Tuesday, July 28, 2015

book review - the life-changing magic of tidying up

I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile. Yet, I resisted the urge to buy an electronic copy, even though I read most of my books electronically. This one seemed like it needed to be a hard copy in my hands. I guess because it’s about stuff.

I visited my sister a bit ago. My sister and brother-in-law bought a big house about 15 years ago, with pool and 4.5 baths - nice spaces to raise their family. When they first bought it, it was spacious, but needed quite a bit of work. They’ve put a lot of work into it, but over the years, it has become, well, cluttered. Really cluttered. Really, really cluttered.

When I was visiting this time, it suddenly dawned on me that perhaps my sister, who appreciates Eastern philosophy, might also enjoy reading this book. So we hopped off to an actual brick and mortar bookstore and got 2 copies.

The book is not your standard technical recipe for decluttering a house. It’s more about the relationship between you and your stuff. It’s about respecting and loving your stuff. It’s about being grateful, not for your stuff, but to your stuff. Thanking your stuff for doing a good job of whatever it is the stuff does.

It’s about gracefully letting go of the stuff you no longer love and that no longer serves your needs. Thanking it and letting it go on it’s way, out of your house.

My sister was a bit disappointed that Kon-Mari (as Marie is known) does not advocate parting with stuff that you no longer love and going out to buy stuff you love better. As in - I don’t love this bowl, but I need a bowl, therefore I’ll ditch this bowl and go buy a more beautiful and expensive bowl that I will love.  Not.  I think the buying activity is where we go so wrong. We do it too fast, without really considering if we will love (or need) this piece of stuff. This book is about how to decide between keeping and letting go, not getting more.

So we started reading aloud to each other while we did other chores (she’s renovating one of the bathrooms) and talking about stuff, literally. Kon-Mari has a pretty strict method to tidy and it was interesting to read and discuss.

The day before I left, we started in the wardrobe with the accessories. We got out a fresh trash bag to hold the items to be donated and got to work. Everything came out on the floor where we sat. Following the instructions, every item was handled, listened to and folded. Then it went back in the drawer or into the donation bag. Donated items were thanked for their service.

One of the things Kon-Mari discusses is folding. She prefers folding clothes over hanging them and claims each item has a specific way it should be folded. She offers suggestions, but says each items knows it’s own best way. At one point, my sister made a little jumping noise and exclaimed something like “This scarf really did just tell me I was folding it wrong!”. Maybe it did.

Once you have let go the items that you do not love, you can focus on tidying (or caring for) the ones you do love. Kon-Mari describes the things you love as the ones that “spark joy”. She encourages you to thank your stuff on a daily basis for it’s service. When you enter your home and take off your shoes, you say “Thank you, shoes.” While I’m trying to improve my gratitude practice, I hadn’t thought to extend that gratitude to my stuff. It feels good.

After returning home, my sister has been reporting on the number of bags donated and the change in her wardrobe, dresser and closet (yes, all three were full, as well as the auxiliary storage area, the floor).

She made an observation that gives me hope. She said it’s hard to say thank you to her clothes and then drop them on the floor. 

That’s the “life-changing” and “magic” part of this book.