I usually read at least one book when I’m away on vacation, and more often than not it’s fiction. But on my way to Japan for a two-week trip that began at the end of November, I started with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.
Keeping my clutter manageable is an ongoing issue (it took five months after I was downsized to deal with my work stuff and get it out of my dining room).
So, naturally, I was drawn to this book when I read about it online in The New York Times.
The author is a 30-year-old Japanese decluttering guru who advocates a clean sweep approach to paring down your stuff: go through everything once and for all, and get rid of anything that doesn’t bring you joy.
She prescribes a category-by-category method (instead of room-by-room), and advises starting with clothes and working your way through categories that are progressively more difficult to make decisions about.
Her approach appealed to me, and felt natural: I’ve always liked to start with easy tasks, even when I was a student doing homework assignments. It’s kind of like warming up before a workout.
Also, I like her what-sparks-joy criterion. It makes the first few decisions easy, and gets the momentum going.
I started going through my clothes this past weekend, even though there are always so many things to do after a trip that I wondered if I should wait.
But I realized that editing your possessions after a trip makes sense. You have to make the same kind of decisions before you go away, ideally packing only what you need. If you do it right, you realize you can get by very well without everything you have at home. So you’re already in the right mindset.
Reading the book on the plane to Japan provided a low-key introduction to some aspects of Japanese culture that only became apparent once I was there. As a North American, I found it strange that Marie Kondo, the author, anthropomorphizes her possessions, treating them as if they have feelings.
But when I learned more about the Shinto religion, particularly the belief that everything has a spirit, the book just seemed more “Japanese.” On a day trip to Mount Fuji, for example, a guide told us that in the samurai period, people believed the mountain would get angry and erupt if women climbed it.
Kondo places a lot of emphasis on how to fold clothes, an allusion not just to origami and the proper folding of a Japanese kimono, but to folding as an inherent part of Japanese culture, something I noticed in the wrapping of purchases.
I feel as if my new organizing project is an outgrowth of my trip. It will be interesting to see where it takes me. According to Kondo, some of her clients have found new career focus (and even new life focus) after organizing their homes. Getting rid of items like books that no longer reflect current passions can make evident what is most important, because that’s all that’s left. I guess that’s why “life-changing magic” is part of the title.