A Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo


A review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Just a little update on my hoard for ya.

Things were going o.k. for awhile - and then we started remodeling our house. And then my Mom died. And then we moved. Remodeling, death, and moving - that's like the TRIFECTA of unwanted stuff raining down into your space. The only thing worse than a bunch of stuff you need to sort through and get rid of is a bunch of stuff that is covered with 200 year-old plaster dust. Seriously.

My intention for the move to Colorado was to bring only the items that I loved. I would donate or sell everything I didn't want in my beautiful new apartment so that I could focus on mountain hikes and eating out at expensive restaurants. And then...I reached the point during packing that pretty much everyone does. The point where you say, "F*ck it. It all goes on the truck. I'll deal with it when I get there."

And that's pretty much where I'm at right now. Dealing with the aftermath of that mentality. Now, on the positive side? The mover made a comment that at 3,000 pounds, we were "light" for two married people. Maybe.

But when I heard good things about Marie Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I downloaded that book right away. So this is also a book review. Not just a hoard review.

Kondo's toughest assignment is to sort by category, asking each item if it brings you joy. Like, she wants you to lay out every piece of clothing you own on the floor so that you can see what you own. And when you can see every piece of clothing you own in front of you, you have to question your relationship with it. If it doesn't bring you joy, it goes in the garbage or gets donated. If it gets sent away, you need to send it away with gratitude. There's more to this process than I can capture here, but I won't spoil it for you. You need to read the book.

And you need to quit dissing your socks. No, really. Kondo says,

"Have you ever had the experience where you thought what you were doing was a good thing but later learned that it hurt someone? At the time, you were totally unconcerned, oblivious to the other person's feelings. This is somewhat similar to the way many of us treat our socks."

Your sucks HURT emotionally when you roll them into balls. According to Marie Kondo.

It's funny to read, in its way, but what she's really talking about is our relationship to what we own and what that relationship means in the context of our lives. It's the meaning of the stuff that makes it so complicated. How many pictures of my mother do I need to save? What does it say if I discard a gift that someone chose for me? The answers to these questions are in this book. Or at least a helpful process for moving toward those answers. And there's a great chapter on the seductive nature of organization products and how to break up with them.

Probably my most immediate takeaway from Kondo's book is the section on sorting papers. There's a small list of things you need to keep - in my case, tax paperwork as I'm self-employed - but everything else? Kondo says pitch it. Chuck it. Throw it away. An instant cure for the stack of appliance manuals I had on my table. I thought the buyer of our Virginia house should have them, but I never quite got them in the mail to the realtor's office. Yesterday, I picked them all up and threw them in the garbage. Google it, dude.

I'm thinking seriously about dropping my grandma's dishes at the thrift store. For real, this time.

Good book. I recommend it. And I recommend it with a bottle of Apathy Anti-Bad-Mood Spray - to refresh your mind and your space while you sort.



Small Steps Can Lead to Lasting Change

This radio piece is a helpful discussion of using small steps to create lasting change in your life. I wanted to share it here because I think that our moods have strong ties to the so-called "little things."

Sid Garza-Hillman is talking about healthy eating but the idea of "small step change" is applicable to almost everything in your life. The theory is that if you want to improve how you feel it may be as simple as changing a few very small things that are part of your every day.

It might be about what you eat but as far as I'm concerned this link is helpful from all kinds of perspectives. It's just as likely to be about how you spend your time or the clutter in your environment. I'm dealing with that - I live in a small house; I have too much stuff and we're remodeling. That's just such a bad combination.

I found consolation in knowing that Garza-Hillman has clients who can only take on an assignment to drink a glass of water every morning. He says that's a fine place to start.

I'm ready to start selling off some of my art work that is cluttering my house and trading in some books I need to admit that I will never, ever read. My small start is to put the books in a pile and to list the art on my etsy site. What do you need to start on?




