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The Personal Finance Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote a post about minimalism asking am I a minimalist? One of the biggest influences during my exploration of minimalism was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

My boyfriend owned this book and it had been sitting on our bookshelf for a while. I had heard of the book back when it became a huge sensation, but I didn’t really get what the big deal was. It was another one of those things that I was just not ready to accept…the idea that it was possible for me to be a tidy person. One day after spending an entire Saturday cleaning the apartment, I had nothing to do and decided to breeze through it (it was a short book, and I was running behind on my annual reading challenge).

Thoughts Before Starting

Before I even started reading, I felt the book would be filled with fluff. If you haven’t read the book, the one thing you hear people quote from Marie Kondo is:

Does it spark joy?

Which was just a little too fluffy and spiritual for me. There’s something that doesn’t resonate with me about the idea of 2 identities within us, and one that is just waiting to come out or your true inner self. My belief is that any qualities we don’t have can be trained (along with beliefs that permit us to adopt them), which I suppose is just a more practical or “reasonable” way of defining the exact same thing. I’m sure I’m missing out on some great advice because of the way it’s marketed.

In the case of The Life-Changing Magic, the message “Does it spark joy?” seemed to imply, there’s another you inside that knows if a possession really makes you happy. It implied I didn’t know myself. I’m not saying that’s what the question is actually implying, but it’s what my brain and biases thought because of my desire for more structure around the question. That sums up what I was thinking going into the book.

Thoughts After Finishing

I was actually pretty surprised by how much this book really affected me. For one, it’s much more practical than I thought it would be. There are step by step instructions of her decluttering and organization method, down to the category level. She unravels the psychological struggles many of us face when coming to a certain category to minimize. There are also a number of great examples from Marie Kondo’s childhood. Yes, the criteria of “does it spark joy” was prevalent throughout the book, but it was so much more than that.

I’m a sucker for emotional psychology and why things don’t/do work and that aspect of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up was super interesting. Marie Kondo shares tons of stories from her clients about different parts of the process that got them stuck. You can also see Marie Kondo’s journey throughout her childhood…I never realized a person could be so passionate about tidying. I think her passion also lends a lot of life to the physical stuff she has people work through, and that really opened my eyes to treating my things well (which I did so much more as a child).

I mean…I know things don’t have feelings, but Marie Kondo really writes in a way that makes you believe they do. It’s a gentle reminder that everything we own has the power to bring us energy or take energy away from us. Even if things are inanimate, even if items were mass produced in a factory, they become part of our lives and part of the daily rituals that can make a day easier or harder. Yes, the fluffy parts were fluffy, and I surprisingly enjoyed all of that too!

Take just one shirt, for example. Even if it was mass-produced in a factory, that particular shirt that you bought and brought home on that particular day is unique to you. The destiny that led us to each one of our possessions is just as precious and sacred as the destiny that connected us with the people in our lives…what do the thing in our homes that don’t spark joy actually feel? I think they simply want to leave. Lying forgotten in your closet, they know better than anyone else that they are not bringing joy to you now. (P. 192)

Key Takeaways

Most of my key takeaways had to do with sunk cost. As most who know me know, I used to be a huge hoarder to the point I had to have a storage unit for all my things. I just could not let go of anything. I could not accept sunk costs, so this book really helped me rationalize why so many things I had been keeping to use again one day had actually served their purpose.

1. Reframing an item’s true purpose will help you let go of sunk costs.

Marie Kondo talks about intuition vs. rationalization. Even if our immediate intuition says we no longer like something, our rational mind will chime in asking what if, what if, what if. Our brain will also chime in with a sense of guilt over wasting something perfectly usable.

Ms. Kondo asks us to reassess our original intention when purchasing an item and compare it to the role its played in our life after the purchase. I’ll use the example she has in her book.

Original Intention:

If, for example, you have some clothes that you bought but never wear…Where did you buy that particular outfit and why? If you bought it because you thought it looked cool in the shop, it has fulfilled the function of giving you a thrill when you bought it. (P. 60)

The Role After Purchase:

Then why did you never wear it? Was it because you realized that it didn’t suit you when you tried it on at home…it has fulfilled another important function–it has taught you what doesn’t suit you. In fact, that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life…you are free to say “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,” and let it go. (P. 60)

I like the idea of reframing the lesson learned from having to discard an item because it’s an impunitive but value add way of avoiding the same mistake again. Having grown up in a household where we were made to feel ashamed for every small mistake, it was very freeing to have something reframed this way.

Ms. Kondo applies the same methodology to books and gifts.

For books we bought but never read-

Original Intention: An aspiration to enrich our life with new knowledge, new perspective, or a new adventure that sits within the pages of a book

The Role After Purchase: If you still haven’t read the book, the lesson it teaches is that you didn’t need whatever knowledge was within it.

For gifts we never used-

Original Intention: Someone close to us spent time and thought picking it out for us thinking it would add value to our life and be useful

The Role After Being Received: The role of a gift is to be received so we can feel and appreciate the good intentions of the gifter.

This way of reframing books and gifts has helped me so much. I’m a very sentimental person and it would pain me to donate an item someone gave me. But what good are all the things that no longer suit me (or never suited me) doing by sitting unused and unloved in a closet or cabinet triggering guilt when I see it?

2. Don’t let others influence what you consider a sunk cost.

Many times while getting rid of things I never wear or makeup I never used, I would have a friend or family member convince me it was a bad idea because it looks so cute…then they would suggest a way to make use of it. I’d feel as though I made a certain revelation each time and put off donating the item, only to have it continue to sit unused. Only to have it take up space in boxes when I had to move. Only to have it take up space in boxes in my storage unit that I was paying $50 a month for.

