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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.)
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.
Books mentioned in this post: