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The Art of Tidying Up (economist.com)
56 points by jimsojim on Jan 25, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 41 comments



I read Ms. Kondo's book out of curiosity about a month ago. If you're just looking for some new tidying ideas/tips, don't bother with the book - it's written in more of a self-help style that regurgitates the same simple points ad nauseum.

There are really only a few practical tips in the book:

- Don't be afraid to do a big purge. Your stuff is just that, stuff.

- Do the big purge all at once. "Ongoing" tidiness should simply be putting your stuff away, not constantly revisiting different parts of your home looking for stuff you can throw away.

- Look up "konmari folding" on YouTube for a new idea about how to fold and store your clothes. For those who are already fairly tidy, this is the only real "new" idea in the book that may interest you.

- Be affluent enough to have these problems in the first place. None of the advice is for people who are simply slobs, it's for people who have accumulated too much stuff and who feel it dragging down their life.


I enjoyed the book but agree that it was pretty pedantic and for lots of people that's overkill. That said, I think you missed the two points that I found most useful:

1. When deciding what to keep/discard, keep things that "spark joy in your heart". That is, don't use rules like "If I haven't worn this in X".. The book's explanations around this are pretty helpful. 2. Do the big purge in order of type-of-thing... not room by room. I think the specific order prescribed is something like Clothes, Books, Papers, [I forget, I forget], Keepsakes. Going by type makes it easier to make sound decisions, and the sequence of types warms you up for hard purges (keepsakes, etc) that will otherwise likely hang you up in room #1.

All of that said, I only really got through Clothes, books, and papers... but even just that was massively helpful.


I also read (well, skimmed through) both of her books, and found them to be so vague as to be useless. Would have greatly benefited from having a lot of diagrams and photos to illustrate her points (new book does have a few, though).


I am all for tidying up. One should not forget though, that there are many reasons for why things end up the way they do (as in, cluttered and untidy). I don't think that it 'just happens' that your house fills itself with things that you never will use. Sure, we can blame consumer culture and capitalistic indoctrination. But if we're honest, most of the stuff that we buy is because we hope that it will change us as a person and that we can fill that emptiness that lingers inside.

In the end, buying will not change lives as much as we think. Change has to come from within and from connecting with others. I really doubt that "300,000 things" will achieve that change.

I think the authors of http://www.theminimalists.com have some great answers regarding the question "if not consumerism, what will add value to my life?". While most of you already know the answer "friends, health, passion, etc.", and are tired of the platitudes, I am sure that it is easy to forget the values in a world surrounded by messages of consumption. If you are interested, I would recommend starting with this article http://www.theminimalists.com/21days/ about how the authors Joshua Fields Millburn & Ryan Nicodemus got started on their journey to minimalism.


I don't think anyone is suggesting that a home filling up with things `just happens' --- most people will readily admit that they have bought or received those things, and that those things are there because of their own action (acquisition or receipt) or inaction (unwillingness/inability to dispose of items).

I also take issue with the implicit suggestion in your comment that most people genuinely think that consumerism will add value to their lives; I see that attitude a lot in `minimalist' blogs and discussions, and I realise that they're selling a narrative and a lifestyle, but it's very condescending.

People end up buying things to try and facilitate change or to bring happiness often because they don't know of any other method, or because other avenues have failed them, or they don't have access to them in the first place. When asked, most people will admit that a new gadget or purse or pair of shoes or a second helping of cake will bring them some kind of joy, perhaps fleeting, but will also admit that family and health and following their passions are more worthwhile goals. It's not either/or dichotomy that it's so often set out to be by `minimalists'.

In my own experience, I know and work with people for whom many of these things are impossible to follow for whatever reason. Some have abusive families and still deal with the fallout of that. Many have passions but simply don't have the money to follow them as much as they'd like, or at all. Some people have chronic health issues which they cannot overcome. I'm certainly not going to harangue them or judge them for buying another DVD, or another book, or another pair of cheap trainers because they can't follow more `worthwhile' paths.

Inversely, I've come across a lot of `minimalists' --- mostly online, but some in real life --- who fetishise their lack of possessions the same way many collectors fetishise their collections. Minimalism-as-less-stuff is just as informed by consumerism as maximalism-as-happiness is; it's simply the opposite side of the same coin.


In addition to what you say, there's nothing wrong with collecting things you're passionate about. Sure, value your relationships with family and friends, love the great outdoors if you must, but there's nothing wrong with also valuing your hobbies even if they involve collecting stuff.

Disclaimer: I am extremely untidy and also collect scale models and miniatures. My house is a mess, but that's a personality flaw (my kitchen is also very untidy, and that has to do with being a slob, not with the number of things I have in it). Of course, none of my stuff is "essential", but life is made up of nonessential things too.

I understand the criticism of mindless consumerism (for example, I couldn't be less interested in having the latest gadget, smartphone, etc, and I don't understand the people who are), but I really don't get the fetishism about not owning stuff.


Somehow, I am surprised that my comment seems to raise so many issues for you. That was not my intention. Like you, I don't view minimalism as this 'you're either a consumer or a minimalist' dichotomy that you perceive it to be. In the end it is just another tool in the toolbox. A tool that just happens to work for a lot of people that I personally know.

