This Book on Tidying Has Changed How I Look at My Kitchen

published Jan 15, 2015
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I, like many people, came into the new year with one tiny and totally reasonable goal: to completely overhaul my home and habits. Over the holidays last year I read a book about the Japanese art of decluttering, and it got me excited — like, nerd-level excited — at the thought of simplifying our apartment and starting fresh.

I started clearing out two weeks ago, and while I’m still knee-deep in the process, here’s what I’ve learned so far, and how’s it changing my kitchen.

I’m one of those people who love, love, loves an organized and tidy space, be it pantry, cupboard, or closet — but I’m not someone who always keeps it that way. (According to my INFJ Meyers-Briggs profile — hard science that it is — my disorderly tendencies are the result of a “conflict between my inner and outer worlds.” So, there you have it. I’m a woman torn!)

Because of this dichotomy — I love order, but often fall short in maintaining it — I consider my home habits a work in progress. I’m not a hoarder (I have no problem getting rid of things), but while I can make things tidy, I often struggle to keep them that way. That’s why I’m an unabashed fan of programs like The Kitchn Cure. Give me one month; specific assignments; and the promise of a better, simpler, cleaner, more organized kitchen at the end? Sign me up.

Since I live in a constant state of self-improvement (read: for INFJs “there’s always something else they should be doing to improve themselves and the world around them” — dang you, Personality Page! You know too much!), it’s not surprising I bought “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo. You’ve probably heard of it. There was a ton of buzz around its U.S. release back in October (see here, here, and here), and it’s long been a bestseller in Japan and Europe.

When it arrived in the mail, I devoured it in one sitting. Marie Kondo’s philosophies are a bit extreme. She calls for radical simplifying, but unlike other decluttering tropes, her rationale for what to keep and what to get rid of is based on one thing: Does it spark joy? She writes in her book:

After all, what is the point in tidying? If it’s not so that our space and the things in it can bring us happiness, then I think there is no point at all. Therefore, the best criterion for choosing what to keep and what to discard is whether keeping it will make you happy, whether it will bring you joy.

When it comes to the kitchen, this sounds a bit hokey. Does baking powder spark joy? Does a kitchen sponge spark joy? No, and yet I’m not going to get rid of them. They’re essential parts of the kitchen. From this perspective, I find that William Morris quote to “have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” to be a bit more relevant.

However, there is something to be said for viewing every item you own — in the kitchen and elsewhere — through the lens of whether or not it makes you happy. You’d be surprised at how easy it becomes to let go of things and, on the flip side, how some items suddenly become surprisingly meaningful.

I have a vintage teapot that I never use. Most decluttering guides would tell me to get rid of it — it’s just taking up space. But when I asked myself if it “sparked joy” I realized yes, it does! It has a great pattern and shape, and I just really like it. That’s worth something.

On the other hand, with that in mind, it became much easier to donate a few perfectly good table linens that had piled up in the drawer. Realizing I wasn’t crazy about them trumped the “but what if I need these one day” thing. Now my collection of table linens, while much smaller, is full of pieces I love. And that’s worth something.

I’m still tidying my way through the rest of the kitchen, but I’m liking the direction things are going.

Buy the book → The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo, $10.19 on Amazon. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Have you read the book? Tell me your thoughts and experiences with it!