The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Organizing for Overly Sentimental People

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I went to a bunch of bookstores this spring on the book tour for The Localist, and I talked to a bunch of booksellers — partly because it’s super rude not to talk to people who are hosting you for a book signing, and partly because I’m a greedy reader and I wanted book suggestions. The book that came up most often was sort of a weird one, and it’s a book that’s become incredibly popular not just among booksellers, but on blogs and bestseller lists and social media, too. It’s called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, and it’s about … well … decluttering and organizing. (Obviously.)

Most of the booksellers I’ve met don’t care that much about decluttering and organizing. Maybe that’s because we fit the stereotype of messy creatives; maybe it’s because the stacks of books we’re always making by our beds and chairs and couches regularly fall over, making tidying a losing battle; maybe it’s because we live so much through fiction that we don’t care what our homes look like. (It doesn’t matter if my dishes are dirty if I’m living in Hogwarts or Green Gables or District 11 anyway.)

On the tour, I talked to several booksellers who’d konmari-ed their homes. (The method is named konmari for its founder and the book’s author, Marie Kondo.) One of my favorite host families (in Arlington, Virginia) had used the method, and their home was fantastic and comfortable and beautiful. Even the bookseller I heard openly making fun of the book admitted that he’d used it in his home and his place had stayed tidy ever since.

That’s the big promise of the konmari method — that, once you’ve completed the months-long tidying process, your home will never be messy again. You’ll never have to struggle to organize or overhaul or minimalize, but instead you’ll keep your home tidy because you want to, and almost by accident.

As an overly sentimental and messy person who “likes to be hugged by my things”* and has been, let’s face it, a borderline hoarder in the past, this sounded both too good to be true and interesting. I bought The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up at Octavia Books in New Orleans during my last Localist book stop and read it on the train back to Birmingham. I was intrigued and skeptical (the potato-sock and shower passages were a little much for me — you’ll know what I mean if you read it), but I started implementing the process pretty much right away anyway.

Three months later — last night, actually — I finally finished. Do I feel magical? No more than normal. I didn’t get up this morning and skip around my apartment or sing Disney songs or anything like that. I did, however, find my Monday morning a lot less hectic: I was less anxious during my usual write-a-blog-take-pictures-for-the-blog-eat-breakfast-make-coffee-find-clothes scramble, and I ended up making my bed and hanging up clothes and putting away dishes without even trying to. Seriously, I actually tidied by accident. Accidental tidying doesn’t really compare to the magic cleaning of house elves or Mary Poppins or Cinderella’s little housekeeper birds, but if it keeps working, I’ll take it. The jury’s still out (after all, it’s only been one morning), but maybe this konmari book is a little bit magical after all.

Carrie Rollwagen is author of The Localist: Think Independent, Buy Local and Reclaim the American Dream, creator of 30 Days of Local Praise and co-founder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Find her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @crollwagen.

* This is a quote from my long-suffering interior designer sister.

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