Monday, November 16, 2015

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

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and OrganizingThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't like minimalism.

Bad minimalist philosophy spouts vague platitudes ("Society places too much emphasis on things.") and doesn't account for hobbies or why humans would be better with less stuff. The end goal is vague. For example, some theories on minimalism encourage those who pursue it to have only 100 possessions. Why 100? Will owning 101 possessions make you a breath away from total enlightenment? I think minimalism is a garish practice when it's made public, and its followers take on an air of smug superiority, like a race to see who can own the least amount of stuff ("Well I only own 99 things!") It's almost as bad as those who seek to own a lot of stuff. The sense of self-righteousness is the same on both ends of the spectrum. Minimalism is not supposed to be a competition.

My relationship with my things is my business, but I've been a cluttery person my whole life. Odds and ends litter virtually every flat surface in my apartment. I knit and cook, and I have skeins of yarn and kitchen gadgets out the wazoo. I have dozens of cookbooks and cooking magazines, huge stacks of knitting patterns, multiple needles and notions in every corner of the house. My apartment is well lived in, and its contents are a testament to the things that make me happy.

I picked up Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," because I'd heard good things about it, as well as a great deal of backlash. Much of the criticism was that Kondo comes across as smug and her methods extreme. Some of the 1-star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads call Kondo crazy, criticizing her Shinto-based beliefs that our possessions have a spirit and we should respect our living space. Other comments were of the "what-about-me" type, where someone would say "What about my husband and five kids? What am I supposed to do with their stuff? This book is only for single people living alone!" which isn't necessarily true. Those comments were rude and completely missed the point of the book.

Another part of the book that was criticized was the idea of discarding books. I can say with certainty, as a person who reviews a book a week, that I already do this and bibliophiles can do this, too. My house isn't swimming with books. I have a big moving box that houses all of the books I want to donate. When it gets full, I'll find a place to donate my books. Sometimes, I find books that I think my friends and family would like, so I give them away as gifts. Most of them are ARCs or galley copies, so they can't be sold, and they can't just sit in my house. I've NEVER found myself missing a book I've reviewed and later discarded. Too many new books are published every month for me to worry about one I've read a few months ago. I keep all of my book reviews in files on my computer in case my editor has a question about one of them, but I don't personally go back and read any of them.

Kondo's book fundamentally transformed the way I view my things. While I may never part with my vast collection of small kitchen appliances, no matter how infrequently I might use them, I've found myself looking at some of the books and clothes I have and asking myself why they're even still in my house. I got rid of some uncomfortable shirts, perfume samples that didn't even smell good, cookbooks containing unappetizing recipes that were given to me as gifts, and clutter and papers that were doing nothing more than taking up space. While I thought my living space was a testament to what made me happy, some things just didn't belong there.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" will probably affect the way I purchase things in the future. Usually, I purchase clothes for work when I have a coupon to a store. While some of the items there might not fit quite right or be in my taste, I'll purchase them anyway because I'm getting them at a discount and I have to wear something to work. In the future I might shop when I have a coupon, but refrain from buying anything unless it "sparks joy" or I'm absolutely thrilled with it.

Kondo describes our attachment to things as our way of holding on to the past or expressing anxiety for the future, and I feel like this is exactly right. And I think this idea is partly why the negative reviews of this book seemed so angry. We don't want to think of our way of living as the wrong way to do things. We can see this in the way we vehemently defend other aspects of our lifestyle such as our dietary choices and religious beliefs. It's healthy to reevaluate the way we live our lives, whether we read political news that doesn't align with our beliefs or we look at our things and determine it's time to let some of it go.

Maybe I'm not as critical of minimalism as I was when I started reading "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up," but I won't start putting a quota on my possessions any time soon.

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