I have also been the one convincing someone to keep something. Many times when my boyfriend was going through his things, I’d see something I loved of his and ask “Are you really throwing that away? But I like it so much…” This suggestion caused him to keep the item but I would still never see him wear it.

Marie Kondo recommends not even letting your friends or family know you’re discarding otherwise these small instances of opinion sharing will just cloud your judgment.

3. Awareness and celebration of your things will help you appreciate their value more.

I think one of the kookier parts of the book (and for most Westerners) is Marie Kondo’s strict gratitude policy. She greets her home when she enters and thanks it for providing shelter. She folds all of her clothing following a strict method which has been featured on morning talk shows multiple times. In the talk shows, she always reminds the talk show hosts to thank the items they fold, which is frequently laughed off and caricatured.

While this may seem to be too much to integrate into daily life, I have noticed myself folding my clothes and putting them away with greater precision. We breeze through our routines most of the time without really thinking about it at all, we are asleep through these boring moments of life.

What I noticed after reading Marie Kondo’s examples is I’m more awake when I put clothes away. And it doesn’t take any more time to fold clothes while turning up the awareness for the texture of an item’s fabric or appreciating the rich color that originally drew you to an item.

It really has enhanced my treatment of my things which I think will make them last longer. I think overall it also helps with limiting the desire to add new things to my closet when I see similar items because I can put my finger more easily on what it is I like about it. Another great side effect is I no longer dread laundry as much as I used to.

4. Simple, inexpensive storage is the best storage.

I’m kind of an organizational storage addict, and I dreamt of the day I could buy all the very specific organizational goodies like lipstick tube holders or other obscure storage containers. I thought one day I could own specialized containers for keeping vegetables fresh. I have an entire board on my personal pinterest titled “Organization” with 193 pins.

It turns out specialized storage doesn’t always work that well. Complex storage systems obscure the items you own by overspecializing. We need them generally because we have so much clutter we need to subcategorize too many things. By keeping storage simple, we can see more easily all that we own and edit the items that are no longer of use.

We have a bunch of catch all bins that are designated for some general categories like camping gear, climbing gears, and tools. I got them pre-Life Changing Magic, but they’ve been a huge help. I’ll resist the urge to level up my organization and just sate my addiction to organization via Pinterest.

5. Limit storage to one spot instead of storing near spaces we’ll use them.

I think this was one of the most useful bits of advice Marie Kondo gave in her book about implementing a system that will encourage tidying. It’s most useful to simplify storage of like items together so we don’t become confused by where their designated spot is come cleaning time. Marie Kondo designs all her storage solutions to optimize for ease of putting back as opposed to ease of reach at time of use, which had never occurred to me before.

A common pitfall discussed in the book is the difficulty of returning an item to its proper place after it’s been used, which has been my weakness when it comes to cleaning. Things come out and half of it never gets returned to where it came from. If there is only one or a small number of places an item can go, it has a higher likelihood of being returned there.

Clutter is caused by a failure to return things to where they belong. Therefore, storage should reduce the effort needed to put things away, not the effort needed to get them out. When we use something, we have a clear purpose for getting it out. Unless for some reason it is incredibly hard work, we usually don’t mind the effort involved. Clutter has only two possible causes: too much effort is required to put things away or it is unclear where things belong. (P. 142)

If you have some time on your hands, there are tons of strategies from the book that I didn’t touch on, so I highly recommend you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I think so many features of her or Youtube videos based on her technique really just isn’t the same as reading her words yourself.

Have you read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up, and if so what did you think of it? I’d love to hear your favorite takeaways! If you haven’t read it, did any of the snippets resonate with you? I had quite a few lightbulb moments where I thought “I can’t believe I never thought to think about it like this before!”

Jing is currently a software engineer based in Oakland, CA. She left her job in New York, moved to San Francisco unemployed, and more than doubled her salary in 4 months.

4 thoughts on “The Personal Finance Changing Magic of Tidying Up

    1. I couldn’t get a great sense for the socks, but I’m pretty sure I’m doing it the wrong way. I’ve never thought much about how the elastic on them were getting ruined from wrapping them like balls! I immediately moved my shirts into a more accessible bin and folded them the way she’s shown!

  1. Great post. I read the book some time ago, there are some good tips there I agree. I don’t like to fetishize object either, but I do think we should value them a lot more, because the opposite just leads to a throw away too easily mentality.

    I think the process of decluttering is not only important, because we can clean up our life/home – it can teaches us important lessons about our spending, shopping habits, lifestyle etc. I don’t like fast and senseless decluttering challenges for exactly the same reason. It’s really valuable to actually think about the item – whether it was a good or bad purchase and why, did we make a good use out of it? If not, why not etc. If there’s a pattern of unsuccessful purchases, what are the reasons for that? And learning to let go is also important. I have no bad feelings about decluttering old clothes for example – that’s the closest I’ll ever get to her “thanking objects” advice, but I do take a moment to reflect on how much I loved or used that item – and as most of the time I’m donating them, I also hope someone else will find joy in them as well.

    Btw, if you’re interested, Tim Ferris has interviewed her on his podcast, it’s an interesting conversation: https://tim.blog/2017/04/16/marie-kondo/

    1. I should’ve started reflecting on the pattern of unsuccessful purchases long ago! I had such a difficult time letting go of things so I think it was insightful to see all of it being a process.

      I hope I can reflect more and hopefully have fewer misses in the future for the reason of not just having to throw away anymore. I realize that no matter what some things will outgrow our use for them, but I need to get to a point where the collection each year gets smaller and smaller. I’ve been hanging on to so many things that I deluded myself into believing I’d possibly use it again some day. Multiply those things by 7 years and you have a major guilty decluttering session which I never want to have to do again.

      Thanks for rec! Definitely going to check it out 🙂

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