If you’re new to the book, it’s a essentially a spiritually-driven guide to decluttering your home and storing your stuff properly (it fact, as of today, it’s still #1 selling under Buddhist Zen Philosophy and Spirituality). It delves deep into the philosophy of owning things – from connecting to them on a spiritual level, to being able to let then go when the time is right. Inside, you’ll find unique methods for downsizing your possessions, and storing and caring for them, all with the end goal of turning your home into a relaxing, spiritual sanctuary that inspires and relaxes, rather than distracts and overwhelms.
Prior to picking up this book, I was what Marie would call a “rebound” organizer. I would tidy my things up in my bedroom and 1-2 weeks later, it would be a mess again. Fortunately, reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up made me realize the flaws in my methods, which were holding me captive in this endless cycle of decluttering, organizing, and tiding up.
Although I’m still only about halfway into completing the full sweep, I’m very much looking forward to all the changes that are bound to follow – mentally, physically, and even spiritually. In fact, I’ve already begun to notice improved mental clarity and less overall stress as I go about my daily routine in a much less cluttered space, with easy access to the things I love – clothes, skincare, makeup, you name it. In the meantime, many of her ideas and methods have stuck in my mind and helped me immensely throughout the decluttering process, so I thought I’d share some of those with you today!
If haven’t yet picked up a copy for herself, hopefully this will serve as a little intro to get you interested. And if you have read it, I’m sure a little recap wouldn’t hurt – especially if you found the book to be as valuable as I did! Let’s jump right in…
Discard all at once and completely, then store.
Prior to reading this book, my method for decluttering has always been to go location by location – emptying out spaces like dressers or individual drawers, getting rid of a few items, and then putting the rest back. Marie’s book, however, says that “the secret of success is to tidy in one shot, as quickly and completely as possible, and to start by discarding“. Only then, after we’ve narrowed down our belongings to the essentials, should we move on to organizing and storing them.
If you think about, tidying in one shot is really the only way to completely break free from the cycle of constant decluttering that could last for years and years (especially as we accumulate items at roughly the same rate that we’re discarding). This one-shot method may some daunting, but consider this – you’re going to have to deal with parting with items eventually, so why prolong the process until tomorrow, next week, or next year? What’s going to change between then and now that should prevent you from living in a happy, clutter-free home today?
Sort by category, not location.
I mentioned above that I used to sort by spaces in my home – whether it be a closet or desk or dresser. But if you think about it, we typically don’t store similar items together – we keep clothes in the closet, in drawers, and even under our bed, and we tend to keep books on our nightstand, on shelves in our living room, and in storage.
Hence why decluttering space by space doesn’t work particularly well – you simply don’t get a clear picture of all that you own, which makes it especially difficult to narrow things down to only those we need. That’s why Marie says to work by category – for example, clothing, books, papers, makeup, accessories, photos, etc – pulling out everything we own in a particular grouping and then deciding what to keep or discard.
At the end of the whole discarding process, you should have a clear picture of what’s remaining in each category – whether it be your now streamlined 10-piece makeup kit featuring only your favorite holy grail products, or your simplified wardrobe with just the right number of pieces to get you through a few weeks of both work and play.
Keep only what you need, and what ‘sparks joy’.
When it comes to discarding – a difficult and often emotional process for many of us – Marie’s method is simple, and even spiritual. Here’s the short of it: hold one item at a time, measure the ‘joy’ it creates inside of you, and then act purely on that intuition (before the brain even has time to kick in with fears for the future, or attachments to the past).
This may sound a bit crazy, but from my experience, it actually works. When I pick up an item that I love to be around/look at/wear/feel, or that I get a lot of positive use out of, it instantly ‘sparks’ a happy sensation inside of me. The items that bring about emotions of sadness or anger, or that I just don’t feel comfortable being around/wearing/etc? Those go straight into the donate pile – without even a second thought – for someone else to hopefully fall in love with.
Of course there are going to be items that we simply need, no matter the feeling they spark – these will be quite obvious as they’ll be things you use daily, like your phone, laptop, etc. But the idea is that, with the rest of your possessions – clothes, books, papers, gifts, skincare products, household supplies, and even photos and mementos – you only want to keep the ones that ‘spark joy’ so that you can create the most pleasurable living space, filled with things you love and cherish, and that make you feel happy and confident in return.
“Just because you dispose of something does not mean you give up past experiences or your identity. Through the process of selecting only those things that inspire joy, you can identify precisely what you love and what you need.”
Your personal possessions want to be of use to you.
Marie offers little tidbits of advice on how to part with all different groupings of items – from beauty samples we’re stocked up for travels, to those random electronics and cords. Other than the more logical approaches – like disposing of expired skincare and makeup, and the fact that we can always re-purchase things if we find that we need them later on – she offers some interesting philosophies that will have you thinking about objects more in the realm of time rather than space.
For example, when it comes to books, she says “the moment you first encounter a particular book is the right time to read it” because that’s likely when you’re going to get the most impact from it. When you’re finished with it, give it away if it doesn’t spark joy – it has served its purpose otherwise.
The same goes for gifts. Marie says that “the true purpose of a gift is to be received. Presents are not ‘things’ but a means for conveying someone’s feelings.” If you can’t seem to part with a gifted item, consider this: “the person who gave it to you doesn’t want you to use it out of a sense of obligation, or to put it away without using it, only to feel guilty every time you see it.”
And with everything else, you can almost always rely on this philosophy to help you decide what to discard:
“To truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. To get rid of what you no longer need is neither wasteful or shameful. Can you truthfully say that you treasure something buried so deeply in a closet or drawer that you have forgotten its existence? If things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you have done tidying.”
Give your belongings their own homes.
Fold clothes to maximum space.
If you ask anyone what they favorite ‘tip’ from this book was, I’d bet they bring up Marie’s folding technique. Basically, instead of folding clothes into piles that stack from top to bottom, fold everything into a rectangle, then into thirds, and then stand them up (here’s a visual guide with some examples). That way, you can see exactly what you have, and then very easily be able to pull out what you need without having to dig through piles – saving you both time and stress. But it doesn’t stop there – you’re likely to find that you have more space in your drawers after folding clothes standing up – I ended up with one large completely empty drawer after re-folding all mine!
So there you have it – a few of my favorite concepts and takeaways from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up! Overall, I found Marie’s unique philosophies on material possessions incredibly refreshing. They gave me the mindset I needed to finally be able to purge a lot of the items I’d held onto for years, out of guilt or fear mostly. There’s no doubt her methods are magical and life-changing, and I highly recommend checking out her book if you’re looking to simplify your spaces and your life!