tag/review

review: "the life-changing magic of tidying up"review

February 5, 2015
I just finished the book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo - it seems to be kind of trendy at the moment. There's an explicit overtone of Shinto animism to it that I enjoyed ("Express your appreciation to every item that supported you during the day" she suggests and she means it quite literally -- speaking out loud, or at least in your head... also "Greet your house every time you come home.")

The core of the book is "we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of" and what we keep should are things that give us a palpable "spark of joy" when we physically touch them. She argues
To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful nor shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence? If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.
Later she starkly triages our options:
There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die.
(My mom has explicitly referenced a similar concept; she has some memorabilia from trips that bring her pleasure to have around but wants to make sure that I don't get hung up on keeping once she's gone.)

Kondo suggest a specific category-based order for tidying (and her repeated use of the word "tidy" and "tidying" is charming, or rather, almost starts to take on charm-like properties.)
Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value.
The books thing is interesting. Prior to this I was second-guessing myself in terms of thinking that maybe books were unfairly targeted because of their bulk, when really they can be stacked quite neatly. But maybe they are a fair-target, when using the "spark of joy" rubric:
Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?
And on the point of books:
Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves. You read books for the experience of reading. Books you have read have already been experienced and their content is inside you, even if you don’t remember.
That's a lovely and forgiving footnote - "even if you don't remember".

And on my burgeoning "to get to" pile:
If you missed your chance to read a particular book, even if it was recommended to you or is one you have been intending to read for ages, this is your chance to let it go. You may have wanted to read it when you bought it, but if you haven’t read it by now, the book’s purpose was to teach you that you didn’t need it .
Of course, I have to square all of that with my vision of "oh, I might want to show this book to someone someday" - or the even more ego-centric concept, that my big shelves full of books help convince people of my intellectual bona fides. Amber had me go through one deeper than usual purge a few years ago, and I guess I'm grateful in retrospect.

Things are slightly more complicated because I share a space with Miller... in fact, 5 of my bookshelves are in "his space". I would love to minimize that and arrange a few other things so that I could bring them into my own spaces, and/or swapping for the contents of two bookshelves he has in the common hallway.

Kondo's book is a brisk read. It goes on to suggest some specific patterns of tidying; besides the order of categories recommendation, the recommended technique is to gather everything in that category in one place, so that the laying of hands/spark of joy litmus can be properly conducted. (It's a bit pathetic that when I think about what currently most clearly provides that spark, it tends to be Apple products. But they're physically and virtually so well-designed, providing gateways to people I love and information I find critical or fascinating, as well as helping me keep track of my day-to-day life, that I shouldn't beat myself up about that.)

Another important concept, then, is the end goal, why tidying is so important. In the author's opinion, it clears the physical and mental space that will let us get closer to the life we want... practicing discernment in what gives us that "spark of joy" is critical rehearsal for finding that out in the rest of our lives, and acting accordingly. (In practice, there can be a "first world problems" aspect to the process; one has to recognize that being able to pare down and eliminate redundancy is a luxury... if you're fortunate enough to have money, you can keep your backup supplies in the store until you need them.)

Anyway, recommended.