Thursday, May 28, 2020

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up - Summary

Author: Marie Kondo (KonMari)
Number of pages: 156


In this book, Marie Kondo, a Japanese consultant of tidying presents her method called “KonMari” whose purpose is to help people make their houses tidy and well organized. This method is based on two main processes: Discarding and Storing and each process involves a number of steps. In what follows, I will detail these different steps.

Process 1. Discarding 

Step 1. Define the goal you want to achieve by tidying your home. Try to visualize the lifestyle you dream to live with and to picture the way your home will look like after the tidying is done. It is also important to express your objective with concrete and simple words in order to feel it and make it vivid.

Once your goal is clear, ask yourself recursively why you want to tidy and why you want to live the lifestyle you have imagined earlier. When you reach the last "why", you will find that the main reason behind this whole process of tidying is to be happy.

Step 2. Define the categories of stuff that exist in your house. According to Marie Kondo, these categories are basically: Clothes, Books, Papers, Komono (miscellany) and Mementos.

In each category, we can define sub-categories as shown in the following table. Based on Marie Kondo's experience, the speed of the tidying process depends mostly on the order in which you decide to proceed. If you start with easy things (clothes) and leave the hardest for last (mementos), the discarding task will be easier.

  - Tops (shirts, sweaters, etc)
  - Bottoms (skirts, pants, etc)
  - Clothes that should be hanged (jackets, coats, suits, etc)
  - Socks
  - Underwear
  - Bags (handbags, purses, etc)
  - Accessories (scarves, belts, hats, etc), 
  - Clothes for specific events (swimsuits, kimonos, uniforms, etc)
  - Shoes
  - General (books read for pleasure)
  - Practical (e. g. cookbooks) 
  - Visual (e. g. photograph collections) 
  - Magazines
  - Lecture materials
  - Credit card statements
  - Warranties
  - Manuals to discard
  - Greeting cards
  - Used checkbooks
  - Pay slips
  - Photos
  - Letters
  - Souvenirs
  - CDs, DVDs
  - Skin care products
  - Makeup
  - Accessories
  - Valuables (passports, credit cards, etc.)
  - Electrical equipment and appliances
  - Household equipment (writing materials, sewing kits, etc.)
  - Household supplies (medicine, detergents, tissues, etc.)
  - Kitchen goods/food supplies (spatulas, pots, blenders, etc.)
  - Other (spare change, figurines, etc.)


Step 3. For each category, put everything on the floor before starting to discard. So, you should look everywhere in the house to gather the things belonging to the same category and put them all and once on the floor. When you put all the items of a category on one place, you become aware of the overall volume of what you own and you will be surprised by the number of things you possess in each category, which will help you discard more things.

Step 4. When everything is in the floor, hold every item and touch it with your hands. For Marie Kondo, this touch is mandatory to know if you still like this object or if you want to discard it. The decision of keeping an item or not must be based on a single criterion : "Does it spark joy?

Since the main reason behind the tidying process is to be happy, you should keep in your house only the things that spark joy in your heart and make you happy. Actually, this criterion is more about what you should keep not what you should discard. If you throw things away because you haven't used them for a long time or because they are not functional anymore, you will still find your house full of things you don't use and that you keep "just in case". But if you keep only things you really need and love, you will avoid cluttering forever.

Process 2. Storing

Step 5. Designate a place for everyone. Indeed, if you live with your family, it is crucial to define a storage space for each family member. It is not necessary that everyone has his own room, but everyone must have his own spot to store his belongings. For example, you can designate separate closets for you, your husband/wife, and your children. If every family member uses different storage spaces, the house will be quickly cluttered. Moreover, having a place that belongs to you personally will make you happy and encourage you to always keep it tidy.

Step 6. Designate a spot for each category. Once you have finished the discarding process for a specific category, you need to decide where to put the items you’ve kept and that spark you joy. The most optimal solution is to store them near to each other, in a dedicated place. For example, clothes can be stored in place A, paper-like items in place B, things that are electrical in place C, etc. If you let an item without a “home”, your house will be cluttered in no time. Suppose that you find an item and you put it on an empty shelf, someone else finds a second item and puts it on the same shelf. At the end, you will end up with a shelf cluttered of items from different categories, and you will come back to square one.

In addition, having a specific storing place for each category will help you to avoid excess. Indeed, if you start buying or receiving new things belonging to a category and you find at one point that there is no sufficient place for all the items, this means that you start cluttering again and that you should think to discard something.

Step 7. Use the resources you already have in the house to store your stuff. Basically, the only storage items you need are plain old drawers and boxes, so you don’t need to buy sophistical commercial storing items.

