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Surprising Amazing Results That Come With Tidying Up

Japanese cleaning consultant shares her passion on tidying up and the life-changing magic it has on herself and her clients.

Jerry Zhang
Jerry Zhang

6 min read

I first picked up in a very messy house. It was just collecting dust, and I thought to myself, if the inhabitants of the house were to have read this book, perhaps their house would be less messy.

Far be it from me to judge them though, because I was no less messy myself. I decided to give this book a read, so I borrowed the book. I really enjoyed Marie Kondo’s minimalist philosophy on a completely de-cluttered lifestyle.

Her instructions on how to clean is very specific–clean by category, and clean based on a certain order. While this applies to most people, it may not work for others. Regardless, we can all adopt the mindset that our possessions should “spark joy”.

In fact, this book has gotten so popular to the point that Marie Kondo now has her own show on Netflix!

Here are my takeaways after reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

Hit the Reset Button every once in awhile.

Marie suggests making tidying up a special event, not a daily chore. The psychological benefit of making tidying up a special event is that it gives us something to look forward to. We don’t have to dread doing it every day–we celebrate the tidying.

Many objects have a reset button. Here are some examples:

  • Dishes and Utensils: After eating, the dishes and utensils that we used need to be reset before being used again. Using the dishwasher or hand washing are two ways of hitting the reset button.
  • Clothes: Unless you wear the same clothes multiple days in a row, you will reset the cleanliness of your clothes before using them again. Doing laundry is one way of hitting the reset button on our clothes.
  • Toilets: This one’s reset button should be obvious. Since toilets are meant to flush away human feces, every time you flush it, you are hitting the reset button.
  • Computers: If you leave a computer on for too long, you’ll notice that it will start to slow down. That’s why they tell you to restart it every once in awhile.
  • Humans: Yes, even humans have a reset button. Do you sleep? Sleep is our way of resetting ourselves for the next day.

In this context, our homes are the object that we need to reset. Our homes store our possessions, and we need to reset our home every once in awhile by tidying up. While doing it everyday is tedious and overkill, not doing it at all will result in endless piles of clutter. Balance out the timing.

The Art of Effective Tidying

Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first.

1. Discard as much as possible.

Today we live in the day and age where we have a lot of stuff. In fact, it’s so easy to accumulate stuff that it’s mind-blowing. I dare you to look into your closet/storage areas and declare that you knew you had everything currently in there. I’m willing to bet that most readers cannot do this. I certainly was not able to make this claim.

But when we have too much stuff, we suffer from a number of things. We become hoarders and start to keep everything “just in case”.

Let’s be honest–we really don’t need a bunch of stuff. Technically, we only need water, food, clothing, shelter in that order. Chances are, you’ve forgotten that you had a lot of the things you actually have that you don’t need.

Why We Need to Discard

Clutter sucks.

Unless you discard, clutter will build up.

To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose.

No matter how wonderful things used to be, we cannot live in the past. The joy and excitement we feel here and now are more important.

Why it is Difficult to Discard

People have trouble discarding things that they could still use (functional value), that contain helpful information (informational value), and that have sentimental ties (emotional value). When these things are hard to obtain or replace (rarity), they become even harder to part with.

Things with Functional Value

Spare lumber, extra cables, or even IKEA hex tools all have some amount of functional value. But unless you use these items everyday, chances are these items are just taking up space and contributing to clutter.

Things with Informational Value

Flyers, product manuals, or magazines are definitely useful the first time around. But once you read these, chances are you won’t read them a second time. And, if you really needed to re-visit something, you can probably find a copy online to re-read.

Things with Emotional Value

Gifts, love letters, and other mementos often hold sentimental value. Any human with a heart will find it hard to throw away objects with sentimental value.

Things with Rarity Value

Under the natural economic law of supply and demand, we tend to place greater value on items that are low in supply, or rare. It’s understandable that we want to keep rare objects.

What to Discard

Marie Kondo advocates using a very simple question to choose whether or not to discard something: does this spark joy?

Completely disregard every other factor in your decision, and just ask that simple question. Don’t think about the object’s functional, informational, emotional, or rarity value. Just ask, does this spark joy?

This will sound a bit weird, and even unpractical. But the truth is, if something does not spark joy, it’s not something you want to stick around with you in your home. At that point, the object is simply taking up space.

By repeatedly doing this, you will end up with a home that only houses things that spark joy. Imagine how wonderful that would be. Our home is a sanctuary–by selectively choosing what to welcome into our sanctuary, we create a stress-free place for us to live in.

Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest. Believe what your heart tells you when you ask, does this spark joy?

How to Discard

Before beginning the process of discarding, gather all your possessions and lay them out all before you. Place them on a table, on the floor, where you can see everything.

Discard by category. The best sequence is this: clothes first, books, papers, miscellaneous, and mementos last.

An extra note on mementos: the reason to do mementos last is because if we start with mementos first, it will be harder to discard everything else. Before discarding even a single thing, we will want to keep everything, and thus the discarding process will fail.

Pick up each memento and process it–talk to it, thank it for being in your life, and lay it down. If after processing it, you still find that the memento will continue to spark joy in your life, it’s okay to keep it.

As you reduce your belongings through the process of tidying, you will come to a point where you suddenly know how much is just right for you. The fact that you possess a surplus of things that you can’t bring yourself to discard doesn’t mean you are taking good care of them. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Remember: your possessions want to help you. If a memento has already sparked joy for you and is due to retire, allow it to do so. By holding on, you are making it hard for yourself to move on and enjoy new experiences.

Learn that you can do without. You will feel happier this way because you will then be able to more thoroughly enjoy the things that you have.

2. Pursue Ultimate Simplicity in Storage.

Marie Kondo gives only two rules: store all items of the same type in the same place and don’t scatter storage space.

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out.

If you are aiming for an uncluttered room, it is much more important to arrange your storage so that you can tell at a glance where everything is than to worry about the details of who does what, where, and when.

Minimalism is Liberating

One of the magical effects of tidying is confidence in your decision–making capacity. Think about how hard it was to discard. After finishing the discarding process, you will become a pro at making difficult decisions, especially on letting go and cutting back on your losses.

By going through the discarding process, we find out more about our own selves. What we choose to own is actually how we want to live our lives.

The truth is, we don’t really need to have that much in our lives to find joy and satisfaction. By going through the tidying process, we are eliminating the clutter and cleaning our minds.


And there’s my summary on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I enjoyed Marie’s philosphy on trimming down on our possessions to only the things that spark joy.

Tidying up can be exhausting not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally. By tidying up our homes, we also undergo a life-changing transformation within ourselves. Essentially, we ourselves have underwent the tidying process.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

the life changing magic of tidying up book cover

Print | eBook | Audiobook

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Jerry Zhang

Programmer, YouTuber, and amateur musician. I like to write too!