Mari Kondo is something of a sensation at the moment. If you pitch up in Waterstones (or any other reputable UK based book retailer) you’ll see piles and piles of her books cluttering up the displays, which is ironic considering what the book is about. But still, I was curious. So I neatly borrowed the book from the library to see what the fuss was all about.
The Magic Art of Tidying is exactly what it says it is: a book about tidying up. Now I consider myself a tidy-ish person, but compared to Kondo it turns out I’m an absolute novice. My idea of tidying is returning things back to their place from where I, or some other inconsiderate person in my house, has left it on the floor. Or the shelf. Or the stairs. It’s a job which involves removing the scattered paperwork littered around the house to a single pile which I’ll deal with later. Just the average kind of tidying. Mari Kondo, however, has a whole system which involves a single act of extreme tidying followed by another act of deciding where things live. And that’s it. It’s that simple. And that, perhaps, is the revolution.
Kondo’s advice involves a concept which I, frankly, found a bit queasy. Her idea, her approach, is to deal with all your mess in one massive task of letting go. You have to confront your possessions and decide which ones ‘spark joy’ and therefore deserve to be kept, and those which you need to let go. Initially it is an idea which the pragmatist within me scoffed at. But then I thought about it. Her premise is simple, and expressed in a way which is perhaps a little too new-agey for me, but at its heart its message is this: stop storing crap you’re never going to use. Landfill it, sell it, let it go. Because if it is not bringing you ‘joy’ you don’t need it. Leave space in your life only for those things that really matter.
The second part of the task, once you’ve shed yourself of all that unnecessary matter, is to think about where your possessions want to live in your house. Once you’ve strimmed it down to that which gives you joy, this task should be easy because you’ll have a lot less and its home will be easier to establish. Kondo also introduces the idea of really caring for your possessions, because they give you joy it is important to be thankful. Thank your house for sharing its space, fold your clothes with care and precision because they deserve that level of effort. And so on, and so forth.
I’ll be honest, some of the ideas in this book I found a bit stomach churning for me. I cannot see myself thanking my house when I get home or folding my socks in a specific way with colours graduating light to dark from front to back of my drawer. OCD, much? Yet there was a core of something really meaningful about this book. What Kondo had discovered, what she was sharing in her slightly too cheery way, was the idea that we should only possess things that are meaningful to us. We fill our house with stuff, and we are then burdened by that stuff. Sometimes we make purchasing mistakes. Kondo’s view on this is that instead of holding on to those things out of guilt or ‘just in case’ we should let them go. Those items have served their purpose. Just because a friend bought you something, doesn’t mean you have to keep it. Your friend’s purpose has been served: they have given you a lovely gift. If you can let it go with gratitude, you and your friend have taken what you needed from it. This, I think, is the magic of tidying. It is a mindset as much as an activity, and because it is such a cleanly mindset it can have other, unintended, consequences. Like weight loss, better financial control, a happier frame of mind. If we are a reflection of our environment (or if our environment reflects us) then a tidy home reflects a tidy mind. It’s an interesting concept.
It is a shame, in some ways, that Kondo does not apply her tidying logic to her writing/editing skills because effective as the message is, it sometimes loses itself in baggy repetitiveness and this is not the best written book in the world. That being said, what it lacks in skill it makes up for in heartfelt earnestness and despite its sometimes cringeworthiness I do really think Kondo is on to something. In an era where many of us are burdened by excess, this book offers a guilt free solution for slimming down on those excess possessions.
I haven’t yet attempted the grand Kondo tidy up. I’m not ready for that yet. But I am looking at my swollen bookcases and thinking there is room for some reduction and I’ve started shredding my receipts and bills as soon as I’ve accounted for them. Which is a start. And I’ve resisted buying this book and that because, suddenly, I don’t quite need to possess them. I can read them and return them to the library (which is exactly what British libraries need to survive right now). So maybe the repetition was just a way to get the message over to the dullards like me who need an extra boost to get the message.