Clear clutter

The Stuff of Magic – a review of the The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Twenty seconds of watching a clip on YouTube took me to a place I never thought I’d go – I read a book about about tidying and I enjoyed it.

The Stuff of Magic ... A review of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I have just put down Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I am almost pathologically messy – books on housekeeping aren’t my thing. Four or five months ago I stumbled on a YouTube clip of a Japanese woman demonstrating how to fold your socks right. “Ummm, no thanks,” I thought and clicked onto something else. Soon the KonMari method (Kondo’s approach outlined in her book) was popping up everywhere – word was that it was as much about living more with less than housekeeping. I was intrigued, so I signed up as number 28 in the queue to loan a copy from the local library. It was worth the wait.

The KonMari method

Marie Kondo is a Japanese tidying guru. She’s worked one-on-one with hundreds of clients to tidy their homes and offices and, along the way, helped them discard over a million possessions. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up details her KonMari strategy of tidying which she guarantees will put your house in order once and for all, never to revert to clutter again. That’s a pretty big claim – needless to say, I was sceptical.

The essentials of the method include:

  • Tidy your entire home all at one
    She qualifies this to mean within six months– phew!
  • Tidy by category – not location
    Start with clothing, followed by books, then papers, miscellaneous, and finally sentimental items and keepsakes
  • Discard first
    Cull your possessions down to only items you really like – those that “spark joy”. Approach the cull from the perspective of deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what to get rid of.
  • Decide where to keep things
    A place for everything and everything in its place. No need for fancy storage solutions, just make sure everything is easy to put away.

Kondo offers sound rationale behind her methods and is backed by years of experience assisting her clients get their own houses in order. She presents a convincing argument.

Initially, I scoffed at the idea of considering if my potato peeler “sparked joy”. However, when I think back to my Minimalist Game experience, I definitely made the best progress when I just followed my gut and didn’t over think things – which is really what the crux of the “spark joy” test is all about.

The book is written in an easy-to-read style – Kondo could be explaining all this to you over a cup of tea. She has a definite thing for tights and socks, and a few other personal quirks came through too – to the point where, at times, I thought she was a little kookie. Some of this may have been down to the differences in our cultural perspectives – it is, after all, a book written by a Japanese woman, originally written in Japanese and intended for a Japanese audience.

One thing put me off diving head-first into implementing the KonMari method ­– children. I get the feeling that there are no small children living in the Kondo household and that very few are present when she works in clients’ homes. Toys and other child-related clutter (my son has just started bringing artwork home from preschool!) get scant mention in the book. That’s not a show-stopper for me though, as you can apply the same principles as any other categories of things. It is the practical realities of tidying the KonMari way with a little helper underfoot that really put me off.

I am terrified about the prospect of, say, piling every book in the house on the living room floor, in case they end up there for weeks. It is the polar opposite of the quick-15-minute-mission approach that I have been using to date. The method does seem to predispose that you have decent chunks of quality time to devote to the process. Otherwise, it sounds like a bit of a recipe for chaos.

The real magic

I have read a lot about possessions, decluttering and minimalism in recent months. Our relationship with stuff is always a key feature. I’ve been labouring under the view that to embrace a post-materialistic lifestyle a “stuff is just stuff” attitude is needed. In contrast, Kondo’s approach accepts that people are attached to their possessions. This attraction is natural and it’s not rational. You are allowed to love your possessions – in fact you should love them – just keep what brings you joy and discard the rest. I found this refreshing and comforting. What’s more it was helpful. My previous attempts to apply more rational tests such as 20/20 Rule or 90/90 Rule just weren’t very helpful. Paralysis by analysis was often a problem. I’d start to overthink each object, get into a mindset of justifying why I was allowed to keep things and end up feeling guilty.

Kondo also touches on guilt, particularly in relation to gifts that don’t spark joy. She has an interesting take on approaching all your things with gratitude to aid people who struggle with this. I must admit that in regards to this particular strategy, I don’t think it is quite as easy in practice as she makes it sound.

Her method may not be for you, but The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up it is definitely worth a read. There is nothing heavy and you never know, the results may be life changing!


Three years on and I never did KonMari my home following the programme in the book. However, many principles from the book stuck and are helping to make my life tidier every day.

Life-changing principles I now live by include:

  • store things so they are easy to put away, rather than easy to get to
  • a place for everything and everything in its place (this one does not come naturally!)
  • declutter from the perspective of deciding what to keep, rather than deciding what you are going to giveaway.


Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? What did you think? Have you put the method into action in your own home?


  • thisismeagankerr
    September 7, 2015 at 3:05 am

    I am so keen to declutter but really strugging with hanging on to things. I think I really need to put my name on that library waiting list…

    • Amy
      September 7, 2015 at 4:02 am

      I know those struggles! The KonMari advice is to start with the category of items you are least attached to – she recommends clothes – but I can imagine that is different for everyone.

  • marilyn801
    February 15, 2016 at 1:53 am

    I enjoyed her book and so far the only thing I seem to have permanently implemented is her folding and storage advice re. underwear and socks! It gives me great pleasure to see my undies and socks lined up SIDEWAYS in the drawer, so I can see all the colors and patterns, as opposed to piled up, so I only see what’s on top. It’s a little thing, but it’s had a lasting impact. Excellent review, BTW, Amy! 🙂 XO – M

    • Amy
      February 15, 2016 at 2:01 am

      You are doing better than me – I STILL haven’t started.
      I really need to take control of the sock drawer!

  • jennasday
    February 21, 2016 at 5:51 am

    I appreciate your thoughts on the sparking joy concept (the potato peeler was a great example), and think you captured the meaning behind her idea. Thanks for your efficient summary of her key concepts! I’m going to add your review to my list of links, if you’re not opposed.

    • Amy
      February 21, 2016 at 6:13 am

      Thanks Jenna.

  • […] The Stuff of Magic […]

  • Fairy
    November 20, 2016 at 7:55 am

    I am fairly tidy and could not see that this book would have anything to offer. However, I eventually gave in and read it. It did not really resonate for me except one thing which has made such a difference – I now store my laptop standing on its end – like a book in a bookcase. You would not think that such a simple thing would make a huge difference but it did. Over time I have also begun folding some of my clothes and standing them on end – I was not convinced but it seems to work.

  • purpleslobinrecovery
    December 4, 2016 at 2:34 am

    “pathologically messy”- oh wow! Me too! But learning to kick it!
    When I first heard of her folding underwear, etc- I thought, “That women is crazy, and not the fun kind!”
    My daughter folded my undies that way, because I was paying her by the hour! Won’t make THAT mistake again! lol

  • Ira
    July 4, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    I dont want to sound cheesy, but I just saw a mistake in the heading – “Decide were to keep things” – were should be ‘where’. Please correct as the heading is important and i mostly go through only the headings. Otherwise the ideas are great….



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