow, holding each item in my hand and allowing myself permission to admit that certain items didn’t bring joy or had served their purpose was so freeing.

    I especially like her idea that, in following this approach, we strengthen our decision-making abilities. I find that I am always asking and deferring to others instead of listening to my own heart and mind on matters, and it was empowering to make decisions based on how I felt, not what others thought. It also enables us to live in the present and not cling to the past or fear for the future, as she explains.

    I do struggle with the idea of letting old letters and journals or schoolwork go because I hope it will be a treasure to one of my children to know a part of me that existed before they did. I love ancestral treasures and consider them a gift to enjoy.

    Finally, I was a little concerned for her mental welfare; her tidying compulsion from the age of five worried me. However, she is quite endearing and enthusiastic about her approach and seems to have made peace with her earlier tendencies.

    I am looking forward to following through with the rest of the categories and hopefully helping my children to do so as well, when they are ready. It is important not to miss that tidying all at once in a “short” amount of time according to this method can be a six-month process. I think the thoroughness of the method is what guarantees such a high success rate.

  4. Mya Rae says:

    Wow, if only I had found this blog post BEFORE we moved across the country… lol. We downsized so much and yet I still feel the clutter getting to me every once and a while. Thank you for sharing, I will definitely check out this book!

  5. Andrea Brown says:

    I bought this book last month and have been telling everyone who will listen to me about this method. I have started my purge..and happy with the results. I would say that it is life changing. It is addition by subtraction! Life is so much more enjoyable surrounded by people you love and also with the things you love. Getting rid of the clutter brings a feeling of calm and control.
    I enjoyed your article above on a child’s perspective. My kids have been watching me through the process and are really starting to get into it as well. They see the benefits of the tidy …you can enjoy what you love,find what you need..no stress! Who would not choose that!

  6. Sarahna says:

    Just started reading this book and so far I love it!
    Thank you for posting a video of the folding method….read it and was lost.

  7. cherie says:

    I came across this method about 6 months ago…and it really just struck me. “if it doesn’t bring you JOY, get rid of it”. We moved to FL from VA 3.5 years ago and, tho we thought we’d weeded and decluttered before moving, boy were we wrong. We brought WHOLE lot of JUNK with us!!! So I went through every closet and drawer in our 4 bedroom home – and literally gave away 500 lbs of clothing, blankets, shoes, suits, pillows, small kitchen appliances, dishes and the list goes on and on and on. Can I tell you how GREAT I feel today? Wow…only the essentials and what brings us joy in our home today. Feels so good to be truly decluttered for life!!! 🙂

  8. Just Some Girl says:

    i’m a bit confused about the “vertical storage” point you brought up. You said that it’s better than stacking things, but stacking is vertical storage, is it not? Did you mean to store things horizontally? I’m so confused, please explain how to store things vertically without stacking, because I have stacks and stacks of things I don’t like stacked! I am very into bohemian decor, and I enjoy some clutter, I tend to like the look of stacked books, boxes, anything that can stack and still look cute and not overly sloppy, but right now, I’m in need of a MAJOR storage and organization renovation (my family of three lives in a space of about 16×18, I would say), and I’ve got stacks and piles of things everywhere, and they are just driving me to the brink of madness. Also, completely broke, so can’t buy the book right now, so please explain this vertical storage thing to me!

    Sorry for rambling so much, I tend to do that.

    • Karli says:

      Think of horizontal stacking as a pile of mail or newspapers. You can’t pick up something from the bottom without disturbing the stuff on top. A good example is the background image of the stack of books. Vertical storage is being able to fold things so nothing lies on top of one another. A good image of that is the picture of the t-shirt in the drawers above. As for the book, I checked it out at the library. It was well worth the wait.

    • Ann says:

      Does she recommend buying those velvety hangers? To keep things looking uniform? Also, I’ve always folded my pants, knit or jeans in half and hung them on hangers, good idea? Or is it better to put them in drawers? Also, I have ADHD, and even though I have perfectionist tendencies, I can’t EVER imagine fastening my bras before I put them in my drawer! ( and unfastening them, just to have to RE fasten them again!) Nope! I’m retired, and that’s not how I plan to spend my “golden” years! Lol! And I’m a sock roller, put em thru the wash like that! If they get lost, they BOTH get lost!

