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Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

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Will Tidying Guru Marie Kondo's Cleaning Advice Really Change Your Life?

I spent a month trying to find out.

I didn't know it was possible for a not-tidy person to become neat. There are the people who inherently put away their possessions carefully, I thought. Then there are the people, like me, who put one thing down and then pile several more things on top of it and then lose their keys in the pile.

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But when I read a charming New York Times review of organizing sensation Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I began to envision an alternative lifestyle for myself. A new, tidier, happier life.

The brilliant KonMari Method involves picking up each item and holding it in your hands while asking, "Does it spark joy?"

Marie makes so many claims in her book based on her clients and I wanted to believe them all. You'll lose weight! Your skin will clear up! A prevailing sense of calm will overcome you if you simply fold your socks instead of balling them! "A dramatic reorganization of the home causes corresponding dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming," Kondo writes. With a promise like that, no wonder she's sold 2 million copies worldwide and is about to release stateside the three other organizing titles she's published in her native Japan.

At one point while reading I may have said out loud, "I want to learn to tidy!" Kondo has a certain incredibly clear method to reducing your belongings. I decided to devote myself for one month to the ways of Marie to see if I can actually become a more organized, less frazzled person. She is my no-nonsense, somewhat quixotic guide to the ways of tidy people and I love her for it.

A note for context: Marie recommends implementing all her tidiness tips in one shot but like the lazy person I am, I slowly rolled them out over the month. Also, it's important to know that I live in a 600-square-foot apartment with limited storage space with my fiancé Joe and my dog. To keep our apartment tidy, I need Joe to be on board, but he hasn't read the Kondo book and doesn't have any interest in doing so. Surely Marie has to deal with similar situations: according to this New York magazine profile, about half of her clients are married, and the majority are female.

Marie says it is unfair to subject others in your family to the somewhat brutal KonMari Method, so I didn't touch any of Joe's things. The man owns a pool cue (hasn't played pool in years) and a motorcycle ramp (but no motorcycle). All of that is off limits for this experiment. With Joe's tacit support but no involvement on his part, I begin my month of tidying up.


Photo: Getty Images

Day 1: Before you can truly become tidy, you must determine why you want to do so and figure out what your life would look like if you did clean up. At Marie's suggestion, I pictured myself reading a book for fun on a Saturday afternoon, house straight as a pin, scented candle burning.

I write all this down, and Joe walks in the door carrying a 4-foot-tall plywood Crossfit jump box he built in a friend's garage. It now lives in our studio apartment's "living room area." This was not a part of my vision.

Day 2: I peer into my closet, which is now missing the five garbage bags of clothes and accessories that I just donated to Goodwill. The brilliant, oft-quoted KonMari Method involves picking up each item and holding it in your hands while asking, "Does it spark joy?" If not, thank it for its service and send it out into the world. Marie is into personifying your possessions, which is very interesting and not a perspective Americans are used to, typically. But if you think of your belongings as having feelings, you'll treat them better, won't you?

I follow the rules and I don't miss any of the clothes I donated. My closet looks so much better, especially since the closet rod had collapsed twice since I've moved in. In the email I had sent to the superintendent about the problem, I preemptively wrote, "Don't tell me I have too many clothes." Maybe I had too many clothes.

If you think of your belongings as having feelings, you'll treat them better, won't you?

Day 3: I organize my books. Marie Kondo does not seem to be a big fan of books, because she thinks you'll never reread any of them. That may be, but I only kick 10 books out of my collection.

Day 4: The jewelry collection is as tough to reduce, since so much of it is from loved ones, yet I still never wear it. Marie believes your family and friends wouldn't want you to feel burdened by their presents that no longer suit you. "Just thank it for the joy it gave you when you first received it," she writes of unneeded gifts. One thing I love from the book is this, the ability to set things free without feeling like you are letting people down.

Day 7: I go through another bookshelf with papers that I haven't touched since we moved in. Marie hates papers. I toss magazines I will never get around to reading, 2005 tax returns, car repair paperwork from five years ago and boxes of business cards. It looked so much better, and getting it done made me feel motivated to keep going.

Day 11: Joe and I plan to go to the gym and I'm running late so I ask him to bring my gym clothes. "I couldn't believe how organized your drawers were," he said, after seeing my drawers filled with clothing folded KonMari-style—like packets, stacked on their edges. "Whoa, they look like video game cartridges," he said. Finally, some acknowledgement of my folding skills! Perhaps Joe could get into tidying too.

