Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

This article appears in the July issue of our International Corporate Structures Newsletter.

There’s a lot of received wisdom about tidying and clutter around the home. One is the idea of ‘storage solutions’ – clever ways to create more storage space: boxes under beds, sucking the air out of quilts, extra hooks on the backs of doors, fitting cupboards into corners, loft conversions, and so on. Obviously the homeware and home improvement industry has a huge vested interest in continuing to sell this idea.

Another idea is that of tidying ‘little and often’. Or the inevitability that, after you have ‘tidied up’, things will soon get back to their messy state again.

Here’s a book which directly contradicts all that received wisdom: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying. It’s by Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant who apparently started her business at age 19 when she was sociology student at Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

It’s not a new book (it was first published in Japan in 2010), but it is both eye-opening and endearing. Kondo says: “Putting [your] house in order positively affects all other aspects of [your] life – including work and family.” It’s not difficult to believe this is true.

Part of Marie Kondo’s message is obvious. For example: unless you discard things, you will keep accumulating more and more possessions. So no matter how much storage you have, eventually you will run out of space. Therefore Step 1 in decluttering is to decide which possessions to keep, and to discard the rest. She says she’s never encountered a home which does not have enough storage for the things the owners actually want to keep. Most ‘storage solutions’ are just a way to put clutter out of sight, not to actually deal with it.

Famously, Kondo’s criterion for deciding whether to keep something is whether it ‘sparks joy’. In order to apply this, she tells us to tidy category by category (not one room at a time). For each category – such as books – take out all your books, wherever they are in your home, and put them together on the floor. Then take each book in hand, and decide whether or not it sparks joy in you.

According to Kondo, there is a wrong and a right order to tackle your possessions. The ‘right’ order is: clothes, books, documents (paper), miscellaneous items, and mementos or other sentimental items.

One of the most useful things about the book is that it provides a way of thinking to help you let go of things which don’t spark joy, but which often seem difficult to give or throw away. Such as presents you don’t much like, which were given by well-meaning relatives. Kondo says that a gift serves its purpose at the moment it is received. If the gift no longer gives you joy, then it is no longer serving its purpose, and it should be allowed to move on. She is similarly ruthless about old instruction manuals, books you think you may want to read in the future, reference materials which may be useful “one day”, and electrical cords for unidentified appliances.

Once you have decided what to keep, Step 2 is to decide where to put it. Everything must have its ‘home’. Similar things should be kept together, and not distributed in different places around the home.

One of Kondo’s less obvious messages is this: if you tidy “little and often”, you’ll be tidying forever. Her advice is to tidy quickly and to aim for perfection. Once people experience a clutter-free life, she says, they will never want to go back.

All this takes courage. The courage to confront your past, as represented by the possessions you have accumulated. “The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

It’s not difficult to see the parallels with legal entity reduction projects. Why not aim for perfection – a clutter-free, distraction-free structure? Many of us spend a significant portion of our lives working on corporate structures. Why shouldn’t we create ones that spark joy?

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