Clean, Organize, and Declutter with Marie Kondo's Magic: Part 1

Marie Kondo's book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has changed my life. Here's what happened when I used her method, and why I think it worked.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #373

You'd think that as Get-it-Done Guy, I would really value cleaning. You might even imagine I'd have the neatest, most organized house in the world. Well, I do. If by "neat" you mean "messy," and by "organized" you mean "stuff is all over the place." Earlier this year, however, shmoopie delivered an ultimatum: 2015 is the Year of Learning How to Organize. The very thought was scary.

Fortunately, right about the time we made that decision, I stumbled across a rather remarkable book that claims to be how to organize your closet and your stuff, but it's really about how to organize your life. It's called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.

Marie Kondo is a professional organizer from Japan. As she goes to great lengths to emphasize, she is not obsessive about tidying up. She is just like any other person who, at the age of five, would go over to the neighbor's house and declutter. And then come home and tidy up her siblings' bedrooms. Just like you or me.

Her book is intriguing. Much of her advice is counter-intuitive, but she says over and over: follow her organization system to the letter, and your life will be transformed. Being transformed sounds pretty cool, almost as cool as being Batman. So shmoopie and I decided to read the book and try it.

As she cleans, she talks to her possessions. She thanks them for being in her life. She even runs her hands over each and every object. It's all very consent-based. We resolved to give her unusual method a try, even though took me sixteen years of therapy to stop talking to inanimate objects. We learned her system works. It's actually is life-changing. So come with me to explore some of her non-intuitive principles.

Declutter by Category, Not by Room

Most personal organizing systems are based on knowing how to organize your room. They tell you to go through room by room and organize one room before starting on the next. Instead, Marie has you clean by category. The first category is clothes. You gather up your clothes and put them all in one big pile (or in my case, spread carefully over the bed) for organizing. This is also convenient because when you talk to your clothes, you can talk to them all at once, without having to yell at the clothes that are in the other room.

Discarding comes before you decide how to organize your room.

If you have a lot of clothes, you can subdivide the clothes into sensible sub-categories and do each sub-category separately: shirts, pants, underwear, costumes, fetish gear, and so on.

Take Everything Out From Where it Lives

Taking everything out of its normal place and putting it in one place really gives you a sense of everything you own. It lets you see every single item in the context of every single other item you have. There's that pink paisley spandex bodysuit you so love and keep in the upstairs closet. And for the first time, you are seeing it right next to your basement discover, that puce paisley spandex body suit. If you'd gone room by room, you would never have remembered that you owned both of them. Seeing them together, you realize that there really can be too much of a good thing.

Not only do you get to see everything in one place, but by taking it all off the shelves, you now have empty shelves. When it's time to put stuff back, figuring out how to organize your room starts with a blank slate, which is really liberating!

Discard First

The way I used to declutter was by going through my room, item by item, and deciding where each thing would go. As you surely know from listening to my episode on how to clean your apartment last, I created this organization on paper to be speedy. Then I move everything where it belongs.

Marie Kondo would never let me do anything so crass. She would lasso me in my tracks, get out her kinbaku handbook (those are decorative Japanese knots used especially for bondage) and keep me firmly immobilized while she explains the proper discipline for cleaning a room.


About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.