The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I have heard the renowned philosopher and cultural historian Richard Tarnas (one of my professors in grad school) say something along the lines of: any path of inquiry followed far enough reveals insight into the nature of the universe itself.

Here is a person, Marie Kondo from Japan who has been OBSESSED with tidying, cleaning, and organizing since she was a child. After decades of such inquiry she published her findings in the New York Times bestseller "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing".

I was surprised to find that this book has profoundly shifted not just the aesthetics of my living space, but also the way I relate to the material world.

The Kondo insight that influenced me most is that transformational tidying up is not about organizing, but about destroying. One must be willing to pass on those things which have completed their purpose in one's life.

But crucially this decision can not come from rational cognition (this is important because.... / I need this because... / etc). Instead it should come from a heart-centered intuitive response by physically picking up the object and asking "does this bring me joy".

I have been amazed at the many things I have been holding on to that no longer bring me joy. By passing on all of these things, I find that a lot of space has opened up that provides a strange sense of well being, ease, and energy. This idea is discussed in the NYT article Think Less, Think Better (HT Shelli Joye).

I also appreciate how Kondo advocates for treating possessions as living beings. By thanking things for their service at the end of a day, and thinking in a conscious and caring way about their well being, a new level of participation with my possessions is opening up.

By going through the gauntlet of holding all of my possessions (clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, mementos) and asking "does this bring me joy", I have been building trust in my intuition over the vagaries of my intellectual process. This relationship has begun to spill into other areas of my life.

The book is packed with far more depth, anecdotes, tips, and of course a strong does of Saturn than I will refer to in this post (including a badass way of folding and organizing clothes). I am very grateful for Marie Kondo. She has a powerful message to share about deepening an individual's relationship to their intuition, and introducing a sensible framework of emotional integration and discipline to patterns of consumption.

We live in an age of rampant consumption and production that causes tremendous ecological suffering and ruin. These are symptoms of a much larger system that has been in motion for generations. It may not always be beneficial to "hold on" to things that inconspicuously drain energy, wellbeing and creativity that might be directed towards a meaningful contribution--whatever that may look like for an individual. As I emptied out 1/2 of my closet (which I struggled to accomplish before encountering Kondo), it struck me that from a systems perspective many of these things would be put in a garbage dump or donated after my death anyways. By passing on these things while I am alive, I create space for new energy, and perhaps create opportunities to improve the material/emotional condition of fellow humans today rather than several decades on.