The perfect item to use, according to KonMari, is an empty shoe-box since it meets all criteria: size, material, durability, ease of use and attractiveness. A shoe-box can be used in the closet to store your socks and stockings, in the bathroom to store bottles of shampoo, in the kitchen to store cloths, garbage bags, cake pans, etc. The lid of the shoe-box can also be used inside drawers as a divider or to hold utensils. However, any another box or container of the right size can do as long as it is square-shaped, because irregularly shaped boxes usually waste space. For example, boxes of small electronic devices can be used as dividers or to store komono, and extra plastic food containers can be used to store small items in the kitchen.

If you are not satisfied with the storage items in your house, just use them for the moment to complete your tidying process, and once your house is completely put in order, you can buy all the storage items you really like.

Step 8. Store everything vertically. Be it clothes, books or papers, everything should rather be stored vertically than stacked in pile. This technique is efficient for many reasons. First, if you stack things, you always feel that you have still more space to add new things on top, while in vertical storing, the space is limited, which will help you notice when you start accumulating stuff. Second, when we pile things one on top of the other, the things on the bottom are less frequently used and sometimes we even forget that they exist. For clothes, stacking also weakens the things in the bottom and makes them squished. Moreover, by storing things vertically, you gain in visibility, you can go directly to the item you look for and take it without ruining everything else.

Now, to store clothes, try first to imagine how the inside of your drawer will look like. Then, start folding each piece of clothing into a simple, smooth rectangle. The number of folds should be adjusted for each item so that when standing on edge, it fits the height of the drawer. The "sweet spot" where every item feels just right depends on its size and material. So you should keep trying until you get the right shape that makes an item stand properly. As for clothes made with soft materials that utter in the breeze or highly tailored cuts, they should rather be hanged.

Papers must be also stored in a vertical organizer. First, divide them in two sub-categories: infrequently used papers and more frequently used papers. Then, put the first category into a single ordinary clear plastic folder, and the second category into the book-like pages of a clear plastic file folder.

Additional Tips

1. The tidying process is not a recurring task. It is a special event that must be performed in one shot.

2. When you decide to tidy your house, don't involve your family; they can demotivate you or influence your decisions especially when you start discarding.

3. You should necessarily respect the order of the two processes. Discard first then store. Otherwise, there will be always extra stuff in your house.

4. Sort by category, not by location. As we generally put items belonging to the same categories in different locations, if you tidy each place separately, you will be doing the same work repeatedly for the same categories.

5. Let the Mementos category at the end. It is hard to decide to discard something if you are emotionally attached to it.

6. Don’t give things to your family just because you are not capable of discarding them and you feel guilty at the idea of getting rid of them. Instead, give things to people if you think they will bring them joy. Another trick to be sure that people will use what you give them is to ask them whether they would be ready to pay for it.

7. Empty your bag everyday and put the content in a specific box. This will help you put the extra things in their spots before your bag becomes cluttered.

8. Store bags inside each other. Choose the bags that can fit together based on their material, size and frequency of use. To keep track of all bags, let the straps and handles outside. This technique helps to reduce the storing space needed and to keep the shape of the bags.

9. There is no need to store off-season clothes. Commonly, people store and unpack seasonal clothes twice a year. One of the drawbacks of this custom is that when we need something buried in a box or in a suitcase, it will take us a long time to find it. Instead, divide your clothes to cotton-like and wool-like clothes and store everything inside the closet so that you can find them easily.

10. Don’t store things in the bathroom or kitchen sink because it is the most humid place in the house, so if you store anything there, it will be exposed to heat and moisture, which will impact its quality.

The "KonMari" Impact

According to Marie Kondo, tidying has a magic effect on your life :

1. It makes you gain confidence in your decision-making capacity since you have to decide to keep or to discard every item in your house, which is a kind of training.

2. It changes your mind-set and affects your way of thinking and your lifestyle habits.

3. It helps you empty your mind and makes your thinking clearer, which gives you the possibility to know exactly what you want. Indeed, when your space is tidy and organized, you can concentrate on yourself (your career, your relationships, your body, etc.)

4. It makes you happy because you become surrounded only by things that spark you joy.


In this article, I gave only a summary of Marie Kondo's book. None of the ideas presented above is mine. However, the techniques of discarding and storing proposed in the book are not organized and the book sections don’t follow a logical order. So based on my understanding of the method, I decided to divide each process in 4 steps so that the method becomes clearer and easy to understand.

In the next post, I will describe my personal experience with the KonMari method and I will present the results achieved and the problems encountered.