The life-changing magic of tidying: book review

The Life-Changing-Magic of Tidying up: a book review

Marie Kondo is the most endearing guru I have ever had the pleasure to read, and ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying’ is her bible. Cathy Hirano translates from the Japanese for Vermilion books (pub 2014). Her Capitalisation Of Every Word in the contents does not come across as trite and patronising,  instead it prefaces Kondo’s direct, clear style.

Honouring the teacher is a widely acknowledged Japanese value, and Marie Kondo quickly convinces that she is an expert and an individual worth listening to. There is no Gilian Keith style pseudoscience, rather Marie notes an observation and proposes an explanation. Her ideas come from her childhood passion for housewifery, which developed into a ‘serious’ pursuit of tidying aged 15. This is not just another inbred descendent of Lakein’s 1973 classic ‘How to get control ofyour time and your life’ with a thread of softeness from Brene Brown’s ‘Gifts of Imperfection’.

In a nutshell, the Mariekon method consists of handling each possession, and considering whether it is a positive or negative emotional relationship by asking the intuitive question ‘does this spark joy?’. Joy is not widely used in contemporary English, which I think is fortunate, as it asks the reader to define for themselves what ‘joy’ may be in this context. My mind goes to Alice Walker’s ‘Possessing the secret of joy’ and considers what breadth and complexity of feelings may inhabit long disused objects.

I was evangelised on Marie Kondo by my sister in law while I lived in a house with a horrific ex-casino carpet and chronic damp problems under the bed. I bought the book, and read it with an initially skeptical eye before leaving for the summer. In the autumn I descended on my childhood bedroom with a vigor I have never before brought to tidying. Before, the end point was always a clear floor, which I could hoover, and a clear desk that I could wipe. This time it was to resolve my tortuous relationship with objects, and spring clean my soul.

One aspect of her language grated with me: her use of the term ‘feminine’ to designate a life lived elegantly. This is a knee jerk reaction on my part as an individual dedicated to queering gender concepts, and resisting all binaries. In act her book is based entirely on binaries, which are all connected to the replacement of mess with tidyness. This book is a manifesto for correctness from chaos. My family slogan was ‘Nature (and my family) abhore a vacuum’ and this was used to justify the absence of clear surfaces as a constant of life.

Looking around my room right now, there aren’t so many clear surfaces. But I am wearing a jacket that was disused by my friend, as it is a funny linen shape ‘Well, it’s good for writing in, but not really practical’ they explained as I handled it at their house-clearing party. And I am writing  on an impulsively downloaded app called ‘calmly’, and I have written an appropriate length of text that is roughly coherent, and it is now time to get breakfast before I tidy my room properly, for the sake of my mental health.

And it appears that light jazz is the appropriate soundtrack. Actually, scrap that, I’m putting on First Aid Kit. Or maybe I’ll do some gardening.