4 min read

Life-changing magic

Shoebox full of folded socks
I like folding socks

This is a sort of review of Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. (It was going to be more of a proper review, but apparently this notebook is for real-time discovery, and the parts of the review that are not that were annoying to write.)

'Life-changing' and 'magic' are pretty strong claims for a self-help book, but in my case that was basically true. It's definitely the most psychoactive thing I've read in a long time. I keep talking about Derrida and Husserl on here and I feel like a bit of a fake because what I've mainly been thinking about recently is, like, toasters and socks and stuff.

Before the pandemic my living space was, well, not seriously untidy and cluttered but very much in a 'that'll do I guess' state with very little thought or attention put into anything. Then circumstances led me to spend way more time than normal in this tiny flat and I started actually noticing things, and making lots of tiny incremental changes to make the place better. At some point I bought Kondo's book and got more serious about it. Some examples:

  • I had a crap toaster that wasn't tall enough to properly toast the top bit of a slice of bread, and every morning I'd be mildly sad about this but without considering that there was anything I could do about it. It was just the natural unalterable order of things. Last year I finally noticed this was stupid and bought a taller toaster, and now I have consistently toasted toast
  • Similarly, I bought a full size chef's knife instead of hacking uselessly at everything with a small paring knife
  • I learned Kondo's method of folding socks and it turns out that I really like folding socks. I don't understand why it's so good, but it's really satisfying
  • My phone charger broke, and I noticed that it was bad to be without a charger and bought two replacements instead of one. I fold the cable and put the charger back in its original box when I'm not using it and this is also somehow really satisfying, not quite as good as folding socks but still pretty good
  • I got some reusable velcro cable tidy thingies and made my cables less of a mess, also I threw out some of the really useless ones
  • I used to keep shower bottles and stuff on the floor of the shower where they'd get sort of gross, and on Kondo's instructions I started taking them out each time, and put an old hand towel in the bathroom just to wipe bottles and the sink and so on
  • I got rid of a lot of things that didn't spark joy. Mostly I did this by leaving them outside the house with a sign saying 'Please take ☺' and they magically just went
  • Kondo says to empty your bag every time you come in the house and leave everything on a small side table or something for easy access. I thought this would be annoying and I didn't have a side table, but the rest of her advice worked so well that I tested it anyway with an upturned crate and really liked it, so I got a mini table thing to replace the crate

OK, so maybe this sounds life-altering at best, in a mundane sort of way. 'Life-changing' and 'magic' might seem like a stretch. I'll try and justify this below:

  • First, I did like 50 of these sort of things, not just the eight in the bullet points above above. (I did attempt to list them at some point, so that's not an exaggeration.) At this sort of level it starts rewiring your perception considerably...
  • ... so that I see my surroundings very differently. I'm keeping things tidy with really very little ongoing effort. If I have a busy week things get messy, but then I tidy again without thinking about it
  • More than that, I get way more enjoyment out of the things I have, because I actually notice them, they're not some unconsidered backdrop to my life. I really live here now, in some sense
  • I've added lots of tiny microhits of satisfaction from things like folding socks and putting things away in the right place, and those add up
  • Also, interestingly, I've started to be much better at doing fiddly detail-oriented tasks that used to really annoy me (e.g. I recently I had to pack a monitor and associated cables back into a fiddly box, and somehow enjoyed the process). Like, some perception loop of actually looking at the object has come online, whereas before it was just some big frustration lump of I want this stupid thing done. Doesn't always happen, but I'll take whatever I get, and I think it's happening more over time
  • I've also started to unravel a big ugh field around financial stuff. That one's a genuine ugh field, whereas tidying was just something I'd never put much thought into, so it's probably going to take longer but right now I'm going surprisingly fast. That's not just from the Kondo book, but it's definitely part of it

So, yeah, genuinely life-changing perceptual magic.

(Oh, also I recommend Spark Joy as well. They're complementary books covering the same topic from different angles: Tidying Up is best for giving a feeling for the method, and it's the one you want if you're only going to get one book, whereas Spark Joy is more of a handbook giving useful tips for tidying specific things.)