Thursday, 5 March 2015

Tidying and decluttering for families - a review of Marie Kondo's 'The life-changing magic of tidying'

Last weekend I gave in, powered up the kindle and downloaded *that* book about tidying and read it in two or three sessions. 

It's an easy read, with lots of nice stories about clients/former clients, and some clear thoughts and advice about how to declutter and tidy your home (and life). I did gobble it up pretty quickly, indicating that I was quite eager to absorb all the life-tidying advice/principles on offer. 

It certainly made me think, and I have been tidying a lot since I finished reading it (but I haven't done it all, and I haven't done it in any particular order - I am a Konmari rebel). I realised that I already *knew* some of the things Kondo recommends. Like the thing about folding and storing things on edge, rather than in piles. I have got one drawer that stays tidy, where you can see the contents in one glance and, don't you know, the contents are folded Kondo style and lined up on their edges.

Anyway, I like some of her ideas, and I have been using them to good effect. Drawers are being reorganised, and clothes refolded in the Kondo way. It's nice to open a drawer and see everything that's inside - rather than see the tops of piles, or - more usually in my house - a random jumble of stuff.

An amazing thing happened when I organised the bean's drawers in the Kondo style. I put most of the clothes away, but hadn't quite finished folding and stashing his shorts. Later, he folded and put them away himself, which was good. But, when I opened the drawer I realised that he had spontaneously folded and placed them in the drawer in the same way as I had. 

Totally brilliant.

I hadn't asked him to do it that way. I hadn't explained how to do it, or shown him how I was folding his things. He just did it. 

So, it's good then? Well, yes, but no. Some of the advice just doesn't work for me. Do it all (declutter and tidy) in one 6 month period - okay. But never again? 


You don't have children do you Marie? 

Children grow and develop, and as part of that process families have to go through a regular cycle of acquiring new things and disposing of old ones. If you have children in a range of sizes/ages then it is patently absurd not to hand some items (clothes/books/toys) from one child to the next. Add to that the constant flow of paper and objects that come into the home with children, and the tidy 'once' rule soon breaks down. 

I am happy to throw things away - the broken toys, the beads dropped on the floor, the dog-eared card/certificate/picture that has been in the bottom of someone's bag for a fortnight. But I can't and don't police all of the trinkets and favourite sticks/stones/shells that my children collect. These are regularly cleaned up, but it can't be a one-time event, it has to be done over and over and over again. Not very Konmari.

For me, there is a lot missing from Marie Kondo's book about living with children, about coping with the daily onslaught of stuff that comes through the door, about making decisions about what to keep/chuck, when it's not actually your stuff, but your children's. Although I would love to declutter and tidy my home in a one-off event, I suspect that I will have to keep a permanent donate pile somewhere around the house, for the grown out of clothes, the grown out of books and toys, and the other stuff which no longer fills me/them/us with joy. 

Maybe I'm wrong, and once I've Kondo'd my own stuff, my children will also embrace the 'focus on joy - tidy once' philosophy? 

I also suspect that despite failing the joy test, I will continue to keep paint-spattered and old clothes for activities that involve spattering paint and digging the garden. Practicality and pragmatism doesn't feature in Kondo's worldview, and her advice doesn't really help much when you need to sort out the garden shed.

I like Marie Kondo's ideas a lot, but can see that they work best for households with grown ups. Maybe her next book will be about tidying for/with kids (or maybe I should write that one?!) 


  1. Hmm, sounds an interesting read, but by the sounds of it a little frustrating if you can't see it fitting in with the reality of your home. I definitely have a constant 'stuff to donate' pile that grows and grows until I catch up with a friend who has a younger daughter. Good luck finding a bit or order in the chaos! xxx

  2. Thanks! Yes, with 3 noodles in the house the cycle of sorting out clothes which are too small seems fairly constant!

  3. Interesting! I'm not really interested in a super decluttered lifestyle, I kind of like finding things randomly in boxes and resdiscovering them, but I do find the sheer amount of stuff that comes with kids quite annoying. We just got the newborn clothes out the other day and there were four boxes! I was quite tempted to get rid of some of it now, since there is more than any one baby would ever need, but was persuaded to old on to it just a few months more. But once it's outgrown, it goes!

  4. Ha! Yes, new babies do attract a lot of clobber! Of course, you shouldn't forget that you'll be given even more stuff when the baby is born...

    I have been fairly strict about giving it all away once it's too small.

    I am not sure Marie Kondo's techniques are only for people who want to be super uncluttered, just for folks who want to find a way of organising and controlling their belongings.