The Life-changing Magic of Tidying

The life-changing magic of tidying up

Yes, I am a little late jumping on this bandwagon, I know. I don’t usually pay much attention to the popular or bestseller lists, preferring instead to follow my nose, especially when it comes to books. They usually jump off the shop-shelf into my hand and shout “buy me, buy me”. But in the end my good intentions to be ‘an organised person’ compelled me to read this book, so I reserved it from my local library.

A much sought after book, this has been on international bestseller lists for yonks; its popularity has yet to wane as I had to wait several weeks for it in a reservation queue. I was curious as to why a book about tidying-up could be so popular? The Life-changing Magic of Tidying-upThe Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising has obviously touched a sensitive nerve in the heart of our consumerist culture.

Maria’s method is very simple. Tidy once properly and you’ll never have to do it again.

Take one category at a time such as books, clothing, paperwork, komono (miscellaneous items), and place all of it in the middle of a room. Then take each possession individually and ask yourself “does this spark joy?”. If it does, find a place for it to go, if not, discard or donate it. Her no-nonsense quirky tone will leave you motivated to act immediately. Luckily it is a fast and easy read, and I read it in just a few hours.

Now, you don’t have to agree with everything Maria says to find value in her method. I think some of her advice is extreme. I don’t think it’s possible to keep only those things that ‘spark joy’ – some things are merely necessary. For example, I do not like most of my poor quality furniture, but until I am able to replace it with better, it will have to do. And emptying my handbag every day is never going to happen.

The ideal for me is finding balance; your own version of balance, whatever that is. I was once a bit of a hoarder and about ten years ago got rid of an entire lorry load of junk from my loft space. And over the years since have cleared out even more. Sadly, I discarded a few things that I now regret, so it is important that you consider each item carefully and find what works for you.

As a result of all this clearing out, I no longer buy stuff I don’t need. When I do buy something it is because I love it or really need it. Having less things, means less to tidy, less to clean, less to fuss about. Hurrah! Uncluttered surroundings help to produce uncluttered minds. It’s definitely had a calming effect on my life. And an interesting side effect is that my children have become more tidy just from living in a tidier home.

However, I think there is more to this decluttering lark than just having a tidy, organised house. For me it is a spiritual exercise. Material culture is a growing research field in the arts and humanities. Our museums are full of trinkets, art, books, sacred icons, fashions and other artifacts of days gone by – the remains of things that were held in esteem by our forebears and which tell us so much about those people and their times.

It is, then, very interesting to note the things we keep in our homes. What do they tell us about ourselves and our values? That’s what makes it potentially ‘life-changing’. Through sorting through our things and carefully deciding what to keep and what to discard, we come to know and understand ourselves more clearly. And in turn this helps us to see our place in the world and the action we may need to take next.

Following an intuitional approach sparks a closer, deeper relationship with your possessions; learning to identify what is truly precious to you.

Some of my favourite possessions include my books (of which I have several hundred), a few pieces of jewellery that are meaningful to me, notebooks and journals, photographs, a few favourite pictures and crafts made by my children, handmade knits, a wooden sewing box given to my mum on her wedding day, a concert t-shirt, my computer, and some christmas ornaments. What stood out for me among these things are the values I hold dear – the natural world, creativity, home, family, handmade – all those things that nourish the soul.

This book is a useful read, especially if you feel you need a kick up the backside to get you going in life, there’s nothing like a sort and a sift to discover a little more about who you really are.

17 thoughts on “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying

  1. I just finished this book and really liked a lot of her suggestions. My house is generally tidy but I know there is so much clutter hidden away in drawers and closets. I do love her mantra of what sparks joy, although I agree with you that while some items may not spark joy they are necessary. Some of her ideas were a little ‘out there’ but overall I really liked what she had to say! Now, I just need to start following her advice… 🙂

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    1. I’m good at keeping it tidy on the surface, but inside I also am prone to cluttering up cupboards and drawers. I think this method will be helpful to keep it all under control 🙂

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  2. I’ve not read the book, but I like the idea of only keeping what gives you joy. I also agree that it is an exercise in self-awareness, growth and development. I find a good clearance lifts the weight of property (something I’ve written about before); it’s freeing. I do wonder though at what we call ‘necessary’. For example, I have a friend who has no need of seats, she really never sits down. Aren’t our ideas of what is necessary driven by social convention anyway?

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    1. I think to a certain extent they are driven by convention. Also what we might deem ‘necessary’ can change over time. I know once my children have moved out, I will have to rethink what I need in the house… I still keep a lot of things ‘just in case’ 😉

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      1. Ah yes, been there. When I sold the house, one of the dilemmas was what to do with anything the kids left behind. After a few hints about coming to collect what you want, it got the same treatment as my own. If they couldn’t name any of the items they wanted to keep – it went! What is necessary, does thankfully reduce sans children.

