The one that made me roll my eyes and clean my cupboards

Marie Kondo, the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Japanese 2011, English 2014)

Oh my, how conflicted I am about this book!

I have no previous allergies to Japanese quirks, a mix between cute, weird, naive, formal and efficient. I like self-help books and organizing books when they inspire you and cheer you up. I should be an ideal convert to the Konmari method. Like millions of people around the world, apparently.

But this… How this book has managed to make it to the New York Times bestsellers list is beyond my comprehension. Sure, the idea of minimalism is selling like hot cakes these days, and apparently it helps when the one who tells you to do it is a smiling, foreign young woman. As if there was a secret recipe. As if there was a magic trick.

But Marie Kondo soon tells it herself: there’s not one single method, you just have to follow your heart and fill trash bags. If you don’t know what to keep, throw everything out, your heart will tell you what it misses most. A few good ideas are packaged with the weirdest recommendations (balancing them out in my mind, if not cancelling them completely), thrown together with enough episodes of the writer’s memoir to convince you that she suffers of OCD.

To reach an actual book length, things are rehashed ad nauseam, otherwise the gist of her ideas would easily get into a leaflet. The promotional information you get here and there are actually a good synthesis and saves you from the weirdest parts of the book: the pages where Marie Kondo recommends that you speak to your purse and furniture, that you thank your objects before throwing them away, and to have a little thought for the plight of your socks. I’m too much of a rational Western girl here, she entirely lost me at this point.

Halfway through I figured the writer was so completely crazy that it was a comic book rather than an organizing method. There are unintended hilarious passages, especially as she takes herself so seriously (the people who have followed her cult method have a glow and everything goes well in their lives, she says). And I certainly didn’t wait long before applying her own method to this book, that I resold as soon as I’d finished the last page.

On one hand, the book made me cringe, because it seems that her method is only suitable for single people who have a lot of time on their hand. On the other hand, her method is surely appealing, because it doesn’t need much for you to start: does this object spark any joy? Yes, it stays, no, it goes. No need for complex strategies to build a capsule wardrobe or a perfect system. Still I would have liked it better if she’d talked about recycling and reselling instead of throwing all away and being proud of a number of trash bags.


10 thoughts on “The one that made me roll my eyes and clean my cupboards

  1. Ha, so glad you don’t mince your words. I am usually a fan of all things Japanese, but they usually have so much less stuff in their houses (partly through lack of space) than we Westerners do. Plus, as you said, it doesn’t take into account a family with children who don’t want to seem to get rid of anything. Plus, I’d rather put things in the garage than throw away, in the hope that I can recycle or sell or donate at some point… Very fair points.

    • I’ve heard since that she’s married and has (or expects) a baby but I think it was after the huge success of this book. I wonder how a baby can fit into the whole picture…

  2. Aspects of the minimalist approach appeal to me, but this book really doesn’t. Deciding whether to keep something is so much more complex than determining whether it gives me joy. I have to think in terms of whether I can see myself needing it, how difficult or costly it would be to replace, how much space it currently takes up, etc. I have a small place, and I figure I’m doing OK if my stuff fits my space and I can keep it organized enough to find what I need when I need it.

  3. This post was so funny! What is the name of the book? I’d like to see if my library has it. I might want to thumb through it if I feel like getting silly. I’ve never thought about the plight of my socks, but I often wonder where they travel. Two go into the wash and only one comes out. Which is particularly distressing when they’re my Lulu Lemon socks!

    • That proves that I’m not tidy enough, that I forgot to name the book and its author! (that’s updated in the post now). Now, if your sock is running away on its own, then it might be because it secrely wants you to fold them in the Konmari way!

  4. I can’t be bothered reading this entire book, I feel I have picked up enough information from other people talking about it on the internet. (A thing I very rarely say!) I think her guideline for what to keep and what to toss is a good one, although not a perfect one, so I can see that being useful to folks who are struggling to throw things away. Still, I’m going to give the book a miss and just organize my closet in my own time. (I.e., never.) (Not never.) (But maybe never.)

  5. I’ve heard enough people talking about this book now that I have a pretty good idea it’s not for me at all, and your post confirms that, especially your point about how it would be very short without the repetition. There must be something about it, though, as I have heard about it a lot!

  6. I haven’t read this, mainly because I read Rachel Jonat’s version of the same thing (American, straight-forward, with recommendations on things like how to store food in the fridge, etc) and found it so helpful it was all I needed! But I do think having a guide, of some sort, to help implement these ideas is helpful, even if we should all be able to do it on our own. Yay, minimalism!

  7. Like Rebecca I have heard so many people talk about this book I feel like I’ve gotten a very complete bullet point summary of it and there is no need for me to actually read it. It does seem though it is a book people either love or hate.

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