I recently read Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying, and man was it life-changing. I’ve always loved tidying (well, that’s a lie, I’ve taken an interest in tidying because a messy house makes me unbelievably stressed, claustrophobic, and unable to do anything), and I’d previously watched her show. The book is something else though – I read it in a day and couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for anyone wanting to change their lives.
The tips below aren’t necessarily the “main lessons” she’s trying to teach. They’re just the things I’ve personally found the most helpful. So, without further ado, here are the top 7 things I learnt from the KonMari method.
#1: Tidy a little every day and you’ll be tidying forever
One of the first things she says is to get out of this mindset. Pick up an item here, 20 minute there – voila, the house has miraculously cleaned itself! Except that no. And you’ll just feel deflated, and your house will still be a mess at the end, and you’ll start thinking that tidying never gets anyone anywhere. Saying tidying a little here and there is enough is like saying eating a tomato here and there will miraculously make you lose a stone. That ain’t how this works. It’s a process, and unless you are ready to undertake it, don’t even try.
I’ve always known this in the back of my mind. In fact, I was planning on writing a blog post about tidying and emphasising the need to do a lot every day – I was under the impression a lot meant several hours a day, and that it would essentially be impossible to do this with a full-time job unless you wanted to give up all your free time.
Thankfully, it seems that once you’ve got things in order, and everything has a place, it’s unlikely things will “un-find” their place. All it takes is one big sort, and the rest is just maintenance, which takes significantly less effort. Marie Kondo says this will typically take around 6 months, but emphasises that this isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things, and that at the end you shouldn’t have any major issues with keeping things tidy. I’ve taken it upon myself to sort through everything I own, one box at a time, and it’s honestly amazing knowing that everything I’ve kept has been carefully selected and stored with similar items in an easily accessible way. So far, so good.
#2: Store similar items together.
I cannot emphasise enough how helpful this is. If you’re worried you’re going to lose your nail clippers, why not put a set in each bathroom, plus a set in each travel bag and some more in the nail varnish box? Except oh wait, that’s how you end up with 7 sets of nail clippers, as I have over the past two years. Storing items apart basically makes it more likely you’ll lose track of what you have. Have a single spot for nail clippers and be done with it.
Marie Kondo describes how she has seen many, many cases of people hoarding items, and in almost all of them the people have been scared of running out, and been even close to aware of how much they had. This makes perfect sense – you think you might run out, so you store it around the place, and every time you look you think “I only have one left and I don’t know where the others are!”
I was guilty of this with Paracetamol, sun cream, and hair ties, and my husband had about 1000 razor blades stored in various locations. If you store similar items together, this will no longer be an issue. I now have a dedicated nail clipper spot in one of the bathrooms, and (I know this is tough), if I want to get some nail clippers I’m just going to have to trek all the way across the house to that cupboard.
#3: Let go of gifts (and the guilt).
It’s really easy to feel guilty for letting things go because they were a gift from someone. But, as Marie says, the act of giving a gift is more about the person giving it than the person receiving. It’s about them picking something out, and passing it on in an act of kindness. It doesn’t represent your relationship, and I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to keep it if it was just rotting in a box somewhere. Let go of the guilt.
On that note – objects are not memories. Unless the object itself is important to you for sentimental reasons, don’t feel you need to keep the object because of the associated memory. The experience still happened, whether or not you keep the ticket stub or not.
#4. Papers are useless.
I cannot tell you how many letters I’ve kept because I thought “that looks important, I should probably keep that”. When sorting through the boxes in my shed, papers took up by far the majority of what I found. Most of them? Absolutely useless. Most of the information can be found online. Most of these papers I would never look through again. Marie Kondo actually says she tries to keep zero papers in her house whatsoever: she keeps important documents that she needs long-term (marriage certificates, diplomas, etc), and she keeps short-term documents that have an expiration date (receipts and warranties). Everything else gets sorted into one of the above piles or gets chucked. She says: “rule of thumb: discard everything”.
For me, a lot of papers have sentimental value. Things like notes from my first year of university, or notes from a talk I gave. I’ve decided to keep them. But, it’s important to realise that I’m not keeping them because “I might want to read them later to brush up on the subject”. That’s not going to happen. Marie says that in her experience, no one ever does this – in fact, not having the notes makes you see more clearly whether you actually want to learn about the topic or not. Notes can lull you into a false sense of security. But having some notes on introduction to statistics doesn’t make you any better at statistics, nor any more likely to read through them.
I actually noticed this very same effect at university – the false sense of security notes can provide. I often found the subjects I did better in were ones I didn’t take notes in – I’d be forced to sit and listen, and I didn’t have the mentality of “I’ve taken notes, therefore I must have taken this in”. Take the plunge. Plunge the notes into the recycling bin.
#5. Books are overrated.