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  3. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a house keeper. I am very possibly on the hoarder side, though a great deal of it is that one thing gets piled on top of other things. I spent all last year sorting through and getting rid of things which belonged to my parents. That’s easier, though I did keep quite a bit of things I probably don’t need. A year later, I’m prepared to go through the closets again, and to consider a very important thing. Have I once picked up and used this item since I moved in. If I have not, it should be put out of the house. I just did that with quite many books my mother used, on healing and cooking. It’s highly unlikely that I’m going to use most of her cookbooks, since I use a slow cooker for most meals these days. I don’t want to spend my time in the kitchen. Nor do I want to do what my mother did while I was growing up…. in depth spring and fall cleaning.

    I bought a robot vacuum cleaner, which we send around the house every Thursday and have the cleanest floors, (even under the bed, couch, and furniture) that we’ve ever had. I’d love to not be so cluttered, but I find that I think I’ll find a use. OR, Mr. Quantum believes he’ll find a use for something.

    Once was, I wouldn’t buy any new clothes unless I was willing to put an equal amount into The Goodwill bag.

    I think it would be great to declutter, but I am too sentimental. *sigh*

    Great post and definitely when I get off my duff and get back to re-decorating, it’ll be a book I’ll look for.

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    1. I’m a bit jealous of your robot cleaner. I hate vacuuming… it makes so much noise and no sooner have I finished, then the cat has scattered litter everywhere! Maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll get a little robot helper one day 🙂

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  4. I’ve been doing some de-cluttering too recently – and I can’t believe how much of a footprint I will be responsible for when I leave this earth. Boxes and boxes of clothing, shoes, bags, computer accessories, screens, ornaments, nic nacs !!!
    Funnily, like he author I’ve been asking myself “Did I really need all these to make me happy?”

    I think there comes a point when you realise happiness is inside you. Now I know I don’t need more than a shirt on my back and a roof above my head ..

    I am distributing what I can, trying to find re-cycling uses for the other as I seek forgiveness from Mother Earth for leaving garbage for the next few generations.

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    1. You have a very wise attitude. I’ve also been thinking about what I’ll leave behind when I leave this earth. Not to be morbid, but I don’t want to leave my family with a whole lot of junk to have to wade through.

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  5. What we leave behind for future museums is an interesting thought, and I wonder if our popular culture evolves too quickly to leave anything one thing of consequence behind. Art and fashion do seem to be our only hopes. I once went to a museum with a lovely ’70s display, and it was almost the exact telephone, record player, hairdryer, etc, my parents had. But our phones and televisions become obsolete so quickly kids will remember multiple models, with very few of them being locked into the era in the same nostalgic way. And everything breaks or is disposable these days, I hope someone has safely put away and not used a few bits for future generations, otherwise our museums will be full of iphones with cracked screens and washing machines that won’t turn 😉

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    1. One of my favourite possessions, was my first record player. It was encased in a small suitcase and you could close and fasten the lid and carry it anywhere. It would be a museum piece now. I wish I still had it. None of the later editions of music players come even close to that. It is a shame with our throwaway lifestyles these days, our phones, iPods, iPads etc., just don’t have the same sense of quality and value no matter how much they cost. Or maybe it’s just me turning into an old fuddy-duddy. 😉

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  6. I love the sound of this book. I often feel I am a minimalist trapped inside the body of a mess monster. I am so untidy, mess just seems to accumulate around me. Like you, the things I hold on to are mainly lots of books, and things the children have made, so as mess goes, it could be worse. It will be interesting to see what future generations make of our stuff, especially as conceivably, physical books, music and films may have totally given way to their virtual counterpart and not exist anymore as things at all.

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    1. It’s hard to strike a balance between the chaos of life, and our desire for order and stability. Sometimes it feels like a battle. It is strange to see how books, music and films need not exist as objects… I can’t quite get my head around it still. I will always want to read actual books, but maybe it is a good thing that resources aren’t being wasted on them and cluttering our houses so much.

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  7. A great take on ‘Kondo-ing’, and I do agree, we can go too far in discarding what connects us to our lives. Things serve many purposes, some of them subtle and psychological, and they’re no less essential for that.

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  8. Thanks Annie, I think the process of sorting and decluttering has actually made me feel more connected to my life. I keep stuff more deliberately and thoughtfully these days. Years ago it was all just a big old confusing mess, now I know more clearly what holds special meaning for me and what doesn’t. I have to keep on top of it though, or the mess starts to creep back in 😉

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