Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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Want to know what this life-changing magic is all about? Here’s my review of the organizing and “tidying” book written by Japanese author, Marie Kondo.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Want to know what all this life-changing magic is all about? Here's my review of the organizing and "tidying" book written by Japanese author, Marie Kondo.

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So, you’ve probably heard about this book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s a global bestseller, having first been published in Japan and then throughout the world. The author, a 30-something young woman, is a professional organizer who claims that once you “tidy” (i.e. declutter) your home “all in one go”, you will never have to worry about messes and chaos ever again.

This is a pretty bold claim for a single woman with no children. Ha!

Since I’d seen this book on Facebook, on blogs, and on instagram every time I turned around for the last three months, I figured I’d investigate the book and see if it could solve our problems, too. I confess, I was intrigued, nay, desperate.

I grew up in a crowded, cluttered home. Seven of us were squeezed into 1400-square feet. Ours was never the spotless home you see in the magazines.

And neither is my adult home.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I’ve done a pretty good job paring down our belongings, but we still deal with messes. A lot. Often. All the time.

Seeing as ours is not a small house by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t blame our messes on lack of space. Reading this book was the wake-up call that I have been awaiting for the last 42 years:

We have too much stuff.

The reason that those magazine homes are literally picture-perfect is that they don’t boast an abundance of possessions. They’re streamlined. And there are storage homes for everything.

You know that mantra, A place for everything and everything in its place?

Well, you can’t make that happen if you have more stuff than can easily put in its place.

That was my big A-ha while reading the book. We simply have too much. I suppose that’s a good problem to have, but it’s also a good amount of work to fix that problem.

Reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been the impetus I needed to get serious about my home management responsibilities. It’s one thing to make my kids do chores, but it’s a different thing entirely to make sure there isn’t so much stuff in our house that it makes chores so cumbersome, difficult, and gosh-darn frequent!

It seems we spend hours every week picking up clutter and relocating it somewhere else. I’m officially fed-up, and determined to get our house — and our lives — streamlined and decluttered.

That’s my new mission.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

One of the strategies that Kondo recommends goes a bit contrary to how I’ve previously handled Zone Defense. Instead of decluttering your home one area at a time, she recommends tackling each category of possessions, in a particular order: clothes, books, miscellaneous, and mementos.

Clearly, miscellaneous in a home with children, a homeschool, a musician, hockey fans, and a cookbook author is a very broad category. Yikes!

While this strategy has been a little overwhelming, in the last week, I’ve handled my clothes and all the books we own. The first was easy. The latter was hard! But, I’ve got a growing pile of donations to leave my house and it’s so much easier and nicer to put away books and clothes.

The idea of not having to declutter all the time is also extremely appealing to me!

I will add the disclaimer that since both these categories are mainly stored in closets in my room, I took care of both those closets while I was at it. Except for mementos (hello 21 years of photographs!), I dealt with all the things in those spaces. I really want to cross them off my list!

Already, the author’s suggestion of vertical storage has transformed my drawers as well as our board games.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I was so excited about this new way to fold and store clothes, that I redid my husband’s clothes. His jaw hit the floor. His two drawers were OVERFLOWING and I had more to add, but once I refolded and stored the items vertically, everything fit. We could also see at a glance everything that was there.

I am going to tackle the living spaces and my office before moving to the kids’ rooms, but already I feel really accomplished. Marie Kondo recommends that this “all in one go” period should last no more than six months. I’m trying to keep moving quickly so I don’t lose momentum.

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

A few caveats about the book: The author is a little OCD about organizing which can seem extreme at times.

Also, she was once a shrine maiden so she has some ideas about possessions and inanimate objects that go contrary to my beliefs and Christian teaching in general. I rolled my eyes a few times, but it didn’t overly bother me. Truth can be found anywhere, and I think that the basic messages in this book are valid and good.

(Annie Kate does a great job addressing the spiritual dimension of the book as well as summing up the author’s premise here.)

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I am having a hard time shaking the zone-mentality; I did my bathroom cupboard because once my room is done, I really want it to be done. By the way, it was so freeing to ditch the humidifier we haven’t used in five years as well as curling irons I’d kept since college!

I will let you know in six months if I was able to tidy the whole house “all in one go” and if we’re able to avoid rebounding, something the author addresses in detail. So far I’ve found encouragement and the impetus to tackle our stuff in a way that I haven’t felt in a long time.

And our dresser drawers have seen some life-changing magic.


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  1. It’s Jan 2017 and I’ve discovered this book but wasn’t able to complete all the categories due to cRaZy unpredictable life….I’m wondering Jessica, where you able to complete all the categories that are yours as a Mom? What did you do when it came time for pictures taken and saved but not in albums? What did you do with family heirlooms given to you but not used?

