The life-changing magic of tidying up

The Airbnb apartment I’d rented was not only spotless, there was zero clutter anywhere. Two tiny toddlers and two tiny dogs lived there, I knew, not to mention their parents. So why wasn’t this condo as cluttered as mine? I was so perplexed.

I suppose that’s why, when I ducked out of the rain into a bookstore and spotted the tiny book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” I bought it.

Maybe, like me, you don’t consider yourself very materialistic. You figure you’ll keep the toys, clothes, books, and baby gear to a minimum bordering on minimalist. Yet somehow these things accumulate to the point where you look around your house and feel a physical weight, a literal burden. That’s what I’ve been feeling lately. I didn’t even buy these things. Yet there they are. They shuffle from one place to another, defying any lasting organization.

So I felt a little thrill at this book, by Japanese decluttering consultant Marie Kondo, and its unusual premise. You pick up each item you own, hold it in your hands, and ask:

“Does this bring me joy?”

It’s a much more clarifying question than the one most of us ask: “Will I use this someday?” Of course we might, and so nothing changes. But joy is a true filter. At the end of the process, Kondo tells us, we won’t have much left in our house that needs organizing. What we will have left are things we love. And that feels great.

“Does this bring me joy?” I’ve been asking this question whenever I come across a pile or open a drawer. My daughter and I asked it together, starting with her overflowing bins of stuffed animals. (Sometimes now she tells me, unprompted, “This doesn’t bring me joy anymore. We can pass it on to another little boy or girl.”) But my piecemeal approach is not what Kondo suggests. She wants us to do this category by category: All the toys in the house. All the clothes. All the books. (Save sentimental items for last.) These are big wins, because you really notice the difference and feel motivated to keep going. Mine are tiny victories.

Except for one: We ditched our TV. It wasn’t something we used very much, so it didn’t occur to me that it would matter whether the TV was there or not. It mattered! Now our living room is all about the view, conversation, reading, and life humming in the rest of our condo. The peacefulness is palpable. Every time we sit down on the couch, we literally go, “Ahh.” Now I get why tidying up is magical and life-changing: Things we don’t enjoy, use, or value create a burden that’s heavier than we think.

A spotless home is not something I aspire to. But a peaceful home, with the lightness of the things we love? That’s huge.

In a way, peace and simplicity are themes running through my book, Zero to Five: 70 Parenting Tips Based on Science, as well. If you need more lightness in your parenting, I invite you to check it out.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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