The life-changing magic of tidying up, six months later.

The life-changing magic of tidying up, six months later.

I bought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up right after Christmas last year because I was insanely curious and the cute little hardback is only $10. It was the best $10 I’ve ever spent on my home.

This book is a strange mix of the instructive, the inspiring, and the woo-woo. But it made me want to tidy, immediately. (In Kondo-speak, “tidying” means “massive decluttering.”) When I started tidying, Will was so impressed that he started tidying. We were both so happy with our results that we started tackling the kids’ stuff.

We’ve made some mistakes along the way, but by and large it’s been a fantastic experience. (We haven’t completely finished: we still haven’t finished going through old photos and keepsakes.)

This is what we’ve learned, and our favorite takeaways from the process (which is ongoing).

This is NOT a how-to post. To learn the basics of tidying up, read this post.

(Note: I’ve received so many questions about tidying up with kids in the home that I’m covering that in a separate post, coming next week.)

my desk home office

1. TIDYING IS EXHILARATING. AND CONTAGIOUS.
Getting rid of the crap you don’t need (which sometimes looks like Very Nice Stuff) gives you a big rush. And when Will saw that—and the results I was getting—he couldn’t help himself. (It didn’t hurt that my side of the closet looked awesome when I was finished and his was still a wreck.)

2. TIDY A LITTLE A DAY AND YOU’LL BE TIDYING FOREVER.
When you tidy up in one shot, rather than little-by-little, you get to enjoy the full effect of your transformed space, and this provides the motivation you need to make this a permanent lifestyle change. I needed this reminder, because I tend to chip away at things rather than exert myself to finish the task all at once.

Thankfully, “all at once” doesn’t mean “all in one day.” Kondo recommends taking no more than six months to complete a tidying.

3. MORE STORAGE IS NOT THE ANSWER.
Do you have trouble getting—or staying—organized? You don’t need a better system; you don’t need a trip to The Container Store. You have too much stuff, and you need to get rid of the excess.

(If your stuff still doesn’t fit, try this bit of advice: “By neatly folding your clothes, you can solve almost every problem related to storage.”)

4. DOES IT SPARK JOY?
This is the magical question. With Kondo’s method, you choose what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. Keep only those things that spark joy, and get rid of the rest.

I quickly learned that framing the question in this way exposes when I’m tempted to keep things based on guilt or fear.

Life-changing magic pile of books

5. TAKE IT ALL OUT, THEN PUT IT BACK IN—IF IT SPARKS JOY.
This method ensures that you’re deciding what to keep, not what to get rid of: a subtle but important distinction.

6. THANK THINGS FOR THEIR SERVICE, THEN GET RID OF THEM.
This tip helped me let go of so many things I was holding on to out of guilt: because they were gifts, or were expensive, or because I used to love them.

Kondo’s advice is to thank these things for their service, because they’ve filled a role in your life. Acknowledge their contribution (e.g., “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you”; “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me”) then let them go with gratitude.

7. THE DEFINITION OF “JOY” IS BROAD.
You may not think of mundane things, like your toothbrush, or a coffee table, or your mortgage papers, as sparking joy. But those things are helping you in your daily life. Kondo says that these things are sparking joy, subconsciously.

In other words, appreciate your stuff.

8. IT’S POSSIBLE TO GO TOO FAR.
Kondo’s rule of thumb for sorting papers is simple: discard everything. In my initial burst of enthusiasm, I discarded a garbage bag full of papers I didn’t need—and a few I probably did.

Kondo acknowledges that there are three types of papers to keep: those you’re currently using, those you may need for a little while (often, one year), and those you need indefinitely. Make sure you know which is which before you start tossing.

Worth noting: Kondo’s definition of “papers” doesn’t include “keepsakes.”

The life-changing magic of tidying up

9. FOLDING CLOTHES THE KONMARIE WAY IS AWESOME. AND ADDICTIVE.
The KonMarie folding method is the best thing I learned in the book. You can fit twice as many items in drawers, the wrinkles don’t set in as much, and it’s perfect for visual types.

(I couldn’t learn how to fold the KonMarie way until I watched this video.)

