On The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I usually reserve January for coming to grips with the dietary excesses that start with Halloween candy, then carry on through pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, standing rib roast on Christmas Day and oyster stew on New Year's Eve.

But this year I’m putting eating clean and lite aside, in favor of living clean and light. My new resolve to clear the clutter comes thanks to an amazing book called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo.

Subtitled, “The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” Kondo’s book offers detailed instructions on how to unburden your home from its mass of things, and then put what you keep in order.
I’m not one to be swayed by self-help promises, but my brief experience with Kondo’s approach, which she calls the KonMari method, has worked some “magic” on me. I’ve read other books about clearing life’s clutter, but there’s something about this neat, trim little book that has had a real impact on my day-to-day existence. Here are just a few of these strategies.

Declutter and organize thing by thing, not room by room. This incredibly simple approach is revolutionary. Start with clothes, then books, then papers, then miscellany, and finish with mementos. I haven’t had time, as Kondo suggests, to pile every item of clothing I own into the middle of a room, so I’ve broken my work down to smaller categories: socks, scarves, work out clothing, pajamas, sweaters, etc. Still, I’ve managed to take almost 15 garbage bags of stuff to Goodwill. I can open all my dresser drawers, take what I need, and close them without a struggle. Magic!
Keep only what "sparks joy." Deciding what to keep has always been a burden for me. I’m no hoarder, but I definitely have trouble getting rid of stuff that I “should” like or wear. Those things, whether a set of hopelessly fusty and outdated scarves or a crystal candy dish, trigger feelings of guilt if I so much as look at them. They are not sparking joy. Kondo says they've got to go. On the other hand, if a favorite old T-shirt makes you happy, keep it. Now, I listen to my inner discarder every day. Those ugly coffee mugs and plastic 7-Eleven Icee cups can be someone else’s problem.
Folding can be fun! Kondo’s instructions on how to fold clothing are enlightening. Properly folded clothing takes up much less room -- in my experience up to two-thirds less. My once-chaotic drawer of workout clothing feels almost empty -- in part from getting rid of worn-out items but in larger part from taking the time to neatly fold and/or roll each item. (The Japanese have a history of fascination with folding, as One Thing New's Kimberly Weisul noted in a column about it.

Kondo’s method is as follows:
“First, fold each lengthwise side of the garment towards the center…and tuck sleeves in to make a long rectangular shape. It doesn’t matter how you fold the sleeves. Next, pick up the short end of the rectangle and fold toward the other short end. Then fold again in the same manner, in halves or in thirds. The number of folds should be adjusted so that the folded clothing when standing on edge fits the height of the drawer…If you find the end result is the right shape but too loose or floppy to stand up, it’s a sign that your way of folding doesn’t match the type of clothing. Every piece of clothing has its own ‘sweet spot’ where it feels just right.”
Using this folding technique and standing items on edge, I can assess a drawer’s contents at a glance and see if I’m running low on socks, for example. Yes, even socks and underwear should be folded. If you do, you’ll never have to search frantically at 6 a.m. for clean underwear. Again, magic!
You already have all the storage you need. The KonMari method is completely storage-system free. No trips to the Container Store required. As Kondo puts it, “Storage experts are hoarders.” The solution is not to find a place for all your stuff, but to cull your stuff to fit the space you live in. Once you discard what you don’t love, and fold what you do, you’ll have more than enough room. With all the extra space I’ve created, I’ve moved items from my own overflow storage back to my drawers, discovering a few ‘lost’ items in the process. In my kitchen, the tea and coffee cabinet is free of weird teas I will never drink, and the mugs fit easily on the bottom shelf.
The word “tidying” is misleading; “jettisoning” is closer to what I’ve done so far. And it feels great. I really do feel lighter. Kondo offers a completely new take on “getting clean” that I’ve already recommended to anyone polite enough to listen to me rave about it.
Kondo has an even bigger lesson in store for her readers: The ultimate, far-reaching impacts of tidying, according to her, include learning that “letting go is more important than adding;” confronting and addressing our “attachment to the past or anxiety about the future,” which manifests in the stuff we keep; and understanding that memories live in our hearts and minds, and not in mementos.

I can't guarantee this book will change your life. But it really has changed mine. -- Emily Brower Auchard
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Roe V. Wade Turns 42. January 22 was the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade. That landmark case, as President Obama noted in a statement last week, "protects a woman’s freedom to make her own choices about her body and her health, and reaffirms a fundamental American value: that government should not intrude in our most private and personal family matters...the federal government should not be injecting itself into decisions best made between women, their families, and their doctors."  

Congratulations! We wish she weren't the first. Also on January 22, The Economist named Zanny Minton Beddoes as Editor-in-Chief. Minton Beddoes is the first woman to hold the position. As women who have worked most of our careers in pubishing, it's a bit embarrassing that this counts as a milestone. Yet it most certainly does: Neither the Washington Post, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, nor the Los Angeles Times have ever had a woman in the top editorial position.

Finally, some family-friendly policies. In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Obama touched on many issues, from precision medicine to tuition-free community college to, at last, paid sick leave. The last time any family leave legislation made it through Congress was in 1993, when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed. That law allows workers to take 12 weeks of family or medical leave with a guarantee that their job will be waiting for them when they come back. That leave, however, is unpaid, and the law only applies to companies with more than 50 employees. America is one of only three countries in the world with no paid-maternity-leave law. Crazy doesn't even begin to describe this situation. It's time to bring the U.S. into the modern world, where both working men and women need time to raise their families. 
Photo of a family courtesy of flickr user mrhayata

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