There I was in my bedroom surrounded by neat little piles of what remained of my wardrobe.  A few tee-shirts, trousers and underwear all obediently folded into tiny little squares. I stopped to pause, realizing that once again I’d fallen victim to the latest anti-clutter craze: “Tidying Up.”

Marie Kondo has brilliantly packaged a new approach to one of the most pressing dilemmas of our time, “managing our stuff.”  In her austere little book The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Kondo shares her minimalist concept advising readers to vigorously purge all possessions to the core, retaining  only those that truly inspire joy.  Yes, owning barely anything is the new rage and people throughout the globe are emptying their closets, dresser drawers and bookcases; reducing their possessions to minutia.

Many of Kondo’s ideas are hardly new; however she wraps them in the appealing new label of “tidying up” putting the much dreaded task of “decluttering” in a whole new light. As a start, Kondo asks readers to imagine their ideal lifestyle in order to create a vision of how they would like to live so they have a goal to aspire toward before they start tidying. Also key is her suggestion to focus on “what you keep” rather than on what you “eliminate,”  placing the whole undertaking in the affirmative.   This  empowering new perspective helps shift devotees to the novel paradigm of making explicit decisions to improve their lives instead of just “giving things up.” Kondo’s uncomplicated style  incorporates precise practices to help readers navigate the heartbreak of clutter: discarding items prior to commencing the organizing process, tidying by category instead of location and completing the task all at once (a very tall order, if not impossible for most) are some examples of her uncompromising method.  However, it’s her focus on joy that really gets to the core of the problem, offering new found hope for people who are racked by over consumption.

For several years now, I have been gradually whittling down my own stockpile and basking in the glory of living with less. The stagnant energy that comes from being surrounded by stacks of unpacked boxes, piles of unsorted paper and lifeless incidentals always felt so incarcerating. By clearing them out,  I have reclaimed my territory and restored my energy.  I would never trade back my new found vitality for useless inanimate objects.

But as I thought about Kondo’s joy based prescription, I wondered, “How many people actually know what makes them feel joy?” Exulting in the merriment of life is something most people are no longer accustomed to. Moreover, having written about this topic for so long, I find it so baffling to understand why and how owning too many things has become such a monumental problem for so many people. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, millions of people do not have enough. They carry the meager remains of their bombed out apartments on their backs, along with their children across their homeland, hoping for peaceful entry to a safe place to start over.  While they struggle for bare boned existence, in the United States our overindulgences consume us. Where does this insatiable craving for materialism come from? Have all these possessions replaced the authentic abundance we truly long for?

Moreover, paradoxically I have yet to encounter a clutterer who does not have a secret desire to “lighten the load” and live with less. But how?

The following may help:

  • Make a commitment to tidying your home and see it through to completion.
  • Start by creating a vision of how you would like to live. Think of a home you have visited or seen in a magazine that inspires you. Use it as a blueprint to work with as you re- create your space.
  • Consider the joy factor: Which of your possessions contribute to your feelings of well being? How would you like to use your reclaimed energy and space? Design a plan to help you work toward  achieving your goals.
  • Discard items that you do not use or do not inspire joy prior to beginning your organizing.

Take some advice from Marie Kondo: “Life truly begins when your house is in order.”