The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up {Book Review}

Do you declutter room by room?

That’s been my go-to method for the better part of a decade. It’s also been the preferred standard for many people in the space clearing/organizing profession.


Maybe that’s why I’m still in the midst of decluttering?? (~ Or maybe it’s because I’m a creative person who sees potential in everything, actively engages in multiple projects, has kids, time constraints–and I know that as life changes, so does my environment and my needs.)

After reading the #1 New York Times bestselling book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie KondoI was led to believe I’ve got it all wrong.

According to Marie Kondo, we need to declutter by CATEGORY.

Ahh, now that caught my interest! Upon learning of this very simple approach to clearing out the excess and simplifying my life I have to admit I was inspired to go about decluttering in a brand new way–so inspired that I even created THE MASTER LIST. (que intimidating music)…



Let’s review Marie Kondo’s book:

I first stumbled upon The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up at Target as I often browse the book section there to see if anything holds some promise of being my next source of inspiration. That day, this tiny little hardcover book in cream and blue hues (boasting over 2 million copies sold) said “take me home and let’s see what happens!”

(FYI I am not a person that likes to jump on trends. And I have to agree with Maureen O’Connor ~ De-cluttering is the New Juice Cleanse. Like her, I often find myself challenging the status quo. In retrospect I find it amusing I was searching for some “life changing magic” in Target in the first place–but that’s a topic for another time!)

For the most part this book was a quick read and the logic behind it was simple to retain (which is why I do recommend it to anyone looking for inspiration to get started):

  • Declutter everything in your house first (quickly and in a short time) ~ only then organize!
  • Forget room by room, sort by category ~ not location!
  • Focus on what to keep, not what you’re discarding.
  • Tap into your gut instinct and keep only what “sparks joy”!
  • Learn the art of how to properly fold and graciously thank your belongings for their service to you.
  • Don’t discard others belongings without their permission. Focus on yours and they’ll most likely follow in your footsteps when they see your incredible, life changing results.

Really, that’s the gist of it.

(Here’s an example of Marie Kondos’ folding methods ~ gotta say I don’t have the patience for folding my socks this way! Not when there are kids to feed and a business to run!)

Aside from her very specific methods for folding, the book was inspiring (initially). I think this is because it offers a fresh perspective on sorting through our clutter than what is recommended in the mainstream world of decluttering. And for some of us–that’s all we really need to get started.

My experience of the KonMari Method?

Like many others who’ve joined the “cult” of the KonMari, I jumped on board with her concepts and immediately tried to tackle the first category of Clothes by clearing out my sock drawer…and closet, and coat closet, and hat and mitten bin, and all the rest of my dresser drawers + my daughter’s to boot. I even got my husband on board!

(Apparently I’m not the only one. Just type in #konmari on instagram or search konmari on Pinterest and you’ll see just how far this has gone!)

For me, what started out as an inspired burst of energy quickly fizzled to a disheartened sense of overwhelm.

See, Marie Kondo’s method boasts that you should “only keep what sparks joy!” Here lies the dilemma if you are on a limited budget, have a family, and/or are struggling to lose weight. (FYI I can definitely tell she does not have children or other creatively messy hobbies/passions!)

She suggests starting with Clothes, Books, and Papers first because there aren’t really any sentimental emotional attachments to these things.

By starting here, the idea is you’ll gain momentum, strengthen your decision making skills, and make sorting through the sentimental things easier when you get to them.

I disagree. Clothes in particular are a very physical aspect of our identity that can be a pain point–a trigger that sparks negative self-image and shame.

After clearing out my clothes, I was left with only a handful of shirts, two pairs of jeans, and a few other seasonal items in my wardrobe. Yes, I did feel better tossing what I no longer needed and relished in the empty space–but I also felt disheartened that there is now so little in my wardrobe I find joy in.

Immediately I craved a shopping spree.

“If I must only keep things that spark joy within my wardrobe, I should go out and find those organic cotton clothes free of chemicals and pesticides I’ve been seeking!

This unfortunately resulted in a compulsion to spend hours online trying to find clothes that would give me peace of mind. Problem was, I couldn’t find hardly anything in my size. I bought ONE new sweater for $50 and have been ambivalent about it’s presence ever since.

Looking at my clothes in this light also made me feel like I need to go on a diet again so I can fit into the clothes that would truly bring me joy, but I had to accept the fact that I don’t have disposable income available to go out and truly invest in new clothes at this time.

What resulted was a week or so of mild depression.

Perhaps I missed the point.