  2. A year and 4 months ago I weighed 200 lbs. That was January 1, 2014. My daughter was getting married May 28, 2014. I worked very hard both on what I ate and on exercising and lost 25 lbs by the wedding. I kept on with the diet hoping to reach down to my goal of 140 by Thanksgiving. I had a little side trip to have my gall bladder out in July but was fine and back on the diet by mid August. I was down to my goal at Thanksgiving but something weird started to happen. I was loosing my appetite. It seemed great cause when I was hungry I ate whatever i wanted. Except something was wrong; I was still loosing weight. I started having severe abdomen pains. Into the hospital I went. I was 127. I had colitis. After a week went home. Seemed to be okay but was still loosing weight. End of Jan. back into Hospital again. Weighed 122. Colitis. One more week in hospital. Released but abdominal pain everyday along with nausea. Can hardly eat anything. Still loosing weight. Down to 114. HOWEVER, I’m going to buy this book, purge all of my “fat” clothes”, in-between clothes and keep only what I need of the size of what fits me now. Talk about a difficult task!

    1. Barbara, It’s Jan 2017— how is your health now? Have you been able to gain your appetite back and your health?

  3. I finished the book about a week ago and it was an intriguing, thought-provoking read. I think what resonated me most was not looking to the past but living my life in the now and how my belongings can either help or hinder that. As a memory-keeper/scrapbooker, it’s hard for me to part with ephemera but I have a desire to really dig deep and do a thorough cleanse. The lightness that results from a good purge is great and really does spur me on to keep doing more. I have tackled my closest and I’m about half-way on my books. Next willl be my craft room, all with the idea of looking forward.

  4. I loved this book and actually broke down and payed full price to own a copy which for me is pretty serious! I literally read it twice and listened to the audio book (from the library). I started on my dresser so far (I know all clothes at once but it was a time consuming job so broke that small rule!). I had three different sizes of clothes that I relegated to “lounge wear”. I bit the bullet and only kept the softest of the tshirts and yoga pants that actually fit me and gave the rest to Goodwill in one swoop – I also got rid of an amazing fabric skirt that was just too big for me – I dont want to get any fatter to wear it so why was I hanging on to it? Same with my favorite skirts that the elastic was worn on – why was I keeping those? They could slip off at any minute if I wore them as the elastic bands were shot LOL (and I can’t sew to repair them!) Just out of my dresser I got rid of two garbage bags full of clothing! I absolutely love my dresser now – can’t wait to do the closet next! What I thought was so weird is thanking the items before discarding them – but wow did that work for me – no more frugal mom guilt – I was able to release the items easily by remembering that they have done the job for me and I can now let them go! Quite the revelation for a frugal pack rat personality like mine!

  5. Hi Jessica and other Christian readers of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: As a Jewish mom, I’m valuing your suggestions on how to appreciate this very distinctive book without feeling it goes against my faith. Obviously, like you, I’m not into thanking objects for their work, etc. but also can see that Marie Kondo’s tips about getting rid of the things we really won’t use (even though we say we will ) can be liberating.
    Both Easter and Passover are holy times that celebrate liberation. During this week, I find it’s maybe not so coincidental that we are absorbed in a book that helps us shed the material things that weigh us down on all sorts of levels. (And thank you for preparing me for the end of the book before I get there

    1. As much work that it sounds like to prepare for Pesach, I imagine that it is a valuable time to rethink how you’ve been keeping house. A friend posted a picture of all the crumbs in her car. I think it had her rethinking the whole “eating in the car” thing. Thanks for drawing those spiritual parallels. I had not thought about Easter in that way.

  6. I liked this book a lot. Like you, I am a Christian, and like you, wondered about some of her religious ideas but ended up finding merit in the book as a whole.

    I did a lot of “tidying” as a result of reading it, and found it really helpful to thank God for giving me this item, rather than thanking the item itself, as she suggests. So, as I got rid of something, especially hard stuff – precious little too-small baby clothes or craft materials for crafts that I never ending up making and am disappointed now – I would think/pray, “Thank You God, for providing more baby clothes than we possibly needed.” Or, “Thank You God, for giving me so many good things to fill my day that I don’t craft.”

    On a side note, I came home from reading the book at Barnes and Noble and mentioned to my mom (a very devout Christian) that I was reading a book from a lady who was a little crazy, thinking that socks needed a rest so they shouldn’t be folded up on themselves… I expected my mom to laugh along with me, but instead she said, totally seriously, “Well, yes, I’ve always thought that probably gives socks a little bit of a headache!!” Haha. 🙂

    1. Yes. I think there’s a way to reconcile her cleaning ideas and our differences of opinion regarding faith. I think that is really a habit to cultivate in our world today. Someone may be an expert in a certain field but have conflicting beliefs with us in another, unrelated area. We can still respect each other and value each other’s strengths. All good things come from God, anyway.

