The central idea behind The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that you should discard everything in your home that doesn't give you a thrill of pleThe central idea behind The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is that you should discard everything in your home that doesn't give you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. I heard a lot of eye-rolling criticism about this before I picked up the book, and trust me, I get it. Kondo came across as pretty kooky as I read the first sections... but as I got closer to the end, I warmed up to her, appreciated her eccentricities, and felt I better understood what she was trying to say.
Kondo has helped hundreds of clients put their homes in order, and it has opened her eyes to the fact that many of us take our material possessions for granted and treat our homes as giant warehouses. She urges us to be really honest about what we need — we often hang onto stuff because either 1) we feel guilty about the past, or 2) we feel anxious about the future. Maybe we wasted money on an outfit that didn't really suit us, or we feel obligated to keep a gift that we don't really like. Maybe we're convinced that someday we'll review the handout from a conference we once attended, or we're worried that we'll need that stockpile of makeup samples that's been gathering dust in the back of the medicine cabinet. These beliefs make us too ashamed or fearful to throw things out.
In her experience working with clients, Kondo has a more realistic sense of what we really need in our day-to-day lives and gently helps her clients to see the same. I love her idea of saying "thank-you" to objects that you don't enjoy anymore, and to understand that their true purpose was in the pleasure you got from trying it on at the store or in the appreciation you felt when you received it as a gift. These items have fulfilled their purpose and she helps her clients see that there's no reason to keep them any longer if you don't still enjoy them. It's staggering how many thousands of bags of stuff she says her clients have thrown away or donated, and I think this speaks to how much stuff we acquire that we had no business consuming in the first place.
She does suggest talking to your objects and treating them as though they have real feelings, and I've heard a lot of snorting about that in particular. (There's the infamous sock section where she scolds anyone who abuses their socks by bunching them up when socks are much happier being folded.) I think this makes sense, though, within the context of Kondo's spiritual background. She mentions that she was a Shinto shrine maiden for 5 years, a Japanese religious tradition that endows all entities with a spirit / energy, even inanimate objects. We Westerners might find this idea way too weird and silly, but I like that it encourages us to truly appreciate our material possessions instead of indiscriminately consuming things that we don't truly enjoy.
Kondo writes about her childhood as a neglected middle child, obsessively reading lifestyle magazines and tidying her family's home. In school, she was the student who volunteered to organize when classroom assignments were being handed out. Some have speculated that these things point to mental illness, and it's true that our culture pathologizes people who are very organized or particular — we see them as uptight control freaks and we definitely attach a negative stigma to this set of behaviors. But I find it refreshing that Kondo embraces her nature as an organized person and has found a way to turn this into a strength and even a highly successful career. She jokes that she wasn't a popular "class-rep type," but she is very content and happy to be the person that she truly is to the fullest.
By the end of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was totally charmed by Kondo and see her as someone who really knows her shit about putting homes in order. I think the heart of her message is to help us hone our abilities to be completely honest about why we think we keep things, and to cut through all the emotional baggage so we can be surrounded only by the things that really make us happy. And I think it's a beautiful message....more