The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

When yoIMG_3620u’re sorting through your stuff and trying desperately to justify keeping something you haven’t used inyeaaaaars…’what this? no this should definitely stay, I wear this like, literally, all of the time, like right now!’

With a title like this you’d be forgiven for thinking that the effects of tidying might have been over-stated somewhat by the publishers in an attempt to grab the reader’s attention. Well, it turns out that it does exactly what it says on the tin. Marie-Kondo’s book shows just how tidying can be both magic and life-changing.

The first stage in tidying is deciding what makes the cut, what items do we actually want to keep in our homes.  To consciously shape our homes into our very own personal sanctuaries we need to ensure that they only contain items that bring us real joy or serve us in some practical way. Sounds sensible right, but if we take a look around, how much stuff do we have that neither gets used nor brings us joy?

To assess whether something gets to stay in our newly-fashioned sanctuary Marie Kondo (the author and professional tidy-uper) suggests taking the item in our hands and asking ourselves ‘does this spark joy?’, and feeling into our physical body, listening intuitively, for the answer.

This is by far the quickest method I’ve come across for getting clutter-free and down to the minimum amount we need for maximum happiness.  Get out of your rational head where you will find a million reasons to justify keeping something you never use (see above picture) and just feel whether it makes you happy or not. The process gets easier and quicker as you move through all your possessions and you rapidly hone your joy-ometer.  She recommends working through items in the following order: clothes, books, papers, miscellany, and finally sentimental items – from easiest to hardest, so you’ll be a pro by the time you get to those challenging sentimental items.

Marie Kondo explains that the reason we hold onto things that don’t spark joy is either attachment to the past or fear of the future. That’s right, tidying is deep work! When we face our possessions and work in this way we have to work through our attachments and fears.  Wouldn’t it be AMAZING to have no attachment to the past or fear of the future but be totally and utterly present to the constantly unfolding joy of the present moment?! Well, tidying will get you there without spending a fortune on therapy!

One of the things that struck me as I went through this process is finding items that I had been holding onto that didn’t spark joy and that I didn’t use but that I had been holding onto because of a feeling of guilt that I ‘should’ be using them. Either because they were a gift from someone or because of my own  ‘wouldn’t it be good for me if I read that magazine/book and got that knowledge into my brain? I should do that one-day’ type-thoughts.

I realised that if I actually wanted to use those things I would have done so already.  I haven’t used them because I don’t really want to, they don’t resonate with who I am right now and what I’m interested in. Letting those things go is liberating, I accept exactly who I am right now and what I am and I’m not interested in.  By sending these items back out into the world I give myself permission to be the person I am today and create space for the person I am becoming.  Marie Kondo’s advice is ‘Cherish who you are now’.  Hell yes!

Another thing I found eye-opening was going through all my old yoga teacher-training notes and papers. Now Marie Kondo is very clear here. Unless it’s your passport or some other absolutely vital document (so basically just your passport) get rid of all papers. That’s right, all of them!  She’s especially strict on seminar/course notes which she devotes a whole section to.

If you haven’t taken what you’ve learned in a course and applied it in your life and thus activated and embedded that knowledge, well it’s basically pointless. It’s not doing anything sitting on your shelf or crammed in some boxes, it’s just taking up bandwidth and blocking the flow of energy around you. You’re not going to look over those notes again and you’re blocking new information from entering.

And it’s true, I rarely look at these old notes except at times like these when I’m looking at everything I own. I’ve been holding on to all these notes for the second reason, fear of the future. I might need these. I might forget how to teach, I might need inspiration etc…  Putting these all into the recycling bin I release that fear. I trust that I have everything I need and anything I need in the future will be provided.  I’m creating space for new ideas and new inspiration to flow into my life.

Sentimental items. This is the hard part and I’ll confess I’m yet to tackle this. I have an ottoman stuffed with old diaries and photos. On previous attempts to par this down I found such joy going through old letters, photos and diaries that I decided it would be foolish to get rid of this stuff. The diaries especially are a nice reminder of my life-journey and diving into them is basically time-travelling, which is cool.  So for now, I’m sorry Marie, they’re staying.

On this area Marie Kondo says that ‘It’s not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure… this is the lesson these keepsakes give us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.’ Totally get it, but going to disagree somewhat on this point, for now at least.

The beauty of this method is that the results extend WAAAAAAY beyond a tidy home. Through the process you become very clear and attuned to what gives you real joy, to what you value, to what makes you sparkle. This seeps out into other areas of your life. You may suddenly realise that a relationship you’ve been in hasn’t actually been working for you and isn’t bringing you the joy you now expect as, err, STANDARD from, err, EVERYTHING in your life, and you’ll have the courage and confidence to change it.  Your tolerance for anything that isn’t working hard to uplift and support you takes a nose-dive off a cliff into oblivion and you feel empowered by the knowledge that you decide what makes the cut in your life, you decide who and what gets to appear in your story,  the work of art that is your life that you are consciously creating, day by day, micro-choice by micro-choice.

If you’re interested in bringing some magic into your life I wholeheartedly recommend reading this short book. Here’s a summary of Marie Kondo’s method:

  1. Group and sort your belongings by category (not by room – this is a common mistake)
  2. Tackle the groups of items altogether in turn, in this precise order: clothes, books, papers, miscellaneous, sentimental items. (In descending order of difficulty)
  3. With each group, take each item in each group in your hands one by one and feel in your physical body the response to the following questions ‘does this spark joy?’ If the answer is no, thank it for whatever purpose it’s served (even if it’s just to teach you in this moment how much unnecessary crap you’ve bought and how poor your purchasing decisions have been in the past) and then let it go on its merry way, releasing it from the ‘unloved stuff’ prison you’ve been holding it in
  4. You are then left with items that only spark joy or are of actual necessity
  5. Voila, your house is a sanctuary, filled with items that spark joy, with lots of space for you to enjoy living in the present.

I’m running a book club meetup to get together and have a lively discussion about this book and the general question of ‘how much stuff do we actually need to be happy?’ RSVP to join the get-together here –

Here’s a link to the book:

Author: Sam Vale Noya

Yoga instructor currently living and teaching in Reading, UK.