The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I’m not necessarily a minimalist. I own significantly more than 100 things. In fact, I suspect I own more than 100 shirts.

What I am — or at least try to be — is very deliberate about the decisions I make, which includes decisions about the things I own.

I believe people invest way too much of their identity in the things they own.

It’s important to understand that we’re all different. If you want to own a big house in the suburbs, by all means. (I may join you when my kid needs a better school district.)

In fact, one of the most famous minimalists, Josh Becker, lives in Suburbia.

But a Mercedes Benz SUV… what’s the point? It’s not a better car that a Toyota Highlander or a Honda Pilot. You just want to impress people. You just want people to say, “Ooooh, he’s the type of person who drives a Mercedes Benz.” Do you know what the dealership will charge you to replace a windshield wiper?

Oh, you have a Valentino handbag? I had to look up what that was… Yeah, you don’t need that. It just carries things.

Life is short. Don’t waste so much time toiling away to purchase things that won’t bring you sustainable joy.

/endrant

Aside from the fact that I clearly think materialism is stupid and a disease plaguing the US…

I value experiences (live music, drinks with friends, trips) over material things.

I want to create more and consume less.

Have more room for relationships and personal growth.

Experience less noise. Less clutter. More freedom. More meaning.

For those reasons, I picked up a book I’d been hearing a lot about.

Marie Kondō’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.”

Below are some of my favorite takeaways.

A tidy space offers room to think
[Credit: Breather]

Introduction

Start by discarding. Then organize your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go.

A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming.

When you put your house in order, you put your affairs in order, too.

You should only be surrounded by the things you love.

Why Can’t I Keep My House in Order?

Tidying brings visible results. Tidying never lies. The ultimate secret of success is this: If you tidy up in one shot, rather than little by little, you can dramatically change your mind-set.

If you use the right method and concentrate your efforts on eliminating clutter thoroughly and completely within a short span of time, you’ll see instant results that will empower you to keep your space in order ever after.

Storage methods do not solve the problem of how to get rid of clutter. They are only a superficial answer. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem as been solved. This is why tidying must start with discarding.

Sort by category, not by location. Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake.

Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.

Finish Discarding First

Do not even think of putting our things away until you have finished the process of discarding.

Before you begin, what was it that motivated you to tidy in the first place? What do you hope to gain through tidying? Think in concrete terms so that you can vividly picture what it would be like to live in a clutter-free space.

The whole point in both discarding and keeping things is to be happy.

The moment you start focusing on how to choose what to throw away, you have actually veered significantly off course.

You should be choosing what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. Take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it.

People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.

The best sequence is this: clothes first, then books, papers, miscellany, and lastly, mementos.

When you come across something that’s hard to discard, consider carefully why you have that specific item in the first place. When did you get it and what meaning did it have for you then? Reassess the role it plays in your life.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

Tidying By Category Works Like Magic

Clothes

For clothes I recommend dividing further into the following subcategories:

  • Tops
  • Bottoms
  • Clothes that should be hung
  • Socks
  • Underwear
  • Bags
  • Accessories
  • Clothes for specific events (swimsuits)
  • Shoes

Make sure you gather every piece of clothing in the house and be sure to handle each one.

By neatly folding your clothes, you can solve almost every problem related to storage. They key is to store things standing up rather than laid flat.

Arrange your clothes so they rise to the right. To do so, hang heavy items (long, heavy material, dark in color) on the left side of the closet and light items (shorter, thinner material, lighter color) on the right.

Books

Put all of your books on the floor. Take them in your hand one by one and decide whether you want to keep or discard each one.

In the end, you are going to read very few of your books again.

People with large book collections are almost always diligent learners.

Having fewer books can actually increase the impact of the information you read.

[Ryan caveat: I love books and I constantly flip through my books and revisit highlighted passages. Marie has alternatives, but I don’t care. I get immense value from my book collection and I’m just getting started regarding the number of books I own.]

Papers

I recommend you dispose of anything that does not fall into one of three categories: currently in use, needed for a limited period of time (warranties, pay stubs), or must be kept indefinitely (contractual documents).

Make sure that you keep all such papers in one spot only. Never let them spread to other parts of the house.

Miscellaneous Items

The basic order for sorting miscellaneous items is as follows:

  1. CDs, DVDs
  2. Skin care products
  3. Makeup
  4. Accessories
  5. Valuables (Passports, credit cards, etc.)
  6. Electrical equipment and appliances (digital cameras, electrical cords, anything that seems vaguely “electric”
  7. Household equipment (stationery and writing materials, sewing kits, etc.)
  8. Household supplies (medicine, detergents, tissues, etc.)
  9. Kitchen goods/food supplies (spatulas, pots, blenders, etc.)
  10. Other (spare change, figurines, etc.)

Too many people live surrounded by things they don’t need “just because.”

The true purpose of a present is to be received. Presents are not “things” but a means for conveying someone’s feelings. When viewed from this perspective you don’t need to feel guilty for parting with a gift.

If you consider the rent or mortgage you pay, turning your space into a storage shed for empty boxes costs you more than what you could earn selling an appliance in a box. You don’t need to keep them for moving either. It’s a shame to let a boring box take up room in your house just because you might need it someday.