10. REPLACE, THEN DISCARD.
I felt convicted by Kondo’s admonition to not downgrade clothing to “loungewear,” and got rid of the ratty tees I usually sleep in—before I bought replacement pajamas. Let’s just say this doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy about the tidying process.

Related: real pajamas are pretty great.

makeup drawer

11. USE WHAT YOU HAVE.
You don’t need special equipment to organize your stuff. Kondo is a big fan of Apple boxes, shoeboxes, and plastic storage containers. (That’s my makeup drawer, revolutionized with a few Apple boxes.)

I corralled the the rest of my toiletries with plastic storage containers from the kitchen.

file box

12. MOVE THAT FILE CABINET.
When we moved last year and gained a real home office, I was adamant about moving the file cabinet into the office. And then I realized that all the papers I needed on a regular basis fit into a tiny file box—into a few file folders, really.

The file cabinet is ugly and ungainly, so into the basement it went. (Where it now happily serves its purpose, holding onto the papers I need to keep for the time being, for the near future, or indefinitely.)

IKEA Borgsjo puffin classics close up

13. IT’S OKAY TO KEEP THE BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ.
Kondo’s admonition regarding books horrified many bibliophiles: she tells you to get rid of any unread books, believing that the right time to read it is when you first get it.

But if those books bring you joy—even the unread ones—keep the books. If they don’t, find them a new home.

14. A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING …
and everything in its place. I used to think that designating a specific place for every single item in my home sounded exhausting. Now I think it’s more exhausting having to decide where to put something back every time you use it.

15. NOT HAVING TO SEARCH FOR THINGS IS A BIG STRESS RELIEVER.
When everything has a designated place, you don’t have to search.

16. THE ANSWERS BECOME CLEAR WITH TIME.
When Will and I first started tidying, we weren’t sure how exactly we wanted to organize things, especially in our closet.

17. REDUCE UNTIL IT CLICKS.
You’ll know when you’re done.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this in comments. 

P.S. Your cheat sheet for the life-changing magic of tidying up, and the life-changing magic of tidying up for kids.

 

the life-changing magic of tidying up, six months later.

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125 comments

  1. Hi, I have recently finished the book and enjoyed the start of our home transformation! You give a great summary, thanks! Great to read back and quickly remember the various parts of the method 🙂 x

  2. This book is such a gem! I read it cover-to-cover, and now I follow the advice in increments as energy permits. Can’t wait ’til it’s all done! Sharing this wonderful post – thank you!

  3. Sandra says:

    I went through the tidying up process about six months ago as well. It has been life changing, in many small satisfying ways, but I still have areas to work on. It is so relaxing to be in my tidy home now, much easier to keep things picked up because there is space to put things away! I love my pared down office supplies (haven’t had a rubber band or sticky note emergency yet) and I love knowing where to look for a specific book (on the bookcase, with every other book in the house). I still have work to do in my closet and I still own too many drinking glasses, but my kitchen cupboards just seemed to fall into place when we got rid of all the extra stuff. For two years I stood on tiptoe every morning to get a plate for my toast, but now everything we use daily is easily reached. I have gotten better at “listening” to objects, and my hubby has gotten used to hearing things like “the colander wants to live with other prep tools, not with the cookware”.
    There are thousands of “just started reading today” reviews, I really appreciate hearing from someone who has lived it for awhile!

  4. TC says:

    Hi! I don’t know if someone already addressed this issue but I need advice. I love this book and I am so ready to get started! My problem is that I have a LOT of valuable things that I have been slowly selling online. I can’t bring myself to give away what would amount to a lot of money if I sell it.

    • Jessica says:

      Have you ever thought of having an estate sale? You could get rid of a lot at one go and still make money. Selling things online can take a very long time and your time is valuable.

  5. Carolina Girl says:

    I haven’t read the book, but the several blog posts you’ve written on this resulted in my ordering the book. I love Christmas but dread the amount of gifts my kids get from family. My mother-in-law makes it a point to outdo us or Santa. I’m left with the kids absolutely not wanting to get rid of their new toys, nor am I able to par down what we already have enough to accommodate the new. I’ve had the conversation with her MANY times but I think it’s a shopping sickness for her and really not fair my kids to have to choose. What do I do? Also, we recently adopted a little girl and received TONS of (nice!) clothing donations – she will be set for the next 3-4 years (not to mention getting my older daughter’s hand-me downs). The amount of clothes in boxes is really overwhelming, but it will be so nice to not have to shop for new clothes for her. Thoughts? Finally, does she mention, or does anyone have an opinion, about holiday decorations? Thanks so much!

