the life changing magic of tidying up – a book review
Before you accuse me of “sour grapes” regarding the hoopla surrounding Marie Kondo’s best-selling book, hear me out. I think this is much more a case of brilliant marketing than of a brilliantly-written organizing book. Just look at that title:
- Life-changing: Many clients have actually said, “You’ve changed my life!” so using that phrase was pure gold.
- Magic: Ooooh – that sounds way better than “physically exhausting” or “emotionally draining,” right? But getting organized, while invigorating and exciting, can also involve a lot of hard work.
- Tidying up: This sounds more pleasant than “de-hoarding” or even “de-cluttering,” but in my mind, “tidying up” is what you do right before company arrives: put away the unread newspaper, the dishes drying in the rack, and make sure the guest bathroom is clean.
The third time I read this, I used green tabs to mark passages I agree with and pink tabs to mark passages I disagree with:
This would be a much longer post if I cited every aspect of her process I take issue with, so I’ll focus on the six primary points I find impractical, puzzling or problematic:
- Marie says there’s only ONE correct order for “tidying” by category as listed here:
- Clothes –She’s generally opposed to hanging clothes for a variety of reasons, but in my experience clients are more likely to re-hang a shirt than to lovingly fold it one very specific way and place it in the drawer one very specific way. Hanging often prevents things from becoming a pile on the floor.
- Books – No one ever rereads a book, she says, and if you own a book you’ve never read, you’ll never read it. If she wants to save info, she RIPS THE DESIRED PAGES OUT OF THE BOOK! (Yes, I just shouted that. As a book lover, this is wrong on so many levels.)
- Papers – The most time-consuming to organize, we usually save for later unless it’s the client’s primary goal. See #2.
- Everything Else: CDs, DVDs, accessories, electronics, household goods… again, in this very specific order. Her “everything else” category is too extensive; any one of those areas might be where we start if it makes sense.
- You only need three folders for paperwork. Hahaha! Whew, good one, Marie Kondo! In spite of my diligent efforts to eliminate paper, not everything can be maintained online. Mari says it’s better, easier, and less stressful to quickly know that you don’t have the paperwork you need and to simply take action to get it. How is that easier? I’d run myself ragged if I didn’t have a well-maintained filing system. Take a look at my situation:
- I run a business – this requires paperwork for insurance, payroll, taxes, financial reports, expenses, professional affiliations and more.
- I manage our household – there are financial, medical, and insurance files, auto records, household repair records, etc.
- I handle my elderly mom’s paperwork – and maintain paperwork for deceased loved ones. You need to keep things like death certificates.
- We own income property – again, lots of necessary files.
- She dislikes organizing bins or totes. Marie says words on bins create commotion in your mind. However, she loves using shoe boxes. I’d rather see matching plastic bins labeled and lined up on a shelf than a row of mismatched shoe boxes that don’t contain any shoes. Where do all those empty shoe boxes come from, anyhow?
- Only keep things that “spark joy.” Blech. That phrase doesn’t apply to the utilitarian or necessary items in our lives. Maybe this is a translation issue, but I’m sick of reading, “Does it spark joy?” No, my toilet plunger does not spark joy. Here’s how I query clients when reviewing their stuff:
- Do you need it?
- Do you use it?
- Do you love it?
- Do you have a place to appropriately and respectfully keep it?
- Marie keeps her kitchen tidy by drying her sponges, towels, dishes, etc. on her veranda. She proudly explains that she doesn’t need a dish rack! She puts dishes in a large bowl and sets everything outside to dry. Gah! Her book is peppered with this type of suggestion and I can’t imagine it makes sense to anyone.
- Other examples of impractical Mari Kondoisms:
- Empty your purse every night, put the contents in your closet, thank your purse for its service, and refill it in the morning. *sigh*
- Take the shampoo, conditioner, and soap out of the shower every day, dry them off, put them in a cupboard, get them out the next day. You just know, three times out of five you’d get in the shower and say, “Dang. Forget the soap again.”
- Keep your books on a bookshelf in your closet, where you also keep your keys, jewelry, and all other personal belongings. She says forget about “frequency of use” storage/placement.
- Putting things away creates the illusion that a clutter problem has been solved. Huh?
Kondo states, “You must sort by category, in the correct order, and keep only those things that inspire joy. Do this thoroughly and quickly, all in one go.” It’s not unusual for a client’s home to have a full basement, a packed attic, and a two-car garage filled with everything but cars; yet my clients have experienced long-lasting success using my “baby steps” approach.
Marie Kondo’s one-size-fits-all approach does not address hoarding or chronic disorganization. In those cases, her proposed method might actually do more psychological harm than good.
I’ve been organizing clients’ homes and lives for nearly twelve years. Whether working one-on-one or presenting a seminar on organizing, I stand by my five-step approach to tackling any organizing project, no matter the content or quantity:
- Start small – I encourage clients to “baby step” their way to success. Get started by breaking large projects into small manageable segments.
- Like with like – you can’t decide which coffee mugs to keep and which to donate until you gather them all together to review. This applies to any grouping in any order.
- Categorize – Decide what you’ll keep, distribute, sell, donate, recycle, or toss.
- A place for everything, and everything in its place – you can’t put it away if it doesn’t have a home.
- Maintain and move forward – As you complete one area, maintain it and move on to your next project.
Although Marie Kondo touches on some of these points in her book (thus, those few green tabs) I think her process is unrealistic. For most organizers, where we begin and the pace of our progress is based on the individual client, their situation, stamina, needs and goals.
As my website simply states, “Being organized is about finding what you want when you want it.” At Home Solutions, the mission is to help clients create a home or work environment that is functional, visually pleasing, and meets their current needs.
I’m sure she’s laughing all the way to the bank, but her book gets a two-thumbs-down review from this experienced professional organizer.