We like to believe that our minds can be completely independent from our environment. We say to ourselves things like, “It doesn’t matter how chaotic my outside circumstances are, as long as I remain calm and relaxed from the inside.”
This is a popular idea in self help literature, especially among Zen and Stoic philosophies, where we are often told to focus on making internal changes, and not to pay any mind to what is external.
However, an increasing amount of psychology research shows that this is not the case. No matter how independent we’d like to be, our physical environment has a huge impact on our mental state.
This process of improving our environment starts at home. In The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, Marie Kondo discusses the importance of taking care of our homes and why it has such an influence on our happiness and well-being.
Take a moment now to imagine your home when it is messy and cluttered. How does it make you feel? Now imagine your home when it is clean and organized. Which feels better? If you are like most people, chances are you prefer the clean and tidy home.
Naturally, we spend a lot of time at home, so it would make sense that it’s a place we’d want to look nice, organized, and clean. Yet many people take their homes for granted and don’t put much work in to improving it.
What if you’ve always been a messy person? And what if you don’t consider yourself a good cleaner or organizer? The rest of this article will highlight some key ideas in Marie Kondo’s book, and how we can apply them to make our own homes look nicer and more appealing to us.
Tidying Marathon: Why cleaning a lot at once is better than a little
Whenever we want to make a change to our lives, we are often told to “start small” and “work gradually.” This tends to be good advice for most things, but not for tidying up your home.
Instead, Marie Kondo recommends we plan a “tidying marathon.” She sees tidying as a “special event” that should be tackled in a short amount of time when we’re feeling motivated and excited.
One big reason she recommends a tidying marathon is because when we clean a lot at once, it creates a much bigger shift in our mental state.
Instead of spending 10 minutes a day doing a little cleaning, it is far better to spend a few hours doing a lot of cleaning. Because by the end of it, you’ll be able to look back on your cleaning accomplishment and really feel the difference.
When you clean a lot at once, you feel far more motivated to maintain it. For example, you become more hesitant or reluctant to leave your clothes on the floor because now your room looks really nice and you don’t want to ruin it.
Of course this doesn’t mean you only have to clean once and you’re done forever. But aiming to do a lot in “one fell swoop” can often be much better in the long-run than just pecking away at tidying up here and there.
Having one big “tidying marathon” helps set the baseline for organization and cleanliness at your home, then it becomes far easier to maintain it on a daily basis.
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing is an inspirational book by Marie Kondo on the importance of a clean home and steps we can begin taking today to make it a reality.
The only question: Should I get rid of it? If not, where does it go?
A big lesson in Kondo’s book is that our lives are often filled with a lot of junk that no longer serves any purpose.
While going through your “tidying marathon,” the only real question to ask yourself is: “Should I get rid of this? And if not, where does it go?”
The first big step to tidying up is getting rid of everything that you no longer need. When Kondo works with her clients, they often end up throwing out dozens and dozens of trash-bags filled with stuff.
We usually surprise ourselves at just how much we own and just how much of it we will never use again. Often during your tidying marathon you will come across things that you completely forgot existed in the first place.
The solution for most of these things? Get rid of them. Throw them out. Or give them to family, friends and charities that will value the stuff more than you do.
I never considered myself to be a big collector of things, but I was shocked to see just how much useless stuff I had accumulated over the years: clothes I’d never wear again, books I’d never read, loose papers and receipts I’d never need, and countless trinkets, gadgets, free promos, and other stuff that serves no purpose but to take up space in various corners of my home.
What’s the point of any of this stuff? Was any of it adding any joy to my life? Nope. Most of it I barely remembered – into the trash!
From an evolutionary standpoint, our minds are trained to be resourceful and hold onto as much stuff as we can (because “I never know when I might need this!”) We have a natural urge to keep more rather than less, and this is one of the major causes of our untidiness.
It’s okay to admit an object was once useful, has served its purpose, but you truly no longer need it. Getting rid of an item doesn’t mean you deny it used to have a purpose – no reason to feel bad about it. Let go with gratitude.
Once you get rid of all the useless stuff you inevitably own, it becomes a lot easier to keep your home organized and clean.
Lessons on dealing with sentimental stuff
There are 4 major reasons we own things: valuable, functional, informational, and sentimental.
For most of these, it is easy to assess whether to keep them or not. Valuable: An expensive piece of jewelry? Sure, keep it. Functional: Your coffee machine? Obviously you need that tomorrow morning. Informational: My social security card? Yeah, I need that.
Out of all these categories, sentimental objects are often the hardest to get rid of. These can include gifts from friends and family, letters from ex-loved ones, photographs, and other trinkets that once had great emotional value to you.
Marie Kondo often recommends you focus on sentimental items last in your “tidying marathon” because they can often be the most stressful to get rid of. She gives a simple recommendation for most of these sentimental items. Pick the item up in your hands and ask yourself, “Does this spark joy?” If not, throw it out.
We often feel bad throwing out gifts and sentimental items for obvious reasons, but Kondo doesn’t see it that way. By throwing out something that was once meaningful to us, it doesn’t mean we are ignoring the importance of the item. It just means it no longer serves us, and it’s time to let it go.
This is why a “tidying marathon” can be so life-changing. Because it not only teaches you what you need vs. what you don’t need, it also gives you an opportunity to let go of the past in a physical and literal way.
When I came across old letters and mix CDs, I felt hesitant to get rid of them because they used to be so important to me. But I realized that deep-down I didn’t really need these items anymore. They served their purpose. I’m thankful for them, but I’m ready to let them go now.
As someone who never thought of himself as a very clean or tidy person, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing really changed my perspective on cleaning.
In addition to the general principles mentioned in this article, Marie Kondo also gives countless useful tips on how to organize various categories of stuff in your home: clothes, books, papers, household appliances, kitchen supplies, CDs/DVDs, boxes, and even spare change.
For example, one problem we often run into these days is finding a lot of loose cords and cables for various electronic appliances. Kondo recommends that if you find a cord and you don’t know what it’s used for, there’s probably a good chance you can just throw it out.
Most times, if we can’t find the right cable for an appliance (say an iPod or phone), we end up just buying another cable at the stores. This is why it’s common to accumulate so many extra cables and duplicates.
I waited until I finished the book to start my “tidying marathon” and by the end of it I was chomping at the bit to finally get started cleaning. Any book that can spark that type of desire for cleaning in me is worth checking out. If you have trouble keeping your own home tidy, I highly recommend it.
Stay updated on new articles and resources in psychology and self improvement: