The life-changing magic of tidying up

by Marie Kondo


Keeping things permanently tidy required a change in one’s mindset. In Marie Kondo’s method, this change comes from performing the tidying in a one shot. This change must be abrupt, resulting in a changing mindset.

The general tidy approach is to discard things first, then focus on organizing.

Goal settings

Before starting the process, set a concrete idea of what the ideal living space will be. Before sure to ask 3-5 whys for the goal.

The tidying up process

Discarding categories

People store the same items in multiple places. Tidying up by categories instead of location provides better visibility and minimizes duplicated work.

Discarding performed in the following categories, sorted by their difficulties:

  1. Clothes
  2. Books
  3. Papers
  4. Komono (miscellaneous items)
  5. Memento/sentimental items

Discarding criteria

The only criterion for discarding is “Does it spark joy?” If the items no longer do, do not forget to cherish things you love before discarding.

Discarding dos and don’ts

  • Do search for all places for items in specific categories. Items discovered after its category has completed the discarding process must be immediately discarded.
  • Do discard with focus, ideally silently.
  • Do not let your family know. It might be stressful for them.
  • Do not discard items that do not belong to you
  • Do not burden your family with your discarded items unless you know they would buy these items regardless of your discarding process.

General discarding guidelines

  • Attack each category in one go
  • Reduce until you reach a point where something clicks. After this point is reached, items will not increase anymore. Follow your criteria/goal of how you want to live your life. That is why the method is to follow your heart and not metrics.
  • Avoid massive stockpiles. Get rid of access stocks all at once. You do not need surplus stocks of anything, e.g., no one needs a closet full of toilet papers.
  • Do not discard things indiscriminately. Face each item one at a time so we can understand ourselves.

Discarding clothing

First, gather all clothing into a single pile on the floor. Hold each piece of clothing and determine if it sparks joy. Use the following tips/guidance for discarding clothing:

  • Start with off season clothing first. Ask yourself if the temperature changed, would you wear this piece of clothing immediately?
  • Downgrading clothing to loungewear is a taboo. Minimized demotion. You should be in your ideal clothing even when people cannot see you.
  • Even if the piece of clothing has never been worn, if it does not spark joy, discard it. It has already served its purpose, which was to be bought and made us feel joy.

Storing clothing

Store clothing in a way that makes them visible all at one, i.e., do not stack them on top of one another.

  • Folding
    • Preferred folding to hanging.
    • Folding saves space, gives us a chance to routinely inspect items.
    • When folding, make sure they are standing on edge
    • Hang clothing that wants to be hanged, e.g., dress shirts, jacket
  • Closet
    • Do not allow the closet to be full
    • Organizing from left to right, where the items to the right are “lighter” and gives us a positive feeling.
  • Socks
    • Do not make them into a ball or tie them up. Allow your socks to rest peacefully by folding and then rolling them. High tension wore out socks faster.
    • Consider using show boxes as divider
  • Seasonal clothes
    • Apart from truly specialized clothing, e.g., swimsuits, mufflers, prefer organizing by material instead of by season or usage

Discarding books

Books on the shelf are “unseen.” It is difficult to ask if it sparks joy in this state. Like clothing, pile books on the floor. If they are already on the floor, move it to a different location. If there are too many books, divide them into four subcategories:

  • General – books that you read for pleasure
  • Practical – cookbooks and guides
  • Visual – photo albums
  • Magazine

Use the following guidelines for discarding books:

  • Keep books you are happy just to see.
  • Only hold the books. Do not read or flip through its pages. Keep only books that you are happy to see.
  • Books are meant to be read. After they are read, its content is already inside you, even if you have already forgotten it.
  • Keep at most thirty books
  • Maybe means never. Discard all unread books and books you are not actively reading. If the book is only read halfway, it has already served its purpose. If you need these books in the future, go buy them again and this time, finish them.

Storing books

If possible, put bookcases in the closet. Otherwise, storing books is trivial. But be sure not to copy parts of the books into a scrapbook. You will not read it.

Discarding papers

Papers never spark joy. The rule of thumb is to discard everything that is not in the following categories:

  • Currently in use
  • Needed for a period of time
  • must be kept indefinitely

Use the following guidelines for discarding papers:

  • Discard most if not all lecture/seminar materials. These materials contain a lot of duplication and are rarely accessed.
  • Discard all credit card statements and pay slips. They have served their purpose after being read.
  • Discard all manuals – You do not read them and if you need to, you can search for it online.
  • Greeting cards – Unless they spark joy, they have served their purpose after they are read. Only keep one year’s worth if you desire to keep their address.

Storing papers

Papers that need to be saved are divided into frequently used and infrequently used papers. Frequently used papers such as outlines from seminars or newspaper clips must be stored in a way that is easy to read and requires thoughts when storing. Infrequently used papers such as leases and taxes only need minimal effort.

Papers that must be dealt with, e.g., forms and newspaper are stored using these guidelines:

  • Ensure that they are all in one spot and never leave that spot.
  • Organize the papers standing up.
  • No need to separate them.

Papers that must be indefinitely, e.g., warranties, tax forms, are stored using these guidelines:

  • Store all warranties together. No need to sort them. This way, you need to look through all of them and discard expired warranties when you need to find a specific one.