If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for, chances are you’ll never use it again. Mysterious cords will always remain just that — a mystery. A tangle of cords just makes to harder to find the right one. In the end, it is quicker to buy a new one.

Free novelty goods are not going to bring you any pleasure. Discard or recycle them without any qualms.

Sentimental Items

Your parents’ home is not a haven for mementos.

We live in the present. No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.

People never retrieve the boxes they send “home.” Once sent, they will never again be opened. [Ryan note: I’m not convinced this is true. There’s nothing wrong with keeping an old Yearbook at your parents’ house so your kids can see Dad had an awkward phase, too. Or your wife can make fun of you for old high school love letters. I don’t want to talk about it.]

If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realize it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and the now. To put your things in order means to put your past in order, too. It’s like resetting your life and settling your accounts to that you can take the next step forward.

The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.

Photos

Only keep photos that inspire joy. With this method, you will keep only about five per day of a special trip, but this will be so representative of that time that they bring back the rest vividly.

Reduce until you reach the point where something clicks.

As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you.

The fact that you possess a surplus of things that you can’t bring yourself to discard doesn’t mean you are taking good care of them. In fact, it is quite the opposite. By paring down to the volume you can properly handle, you revitalize your relationship with your belongings.

Storing Your Things to Make Your Life Shine

Designate a place for each thing. The point in deciding specific places to keep things is to designate a spot for every thing.

Discard first, store later. Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly in the space you currently own.

The secret to maintaining an uncluttered room is to pursue ultimate simplicity in storage.

I have only two rules: store all items of the same type in the same place and don’t scatter storage space.

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.

Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong.

If you are aiming for an uncluttered room, it is much more important to arrange your storage so that you can tell at a glance where everything is than to worry about the details of who does what, where, and when.

Never pile things: vertical storage is the key. If you stack things, you end up with what seems like inexhaustible storage space, which makes it harder to notice the increasing volume. Stacking is very hard on the things at the bottom.

People commonly assume that it is cheaper to buy things in bulk when on sale. But I believe the opposite is true. If you consider the cost of storage, it just as economical to keep these things in the store, not in your home.

Other Tips:

  • There is no need for commercial storage items.
  • The best way to store bags is in another bag.
  • Items that take up floor space belong in the closet.
  • Make the top shelf of the bookcase your personal shrine.
  • Don’t underestimate the “noise” of written information. By eliminating excess information that doesn’t inspire joy, you can make your space much more peaceful and comfortable.

The Magic of Tidying Dramatically Transforms Your Life

At their core, the things we really like do not change over time. Putting your house in order is a great way to discover what they are.

Letting go is even more important than adding.

The lives of those who tidy thoroughly and completely, in a single shot, are without exception dramatically altered. One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision-making capacity.

When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear of the future.

The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.

One of the reasons clutter eats away at us is because have to search for something just to find out whether it’s even there, and many times, no matter how much we search, we cannot seem to find what we are looking for. When we have reduced the amount we own and store our documents all in the same place, we can tell at a glance whether we have it or not. (pg. 187)

In essence, tidying ought to be the act of restoring balance among people, their possessions, and the house they live in.

It’s a very strange phenomenon, but when we reduce what we own and essentially “detox” our house, it has a detox effect on our bodies as well.

#####

This blog started primarily as a marketing blog, but now features much more about work/life, social psychology, health and happiness. We also explore top performers (authors, entrepreneurs, business leaders and more) and dissect what we can take away to become top performers in our own work and personal lives.

If that interests you, consider subscribing below or by clicking here (especially if you’re reading via RSS).

  • Jessica

    I used a Kondo-light version of this. I moved often as a child. As such, “home” was more about where my “stuff” was than a geographic place. To that end, I still have some “stuff” that I’ve had since I was 5, 7, 10, etc.

    They do spark joy or a sense of “self”. Where I’ve been, where I’ll go, what I’ve learned. That gives me value.

    Marie wouldn’t fully approve of the fact that or the fact that I have a storage unit (I live with a roommate and it would cost me significantly to replace everything in it. I’ve done the math on the breakeven point, and I have a long way to go.)

    That being said, I’ve known people hat felt guilty throwing away/donating the free promotional things from conferences. Stuff for the sake of stuff is exhausting.

    (Jess note: I agree on books)

    [Reply]

    Ryan Stephens Reply:

    “Stuff for the sake of stuff is exhausting.” <— Precisely the message I intended to convey.

    I'm not anti owning things and I don't know that Marie is either. I love that you have things from your childhood at bring you joy and remind you where you've been and what you've learned. Though, I would agree that she'd probably frown on your storage unit. Ha! It's just that so many people own things because a.) someone gave it to them b.) they hoped it would make them happy c.) Jane Doe down the street has it and her family seems happy on Instagram.

    The point in so much of my writing is something you already do well: be deliberate about the choices you make.

    Renting isn't "throwing away money." Renting can be a viable strategy.

    Having a storage unit sometimes makes sense.

    The point is to make conscious choices aligned with the things we want to achieve in this world. In the West, we have an abundance of virtually everything, except time. I want to make sure I'm maximizing the use of mine.

    [Reply]

  • Ida Wallace

    Motivating information here on the life changing magic of
    tidying up. I am happy to read it which is help me in my profession as I am
    part of education.

    Regards,
    http://www.assignmenthelpfolks.com/

    [Reply]