Cleaning

We Tried It: the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

September  2, 2015

The life-changing magic of trying to tidy up.

Food52 Office

If your office or your coworkers or your friends are anything like ours, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Upa book that is equal parts organization inspiration, Zen philosophy, and obsession—has probably popped up once or twice or thirty times in conversations, emails, or Instagram photos. There's a lot of "Oh, yeah, I read that," and "'Life-changing' is not a lie!" and "Magic! Magic! Magic!" when it does come up—and no wonder: Marie Kondo's book is a number-one New York Times bestseller, has given her a spot on of Time's list of the world's 100 most influential people, and has sold two million copies. 

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The KonMari Method, as her strategy is called, started to come up so often at the Food52 office that we decided we had to investigate further. We passed around a copy of the book, which is slim enough to read in a sitting or two, traded opinions and tips, and generally worked ourselves into a tidying tizzy.

Here's what you should know if you haven't read the book:

  • KonMari's biggest point is that, in getting rid of belongings, you should pick up each item individually and ask if it sparks joy in you. If it does, keep it; if not, give it away.
  • She also recommends that when doing this, you should do it all at once: Take everything out, category by category, of your pantry, closet, boxes, or bookcases—and put it on the floor. Proceed from there.

We asked a couple of team members what their experiences with the KonMari method were like. From tips and criticisms to bits of gratitude, here's what our team had to say:

Clothes

Ali, Associate Editor

What did you think of the book?
I felt that the philosophy made sense, but the fact that the book is so adored is really interesting because I feel it would only work for certain kinds of people. Some people don’t have a lot of emotional ties to their things—I think I fall in that category. Does this object bring me joy? I don’t know, but I kind of needed something on that table...

How did it go? 
I only planned to apply it to my clothes. (I've never had enough stuff to do everything, and I was moving anyway.) Though when I did it to my clothes, I was automatically inspired to go at the rest of my house and just sort of go rogue based on the principles Kondo gives.

What worked? What didn't? 
I love getting rid of stuff. It was definitely satisfying, and I like that the book gives you a barometer for getting rid of things: There's only one question for getting rid of things—"Does this spark joy?" It made the deliberation process much quicker. But her tip about getting rid of all your papers terrified me. I don’t know if I could do that. 

Lauren Locke Lauren Locke
Our VP of Sales, Lauren, in the midst of KonMari: left, putting everything on the floor; right, setting out bags of donations.


Lauren L.
, Vice President of Sales

What did you think of the book? 
For me, using the "bringing joy" philosophy each time I looked at an item helped a lot. The bigger aha! moment for me was releasing my "gift guilt," scarves and cookbooks being prime examples. I had kept every scarf anyone ever gifted me because I felt badly about getting rid of a gift. But the KonMari method opened my eyes to the fact that a gift is given to bring you joy in the moment! When I opened, received, and used the various scarfs or cookbooks over the years, they had reached their full purpose. Keeping something forever is not a required action after accepting a gift.

How did it go? 
My husband and I have done our clothes, jewelry, personal books, cookbooks, the kids' room, our bathroom products (I used to hoard mini shampoo bottles), kitchen items (did I need 15 mixing bowls?), blankets, extra sheets, and winter accessories. I had three boxes of scarves for our family of four—and now we have half of one!

What worked? What didn't? 
The phase we have been putting off is papers. Oh, how we file, put things in clear plastic sleeves, containers... And don't get me started on children's artwork! We've sworn we'll get to it after vacation—because really, doing this all in one day, as KonMari recommends, is not at all realistic with small children and a job. But her philosophy on papers—that you don't need to keep them—is really great. We keep every financial and credit card statement. But KonMari so astutely points out that it would take no time at all to log onto our accounts online, find the statements, and print what we needed in an emergency. The storing is clogging our physical and emotional lives! 

Spices

Bobbi, Photographer

What did you think of the book? 
I was obsessed with the book when I was doing it—maybe too obsessed. I thought she had a lot of great points, but it’s really hard to throw everything on the ground when you finally decide to do it. It’s like total commitment. And when I did that with my closet, I actually got really angry—like an emotional reaction to change. I also don't think the KonMari process is right for everyone. (Another great decluttering read is Karen Kingston's Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui.)