    • livingsimply says:

      We’ve asked grandparents to leave the gifts they get the kids at their houses. This way, the kids have things to do when they visit. Since we are a military family and can’t travel back home often, they’ve all started just sending money, so that we can buy what the kids really want/need instead. They didn’t realize how much they were cluttering MY home until it started cluttering THEIRS.

  6. Veronika says:

    I purchased this book in August and methodically worked my way through my closet (which I loved!!) – I also donated all of the clothing bins of excess clothes that I have been holding onto for no reason. This book has certainly changed my life. The books were pretty easy for me… However, my husband has a really hard time parting with cook books and his woodworking books so I gave in and let him keep a lot of it. Frying to argue whether he will ever cook from all of those cookbooks did not spark joy at all!
    I still have more than half of the misc. section to do (I have tackled office supplies and decorations and candle holders and bathroom stuff and vases, etc,..). The big one left for me is the kitchen and the picture frames (I have a gazillion of them for some reason ?!?! – still wrapped neatly in boxes from our move this past March). And of course sentimental items and the ever dreading electronics… Urgh…
    I am just a few weeks short of my due date so I can’t really lift or do anything strenuous so the rest of the items may need to wait until after our Christmas baby arrives.
    I can definitely recommend this book as it certainly had me look at things differently. I am very critical of what comes into the house these days as well and it’s making it much easier for me to purge. This has really allowed me to keep the house fairly tidy (which is not one of our strong suits)
    I recommend this book to everyone I speak with and I often say in the week: “does this spark joy??” – my husband has now developed the same habit. Lol

  7. Darlene says:

    I haven’t read the book yet (on the wait list at the library), but I have great hope for this method taking us where we want to go. My husband and I are less than five years to retirement. We know we will sell the houseand move into a much smaller place. We would rather not cram the job of getting rid of excess stuff into the short months when we’re trying to ready this house for sale, so we’ve started early.

    We got rid of a lot of stuff in 2015. Had a garage sale and sold some furniture and high-ticket items on Craigslist. There’s a lot of work left to do, though.

    What I’ve learned so far: it’s easier to clean a room with less furniture in it. Adult clothes don’t sell too well in garage sales, best to just donate them. No one buys knick knacks at garage sales. Frames weren’t even glanced at in our garage sale. Most of what we own isn’t really used by us, and yet it can still be hard to decide to part with this stuff.

  8. Karen says:

    I am part way into the process, and here’s my 2 cents worth:
    1. I have a limited energy level, so I found it necessary to break down the categories quite a bit so I would be able to completely deal with one “category” at one time. (“Long sleeve t-shirts” instead of “clothes”)
    2. I got through the clothes and a few other things fairly quickly, but now find I need to take an interim step of sorting a room or area to a)find out what categories are actually in that room and b)enable me to gather items in a category from different rooms. I find myself going back and forth between sorting and tidying and it is working well for me.

  9. Joanna says:

    Am I missing an inside joke? Why do so many people omit the letter f? It’s missing a lot in the article, but now also in the comments?

    • Karen says:

      When I wrote the last note, I’m pretty sure the f’s were in there. I always read things several times before posting. So I don’t know where they went, but no inside joke on my part.

  10. Lynn says:

    You’re so right about “you’ll know when you’re done.” I started with clothes and moved on. But my closet just didn’t click yet with me. After a month or two, I went through it and KM’d it again then finally tossed my wire hangers for beautiful felt lavender ones. Instant “click” and I was done. But i just didn’t see what was missing right away. Give it time and keep working it until it does. 🙂 Love this process.

  11. Jessica says:

    What really has motivated me is to invite people over. I just had a party and through out tons of duplicates, gave away books, put things away in a nice way and really cleaned my apartment. It felt amazing! When people come to my home I want to feel proud of my space.

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