Many people have taken issues with Marie Kondo’s system of giving away books that no longer bring value to your life. But… why? If you aren’t going to read them again, or you didn’t enjoy them very much when you read them, or you never finished them, literally what is the point? Are you keeping them as some sort of trophy, to show the world how cultured and intellectual you are? Trust me, you don’t need books for that. At least, not books you aren’t planning on reading or using. And clearing out the ones you don’t want just makes more space for ones you do. Marie Kondo actually describes someone who fit this description to a tee – a CEO who had shelf after shelf of “the classics”, but hadn’t read a single one.
I must admit I’ve never been much of a reader. But since tidying up the clutter in my house, and having fewer books, I’ve actually started reading significantly more.
I think the psychology behind this is as follows: It can be super overwhelming to have lots of books lying around you haven’t read, or have planned on reading later. I actually noticed a pattern in my life with books. I’d read a book, maybe the first in a series, or by a certain author, and really enjoy it. I’d get immersed in the world, spend every waking hour on this book, and think “ok, I’m a book person now, that’s cool”. I’d then buy the next book in the series, or another book by the same author, or even a similar book in the same genre but by a different author. But wait, I’d think, what if I run out? What if I read this too quickly and then I don’t have another book to read next? So I’d buy the next two books in the series, or buy a variety of books by the author or in the same genre. And what would happen? Each and every time, as if by magic, I’d stop reading entirely. It’s actually amazing how consistent this has been throughout my life. I need to be reading one, and exactly one, book at a time, in order to have any hope of finishing it. Otherwise it’s just too much, it’s overwhelming. It feels like another thing on your “to do” list, and since books often take quite a long time to read, you start rushing through it and not enjoying it. And if you miss a detail or forget who a character was, you won’t understand what’s going on in the next chapter.
It’s so, so much easier, and more true to yourself, to donate books that you know you’re not going to read. Again, give up the guilt. You’re not reading to impress anyone – you’re trying to enrich your life here. How can you do that when you’ve constantly got another book hanging over your head? “Remember me? You should probably start reading me again soon!” Fuck off.
And in the worst case scenario, where you suddenly find yourself wanting to read The Catcher in the Rye after you gave it away, just buy another copy. Jesus. Or get a kindle and download it.
#6. Always open the packaging straight away.
Most people (including myself) have items in their home which are still in the packaging. Marie Kondo says this creates a feeling of not really owning the items, and therefore not getting the best use out of them. She even says it’s easier to forget about them, as they don’t feel personal to you. I can now see all these things are true. As soon as I started opening the packaging, it’s like I’ve committed to actually owning all those things rather than being on the fence about whether I might return them or give them away later. And if you read the book, you’ll see it’s important that everything in your home is something you want to keep.
As an example, my husband and I both love earl grey tea; we drink it very often, and we own a good 4-5 brands of earl grey. However, I recently realised one of the packets had been left unopened, and as a result, we’d tried all the different brands except that one. We each have our favourite brand, of course, but we’d never at any point gone “let’s open the packaging on that one and try it out!”
There’s something pristine, untouched about unopened packaging. It makes you feel like you’re “saving” the item for a special occasion. Except that you shouldn’t be – it’s so important to actually use the things you own! As soon as I removed the packaging from the tea, it immediately felt more “mine”. I’ve noticed this effect with many items whose packaging I have removed, so I have to say this has been a massive one for me.
#7. The best way to get others to tidy their things is to sort yourself out.
Marie Kondo describes feeling frustrated with her family as a child. She felt they were the cause of much of the mess around the house. She describes a communal storage cupboard which would always get cluttered with her family’s junk. She decided to tackle this problem by stealthily throwing away their things, one at a time, resulting in a total of 10 bags of rubbish over a period of 3 months. They of course found out in the end, and were not too pleased. She also emphasises that throwing out other peoples’ things is not ok, and that if she could, she’d go back in time and give herself a smack.
She was subsequently forbidden from tidying communal areas. When she turned her view inwards, to her own room, she realised to her astonishment that it actually needed a lot more work than she had thought. She’d focussed so much on her family that she’d ended up forgetting about her own things. And she realised that, once she’d sorted out her own room and her own stuff, she’d stopped being angry at her family for their mess. Not only that; they actually started tidying their things of their own accord. The best way to get others to tidy their stuff seems to be to just get on with yours. As Marie Kondo says, “the urge to point out someone else’s failure to tidy is usually a sign that you are neglecting to take care of your own space”.
I’ve noticed this in my own life. The more I tidy my things, the more my husband tidies his. I’ve also noticed this with my parents; I stopped by one day to sort through some of my old things, and that seemed to give them the push they needed to sort through theirs. It’s also genuinely easier to be less stressed if you know you’ve done your part. My advice is, sort your own stuff, and if you see something belonging to someone else, put it in a pile. When your space is tidy, confront them with all their things at once – they’ll probably either sort them then and there, or take them away to deal with themselves later.
This is probably the most useful tip I’ve encountered. It appears to be a very common problem, so it’s good to know that there’s a simple solution.
So there you have it – 7 things I learnt from Marie Kondo. I’d highly recommend getting the book if you’ve considered doing a deep clean of your things – it’s incredibly motivational and also just a great read. I know it’s been hyped, but for me, it’s definitely not been over-hyped. Good luck on your tidying journey! xoxo