“The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” vs. a Real Family

image source: Natsuno Ichigo
image source: Natsuno Ichigo

What needs decluttering? The workspace surrounding me as I type this! If you are anything like me, you probably want to read this mystical book — The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It purports to change readers’ lives by teaching a sacred love-it-or-leave-it relationship with possessions that purifies both home and spirit. Wow … sounds great. But how does it hold up against a home full of kids?

Reading it with my maternal scrutiny dialed up to 10, I have to admit, I liked this book from the very beginning. Marie discusses the testimonials from people who have attended her tidying courses, and one of them was: “Your course taught me to see what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.” Bam, Marie! You don’t pull any punches. Tidying up sounds like a cheaper version of what I do — therapy. Marie truly believes that tidying will help people organize their entire lives, and I am willing to believe her, at least for this moment.

The main point of this book is that you can’t just tidy up one small area at a time, because that’s not going to keep you motivated. You need to do a 180 and tidy up your entire home in one fell swoop. The book commands you to change your entire mindset about cleaning.

As convincing as Marie is, some parts of this book are going to work for people with small kids and some won’t. Here are some good points of hers for parents without the time to do a whole house tidying session:

1. Tidy by category, not by room.

Pull all your shoes out of your closet, and those by the door, and the ones in your gym bag or whatever. Then — and this step is key — if the item doesn’t “spark joy” in you, you should discard it. You will know if your items spark joy by touching them. This is doable for child-related items, like baby clothes. You know you have a hoard of those and your husband got snipped last year. If you go through the whole bin and only save the items that bring you joy when you touch them, you will likely be able to give a whole bag to Goodwill and only save the “Best Big Sister” T-shirt and the baby bow tie.

2. Never ball your socks, because this is “disrespectful” to them.

image source: Natsuno Ichigo
image source: Natsuno Ichigo

Instead, lovingly fold them. Little kids don’t know how to ball socks anyway, so give them the folding the socks job and set them up for succeed. And the whole “be nice to your socks” thing is cute, I guess.

3. Make closets look appealing.

Organize your clothes following gradations from dark colors to light. This is something to do and take a picture of for Instagram, and may also actually help you find your kid’s blue dress for picture day.

4. Treat clothes with respect.

Wish them well when you discard them, and thank them for serving you. You can definitely do this with your kids, so that they learn to appreciate their possessions. If you’re donating them, you can say, “I hope another little girl likes wearing you one day!”

However, here are some recommendations that would probably not work for parents of small kids:

1. Discard clothes first.

image source: Natsuno Ichigo
image source: Natsuno Ichigo

According to the book, the best sequence for evaluating and discarding is: clothes, then books, papers, miscellany, and lastly, sentimental mementoes, which she says can be very hard for the tidying novice. I speak for many moms of young kids when I say, don’t get rid of any of your clothes before you figure out what size you’re actually going to be once your kids actually go to school full time. From what I see at pickup, many moms really do get their bodies back once they are sleeping through the night and have time to eat an actual meal instead of leftover Goldfish.

2. Tidy by osmosis.

Marie says that if you tidy up your own stuff, eventually your family will come around and start tidying their own stuff too. I sincerely doubt this will transpire in a chaotic home with multiple small children. I have been throwing out my own stuff for years and my husband has NEVER decided on his own to tidy his closet (full disclosure: he does only have half of the closet and one less dresser than I have). If you want your husband to throw stuff out, my professional opinion is to either coerce him into it using your feminine wiles or buy a storage shed.

3. Mornings breed productivity.

Marie advises people to tidy in the morning when you’re fresh. This is a good attitude but ain’t gonna cut it for moms of kids who rise and shine at 5 AM. If you have any shot at tidying, do it during nap time when you may not be fresh but you also don’t have human barnacles on your limbs.

4. Utilize the power of imagination.

It is recommended that you have a vision of the ideal place where you want to live, in order to succeed at tidying. If your vision includes white couches and no diaper genies, this mental exercise will only depress you. Maybe you could replace it with a vision of a place in which you could host a playdate without getting angry if someone colored on your furniture, because it isn’t that great anyway.

My mom rating: four out of five stars. While this book may be kind of intense, and many moms may not be able to tidy to Marie’s exacting standards, it does accomplish its goal: it makes you want to tidy. (It also makes you use the word “tidy” like it’s a normal everyday verb.) So I’m going to go fold my socks, but you won’t catch me getting rid of my three sizes of jeans until I am 100% sure that this is my real post-kids body. So around 2025.

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