  7. I read this book in one day last week and LOVED it. The last part is a little weird, so I’m glad that was last and not first or I probably would have quit reading. I am a very organized person, and I detest clutter, but even so this book was very helpful to me.

  8. I appreciate your review! I’m pretty intrigued. I read the Kindle sample and it definitely left me wanting to read more. The clothes part doesn’t sound too scary to me, but the thought of decluttering books… *eek!* Although I know that there’s a number that were handed down to us by former homeschoolers that could go, as well as some that I’ve purchased as well. Somehow I have much less of a problem getting rid of the ones I bought that we no longer need than getting rid of the ones given to us. I’m sure that says something about me…

    1. I had to be really honest with myself about whether I liked it and whether we’d really use it. I had lots of school books that I’ve had for TEN years and never used.

  9. Can’t wait to read the book. I’m 164th in line for it at the OC library, so it may be awhile!

    1. Just when I decided the line would never get to me, I bought it. And then as soon as it arrived, the library copy did, too. That said, it’s a book I want my whole family to read. My husband has read snatches and liked it, so I think it was worth my $10.

  10. I did a Bible study a few years ago called the Five Aspects of Woman. In it, the author talks about how since the Fall, our domains fight against us, constantly tending toward disorder. God gives us the power as Mistresses of our Domains to make decisions–decisions to find places for things or even to get rid of things. God has a sense of humor. He gave this neat nick woman eight children. Since we homeschool, most of us are home most of the time. It’s messy here. It helps me to realize that this side of heaven, my domain will always fight against me. Yes, I need to do my best to rule my domain for the glory of God, but not to overly fret about messes, which I have a tendency to do.

    1. That is a unique perspective, one that shows we need to give ourselves some grace.

    2. I think the overly-fret part is important. We can drive ourselves and our families crazy. I think for me, it’s finally the realization that everyone in our home spends a lot of time maintaining stuff instead of enjoying the stuff.

  11. I will be interested to hear how your husband and kids become involved. I would love to declutter more but many items are my husband’s and he prefers to keep things.

    1. I feel your pain Shannon….my husband keeps everything! It makes me crazy when I try to declutter and he doesn’t part with anything.

      1. Something the author of the book talks about is that if you’re having an issue with someone else’s clutter, you probably haven’t decluttered your own stuff enough. At the time, I thought that made no sense, but I’ve been mulling it over for a couple months since I read the book and I am finding it to be true. It drives me nuts that both my mom and mother-in-law have cluttered homes, and I have lived with both of them over the past few years. But, I realized, who am I to think that, when our own home also isn’t quite decluttered enough?

        I know it’s hard when your spouse, or kids, or whomever won’t declutter, but the author’s suggestion, I think, would be to deal with all your own stuff first, and forget about the other persons. Chances are, if your stuff is perfect, you might not be bothered by Hubby’s anymore. Just an idea. 🙂

        1. P.S. I don’t mean to make it sound like you are doing anything wrong by wanting hubby to be tidy. I think my above comment may have come off kind of judgmental – I’m not meaning to say you need to get over it!

          Just trying to convey a helpful idea to think about from that book, as I find myself in a similar situation with my mom. 🙂 I well know the frustration of having a loved one/housemate who won’t get rid of stuff. Perhaps a copy of this book will “magically” fall into their hands and convince them on their own… we can hope, right? 🙂

    2. Well, I’ve been doing computer work this week instead of housework so decluttering is at a stand-still. Will let you know when I get back to it.

  12. I just got the book but have been lurking on a FB group about this (and checking out pinterest boards related to it). I started de-cluttering the house in the fall and it has made a big difference in how fast I can clean up — especially when everything has a place. BUT, I still have a way to go (first floor done, basement & storage room done – upstairs and garage (eeeekkkk!) to go. I love the idea of keeping only items that spark joy. Also, for the first time, I’m evaluating whether things “belong” in this home — our permanent, forever home. For example, we have lots of books but no where to store/display them. I dream of a big home library but that is not going to happen in this house so it is time for me to let those books go and utilize the REAL library if I need them again. Same with picture frames — I have so many cool frames but only so much wall space. My goal is to be done with the total house de-cluttering before summer. Already, my house is 1,000 x better. Here’s hoping the book will be the final push I need to finish.

  13. Ok just bought the book. let’s see if this helps my home with 2 adults and 7 children living in it… I am very optimistic about it. Thanks for sharing.