Consumption adds a lot of value to my life. Buying a washing machine buys me time which I can invest in other things I care about.


> we can fill that emptiness that lingers inside

That's quite the generalisation, right there. One thing I learned a long time ago is to (try) not to assume the inside of everyone else's head is the same as mine. We're all wired differently, sometimes slightly and sometimes profoundly.


To give people an idea of what someone else found most interesting or novel in the book:

-- The "spark of joy" test (hold the object in your hand and ask yourself, does this thing give me a spark of joy? if not, get rid of it)

-- The consistent idea of respect for your things. This reminds me of older generations that more consistently mended clothing and fixed small home appliances. They understood that value of treating their possessions nicely (folding them well, storing them correctly) because it saved them time and money in later care. Many of us don't understand how to maintain our stuff -- we just get new socks when there's a little hole in the old one or wear the sock until the little hole is too big to fix. Kondo's book doesn't address fixing things, but it does address proper storage so that clothing lasts and performs better.

-- Honestly, I love her folding methods and my sock and underwear space went from 2 drawers to 1. All my shirts now fit on one shelf as well. As someone who needs to see everything in order to process that totality, I was always accused of being messy before, because I'd rather keep all things things in view instead of in some stupid "storage solution." Now I can keep it all visible and look neat. Now how could I do this in my office?!


Most things are not worth taking care of due to planned obsolescence.


> This is fine as reference material, but casual readers may find themselves wishing the author were as economical with words as she is with possessions.


I have been hoping someone writes the digital equivalent of a 'tidying up' book. How to organize your files (or how to enable efficient searches), how to keep track of your digital possesions, whether to discard them or just store them on Amazon Glacier, proven strategies for storing logins & passwords, etc. Preferably written for techies.

We all have some sort of either adhoc or (rarely) a well-planned system of digital organization, but having a nicely written guide would be great for some things we haven't thought about (e.g., useful scripts, clever tricks, backup strategies, etc).

I've looked online for tips and tricks, but I haven't come up with much.


I'd be very interested in this type of book. I've been looking for some sort of community or forum discussion or even just the right term to google for ideas on better digital organization, and either I'm using the wrong term or the information isn't really out there.

I've even been tempted to read some books on library science to come up with ideas for organization, taxonomies, etc, but I haven't done it yet.

I have an idea for a small app that would help in sorting digital files easier (kind of like symlinks to a bunch of disparate folders based on context, with drag and drop support), just to make my own sorting process easier, but I haven't really sat down to work on it yet.


Rather than spending their time clearing out their rubbish I think most people would be better off learning to be more discerning about what they allow into their lives in the first place.


Yes. But clearing out your rubbish and learning what it's like to live with your not-rubbish is one good way to do that. This is one of the reasons she says you only need to go through the major tidying process once, ever.

One thing I like about the book is that she didn't write it until after years of experience helping people solve the way-too-much-junk problem, so it's based on what actually worked for a variety people who were failing to solve the problem on their own, unlike many self help books that are written only based on the author's experience of being naturally good at something.


It's important to put her focus on getting rid of stuff into context: Ms. Kondo is a "tidying consultant" whose clients are mostly affluent people that can't even get started on tidying up in any meaningful way because they simply have more stuff than storage. She tells stories of people throwing out 20, 30, 50 bulging full-size garbage bags of excess stuff - these are people with a lot of money and a lot of accumulated clothes and possessions, and who live in homes large enough to contain it but not organize it. They are also affluent enough to be able to err on the side of getting rid of too much stuff during an enthusiastic round of cleaning. Ms. Kondo exhorts her readers not to buy in bulk in order to avoid clutter - it's not like you need to be super-wealthy to pass up the cost benefits of buying in bulk, but her advice is not meant for people who are just scraping by or for whom the tradeoff of space-for-money makes sense.


I'm not sure why you've been greyed out. This is a fantastic point. This is by no means a book for every person. This is hardly even a book for every culture (though it's a huge best-seller in Japan).


I agree with your sentiment, but what do you do with all of the stuff you already have? Almost nobody reading these books is starting from a position of zero stuff; they're starting from a position of X stuff, with X being an amount higher than they'd like. The real appeal of these books and the philosophy they espouse is that they allow you to whittle down the number of things you already have whilst also learning healthy habits to avoid ending up in the same situation later.


The trouble is if people don't deal with the root cause then they will just fill their newly empty homes with junk again.


I think this book is about cultivating a home with exactly what you need, or essentialism; to view it as purely a self-help text on the aesthetic of minimalism is a loss to the reader, and overlooks the relationship between Zen and Japanese culture.

I was offered some advice last year by a monk who had been living at a monastery that resonated when I read this book:

"Our surroundings have a profound impact on our psyche. If you want to do good deeds, consider surrounding yourself with good people. If you want to work hard, consider surrounding yourself with hard workers.

And if you’re feeling sad, down, and kind of messy? Clean your room."


"Our surroundings have a profound impact on our psyche."

