How to Get Rid of Stuff and Clutter: The Marie Kondo Method

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" by Marie Kondo. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

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Have too much stuff, and not sure how best to get rid of it? Marie Kondo is a world-renowned expert on tidying, and this book teaches you how to get past the most common barriers preventing you from decluttering. Go through the Konmari method once, and you may find your relationship with things to be changed permanently.

Chapter 1: Tidying

Why Can’t I Tidy?

We tidy a space only to have it cluttered again in no time. What are we doing wrong?

We can’t do things if we’re not taught how. Tidying is something we’re supposed to know how to do, yet we’re never exposed to actual techniques.

  • There aren’t classes on it. Even Home Ec covers cooking and sewing, but not tidying.
  • Recipes are passed down through generations, but does your family have a time-honored tidying method? Probably not.
  • Did your parents teach you how to tidy, or did they just demand you do it?
  • “Experience” doesn’t make a difference. Kondo has clients who are seasoned homemakers and clients who are young people newly on their own–and usually the experienced homemakers have more bad habits to break down and relearn.

Some guides will tell you to find the right tidying method to suit your personality, but this overcomplicates the act. Tidying is simple: you should be able to put things away when you aren’t using them, and this means you can’t have more things than storage space. There’s no personality to it.

People who can’t tidy fall into only 3 different categories:

  • They can’t discard items they don’t use or need, so their house becomes cluttered.
  • They can’t put items away after using them, so everything stays out and clutters the space.
  • Or they’re a combination of those two–90% of people fall into this last category.

The KonMari method is one method for everybody, but you’ll still ultimately do this in your own way according to your personality.

Some people feel like their family members keep them from being tidy. But getting annoyed or angry at family members for not being tidy actually suggests we need to tidy. Tidy your own spaces first and be prepared to see a change occur in those around you.

  • Once you start dealing with your own excess, it’ll create a chain reaction and inspire others around you to do the same.
  • Once your own spaces are tidy, you’ll probably tidy communal spaces without a second thought when necessary, and you won’t feel resentful towards others because you’ll know all your possessions are organized.

Lastly, many of us only find ourselves tidying as a form of procrastination. You have a big test tomorrow, but instead of studying, you clean your desk. Why? The brain wants to study and put things in order, but the clutter around you pulls focus. Once you take the test, you don’t feel the need to tidy anymore, no matter how messy your desk still is. This kind of tidying is only standing in for a psychological tidying that needs to take place.

Tidying is a habit, and habits reflect our mindset. We all have habits we want to change, but we can’t change habits without changing the way we think. Tidying requires technique, but the KonMari technique is a mindset, and only by having the proper mindset can you tidy to the greatest success.

Why Should I Tidy?

Marie Kondo believes tidying is magic because, if done right, it can transform your whole life: a dramatic reorganization of our home can lead to dramatic changes in other areas.

It’s a lasting mindset: she’s one of the most sought-after organizer gurus in the world, and she’s never had a repeat customer. If her clients finish the program, they keep their houses tidy without rebounding.

The best tools for maximum organization are awareness and values. Being aware of your ideal lifestyle and knowing the values you want to align your life with are more important than any ability to sort objects.

This might sound serious, but tidying is fun! You’re learning about yourself, assessing your belongings, and working to create a home and lifestyle that’s exactly what you want it to be. By tweaking your mindset, you can be the master of significant change in your own home and life.

The way we achieve the right mindset is by following the right technique.

Chapter 2: The Big-Picture Process

Tidying is really just the sum of two physical acts: 1) deciding whether you want to keep something, and then 2) deciding where to put it. If you do these two simple things the right way, you can actually achieve perfection in your home.

Here’s the KonMari method, at the highest level:

How to Get Rid of Stuff and Clutter: The Marie Kondo Method

Allen Cheng

Allen Cheng is the founder of Shortform. He has a passion for non-fiction books (having read 200+ and counting) and is on a mission to make the world's best ideas more accessible to everyone. He reads broadly, covering a wide range of subjects including finance, management, health, and society. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and attended medical training at the MD/PhD program at Harvard and MIT. Before Shortform, he co-founded PrepScholar, an online education company.

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