How did it go? 
I did a lot of what the book recommends. I did my closet; I did my papers—I really got rid of most of them. I did a lot of kitchen stuff, but couldn't get rid of my cookbooks. And I’m not ready to do photos and mementos.

What worked? What didn't? 
The biggest thing that I got out of the book: She says that when you start doing KonMari, you'll start making similar [joy-based] decisions in other parts of your life. And I think that’s true. Before I did KonMari, if an annoying email came through, I’d take such a long time figuring out how to respond nicely and worrying about how the person might respond. After, I’d just gone through so much clutter-clearing that I'd still try to respond nicely but stopped stressing about how the recipient might react.

But I also think I threw away too much. So, this is what I’d suggest: It’s important to define what "sparking joy" means for you. There were so many things that maybe didn’t "spark joy" for me but were still connected with really good memories. Is the fact that the thing triggers a great memory enough? Or does the thing have to bring joy right now? Maybe this is the antithesis of what she says, but I think you need to define it for yourself. 

Tidying

Lindsay-Jean, Contributing Writer & Editor

What did you think of the book? 
Even though I’m pretty tidy to begin with, I devoured this book and let Marie Kondo work her magic in my home; her KonMari method helped me take my penchant for organization to a whole new level.

How did it go?
Before I read the book, every time I opened my closet doors I looked at lots of clothing that wasn’t getting worn. I ended up purging a lot of clothing, and I have a lot fewer items now, but they’re items that I’m excited about. They fit, they feel good on, and they get worn. Now when I add new items to my wardrobe they need to meet the "does this spark joy?" requirement, or they stay on the rack in the store.

What worked? What didn't? 
Some of Kondo’s suggestions were smaller ones: I used to ball up my socks, and was skeptical when Kondo claimed that those "potato-like lumps" take up more room (and are harder on your socks), but she was right.

And when I removed a bunch of my clothes, I was left with a lot more space: I was able to add a dresser inside the closet, which is great for non-hanging clothes storage, but the addition left an awkward space above it. Kondo had an answer for me there, too: "Transform your closet into your own private space, one that gives you a thrill of pleasure." Due to the layout of our house, we don’t have many spots for knick-knacks, so my collection of bird figurines was living in a box in the basement. With the addition of a couple of shelves, that awkward space was transformed into a display space. I now smile every morning when I open my closet doors—it’s such a happy space for me!

Have you tried the KonMari method yourself? What did you think? What worked for you? 

Photo of clothing rack by Madelynn Hackwith Furlong; KonMari photos by Lauren Locke; photos of corner cushions, spices, and living room by Mark Weinberg

17 Comments

Annie K. January 2, 2017
a photos of the closet with bird figurines would be inspirational. The thought brought a smile to my face.
 
Susan K. January 2, 2017
I thought the book was ridiculous. It contained no new information. And for me, what I have I already love. I regularly toss things out or donate them. My challenge is motivating myself to put my stuff away when I'm finished using it, and there's no book on earth that can do that. It has to come from within.
 
Emily S. January 6, 2016
I loved this book, although I did employ a sort of "rogue version" myself, same as Ali above. I don't keep many books (I check them out of the library first, and only after I've read them I'll purchase a copy if I deem it worthy)--but this is one I think could be revisited as a gentle reminder to only keep what "sparks joy." I did my paperwork, my kids rooms and my own closet using the method, but after the holidays we probably need to revisit. ;)<br /><br />https://eemmllee.wordpress.com/2015/06/10/tidy-up-day-1/<br /><br />https://eemmllee.wordpress.com/2015/08/13/the-life-changing-magic-of-tidying-up-my-closet/
 
Roberta January 1, 2016
I thought her most useful advice was to work by category, not by room. I have clothes everywhere, so it was very helpful to pull everything together and work on all my scarves, for example not just the ones that were in this closet or in that drawer. I thought I was good at discarding, but I still came up with three big bags and precious new closet space. I also would up doing an inventory of my wardrobe and THAT has been tremendously helpful. Who knew I had four pink skirts!
 
