Review – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Review – The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

OK, this is embarrassing to admit but… I’m not a naturally tidy person. I do keep the house to a generally acceptable level of mess, but it is a big effort to keep it that way, especially with children around, and hasn’t ever got easier with practise. I’ve been keeping house for years now, you’d think I would get better with time, right?

Secretly, I’ve always wanted to live in a house where there’s no clutter on horizontal surfaces, the furniture is beautifully co-ordinated and there’s a live-in maid to do my dishes and laundry. In other words, this house:

Seriously. Who wouldn't want to live at Pemberly
Seriously. Who wouldn’t want to live at Pemberly?

A little while back, I had an epiphany: Less toys for the boys means less toys for me to put away. 

OK. Maybe you’re smiling at me right now because you already knew this and I’m late to the party, but it worked, and cleaning up before bedtime each night became very easy.

The truth that less items owned = less mess to clean up = less effort = happy me was reinforced on arriving at my parent’s farm with only what I could carry over on an airplane. I managed to keep our two rooms in good order every day, and was very proud of myself.

In all this time I rarely shopped beyond groceries, however four months of general accumulating and the overwhelming generosity of neighbours, mother, friends and two sisters in giving us their hand-me-down clothes, toys and stuff meant that once again clutter was creeping in.

Wanting to declutter but not knowing where to begin, I did what any self-respecting nerd would do: I Googled it. There was an overwhelming array of solutions. Tidy for 15 minutes every day! Shine your sink! Tidy up a small drawer and then you’ll do the rest no sweat! Buy my excellent storage solution for your clutter needs!! None of the advice thrown my way felt right for me. I knew that I’d never stick out the “15 minutes a day” approach, and many of the others seemed at best band-aid solutions.

I knew that my goal was to own less, and so switched to researching ‘how to become minimalist’ instead. This was equally disheartening. While I admire the principle, in practise there seemed to be a ‘one-up-manship’ attitude (or should I say a one-LESS-manship attitude?) where the concept is taken to extremes and a little off-putting. I want to live more simply, but I do not want a limit of 33 items in my wardrobe. No, I do not.

Enter Marie Kondo and her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Her approach is simple, but beautifully effective. Here are five points of advice that resonated with me:

Before you start, identify why you want to tidy up. There must be a reason you’re reading this book, she says. Drill down and find out why you want to tidy up. For me, it was that I hated clutter and wanted a clear, simple space. I hate clutter because I can’t ever truly relax in a messy house, I feel obligated to always be tidying up instead. I realised that ultimately, I want to tidy up because I want to be able to relax and be happy in my own space.

First, decide what to keep. Then decide where to put it. Could this advice be any more simple? It’s so obvious, but I realise that I found my clutter so hard to manage because I simply didn’t know where to put it. The trick to this is first deciding what to discard, after which there should be plenty of storage for what you keep.

Keep only those things that bring you joy. This is my favourite piece of advice. There is no limit to the amount of belongings you ‘should’ have. Every person’s idea of the perfect space is unique so don’t force yourself to decide what to throw away, or set yourself a numerical limit based on what someone else thinks you should have. Instead, handle each item one by one and choose instead what to keep by identifying what inspires joy. If my goal in tidying up is to be happy, it makes perfect sense to surround myself only with the things that make me happy.

Tidy by category, not by area. Don’t tidy one room or drawer at a time, because people don’t bother to keep the same items all in one the spot but rather spread throughout the entire house. You’ll never get a handle on exactly how much you own if you don’t see it all together at once. Instead, gather every single item in the same category (such as all clothing, or all books, or all CD’s) in the same place, then sort this category once and for all. This resonated with me. When moving house a while back I found enough shampoo and conditioner spread throughout the house to run a small salon. Three years later I’m still working my way through it, so I can definitely appreciate not knowing what you have until it’s all together.

Don’t feel obligated to keep things that were gifts. Kondo’s philosophy is that the purpose of a gift is to express the giver’s love or appreciation toward the you and the moment the gift is received it has fulfilled it’s purpose. If you love and use the item, great! But if not, pass it on; the giver would not want to you to feel obligated, or guilty every time you see the item. This piece of advice was most helpful for my mother, who has kept years’ of accumulated gifts from my siblings and I, for fear that she would offend us if she got rid of them. This evening she salvaged the wool from the world’s ugliest scarf I knitted her as a teenager and will make something new with it. As she’s an avid knitter I know that this will bring her far more happiness than a scarf in a cupboard she’s never worn, and that in turn makes me happy.


This by no means covers the extent of her method, and I highly recommend the book. It is optimistic and encouraging, and offers in turn both philosophical advice and practical solutions. For me, the greatest impact was in freeing me of any guilt about discarding an item I “might” need someday, or felt obliged to keep because someone had given to me.

My wardrobe has now half the clothing it used to (and I’ve got big plans to fill it with clothing I love, through sewing, which I also love), and today I removed items from my jewellery box that I’ve owned for years but never worn. Everything else in my box now seems more accessible and precious to me.

I’ve a whole house waiting to be sorted back home. Imagine a whole house where everything in it makes you happy – now isn’t that something to aspire to?

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