I understand we shouldn’t invest in anything new unless it brings us joy, but wait a minute–isn’t that the underlying cause of consumerism and excess in the first place?

The reason we have all this excess clutter is because we have already been trying to buy our joy through the things we own!

There is a key message missing in this book. Sure–let’s only keep what brings us happiness. I like that–it makes sense. But let’s not forget to remind everyone to look outside of the things they own to find true happiness in their experiences and interactions with others.

Throughout this whole process I couldn’t help feeling like the emotions this sparked were nothing easy to navigate on my own.

With these thoughts in mind I can’t help but question her one size fits all approach.

Moving on I decided to give her method another go and tackle category #2 = BOOKS!

Still feeling “high” from ditching the excess clothes in my life I tackled the books in my office first because the ones in my studio seemed too overwhelming. Here is where I struggled again…

Like clothes, many of us are quite attached to our books! Looking back on the titles I own in my 500+ collection I can clearly outline the map of my identity.

I decided to give it a go anyway. What happened? I accidentally tossed a couple of newer reference titles I need for my business because they really didn’t make me happy–even though I needed the data in them a few weeks later. I also never made it past the books in my office because I couldn’t bring myself to take all 500+ titles off the shelf in the basement studio because it required an extensive amount of energy to pile them on the floor, touch each one individually, and wait for that spark of joy.

PLUS–getting rid of all those books that I didn’t want to keep on my own seemed impossible. When you’ve been sick for several years and suffered a herniated disc a few years back–moving 100’s of books on your own up the stairs does not sound appealing, nor does it sound like a smart idea.

Needless to say, I didn’t get very far with tackling my own clutter category by category in the order she recommends!

Don’t forget to THANK your things for their service to you!

I also don’t know that I can jump on board with her tendency to anthropormorphise her belongings. I don’t know that I need to fold each and every pair of socks instead of rolling them up like a potato just so they can “breathe”. Nor do I feel the need to empty my purse at the end of each day and verbally/mentally thank it for it’s service.

HOWEVER, I am shocked and surprised to know this conscious act of praise and gratitude would be the encouragement my daughter needed to let go of some of her old things!!

My daughter already has a tendency to view her belongings as having feelings (I blame the media and advertising), which has always made it difficult for her to dispose of old toys or clothes that she adored wearing. Perhaps this was the psychological trick she needed in order to mentally be okay with letting go of her things she no longer needs.

I told her to try it, just to see what happened. And in the midst of our clutter clearing I witnessed her lovingly grab a shirt that no longer fit and a backpack from 2nd grade, say “Thank you for being there for me,” and then put them in the box to be sent away.

I was speechless–but hey, whatever works!

Take what works for you and leave the rest.

My final word of advice is to simply read this like any book or article ~ with an open mind! Take what works for you, modify what you need, and leave the rest.

For me, I can’t physically tackle all of my clutter in one go as Marie Kondo suggests. My health and my physical limitations prevent that. Were I to have more support in the process–maybe it would be a different story.

I’ve also noticed that sometimes clearing out a single room is essential to my success. Not only do I need at least one completely cleared space to decompress through out this process, but there are times when that one room is the most relevant one to focus on. (Right now that room is my office. I can’t wait to go through every category in my home over the next six months before clearing that entire space out.)

While I do enjoy the idea of decluttering by category, I know myself well enough to start with something easier than clothes or books if I want to gain momentum. For me, it’s much easier to sort through my kitchen cupboards, hazardous cleaning products, and household tools/building and remodeling supplies first because I REALLY have no emotional attachment to those things.

What’s your opinion or experience with The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up?


Darcey Rojas is the founder of The Compassionate Home. She is a Holistic Designer, Certified Design Psychology Coach, and Green Design Center Trade Partner dedicated to creating positive home environments that heal mind, body, and soul, strengthen family relationships, and nurture our true potential. Her approach to conscious home and lifestyle design involves designing spaces that meet our needs, encourage good habits, bring us closer to our loved ones, and support our health and wellbeing on a mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual level.

1 Comment

  • Reply November 7, 2016

    Andy Piper

    This book got me started on a a plan to get rid of years of stuff that was not useful, half completed projects, clothes I did not like or wear, but still could not get rid of. Most importantly my garage, which had a ton (literally) of emotional baggage in it. The more stuff I have gotten rid of the better I feel, plus it has improved my efficiency in finding things and I just feel better! So, this book has some good ideas about simplifying. She is a fanatic and I love that about her. Best thing I did for myself in 2015 and 2016 was to act on the ideas in this book.

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