At long last, I’m weighing in on the unlikely book that blew the minds of publishers everywhere: a book from a little known (in the West, at least) Japanese home organization consultant. I’m of course talking about Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

But I’m not that surprised. Because the book taps into a very deep craving for the values she’s espousing. The values of pleasure and joy and ruthlessness and clarity. The book is not just another self-help book (though there are some embarrassingly awesome ideas on how to organize your underwear drawer): it’s a philosophy for living and even consuming.

For those who’ve been otherwise occupied, the book is nominally about de-cluttering. But it’s not it’s not the usual one about throwing things out and putting everything that remains in lovely little containers. (In fact, Kondo counsels against the buying of containers to house things believing that all those containers are just a crutch for clutter, and become clutter. Container Store, beware the Kondo effect.)

What I appreciate about the book is that it starts with a deep reverence of and appreciation for the power of things at an almost animistic levelWhile the book superficially has at its heart the notion that less is more – that minimalism is better – I think that the Kondo philosophy can be applied just as easily to maximalists, too. Not that more is better, but that more of the right thing is … the right thing.

Matt Dick's atelier at Small Trade Company

Matt Dick’s atelier at Small Trade Company

Things are not the enemy: its our feeling about them that is.

What sparks joy?

What sparks joy?

The most powerful edict in the book: keep only those things that bring you joy: not meaning, not function, not fear of doing without. This notion seems to be working its way into the zeitgeist: it’s something that I hear more and more from my friends, and even at work. This is the kind of meme I can get behind, and of course, it’s applicable to pretty much every area of my life, whether it’s what I eat, what I buy, who I spend time with, or even what attitudes to espouse.

And I like that it’s the word joy: a mix of rationality and sensuality, of pleasure both intellectual and physical. Joy is a high bar, but then why not?

Another powerful perspective: that your body often knows what your mind does not.  I love her counsel that in many cases you will only know what brings you joy by touching it (animism at work). Your body doesn’t have a sense of “I should just keep/do/buy this because…” Yes. Your body knows. Your sense of touch knows what you want, what you need.

I love that one of her insights is that there are patterns in our ownership of things (see page 210) – patterns I’ve definitely seen in myself and others. To paraphrase Kondo, those patterns fall into one of three categories: attachment to the past; fears for the future; or a combination of both. “It’s important to understand your ownership pattern because it is an expression of the values that guide your life. The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”

Why do you have what you have?

Why do you have what you have?

In other words, it’s about giving up past, about giving up should’s, about giving up fears, about letting yourself feels what it’s like to be now, what you want in the now. Get rid of what you don’t need. Don’t settle for half measures. Don’t fill your life with things that are almost right. They will only remind you of those half measures.

And like an addict who surrounds himself with alcohol or drugs that only keep him mired in that life he’s trying to get out of, surrounding yourself with these semi-steps toward what gives you pleasure, are just daily reminders of your want and your failure.

The way to stop: listen to your body, listen to your deepest pleasure, listen to your joy, now, today, every day.


In the atelier at Matt Dick’s at the Small Trade Company

Flowers at the Ace Hotel

Embroidery by Natalie Chanin