Day 13: Friends come over and it only takes me 15 minutes to straighten up beforehand. "Wait, you just hid everything, you didn't actually tidy," Joe said. It's true! You know those taxes and books and papers? I didn't actually shred or donate them, I just stashed them on Joe's side of the bed along the wall. Marie, I apologize. I'll do it soon.

Laundry is piling up because I am putting off the laborious folding.

Day 14: Usually I spend part of the weekends cleaning up as a stress reliever and out of sheer necessity. There is not much to clean this time. Huh. I still find a way to procrastinate on work by Kondo-ing the fridge.

Day 16: I create a shelf for my purse. Every time I come home, I empty my purse in its entirety and put it on the shelf, then stash my phone and wallet in a designated spot and hang my keys on a hook. I try to remember to thank the purse for its hard work, as Marie suggests.

I am losing my keys less, that's for sure. But taking everything out of my purse every single time I walk through the door is not exactly realistic for everyday life. This is going to be hard to maintain. That's the thing about the tidying method: you have to be constantly on your game or it all starts slipping.

Day 19: Per Marie's suggestion, I've moved all shampoo, face wash, and everything out of the shower for cleanliness and tidiness reasons. I forget this, and get into the shower without realizing everything is gone. As luck would have it, I am able to pluck a shampoo and conditioner from Joe's pile of nine tiny hotel bath product freebies. He loves those.

Day 21: I feel there is more to reduce. Surfaces are looking clean and orderly and I'm addicted. I sell my favorite girly pink end table on Craigslist.  This will make more room for that CrossFit step.

Marie hates cosmetic samples. It's all clutter to her. Is life clutter?

Day 22: I contemplate the clothes I have left and decide there is more pruning that could be done. Very few of my blah workout clothes spark any joy at all, and in fact, with these new standards, none of my clothes seem to spark enough joy to stick around. But if I continue at this pace, I will have no clothes left and I can't afford to replace the whole lot of them. And maybe bringing joy to my life is too high a bar for a sweatshirt.

Day 23: Laundry is piling up because I am putting off the laborious folding.

Day 24: Now I've moved dish soap and vitamins off the counters and into kitchen cabinets, per Marie. No noticeable change in happiness levels.

Day 27: My Birchbox arrives. Marie hates cosmetic samples almost as much as she hates papers. It's all clutter to her. Is life clutter?

Day 30: I meet one of my best friends and former roommates for coffee and tell her about the life-changing magic of tidying. She immediately goes home and begins her own spring cleaning. "I'm being ruthless...I'm tossing my art history textbooks," she texts me. I feel a pang of guilt remembering how much she loved those books when we lived together. Who am I to question her tidying methods, though?

Day 31: Joe is headed out on a week-long business trip. "Think about how much easier it will be to tidy without me," he says. That wasn't my intention at all—that he would not feel at home in an apartment where everything is folded into long rectangles.

Ultimately, my tidiness experiment ended on a bittersweet note. Marie said that when you dive into the KonMari method, your family members will notice and tidy their things as well. This is not my experience. (Sorry, Joe.) She also said you would know when you reach your perfect ratio of keeping things to giving them away to acquiring new possessions. "Once you learn to choose your belongings properly, you will be left only with the amount that fits perfectly into the space that you own," Kondo writes.

I hope I didn't become a drag or tidy the fun, life-affirming things out of my space.

I don't know about that either. I just kept wanting to discard and acquire better, more joy-sparking things, which is a materialistic urge that I didn't expect when I embarked on tidying. And I hope I didn't become a drag or tidy the fun, life-affirming things out of my space.

I must say that I lost no weight by doing this, asides from the weight of my decade-old taxes. But the Kondo method did work for me over this past month. The apartment looks neater because I am thinking about it and working on keeping things in their place everyday. I love how she encourages her readers to really contemplate the things they own and their relationship to them.

Kondo writes: "I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart." Keeping things straightened up does cut through the visual clutter and allow you to concentrate more on real goals. Although between emptying my purse daily and carting around my shampoo like I'm in a college dorm, I'm not sure how much time I'm saving in the long run. But the core of Marie Kondo's message seems to be irrefutable: Cut your belongings to a manageable amount and take care of what's left. Am I a neat person? Not yet, but I am beginning to consider myself a reformed not-tidy person.


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