How to Deal With Email Overload or Burnout


I just read this great article on "email burnout" and thought I'd share it here. I'm so worn out on email - how about you? I made the effort to delete more than 8,000 emails I had "filed" in my inbox last month. It was freeing but also made me realize just how time consuming the search/sort/delete process can be. After that brief afternoon of "inbox zero," I saw 100-125 messages come in each and every day. It's impossible to keep up.


The "unsubscribe" option isn't foolproof. My favorite auto-response from a museum told me that my email address (which they send their email to) wasn't in the database and couldn't be removed. I've asked UPS Store of Roseville, Minnesota umpteen times to remove me from their email list but to no avail. I used that UPS Store one time - to overnight my signed divorce papers two years ago - and now I have to remember that moment each and every week when they have a sale on mailing tape. I hate that. But I digress. Here's a link to Oompf Labs great article on email burnout. Enjoy!



Anti-Bad-Mood Sprays CEO


Hoarder Update: Going from room-to-room?

Heidi Rettig, Still Life No. 1 (2008) is an encaustic mixed-media piece on panel.


I'm still working on my hoard. I've made a great deal of progress which has been helpful, mostly, for figuring out all the things that are left to do. My super clean office space is now a bellwether of sorts. Desk (or any other kind of) clutter now points to action needed in other areas. My filing cabinet, for example. Also the miscellaneous piles and items that don't have "a place" and just get shuffled from room-to-room. That shuffling is so much more obvious in a half-organized space.

The space that has become my art room works fine for collage but not for sewing. I'm not convinced that sewing and paint should be in the same room at all - but still reluctant to take over yet another room for my projects when the only private space my husband has is his bathroom and the six inch landing above the microwave. Like the pioneers, I will have to make do. That means the art studio - like everything else - will have to be carefully considered by function.

That's the hard work for me. I've got to think and think and think things through to figure out how and when I use certain items so that I can arrange them efficiently. What I find is that the organizing tools purchased before thinking things through are actually a big part of the problem. The shelves with fabric drawers do a great job of hiding my art supplies from view - but they also do a great job of rendering them into a useless jumble. It's tough to donate perfectly good furniture but that might have to happen.

There just isn't room in this little house to store it for "someday." That being the source of most of this clutter to begin with. And perhaps part of the challenge of doing all this work is that I've never been able to plan for now. My mother always discouraged us from hanging things on the walls or making decorating choices that were anything but beige. She believed that these perfect beige walls would enhance the resale value of the home when that time came. Which always seemed imminent. We never imagined we'd move her into a nursing home after 30 years in the same house. The beige carpet was worn bare and the walls weren't perfect either. I can't speak for my sister but -- coupled with other things my mother said and did -- I never quite relaxed into my life in a way that allowed me to make plans. Or decide what I wanted my home to look like or how it needed to be set up. At the moment, the number once clutter-y item in this house is my own unhung artwork. There's something not right about that.

I finished this encaustic piece in...2008. It sits on a shelf but should really be on a wall with some of the others. I must learn to use the hammer.


Museum of Broken Relationships? IN MY HOUSE.

Museum of Broken Relationships in Croatia


If only I'd known about the Museum of Broken Relationships when I started this whole decluttering thing. Perhaps we -- me and the Museum of Broken Relationships, that is -- could have worked out some kind of arrangement. An arrangement that included the installation of a giant, trans-Atlantic, pneumatic tube where I could shove all the crap I collected during my last relationship.Or maybe we could just borrow the tube Michael Kors uses to pump all his clothing straight from the factory to TJ Maxx. Either way...in my imagination...my crap emerges from the other side of the tube as a meaningful story rather than the hand-wringing, misery inducing tale that it has become.

Because let's face it. I don't need a magic tube. I've got a Museum of Broken Relationships RIGHT HERE IN MY HOUSE, baby. There's a shirt in the bottom drawer of my dresser that reminds me of a horrible argument every time I see it. I have to get rid of it. Even though it cost me $250.

