Every January, women everywhere go Elfa-mad, visiting the Container Store to find new ways to organize happiness into their lives. “If only I had a place for everything, and everything in its place, how magic that would be!” they say. But Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, says no, don’t organize – tidy. And by tidy, she means throw away.
And telling you how to tidy is what Ms. Kondo does. At length. 204 pages worth. And by the time I’ve read the word “tidy” for the 450 millionth time (estimated, I didn’t actually count), it has entered the realm where a word goes when you’ve said it so often it doesn’t make sense.
She instructs you in how to change your life through tidying with a kind of mystical, new age feel. You must place all your clothing on the floor. The clothes that “spark joy” will call out to you, and beg to be arranged by weight and type in the closet (they must “rise to the right”). Sweaters, t-shirts, undies… the all want to be folded into little squares and arranged vertically in drawers. Stacking them crushes the spirit out of the ones on the bottom. And balling your socks stresses them out. If it doesn’t spark joy, out it goes.
Ditto for books. Put’em on the floor. The books that you need to keep (those that spark joy, of course) will radiate a kind of gravitational pull when you put your hand on the cover. Definitely DO NOT open the book or read any part of it. That will only confuse you. If there are words that call to you – what the heck, yank those pages out of the book and put them in a clear plastic file! Most people can get a whole library worth of books onto a single shelf through ruthless culling.
Papers are also so much flotsam on the sea of life. Toss out those manuals, throw away the credit card bills. If you’ve touched it once, you’ve dealt with it. No putting papers in a drawer to languish, forgotten. (I actually agree with Marie Kondo on her approach to papers. Out with it all!)
How did I feel after finishing this book? Sad. Sad and a little depressed. Hardly any of my stuff sparks joy. If I only wore clothes that sparked joy I’d be naked most of the time. Not that that is particularly joyful, either. It’s kind of chilly and it scares the dogs. If I only kept the best of the best books, I’d miss out on the fun of lending books to other people, or even just re-reading all the Ian Rankin books in order. Yes, I really do that. Heck, even my husband doesn’t reliably spark joy. Out he goes!
Much more helpful was Gretchen Rubin’s approach in The Happiness Project. Cleaning and organizing was just one chapter in that book, and Gretchen’s cheery attitude and incorporation of what people actually do and experience really struck a chord with me. I looked back to see my thoughts when I read her book, and you can see those posts here. I’ve ended up recommending The Happiness Project to many people.
Bottom line: If The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is calling to you, hover your hand over the cover. If it still calls your name, read the first chapter. If there are sparks of joy, keep reading. If not, switch over to The Happiness Project, chapter one.