Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo

Title: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
Author: Marie Kondo, translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano.
Publishing Date: 2014.
Pages: 213, including index.
Publisher: Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York. 
Originally Published in Japan in 2011, by Sunmark Publishing, Inc., Tokyo.

As fond as I am of this book (and I do like it a great deal), I had some problems with it. The problems that I encountered may or may not have had to do with the translation, or the differences between Japanese and American English. My chief problem was that the book seemed to be full of double messages. I didn't have a problem with what some have termed the "New Age-y" aspects of the book (thank your possessions, greet your home every day when you enter it, for example). I understood that concept once Ms. Kondo framed it in the context of the Shinto religion and philosophy. Shinto is a religion of animism, which holds that everything has a spirit. It has this in common with Native American spiritual philosophy and some neo-Pagan philosophies as well as other religious philosophies.

No, the problem I had was that Ms. Kondo says in some places that discarding your items and cleaning up your space will not take very long. Then in another part of the book she says the entire process takes about six months. Six months is not an insignificant amount of time to spend with your life in the upheaval of sorting, discarding and storing your objects. It seems realistic, however, given the process as it's laid out in "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up." She often emphasizes that the process doesn't take long, but considering that she says some of her clients have gotten rid of 200 books, or 50 bags of garbage, not to mention furniture and appliances, it seems like a big investment of time is required.

The other problem I had with this book was that none of Ms. Kondo's claims were backed up by empirical evidence. It was all anecdotal. She comes up with percentages for this or that result, but there's no way of knowing how she came up with that number.

Also, a lot of her method seems to be vague, and the "komono" or miscellaneous category seems too broad to me to really be useful. I found it helpful that she outlines her method in Chapter 2, "Finish Discarding First" and Chapter 3, "Tidying by Category Works Like Magic." She does an overview in Chapter 2, and goes into more detail in Chapter 3. This is useful. 

The other thing I found lacking was that she doesn't spend much time discussing maintenance. She just says that if you have a place for every item, you will return it to its rightful place when you're finished using it. That's great, but what about processing papers that come into the home, either in the form of mail, or instructions from your healthcare providers? My move would be to file them until they're no longer needed, or you have the information somewhere else. The other option would be to scan everything, but then you have to make sure you back up your computer. This problem wasn't covered in the book. I understand she has another book coming out in 2016, "Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class in the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up." I hope she'll go into more detail and outline her methods more clearly in that book.

Those were the problems I had with the book. However, I enjoyed some things about it: her way of telling a story is engaging and funny, and it also makes you think. I enjoyed reading the stories about her five years as a maid in a Shinto shrine, and her discussions of Japanese culture, traditions and customs. I also liked the stories she told about her youth, beginning with her fascination with home magazines when she was five, and her obsession with tidying when she was a teenager, and how her family home was her first laboratory for her tidying experiments. 

She lost me when she was relating anecdotes about her clients, though, since she made pronouncements that weren't backed up by facts, but more anecdotal evidence.

To sum up, if you want to get some ideas about organizing your home and getting rid of clutter, this book offers good tips, such as sorting, discarding and organizing by category. Whether or not you buy into the whole concept of "the life-changing magic of tidying up," is for you to decide.