  9. Tina says:

    I’m a digital girl so there was no clutter with this book. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Until it came to paperwork. I can’t throw it all away. The accountant in me cringed, well more like screamed. I will not throw it in a box and go looking through every thing for one piece of paper. There is a happy medium.

  10. Terri Simpson says:

    The steps help me answer the reasons why we get rid of clutter after messing it all up; for example, roll clothes up to get rid of folds and to easily see and pick up with one hand, sort by category from most used to most difficult to make it easier to determine subcategories from sorting clothing to papers.

  11. Jane says:

    When you say not to stack/pile things, but instead to arrange them vertically… I don’t get it! Isn’t it the same thing?! Surely you mean that things should be arranged horizontally?

    • Anne says:

      As in: don’t stack shirts on top of each other, because the weight of the items up top crushes the items on the bottom of the stack. Each individual item should stand up on its own, vertically. To see what she’s advocating, take a good look at the way the tshirts are arranged in the drawers in these photos.

  12. Jane says:

    Oh I see now! Thank you! So the tshirts are arranged in a horizontal row, but each individual item is vertical! It’s a great idea!

  13. Heather Lima says:

    Anne, PLEASE write an article on philosophy of toys and how to define (and subsequently combat) you clutter. I have an 18 month old and feel torn between a desire for simplicity and the fun to be had with toys.

  14. Brandyn says:

    I did step 1 (clothing) and felt great. My closet looked amazing all my clothes were visible and fit nicely into my dresser. But I totally stalled on step 2 (books). I just couldn’t do it. I have lots of unread books and I will read them eventually. I find joy in re-reading and tons of joy in having books to lend/push on friends.

    • Coriander says:

      When I started really getting rid of things, I considered my large collection of cookbooks and all of our children’s books as untouchable, I wanted them all and didn’t want to consider moving any along. As the rest of the house got less and less full of stuff I didn’t use/want/need/enjoy, I thought, what’s the harm in just looking through the books. I was able to cull an enormous amount of twaddle from the children’s books, and boxes and boxes of cookbooks as well. This led to me weeding out my recipe binders and handwritten recipe cards, of which I had thousands. After I cleaned out all of those areas which I had previously thought of as untouchable, I was left with lovely shelves of only the best and most-read, a feeling which continues today, a year later. I now regularly go through the kids books, pulling out the lame and boring books, and plan to go through my cookbooks again soon, lately realizing that I’m still holding onto some that offer me hardly anything but a placeholder on the shelf.
      Another major benefit of going through the books, a hard place for me to consider getting rid of things, it made it so much easier to weed through other less “treasured” areas of the house.

  15. Debra says:

    Has anyone here done the full 5 categories to completion and lived with it for a year (more or less)? Has the method continued to work and lasted for you? I’m curious about the claim that it is a one-time event.
    There are tons of YouTube videos/blog posts about the first two categories but not a lot of paper, miscellany, sentimental. Nor are there many on the follow-up; how is it a year on? Sustainable? Worth all the initial effort?
    I’ve read the book twice and did clothes, books, and papers. I didn’t have much beforehand (relatively speaking–I live in less than 500 sq ft, have moved 11 times in the past 25 years, twice overseas, and I’ve never been a cluttery type) so while I did get rid of a lot , much of what I got rid of was my late husband’s. No category took more than an hour because I purge my closet every season and have done since my early 20s, and have been very interested in minimalism for years so regularly assess my home and belongings) but I had never used this kind of criteria (do I love it, does it “spark joy”). That was an eye-opener. Also a huge take-away from the book was that things must be easier to put back than to take out. so true for me, with paperwork especially.

    Actually, I suppose I also did sentimental things too, but that was easy because I’m not sentimental about physical things. (I’m very sentimental about people, just not their stuff)

    I realise that the category most difficult for me is the miscellany. It’s so vague. And that’s what I have most of. I like minimalism but warm minimalism–I like decor items, changing up vignettes seasonally, etc. At least I have put the kibosh on buying more decorative items.
    Anyone have tips for that category?

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