Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”

How to clean up your home and work space once and for all

By Taylor Smith 

Organizing consultant Marie Kondo’s book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” has sold over two million copies for good reason. 

In her native Japan, Kondo says that tidiness and simplicity are a matter of everyday living. She cleverly applies these feng shui principles to cleaning house, simultaneously challenging long-held beliefs in cleaning little-by-little every day, storing things for a different season, and/or discarding one item for every new item brought into your home. 

Rather, Kondo preaches one epic clean sweep. Readers are advised to keep only what “sparks joy” and to discard everything else. This can be done in a matter of a few hours or a series of days. To some, that may sound unreasonable, but it’s worth considering Kondo’s “KonMari” method for the following principles: 

1. Let Go of Things to Make Room for the Things That Matter

Before you consider a single item, Kondo states that you should visualize the life you want to have with a clutter-free space. A paper-free desk isn’t enough. What does a tidier life look like to you? What do you want to make space for? Maybe it means hosting more dinner parties, adopting a pet, raising a child, or starting a new hobby. Many times, we put aside a new concept of our life because our current life simply doesn’t accommodate it. Ultimately, Kondo states that by visualizing the life we want to have, we’re creating room for the people we could become. 

2. Keep Only the Things that Spark Joy 

How do you determine if an item sparks joy for you? Pick it up and turn it over in your hands. Study it. How does this possession make you feel? How would you feel if you discarded it forever?

The things that spark joy in us are not necessarily rational. It could be a random pair of socks or a lamp. If you find yourself saying “I really like this,” then hold onto it. 

3. Someday Never Comes

One of the lies we tell ourselves is that we should keep certain items for the slim chance that we might one day need them. “Needing” something isn’t the same as recognizing something’s inherent value. If you’re holding onto objects for all the wrong reasons, they are simply taking up space in both your psyche and your life. According to Kondo, it’s better to let them go. 

4. Treat Your Possessions as if They Were Alive

Consider how we treat our most familiar possessions. We drop our keys on the counter, leave our shoes by the front door, and throw our bag on the table. What about that drawer in the kitchen that you banish your pens, batteries, and mail to? Habit often creates a messy home where objects become absent of meaning. When deciding what items to keep and discard, Kondo suggests putting each individual item onto the floor in front of you, by category. Her clients are often shocked by the sheer volume of “stuff” that they possess. 

To prevent excess clutter, Kondo states that we should acknowledge the items we use every day with a mental “thank you,” before putting them away. Also, consider giving each room space to breathe and store your items so that they can be viewed and accessed at a quick glance. 

5. Your Possessions Reflect Your State of Mind

Wonder why you get anxiety every time you enter the garage or basement? Kondo states it’s one of two reasons — fear of the future or an effort to preserve your past. By tidying up, Kondo says we will learn to celebrate the present, rather than constantly re-live the past. Also, it’s important to reclaim power over your possessions. Get rid of those old paint cans and unused pots and pans, and you will regain control over your own space, home, mind, and life.