Discarding Komono

Many komono items are gifts. Presents are an expression of loving and caring. The person who gave the gift would not want their gift to burden you. Once received, its purpose has been served. If it no longer sparks joy, thank it before discarding it. 

Use the following guidelines to discard komono (small items):

  • There are too many types of komono. So they should be divided into the following subcategories:
    • CDs/DVDs/Games
    • Skincare
    • Makeup
    • Accessories
    • Valuable (Credit cards, passports)
    • Electrical equipment and core
    • Household equipment, sewing kits, stationeries
    • Kitchen good and food supplies
    • Figurines
  • Never keep things “just because”
  • Discard all products from the latest health movements. Be sure to thank them for making you a little healthier and spark joy.
  • Discard all cosmetic samples. These items have a low shelf life and often expire before they can be used.
  • Discard all free novelties good.
  • Discard all spare buttons or sow them to the jacket/clothing. Once the buttons fall off, the piece of clothing will most likely need to be replaced.
  • Discard all bedding for guests who never come.
  • Discard all broken appliances.
  • Discard all unidentified cords.
  • Discard all electronic packages. Find suitable boxes when you need to move.

Storing Komono

Collect all loose change and money into your wallet as you are komono. Otherwise, refer to general storage tips.

Discarding mementos

These items help us process the past. Do remember that you have already lived those parts of life to its fullest. It is not our memories but the lessons those items taught us that help us become who we are today.

Use the following guidelines to discard mementos:

  • Never send mementos to your parents. It will burden them.
  • Before discarding these items, thank them.
  • Discard keepsake from your children unless they spark joy. They will not be offended.
  • If you use photo albums, remove the pictures from the albums and process each one at a time. Only keep the ones that touch your heart.

Storing mementos

General storage guidelines

  • Have a designated place for each item. This place is optimized for effortless storage. Keeping things tidy revolves around being able to put things back in their place. Once an item is not in its designated area, the area will deteriorate quickly.
  • Use simple storage method. Do not use fancy turntables or complex mechanisms. 
  • When clutter is identified, prefer minimizing items rather than optimizing storage.
  • Do not scatter storage space. When storing items, either categorize them by item types or person and keep collocate as many items in the same space as possible.
  • If you live with family, define clear storage space for each person. Do not mix personal spaces.
  • Optimize storing items based on ease of storage
    • Favor this instead of flow planning 
    • Reduces the chance of failing to put items back to their place and contributing to clutter 
    • Keeping things at arm’s length is not necessarily a good assumption
  • Prefer storing items side-by-side over stacking them into a pile. Stacking items makes it difficult to notice things at the bottom.
  • No need to use commercial storage items
    • Storing things in simple clear containers is good enough.
    • Shoe boxes are also a suitable alternative
  • Prefer square or rectangular boxes over irregular shape boxes (unless they spark joy)
  • The best way to store bags is in another bag. Store the same type of bags together by set or material.
  • No need to consider frequency of use when first storing things. Overtime, your house will help you determine the optimal location.
  • Unpack items from original packaging and de-tag items immediately before putting them away
  • Avoid massive stockpiles
    • Although buying in bulk is cheaper, people tend to ignore the storage cause of those items.
    • New items will generally be in better condition than ones found in old stockpiles
  • On closets:
    • Items that usurp floor spaces belong in the closet
    • The top of the closet is ideal for storing off season items and memento. Be sure to store mementos in front so you can see them.
    • Store clothes in the middle layers, ideally not a in a storage box
    • In the lower layers, store small items and electronics
  • Avoid storing spices near the stove. Instead, put them on kitchen shelves to avoid grease.
  • Keep things out of the bath and kitchen sink
    • Items at the bottom of the shower and sink collect scum
    • Wire basket needs to be cleaned regularly
    • Prefer wiping storing bath items and storing them in a different location
  • Do not underestimate the noise of written information
    • Texts such as “clear the air instantly,” “great storage solution” on packages add to noises in the room. This information will be louder as the house is more tidy.
    • Eliminate excess written information as much as possible
  • Empty your bag everyday
    • This will minimize the chance of forgetting something in the bag
    • Create designated places for things inside your bag
    • Create an environment where your bag can rest
  • Make the top shelf of the bookcase your personal shrine. Gather charms and small items into one single place.
  • Decorate your closet with your secret delight. If you are enthusiastic about something but want to keep it private, use this opportunity to decorate your closet.

Appreciating your possessions

Your possessions want to be of use to you instead of a burden. If they no longer spark joy, send them off with a positive attitude, and they will come back as positive energy.

In your daily life, take time to thank items when they support you. Care for your items and treat them with respect and they will be strong allies.

This appreciation extends to your house as well. Carry a dialog with your house. Tidying up extends beyond just your items but your house as well.

Benefits of tidying

The discarding and storing process will illuminate your passion. This process will teach you that letting go of things is just as important as adding. You will gain a clear standard for yourself and be more confident in your decisions. You will minimize the time spending tidying in the future and be happier surrounded by things that spark joy.

During the discarding process, if it is hard to discard an item that does not spark joy, it is because of an attachment to the past or anxiety about the future. Keep track of this and identify a trend if applicable. Try to tackle these issues if a trend is identified during the process. These issues need to be tackled at some point in our lives. It might as well be now.

Discarding teaches you that you can do without things. Over time, you will realize that you are fine with a minimal set of items. This doesn’t mean that you won’t regret discarding things, but you will learn to overcome it.