  14. Thank you, Jessica, for your encouraging words about my review of this book. May God bless your tidying up journey. I’ve quit that for now due to family health issues, but the book is running through my head regularly and its approach to decision making is one that I’ve really learned from.

  15. I have tried the vertical storage in my 7 year old son’s drawer and failed. It looked neat for a very short time, but when the drawer empties a bit it is chaos. Also I am trying to have the kids be more involved in chores and he has trouble putting things away vertically. Did you do this with children’s clothing too?

    1. I haven’t done the kids rooms yet. I’ll do it with them once I get the general house/work stuff taken care of. I will also need to self-medicate that week/month, I’m sure. Just kidding. Sort of. My kids have many boxes of treasure hiding in closets. Yikes.

  16. I cannot come to a conclusion about my approach to housekeeping. I was raised by grandparents that were married during the depression and parents that were children during WWII. These experiences made my Grandparents very hesitant to throw anything away. Waste not, want not was their mantra. My parent’s response to the WWII rationing was to buy new and throw away the old. Consequently, my grandmother’s closets, basements and garages were overflowing while my mother’s home was sparse but sparkling new. I vacillate between wanting to purge the house and keeping everything just in case of hard times.

    1. That’s a very interesting perspective, and it shows how much the times in which you live can affect all aspects of life!

      1. I agree! One book that I found interesting recently is “Clutter’s Last Stand” by Don Aslett. The author helped me think about how to balance my frugal nature with the reality of a small house with 6 of us living in it! I was able to purge quite a lot without sadness.

        1. I read that before I had kids. Ha! Maybe I better revisit it.

          One way I think about food: it will go to waste or go to MY waist. I think in some ways the same thing applies to our homes and our stuff.

    2. I get you! My parents grew up very poor so they tend to keep everything. I can’t trash it, but I’m happy to donate. I’ll be honest, though, it’s been rare that I regret getting rid of something.

      1. Do others feel the burden of holding onto family heirlooms? I have two flatware chests full of sterling silver. I have three sets of “good” china – you know the kind you cannot put in the dishwasher. I have a sterling silver tea set. The list of hand cut crystal is equally long. My grandmothers and great aunts lovingly gave all of these to me. But I do not use any of it. After spending hours cooking a holiday meal the last thing I want to do is hand wash the dishes. I could clear out a lot of storage space if these items went, but I feel a great sense of responsibility to hold onto to these for the next generation.

        1. That is so hard! My mom has given me some things that my aunt bought in Norway in the 60s, like this traditional jacket. Unfortunately, I have very broad shoulders so I will never be able to wear it. Not really sure what to do with it.

        2. When it comes to good china i use and put in dishwasher. I have a delicate setting. If it breaks it breaks. At least it gets used. I host a “tea party ” for card club and encourage everyone to drag out the sliver for a fun afternoon.

      2. Perhaps you are too young. When you have grands that you would like to share a piece of yourself/history with and its all gone, will be the time of for regret.

  17. I tried the drawer thing and didn’t like it. Too much work so I changed my closet and have everything there instead. I change in one place and I love it! I bought those vertical shoe hanger bags that you hang in your closet and use it for underwear, socks, bras, and pajamas. I hang up all my tops, dresses, pants and skirts and have a shelf for my sweaters and shorts, a place to hang my belts and scarves. It’s not that big but I got rid of all the clothes I don’t wear. I did get rid of 8 bags of books! It is very rare you ever read a book more than once like she said.

  18. I’m currently about halfway through this book. Not sure how I feel about her ideas yet. But I have a question for you about the vertical drawer storage. I’m skeptical about how well it works once you start taking things out to wear. Do you find that things are falling over? I haven’t tried this yet because I envision things falling forward, backward or sideways once the drawer is no longer full. I’d love to hear how it’s working for you! Thanks!

    1. It’s been about a week and it seems fine. I’m not worried about them falling over because they used to be flat. If they fall, they’ll just be flat, right? A friend says her sons’ clothes got wrinkled this way. So far, my husband isn’t complaining, so I guess we’re okay. He’s a wrinkle hater.

    2. I have been currently using the vertical storage for clothes for nearly a year with no problems with husband and/or children. My 3 yr old son loves it because he opens his drawer and sees everything at a glance and then can pick out what he wants for the day. It works for me because he DOESN”T tear everything out of his drawer looking for something and messing everything else up. (Actually, as I have progressed with the book, husband says that it feels amazing in the house…he is totally on board with this!) The key is to fold them in such a way that they stay vertical by themselves. Thereby, when you take something out, nothing falls over. It is what she calls a “sweet spot”. There are a lot of youtube videos about folding clothes the Konmari way and her new book, Spark Joy, has more in-depth descriptions about how to fold, including pictures that I found very useful.