November 18, 2014

the life changing magic of tidying up

Almost a year ago, there was talk at Eric's work that he might be relocated for a job in Augusta, Georgia. The company was bidding on a project there and had in mind to send Eric as the foreman. If they scored the project, it would be a two-year process. They sent him to interview with the potential client and we were geared up to rent out our house and move east.

Moving five hours away didn't bother me. Instead, looking around me, all I could think was, "I just don't want to move all this crap."

Commence Operation Clean Out.

Here we are, one year later, and the company lost the bid on that job. Eric has been working in Tuscaloosa (for the most part), one hour south but still in commuting distance. The need to relocate has passed, but Operation Clean Out has continued into perpetuity, and I've been faithfully removing bags upon bags of unnecessary possessions every few weeks. Quite seriously, I'm not sure where we had been stowing all the stuff, but it was lurking there, in every spare shelf and cranny!

It was into this environment that The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up arrived, and I eagerly opened the crisp hardback cover to find out if the book was worth all the hype. The KonMari method for cleaning house has exploded in popularity in Japan, and has arrived in the United States to great fanfare. I was curious to know if I might learn something to aide my own quest for tidiness!

A while back, I told you all about my family's seemingly genetic predisposition towards hoarding. Like author Marie Kondo, I spent a good deal of time in my youth studying systems to organize and clean- not as much out of a passion for the topic, but as a survival mechanism and, well... because there wasn't really anyone around who could teach me these things, anyway. I spent many free weekends cleaning and reorganizing my family's home. I prided myself on my ability to fit amazing amounts of stuff into drawers and shelves!

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My first impression of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up was that Marie Kondo is obviously a genius. I think I arrived at this conclusion because her own attitude about possessions closely mirrors my own. Over the last year, I've applied my own natural instincts about tidying to my clean-out operation, and it seems that I've been on the right course in many ways. What a relief!

Ultimately, though, I didn't enjoy reading the book at all. I just didn't find the author's tone likeable, but I can't say how much of my reaction might be due to losses in translation from the original Japanese to English as well as differences in culture. The more I read, the more I realized that Ms. Kondo may not be so much a genius as she is obsessive-compulsive and neurotic. For instance, in one part she describes an event when the discovery of soap scum on her shower rack brought her to tears. I just can't relate!

The KonMari method rests on the underlying principle that tidying should be a one-time event, and that if it is done properly it will never have to be repeated. My only response to this approach it that it obviously was devised by someone used to being able to complete tasks without small children underfoot!

As much as I would love to ship my kids off for a week so I could dig in and complete my floor-to-ceiling, front-to-back tidying operation all at once- that's never going to happen! But I will say that I've been encouraged to dig in with a little more intensity with the hope that perhaps there truly is an end in sight. I do look forward to the day when I can call my cleanout complete and start enjoying a lifestyle of tidiness!

There are three approaches we can take toward our possessions: face them now, face them sometime, or avoid them until the day we die... If we acknowledge our attachment to the past and our fears for the future by honestly looking at our possessions, we will be able to see what is really important to us. (Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up)

Another aspect of the KonMari method that I can't bring myself to adopt is the advice to greet and give thanks to each of your belongings. I suppose this advice might be somehow rooted to Ms. Kondo's background in the Shinto religion, and she alludes to Shinto in several places. This practice probably resonates more deeply with KonMari devotees in Japan. I realized towards the end of the book, however, that perhaps I had been doing something similar in my day-to-day rituals in keeping with my own unique cultural backdrop. I am a Bible-believing Christian American, and I have recently begun to be far more intentional with my prayers of gratitude.

For instance, I walk into a room and admire the way it looks since I put up new curtains last week. I stop and pray, Thank You, God, for the new curtains. I like the way they look and the way this room feels. I pray you will give me more opportunities to share my home with others and I hope this room will be as welcoming to my guests as it is to me. Or, when dressing in the morning, I stop and express gratitude for my new shoes. God, thank You for the shoes. They are comfortable and I feel confident wearing this outfit. I feel fortunate to have nice clothes: help me find creative ways to help people who don't have enough.

I'd recommend this book to someone who's earnestly trying to learn how to be more clean and organized, but I'm not sure most Westerners are ready for the KonMari method. We like fads, and we like to do things the quick and easy way. We also love to accumulate things, and the method relies heavily on the presumption that you're going to get rid of a lot of stuff.

I do think that following these guidelines will change your life drastically. I've been in pursuit of a more minimal lifestyle for more than a year now, and I can definitely report I feel less anxiety, more creativity, and more positivity about the future now that I've shed many layers of belongings, much like layers of an onion. I have nothing but good things to say about the benefits of "tidying up"!

I received a review copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo from the kind folks at Blogging for Books. All opinions expressed are my own. This post contains affiliate links.

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