Is this a proven fact?

Statements like these make sense intuitively but I would rather see scientific evidence for this statement than just accept it.



>Ethical approval Not required


Not every truth is a Proven Fact. (proven? how? by whom? funded by whom? for what purpose? with which subjects? how many? over what duration? under what controls? You'll get a different result every time.)


> The average American home contains around 300,000 “things”

If I broke everything down into its components, that figure wouldn't even be close. In fact, I know of so few people who would come close, I'd question where this figure came from. I'm not in the US, btw.


I think it's more apparent if you have to move and you're forced to pack everything into boxes. If you've stayed at one place for long enough, there'll be enough "trinkets" accumulated such as plates, mugs, spoons, forks, knives, mugs, wine glasses, lunch boxes, peeler, graters, freezer bags, candles, lighters, etc. etc. It's the things that are in the cabinets and drawers that we frequently unaccount for.


> such as plates, mugs, … mugs, …

I see you also have too many mugs.


That figure, thrown in without anything to back it up, seems truly insane. I'm British, but have an ongoing battle with keeping stuff I don't really need (and buying in bulk too), and I'm pretty sure even including all of my fianceé's possessions we wouldn't come anywhere close to 300k items. I'm pretty sure the vast majority of American homes don't contain anything like that number of items, unless you count each individual piece of pasta and grain of rice as a thing.


Also British, also ongoing battle, and even if I counted every piece of (pointlessly) hoarded paper, I'm not sure I could get to 300k items. Maybe 100k in a pinch.


Americans buy larger homes, and junk expands to fill the allotted space. Then you move into an apartment, or the the Bay Area, and cry. ;)


> I'd struggle to get to 3,000.

I have that many books plus 500 CDs and 200 vinyl albums. My wife has a couple of hundred handbags and a similar number of coats and jackets.

But books are by far the largest class of thing in my house. I can't imagine having 300k items, even 30k seems rather unlikely in a house where you can see the floor!

Edit: I'm not in the US either so my house is probably smaller than the average US on though possibly larger than the other Brits commenting here; I'm in Norway.


A couple of hundred handbags, and a couple of hundred coats? How can you even store that many, let alone use them?

I know the classical exaggerations of these items, but I had no idea someone would actually gather such a collection.


Alright, I exaggerated about the coats, it just seems like hundreds, but the handbag count is literally true. Some of them are too decorative and fragile to use.


Classic media is easily organizable in a few bookcases.

A few hundred handbags and coats? That is an incredibly large number. Could that not be reduced by an order of magnitude?


So that may account for the 3000 things. Add another 3000 for the things you don't collect, and double that, and you're still not close to 300k.


> My wife has a couple of hundred handbags and a similar number of coats and jackets.

There aren't that many in actual stores... this can't be right.


As an American, I must have missed the "thing census" that objectively gathered the data for that average.

The number is clearly an estimate, as getting the real number would be a colossal undertaking for no real benefit.

A rational person does not count the pill bottle as 251 things because it contains 250 pills. But that's the only kind of bloody-mindedness that could ever get you to an "average American home" filled with 300k "things". If you have any LEGO sets, each one of those little one-stud circular pips would have to count as a separate thing. But your dining room table would also be one thing.

We already have cromulent measures for the muchness of one's stuff in terms of kilograms (or pounds) and liters (or cubic feet).

If I plug an old ATA drive into an old chassis, does my thing count decrease by one, because I have the same number of computers but fewer loose hard drives? The volume remains the same, though it is arranged more efficiently. You traded empty space inside the case for empty space outside of it--in theory, you could store baby clothes in there instead of hard drives. The mass also remains constant.

In any case, I would not get that number from an anti-hoarding or de-cluttering consultant. I would objectively measure the change in mass of a moving truck after a household has loaded all their possessions essential enough to move between houses, but not essential enough to keep it under direct supervision. And by assuming that the truck is packed as densely as possible, you can also get a subjective estimate of total volume of possessions.

That would be a really easy way to estimate the median mass of possessions in an American home, without any of the temporary clutter that gets trashed instead of moved. And there would be no thing-equivalence between a dining room chair and a pencil stub, or between a television and one coupon in the junk mail, or between a refrigerator and an ice pack. Mass: x kilograms. Volume: y liters. Numbers where an average actually makes sense.


I'm with you. I'd call a thing 'a thing' if you could haul it out to the rubbish in one go.


Seems maybe an order of magnitude off, depending on definionion of "thing." I cleaned out my mom's house after she died, and if I counted individual photo prints, 30 years worth of tax returns, canceled checks, paid bills, etc. she had a lot of "things."


Someone else did some digging:

http://www.ourhappy.space/2015/05/25/count/

tl;dr - The figure seems to come from Regina Lark, a "Professional Organizer" who "specializes in working with people with chronic disorganization, ADHD, and hoarding disorders, as well as folks who have way too much stuff," although she suggests 30,000-300,000 items. I still think 30,000 is way off, however. I'd struggle to get to 3,000.


This book is very good for people who try to fill the hole in their hearts with shopping or having things. I don't think there's a huge match there to HN's audience.




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