Book Review: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”

Book Review: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing”

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The book I could have really used my first year as a Solo Mom

The first year I was a Solo Mom, I rid myself of all things except for what I felt I absolutely needed: beds and dressers; a couch and a table with chairs; three pots, two pans, one knife; the rice cooker; three toys each for two children; and 10 books for me.

Looking back on that time, I see the grief written everywhere. And why shouldn’t I have been grieving? I lost everything but my two children in the divorce. I had wanted the divorce, it’s true. But I hadn’t wanted the devastation it left in its wake. I had not wanted to hear my five-year-old son say that he was so sad he felt he would die. Fifteen years later, I can acknowledge the guilt, the bewilderment, the heartbreak. At the time, though, all I knew to do was take extreme actions driven by the desperation to survive. So I got rid of my things. I got rid of my things because somewhere deep down, I longed for the peace of a Japanese monastery.

undefinedI was reminded of that grim year recently when I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. (She asks to be called KonMari.) She is a Japanese cleaning consultant, and her book is taking the world by storm. As I read this book, all I wanted was a time machine so I could bring this book back to myself 15 years ago. It could have healed my life back then.

What could a book on decluttering have done for the aching heart of a new Solo Mom? Well, the book is not just a cleaning book. The book is about finding joy and peace. Decluttering is merely a means to an end. When the title claims life-changing magic, it is not an exaggeration. The KonMari Method can change your life and make it feel magical.

KonMari insists that we surround ourselves only with things that “spark joy” in us. The point of decluttering is not to get rid of things but to realize what we want to keep. Her method is based on a fundamental respect for ourselves and our things. Objects support us in our lives. By letting them go when they no longer spark joy in us, we are showing them respect. We should thank them for their services and allow them to move on to their new lives, not hold on to them and feel resentful. Who wants to be resented?

Decluttering your material possessions in this way does more than clean your house, however. Through being mindful of your things, you come to develop your decision-making skills. By using the question “Does this spark joy?” over and over again to decide what you keep in your life, you become attuned to what it feels like when you feel a spark of joy. You become confident in your judgment of this. Imagine a life full of only things, people, and decisions that spark joy in you. What would you spend your time doing? Whom would you spend it with? What would you accomplish?

If I had had this book then, I would not have gotten rid of everything so recklessly. I would have handled every object and chosen the things that gave me joy and surrounded myself with them. At a time when I felt completely isolated and unsupported, I would have felt the support of my things. I would not have viewed them as necessary liabilities; I would have felt gratitude—a feeling I lacked that year.

The practice of recognizing joy would have changed my attitude about how I went about my day. I would have sought out joy—even in small ways. I would have disallowed people and situations that didn’t give me joy. It would have affected the way I engaged with my young children and had an impact on my relationship with them. I would have recognized that solo motherhood came with gifts. And from this place of security, I could have allowed myself to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, and sometimes even allow myself to be sad for the things I had to let go of that I didn’t want to let go.

Mika Yamamoto, ESME's Guide for Public Assistance, has successfully nurtured two children as a Solo Mom and now hopes to achieve the same results as a plant nanny.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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