Teija B. October 19, 2015
I also found the emptying purse every day thing strange. But, once a week would be a good plan. I like thanking my things for their help. Kind of nice. I have seen the author saying when she writes to do it all at once- she doesn't mean it exactly the way we do. She means keep working on it-don't stop until you are pleased-even if it takes years!! She also addressed the idea that something you just need like a kitchen tool brings you joy because it fits your needs.
 
ginnyf100 September 10, 2015
where do clothes you've worn but aren't quite ready for the wash go? I did my clothes but still have too many. Do people do this over and over as time goes by?<br />Thanks
 
Jennifer F. September 13, 2015
Testing
 
Jennifer F. September 13, 2015
Sorry, I had typed a long response to you and then had it error out.. lol.. I'm working my way through this right now and it is taking me more than one attempt. I started with clothes when I still had too many in the wash. We also are a three person household, not a single living alone, so I had to do one bedroom at a time for an initial discard. When the laundry was done, I did one last discard with all the remaining items gathered in one spot. I'm having to do double the work for a few categories. There's simply too many to fit all of them on the floor in one room for the first discard. So, I've been doing an initial discard by category in one room and then combining the remnants for a final discard with everything together. I just had to much stuff to start out with to manage it in one go. But, I figure getting it done in two attempts is better than not getting it done at all. :)
 
Chris E. November 28, 2016
Clothes worn once, but not yet ready for the washer, I place on a hook inside my closet, or you could use an over the door hanger that faces inside the closet. I hope that helps!
 
Jennifer O. September 4, 2015
I love Marie Kondo's book. I konmaried my wardrobe last weekend and it has been nothing short of wonderful. I was holding onto clothing for more than a decade! I had cocktail dresses leftover from life pre-baby. And that baby is a 7th-grader this fall. I got rid of two large trash bags full of stuff, including two designer handbags that were gifts that I don't use anymore but felt guilty about getting rid of. I just can't tell you how good it feels to look in my closet now and only see what I actually wear and what sparks joy. I feel like I have more energy because I've let go of the past and it's only been a week! I can't wait to do the rest of my house. This weekend, it's a biggie: books.
 
Theodora N. September 4, 2015
I really love this book. I liked the tidying system and the de-cluttering technique really worked for me. What got me excited though was that I could really relate to some of Kondo's sayings. For example I used to be the kind of person that started tidying every time I had to do something serious that demanded my full atention and commitment. I thought I was just being weird. Now I know that is not the situation.
 
Somer September 3, 2015
I really enjoyed this book but I already am the type of person who likes to get rid of stuff. The biggest liberator for me was her statement about letting go of things you may have purchased but rarely if ever wore. She says to thank them for the spark of joy they brought you in the moment you bought them and then allow yourself to pass them on to someone else. I have several bags of clothes now that are ready to head out the door that somehow I thought I could make work because they were a good deal at Nordstrom Rack. I felt such guilt about getting rid of those clothes, until now that is. If only I could get my husband to subscribe to this philosophy our house would be in much better shape.
 
Page September 3, 2015
I enjoyed the book for its practical tips but even more for the ethos of joy and mindfulness. I've done my clothes and found it a more pleasurable experience to get dressed in the morning because only my favorite outfits are available. It also changed my shopping habits, as I know find myself thinking more "is this beautiful?" rather than "is this a good deal?" My hang up is the kitchen- I love to cook, but with 3 kids, much of my cookwear and dishes don't inspire joy in me, but we use it regularly. I would love to hear how others have integrated Konmari into the kitchen.
 
Catherine S. October 26, 2015
I once watched a video where a girl asked Mari about keeping her GRE books because she needed to study but they did not spark joy. Her response was ometimes the item itself need not "spark joy" when you touch it, but if the role it plays in your life brings you joy (like preparing meals for your family) then you should keep it. And maybe as time goes on you can slowly replace the items that you don't like as much with ones you do, as you can afford it.
 
Tracy M. September 2, 2015
I am not a materialistic person or a hoarder, so rare is the object that brings me joy, but realistically, there are NEEDS you have in the house that will never bring you joy (bleach, anyone?). And there is no way in the world I'm taking my purse apart every night only to put it back together in the am, not to mention thanking my shoes before I put them away. I know I'm not alone here, folks!<br />
 
Catherine S. October 26, 2015
but if having a clean home makes you happy (or happier than it being dirty at least), then that bleach does "spark joy" in a sense.
 
Chris E. November 28, 2016
Tracy please don't take the 'spark joy' so literal.<br />1. The item itself can bring joy.<br />2. A technical manual that brings joy for the appliance.<br />3. Cleaning products that maintain your home.<br />4. Etc, many items do not directly spark joy, but are still needed.