Is Tidying Really Life-Changing? KonMari in Theory & Practice

I caught the tidying bug! I finally dove into Marie Kondō’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (2014), and it was definitely worth experiencing. Of course, I heard all about the KonMari craze from social media and Netflix, and I read the reviews: the mostly good, the occasional bad, and the seldom ugly (though unfortunately, it still exists).

I started the journey back in March over Spring Break. I think that was about the time when book lovers were waging war against Marie Kondō on Twitter because she recommends getting rid of the abandoned, never to-be-read books that take up space in one’s home. The controversy didn’t “spark joy,” but it piqued my interest. I love books, why were these bibliophiles so incensed at KonMari? Besides, I’ve always had trouble keeping tidy, so maybe I’d learn a thing or two.

After going through the book, I’ve learned a bunch, but I’d like to address some of the controversy first.

Keep In Mind

There are multiple points in the book where Mari Kondō admits that some people might enjoy living in untidy spaces. And that that’s okay! Those individuals are free to live their lives the way they see fit. She addresses the reader here, saying something along the lines of, “but for one reason or another you picked up this book, so you were curious about the process of tidying it.” She is incredibly open about tidying not being for everyone, but her book is not about who does or doesn’t like tidiness, it’s about her passion, tidying. If you aren’t interested and just picked up the book to ruffle your feathers, then I wonder why you’re investing so much energy into something negative for you.

Her advice doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The line a lot of bibliophiles cling to is “Ideally, keep fewer than 30 books.” What this line in isolation fails to explain is it was in the middle of an anecdote about her own life and preferences.

The meaning of “sparks joy” is different for everyone…and that’s the point. She explains that it’s completely natural for certain people to have higher volumes of different things than others. For her, it’s loungewear. For me, it’s likely my postcard collection. She opens her book by saying people who want her to declutter for them don’t learn anything, because she can’t decide what sparks joy. For more, there’s a great article on Bookish by Kelly Gallucci that debunks these criticisms very nicely.

Marie Kondo photographed by Weston Wells for The Coveteur

What I Learned

There were so many wonderful lessons in this book, and I’ll cherish each of them.

The biggest one, I think, was the paradigm shift to only keeping things that spark joy. It had an unexpected side-effect: my impulsive shopping habits have sunk dramatically. I used to spend money on all sorts of bonkers stuff I didn’t need. Narrowing down my possessions to what really makes me happy has left me with less desire to find new, exciting things to buy. Plus, when I do shop, I’m a lot more selective about what I do and don’t bring into my space.

Another lesson is that tidying is a big event, not something that should be broken up into little sections. This one made me nervous when I first heard it, because I figured I would get overwhelmed. I had to just tidy, nonstop, until there was nothing left to tidy? That’s a lot. Not gonna sugarcoat it, it was a draining process. Kondō pointed out though: if you tidy bit by bit, it’ll never be finished. If you focus on the bathroom one week and the bedroom the next, the bathroom is bound to get cluttered again while your focus is elsewhere.

Finally, that there’s no need to feel guilty about being untidy, because odds are you never really learned how. In the beginning of her book, Kondō points out that we pass down family recipes and holiday traditions, but we don’t pass down tidying techniques. Instead, you’ve probably been scolded for having a messy room and told to pick it up without further instructions. We weren’t born with tidying instincts, so it’s okay that before learning a process that works for us, we rebound into a messy lifestyle.

So, the verdict: is tidying really a life-changing magic?

In my experience, yes. Since I’ve begun this journey, I’ve found a lot of things in my world have gotten better. It’s easier to find things, my home feels like a haven to return to, the air feels cleaner and brighter around me. I had gotten to a point where getting dressed was the most dreadful part of my day, meaning every morning I started off with negative energy. Something remarkable has happened: I actually enjoy folding laundry. Never, in all my 21-years (I know, I’m super old and wisened) have I enjoyed folding laundry…until now. Now, it’s like a meditative experience for me, and I enjoy the weekly activity.

It’s felt so cleansing to donate my old clothes and books and free up so much space in my life, because if I’m honest, those weren’t things I necessarily really loved. They were noise, clutter. Clearing them helped clear my mind.

And like I said before, it’s reduced the amount of money I spend. May and June are moving season for me, and it’s usually also in-between-jobs season, so money is extremely tight and can be stressful. Eliminating what I have makes me realize there really isn’t much extra I want.

Is it life-changing? It sounds dramatic, but yes. You don’t realize how much you rely on having a good space to call your own is until you’re in it.


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