And the photos. What am I supposed to do with the photos? Especially from the relationships that evolved into peaceful friendships. You know. The I don't hate you/I enjoyed our vacation/but we're both happily married to other people/so what am I supposed to do with all those holiday snaps? That.

It's been all about Passive-Aggressive Anti Bad Mood Sprays this week. Trust me. But I'm nearly there. One more room and I'm finished. In the meantime,here's a three minute story from NPR about the Museum of Broken Relationships for you to listen to when you have a moment.

What did you do with your Ex's stuff?


Organizing the Office Starring Lissanne Oliver of Sorted! Fame: Update

Lissanne Oliver writes the ultimate guide to organizing your life - Sorted!


I've been working on organizing the office and art studio for two weeks. Or two years. Depending how you look at it. It's been great to chuck things I no longer need but it has also been tough. Sorting and donating items from the fabric closet brought up a series of complicated emotions - so many unfinished projects - but the art supplies? Not at all. Curious, that. The last layer of personal papers has been difficult. The I-don't-have-any-children-to-dump-this-stuff-on-woe-is-me phase continued as I struggled through my Mother's "treasures." 

Throwing away family history seems to violate some kind of primal instinct from the yet unwritten Hoarder's Book of Rules. What am I supposed to do with my Grandmother's handwritten recipe for Sour Cream and Raisin Pie? I mean, how gross would that pie be, if I actually made it? If anyone made it? I don't care if reviewers on allrecipes.com give it 5 stars and say "sour cream is the perfect complement to raisins." That's impossible. Oatmeal cookies are the world-acknowledged "perfect complement to raisins." The perfect complement to sour cream is the enchilada.

But I digress.

Lissanne Oliver's book, Sorted!, arrived from Australia just time at the end of last week. I'd already chucked all the fluff and was now staring at the real meat of the problem - MY stuff. My paper and digital archives. Our family accounts files. Piles of project materials waiting to be read, analyzed, and put into document form. Mail. I knew I needed to sort through it. I had a situation a few weeks ago when I needed to locate a tax return and COULDN'T FIND IT. Never o.k. for a self-employed person. Panic inducing, in fact.

So the day I received this book was the day I needed it and the day I made real progress. Other books tell me I need to organize - duh - but they don't really tell me how. I just wasn't born with that skill. My sister, on the other hand, was born with a Filofax in her hand. We shared a playroom in our childhood home and I was always trying to get her to "switch sides" with me. Her side looked better because it wasn't a cluster-f*(^ of toys. Being good-hearted, she'd switch with me until I wrecked that side with my own stuff and begged her to switch back again. Her grown-up house is so neat that when you visit you feel like you're making dirt just by standing there. When I ask my sister for tips she says, "Just start in a corner." Which doesn't work for me at all.

Sorted! gives you "recipes" for solving clutter problems. Always the "missing piece" for me. So, when Oliver tells me exactly what to do with my papers, down to the kind of folder I should put it in and the marker I'm going to use to write the label? That works for me. And bonus points to Lissanne Oliver for being willing and able to print on actual paper that many traditionally shoved-on-you organizing systems don't really work. Hanging files in a cabinet drawer is like a paperwork graveyard for most people and it is for me, too. A giant vortex of ancient mobile telephone bills and print-outs of my Outlook address book from ten years ago.

The book gave me permission to set things up the way I like them - nothing up high (because I'm not a tall person) and things stored near where I actually use them. No more running up and down the stairs to find that one little thing.

And so you see, I've made progress. From here to here:


That pile of papers to the right of my chair is today's project - to organize my unfinished writing ideas into tickle files. My shredder right next to the desk. My printers and important files on the shelves to the right. I still have work to do. You can see that the cord situation needs to be dealt with (no wiring upstairs in this old house) and I need to repair that hole in the window. With clear packing tape at least.

What do you think?


Aromatherapy Mood Sprays, Clutter, and Art Studio thoughts.


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