Monday, 6 June 2016

THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING by Marie Kondo. Reviewed by Ann Turnbull.

This book sets out to teach a way of de-cluttering and tidying that ensures that you need never do it again.

"Tidy a little a day and you'll be tidying forever." Marie Kondo believes that tidying in one go is the only way to stay free of clutter. She insists that you discard before tidying, and that you do this by category and in the correct order, namely clothes - which are easiest to discard - books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally sentimental items (the hardest to let go of.) You are asked to take each item in your hand and ask yourself whether it 'sparks joy'. As long as you don't take this too literally (your thermal vest may not spark joy, but you'll miss it next winter if you chuck it out) I found this an excellent way of clearing excess clothing; and Marie Kondo's system of folding and storing clothes upright, so that you can see what's there, works well.

However, for the purpose of this review I shall focus on my experiment with de-cluttering my office. I am a writer and work at home from a converted bedroom. There are no clothes in my office, so I started with category 2: Books.

Before we start, you need to know that you are not supposed to do one room at a time. Within each category Marie Kondo advocates collecting up all the items that fall into that category in your entire house and piling them on the floor so that you can see exactly what you've got.

This is where Marie Kondo and I part company. I am more than 40 years her senior, and the thought of putting a heap of stuff on the floor and engaging in all that unnecessary bobbing up and down is a definite no-no for me. So I have to admit to having moved the goalposts right from the start. I piled my stuff on a bed, in batches.

I thought it would be easy to cull the books in my office. I usually have no trouble getting rid of excess books elsewhere in the house. However, the books in my office are mostly those I've bought for research - and since much of my work is historical fiction, that's a lot of books. I often re-visit subjects, and these are all books I use and dip into - so I removed very few.

Anxious to succeed, I moved on to papers. This was much more satisfying. I threw out dozens of manuscripts, huge folders of old research notes, decades of correspondence. I cleared my desk of multiple notes written on bits of paper and put any necessary information in a notebook.

I emptied the bulging carrier bag which used to be my repository for wrapping paper, envelopes for re-use, cardboard, etc., then selected sufficient items and put them neatly in a large shoebox (I have never been able to throw shoeboxes away, so I was glad to find that Marie Kondo recommends them for organising storage.)

I tidied my pinboards. I emptied a whole box file labelled 'Stuff for School Visits' since I don't do them any more. I threw out bulging folders of research notes for long since published books. I sorted and thinned drawers full of stationery.

My office now feels less cluttered, I know what I've got and where it is, and that I only have what I need or love. It's a more pleasant space in which to work. You won't see a lot of difference between my 'before' and 'after' photos but, believe me, I've shifted a lot of stuff - stuff which is unfortunately now piled on the landing, on chairs, and on the cellar steps, since the recycling won't be collected for a fortnight.

Marie Kondo's missionary zeal is easy to make fun of, but most of her advice is sensible. She emphasizes that you should focus not on reducing, but on choosing. Her philosophy - be kind to your possessions, thank them, and give them space to breathe - is not quite as daft as it sounds. It helps you to accept that while some possessions were important to you once, and gave you joy, you can let them go and move on.

The test, of course, is: will the clutter build up again? I hope not. But if it does - well, I've always enjoyed de-cluttering.



Penny Dolan said...

Really liked this review "in action". Thanks!

Lynne Benton said...

Thank you, Ann - this is inspiring! Whether it will work with my study remains to be seen, but it could be worth reading the book to find out. (Of course that may well be as far as I get...!)

sarah vincent said...

Haha, this made me laugh. Love the bit about the thermal vest not inspiring joy! Don't know about your office Ann but your prose is beautifully uncluttered as ever.

sarah vincent said...

Haha, this made me laugh. Love the bit about the thermal vest not inspiring joy! Don't know about your office Ann but your prose is beautifully uncluttered as ever.

Ann Turnbull said...

Thank you, Sarah and Penny. And good luck, Lynne! I have just noticed a bookcase that I missed entirely first time round, full of fairy tales and archaeology - and all indispensable, even if I had forgotten they were there.

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