The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Condo

Episode 4: Book Summary

Summary IV. It's never too early for some spring cleaning! Of all the books I read in 2022, this one produced some of the most tangible (and recurring) benefits in my life.

Tidying Up introduced two simple, yet profound frameworks:

  • On choosing what to discard and what to keep:

    • "Does this spark joy?"

  • On reaching healthy closure while discarding:

    • "Thank you for the role you played in my past"

Adding these phrases to my internal lexicon was worth the price of admission.

"Does this [item] spark joy?" It's such a simple question. I’m under no obligation to keep any [physical item], so why would I keep something that doesn't spark joy? Fear of loss? Fear that I might need it in the future? A sense of obligation to another?

Picture a space in which every [item] around you is one that sparks joy. It's a beautiful sight (and site).

All that's required is being honest with oneself. This is easier said than done. As I attempted to put this into practice, I was amazed at my mind's ability to rationalize keeping every single item in my closet and drawers. Lucky for me, Ms. Condo called out these rationalizations right on cue: "This is impossible to replace", "This is expensive", "I used to use this all the time", "I'll use this at some point in the future."

But does it spark joy?!? If it doesn't, then what's the point?

Deep down we always know. I certainly knew. It was simply an exercise of asking myself the question, then being absolutely, unapologetically, completely honest.

"Thank you for the role you played in my past." This process of showing gratitude is a nod to the past; a recognition that there was some reason why I acquired this item in the past. This is a critical step in creating closure.

Without this step, I am "throwing away [items]." Kicking useless [items] to the curb, disgusted with myself for being such a hoarder. Careless acquisition at the start, greedy clinging throughout, and reckless abandon at the end.

With this step, I’m "creating a clean slate as I move towards my future." Showing gratitude for [items] that helped me in the past. Proud of myself for honestly assessing the role they played in my life (past tense) and designing an environment that is healthy for me going forward.

The value of this book is not confined to decluttering one's living space. Replace all of the [items] above with [relationships] or [thoughts] or [beliefs] or [habits] or [activities].

Other key takeaways from this book:

  • Building the habit of asking, "What role does X play in my life?"

  • Experiencing the freedom of letting go of the past

  • Recognition that "more is not always better." There’s liberating clarity in possessing only what I need

  • The ease and conviction with which I rationalize to myself (read: lie to myself)

  • When I create a clean slate, I’m more deliberate in choosing what to layer back on. “A tidy house stays tidy”

  • I can experience sympathetic joy after donating an item by picturing the future owner wearing it proudly

  • Last, but not least, storing items at my parents' house is not fair to them. Afford them the same right to design their space. Thanks for the storage in the past Mom & Dad :)

  • Create the ideal space for your ideal lifestyle

    • Design my space to serve me. It's not there for anybody but me (and my co-inhabitants), so make it work for me

  • Discarding process

    • Do the discarding process all at once so that you can enjoy the full benefit of a revitalized space

    • A piecemeal approach will make your space feel only incrementally better, which increases the likelihood of “rebound”

  • Does this spark joy?

    • What’s the point of holding on to any physical item if it doesn’t spark joy?

    • Process:

      • Hold it in your hands

      • Ask yourself the question, "does this spark joy?"

      • Be honest with yourself

  • Why we hold on to certain items:

    • Function

    • Information

    • Emotional attachment

    • Rarity makes it harder to let go

  • Don’t start with mementos, since you’ll spend your whole tidying session reminiscing on those old memories

    • Start with the categories that you don’t like. Gain momentum getting rid of stuff

    • Order:

      • Clothes

      • Books

      • Papers

      • Mementos

  • Sort by category (clothes), not by location (closet)

    • Makes it harder to see how much I have of a specific category

  • Every object has a role to play. When discarding, thank it for the role it played in the past, then let it go

    • Bought clothing item because it looked cool in store but now it doesn’t fit well... "thank you for the thrill you brought me when I bought you in the store, now I can let you go"

      • Maybe I needed to feel cool. Maybe I needed to feel wealthy. That's the role it played for me back then, but is it still serving me by sitting in my closet?

    • Bought a new style but then realized it doesn’t match my style... "thank you for teaching me what I don’t like"

  • Start with offseason clothes

    • "If the weather changed tomorrow, would this be the first outfit I’d wear?"

    • The distance is useful in generating honesty

  • Loungewear

    • Don’t downgrade clothes to loungewear just because you want to avoid getting rid of them

    • There are clothes made specifically for loungewear in terms of style and comfort, so use those for loungewear

    • Keep a positive self-image of yourself, even when you’re lounging around the house, by wearing clothes you like and that make you feel good

      • Don’t tell yourself you’re a slob by wearing sloppy clothes

  • Imagine your clothes having feelings

    • You need to nurture those clothes rather than keeping them uncomfortably confined in your drawers

      • Overstuffing socks in the sock drawer is not being kind to them

    • Set them free, especially if you no longer have use for them

      • Enable someone else to enjoy your clothes

  • Books

    • Process

      • Take them off the shelf

      • Put them on the floor

      • Hold them in your hand and ask if they spark joy

    • "I might want to read it sometime"... from experience, sometimes never comes

    • Disposing of books still teaches you something:

      • If I bought it, then didn't read it - "I wasn't meant to read this book"

      • If I only read half - "I was only meant to read half then let it go"

    • Be mindful to only buy books that you'll immediately read. Otherwise the inspiration and relevance fades

  • Mementos

    • Do these at the end... and all at once

    • Past letters and other relics of the past belong in the past. Use this process of discarding as a way to break free from your past

  • Photos

    • Don't burden yourself or your relatives with old photos

  • Parent's house

    • Don't burden your parents by storing your things at their house. Enable them to use their space to fit themselves

    • If you're storing items there, then you probably don't want them anyway

  • Storage

    • Store things vertically

      • Stacking makes you feel like you have endless space to keep stacking up. Items on the bottom get squished (and that's not nice to those items)

    • Don’t start storing process until you’ve completely finished the discarding process

    • Don't store based on "where you use items", store based on what will make them easiest to put away

      • Clutter builds when we don't put items back in their proper place, so making it ultra-easy to put items away avoids rebound

      • You will always go get the item out when you need it, so that's not as much of a concern

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