The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo.
Ten Speed Press, Penguin Random House, New York, 2014.
Adult self-help, 213 pages including index.
A method for decluttering and organizing your home or office from a famous expert.
Is the minimalism movement big in other parts of the world too? In America it’s trendy to declutter and simplify right now. Book blogging has ironically led to me buying many more books (because I feel such a time pressure when trying to review library books ), and it’s time to downsize the books.
This book is very Japanese even in this English translation. Kondo makes several references to various cultural practices and beliefs, and while few Americans seem to have noticed, several elements of her methodology are based in Shinto. She even references specific Japanese books that she found either inspirational or lacking.
One element that irritated me is the grandiose claims that aren’t backed by any specifics. While I don’t doubt that this method has been transformative and life-changing for some, or even most, of her clients, I’m also doubtful that they have all been unanimous success stories.
My irritation developed further when she discounts failures as not completing the course, or unwilling to work. While I understand that belief is an integral part of her method (if you believe things can change, it’s the first step to achieving change), it still grated on me.
Some further issues seem to be with translation. Kondo repeatedly refers to ‘tidying,’ but seems to actually be talking more about the practices of decluttering and organizing mentioned in the subtitle. The word ‘tidy’ has a connotation of ‘clean and orderly’, but this book isn’t really about how to clean. In fact, there are two separate bits at stake here. What you own and how you manage those possessions, and how you clean and maintain your home. When Kondo says you’ll never have to clean again, she’s not saying you won’t need to vacuum or evaluate your possessions periodically, she means decluttering should be a one-time job.
One lovely aspect is the presentation. An unusually sized jacketless hardcover with a studiously simple cover, this book is elegant and eye-catching. The text has five chapters which further break down into short sections. Even within those, key sentences are in bold and there are frequent breaks and lists. This makes the text easily digestible and memorable.
It’s especially notable because this book does not use sidebars or header images to break up the text. Great attention is paid to font, spacing, and justification. For example, the title and chapter text is on the bottom of pages, so as to be less distracting. Page numbers are just slightly darker than this information so they stand out more. The smaller size also makes the book easier to read. At this size it is over 200 pages and feels about the same thickness as a regular nonfiction work, but in a standard paperback, it would be much shorter.
All of this is not only clever brand management, but also a subtle start of the KonMari method. When you finish reading, it feels like an accomplishment. Most likely, you read it quicker than expected, and probably are feeling good about yourself and energized to try tidying.
At the end of the day, these are all first world problems. Like any good self-help or how-to book, I found several good gems of insight and methods that can be applied to my life. I didn’t notice any triggers or issues for younger readers.
I am suspicious of any method that claims all aspects work for everyone, but there is still value to Kondo’s approach.
(Because so many others have reviewed this already, I haven’t gone into the specifics of the method, but if you search “magic of tidying” you’ll find many overviews.)