‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’ by Marie Kondo

April 23, 2015 at 9:08 am 5 comments

tidyingupThere are few books I have read that are as divisive as Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. For those of you unfamiliar with this much-talked-about little book, it’s essentially about paring down your lifestyle and divesting yourself of the things in your life that do not “spark joy.” By getting rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy, Kondo argues, your home will become tidy, your life will improve, and you’ll even probably lose weight.

The book has been alternately raved about by people whose lives were changed and bashed by those who find her methods a bit too extreme. (An earlier, and angrier, reader of my library copy of the book actually wrote the following at the end: “This arrogant unintelligent person embodies the ‘throw away’ society! How did this book ever get published?!”)

Personally, I found the book to fit quite neatly alongside most other self-help books in that you can profitably take everything contained therein with a grain of salt.

As my grandfather was fond of saying, “everything in moderation.” And that fits in with Kondo perfectly. Yes, she’s drastic. Yes, she goes over the top. And, yes, she’s probably a little bit too obsessed with tidying. But, that doesn’t make her general message, taken in moderation, any less helpful. It honestly can’t hurt to take a second look at all your possessions and really question whether you need it all. We are a society with too much stuff (FACT) and often it just weighs us down rather than serving a helpful (and/or joyful) role in our lives.

Where I found Kondo rather less than inspirational was her section on books. (Surprise, surprise). Of books, she wrote:

“Books are essentially paper — sheets of paper printed with letters and bound together. Their true purpose is to be read, to convey the information to their readers. It’s the information they contain that has meaning. There is no meaning in their just being on your shelves.”

“For books, timing is everything. The moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it. To avoid missing that moment, I recommend you keep your collection small.”

To me, these sentiments fundamentally misunderstand books and reading. Books are so much more than sheets of printed paper. And keeping shelves upon shelves of books in your home is as much a statement of joy, and hope for the future, as anything I’ve ever seen.

Throughout the book, Kondo is so fixated on eliminating that she entirely fails to see the joy that might be sparked by being surrounded by something you love, be it books, pottery, rubber bands, or busts of dead French poets.

It certainly can’t hurt to be reminded to stop for a moment and consider the role of your possessions in your life. (Do they spark joy?) But it’s also important to recognize that joy means different things for different people. That empathy is something entirely missing from Kondo’s book, but, if you take her words in moderation, you can still learn a lot from this book. And then, go for it and do just as she suggests: discard it!


Entry filed under: Non-fiction. Tags: .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Kate  |  April 23, 2015 at 3:11 pm

    My books spark joy every time I look at them. They spark memories of reading them, the place I was when I first encountered them, whatever I was doing in my life when I read them, and the friends who gave them to me. If Kondo is unaware of that, she is missing out on one of the true joys of reading and books — and, dare I say, the pleasure of returning to a book only to find that it hasn’t changed, but you have.

    (The good news is, I guess Kondo didn’t expect you to let HER book stick around on your shelves for long.)

    However. The pile of laundry on my bathroom floor does not spark joy. I will take Kondo’s advice and put it in the hamper where it belongs.

    • 2. Corey  |  April 24, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Precisely! The weird notion that there is only one perfect moment to read any given book is completely mind-boggling to me. What madness.

      But, yes, she has a fair point about other spaces. She would have wept at the interior of my bag this morning, which has not ever been religiously emptied and thanked at the end of each day as she suggests. Poor thing actually had a dead carnation, two used tissues, three dimes, and a miniature Toblerone banging around in there amidst the necessaries. :(

      • 3. Kate  |  April 24, 2015 at 10:38 pm

        Emptied and thanked? My backpack has a pair of abandoned earrings, a charger cord of unknown origin and Tupperware languishing in it at the moment. Thanked, indeed.

      • 4. Kate  |  April 27, 2015 at 3:17 pm

        OH, and my tax returns don’t spark joy. But I have to keep them around. This is a deeply flawed premise, in my view.

  • 5. On culling books | Literary Transgressions  |  September 1, 2015 at 1:00 am

    […] slowly discovering that this was all hubris and folly, and that Marie Kondo is completely and utterly wrong when she said books are useless. My books are a reflection of who I am, a tangible reminder of what […]


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