The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story
By Marie Kondo
Ten Speed Press, 2017 192 pages, Paperback, $19.99
Reviewed by NANCY
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up is a graphic novel that’s a speedy read. It is a happy- ever-after story which will appeal to you if you like both life and tidying, to be simple. Kondo believes “the true purpose of your home and your things is to bring you happiness.” Her assertion that your life will magically change if you tidy up is based on her personal experience. She’s confident her method will work for everyone. After reading this manga, I wasn’t convinced.
When Chiaki Suzuki wants to impress the cute guy next door, she hires the tidying consultant, KonMari (Kondo’s nickname). Chiaki lives in a one bedroom apartment in Japan. She’s a young, single, successful professional.
First, Chiaki must identify what her ideal life would look like. She needs to be aware of what makes her happy. Then, it’s time to get rid of the superfluous stuff. KonMari instructs Chiaki to pile every piece of clothing she owns in the middle of the living room. She is then to touch each piece and determine if it sparks joy. Anything that doesn’t make the cut goes in a garbage bag.
She’s to clear by category, instead of room by room. KonMari’s categories, in order, are clothing, books, papers, komono (a “miscellaneous” category that includes everything not in another category), hobby-related items, then anything sentimental. Chiaki must go through every item in a category before moving to the next. By the end of the book, Chiaki will have touched and assessed everything she owns.
Telling Chiaki to show appreciation for the things she was letting go of was nice, but I was horrified by the fact that everything she didn’t find joyful was thrown into a trash bag. New clothes with price tags got the same treatment as ratty sweaters. Gifts, jewellery and sports equipment were all treated the same way. In tiny print at the bottom of one page, there is a reference to donating to charity or recycling, but all the illustrations were of trash bags being filled and piled at the curb to be hauled away on garbage day.
KonMari disturbed me. Her assertiveness bordered on bullying. Anything overlooked on the first sweep was not given a chance to reveal its joyfulness. It was to be thrown out without a trial. And though she insisted that only things that spark joy should remain in your life, instructions on how to determine joyfulness were sketchy. A picture of Chiaki laying her hands on each item and smiling when she came across a keeper just wasn’t enough of an explanation for me. Chiaki appeared to get better at identifying this feeling as she went along, leaving me wondering if there were items she’d let go of too quickly while she was perfecting the skill.
Chiaki’s concern that she might need a jacket come winter is met with a glib, “Don’t worry! If you keep only what sparks joy, you’ll have just the amount you need.” KonMari is confident that once you’ve cleared space, if you need something, it will come to you.
I believe that the universe will provide, but I also believe in common sense. I live in Winnipeg and I’m on a fixed income. Though my winter jacket doesn’t spark joy, I’m not tossing it out with the expectation that come next winter I will have the money and the time to find a joyful one before the first snow flies.
Books, the second category to be cleared, were not to be opened and perused. KonMari questions how being surrounded by books you’ve never read can be joyful. Set them out, touch them all and toss those that don’t spark joy. Chiaki’s rebuttal that she needs to keep the ones she hasn’t read but plans to one day, gets a breezy, “Someday never comes,” response. This was especially annoying to me, because after working two jobs for years, my “someday” has come. Finally, I am reading the books that waited on my shelf. I am glad they are there.
Papers, the third category, were given the gift of a quick scan to identify if they were critical documents. KonMari’s list of papers to keep is very small. The bulk of Chiaki’s were to be recycled. No consideration was given to how much you can afford to replace a document you’ve tossed in terms of time or money. Credit card statements, bills, invoices, warranties, instructions, old class notes – shred them all. Diaries, day books and letters were given a stay of execution as they were put in the sentimental category to be dealt with last.
KonMari’s mantra, “Someday never comes,” is insultingly short-sighted. If you have something associated with a future plan, toss it out. Only items you are using right now spark joy. Out go spare buttons, extra batteries, left over screws and nails from prior projects. They just take up space and you’ll never use them. In her joyful world, people no longer need to, or will, fix anything. Keeping what you might need is unacceptable.
Though the speed-tossing seemed efficient and looked thrilling, KonMari’s method was a bit like clearcutting a forest. Once the tossing high wore off, I wondered if people would regret throwing out irreplaceable things. You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
KonMari insists nothing be sent to other people, as the item will just be a storage burden and a downer for the recipient. I thought Chiaki should at least be given the chance to see if someone in the family would like the ceremonial tea set or the necklace her uncle gave her, but that wasn’t an option.
Given that this method is gaining popularity, I think it’s irresponsible of Kondo to glorify filling landfills with things that are not garbage. The pictures of garbage bags at the curb didn’t spark any joy for me, knowing that they were full of useable items. Her method is wasteful. Our environment can’t handle this. I wish this manga had shown Chiaki donating usable items and given examples of the appropriate way to dispose of things – like batteries – that should not be going to the dump. Kondo’s love relationship with garbage bags meant this manga missed a golden opportunity to show readers how to tidy up responsibly. This oversight could have been attributed to the fact that the story is based in Japan, except for the fact that it’s obviously aimed at a North American market with Chiaki and the guy next door looking like they attended Riverdale High with Betty and Archie.
Kondo advises that you should decide what you want to keep, not what you want to get rid of. Her method was good for getting to know yourself, your tastes and gaining clarity in terms of how you want to live. The goal is to make your environment, and all you own and consume, a true reflection of yourself. But there wasn’t enough instruction on the finer points of how to do this. Knowing what sparks joy doesn’t automatically happen, so you risk either having a great big pile of stuff lying around for a long time if you are a slow learner, like me, or getting rid of things you wish you hadn’t.
On the plus side, this easy-to-read manga did make me aware of how I was drifting along saying, “I’ll decide about or do that later.” I’m procrastinating less and becoming more decisive. And in sorting through the komono in my basement workshop, I found just what I needed to fix my front door. Getting down there to work on the clutter did indeed bring me joy.
I was inspired as I read about how getting rid of things could clear the way for a more authentic life. I felt empowered when I followed Kondo’s advice and ditched belongings that didn’t suit me. Her storage ideas and organizing suggestions were excellent, but setting aside the time and space to bring together and work through everything in my house by category is unrealistic. There isn’t a pause button on my life that would make this possible.
This book heightened my awareness of what I value and what I want in life. I have a new criterion to use when deciding what to let go of and am more discerning about what I bring home. Read and enjoy this manga, but I suggest you purge your place carefully. Clearing everything out that doesn’t spark joy – without consideration for replacement costs or life circumstances – isn’t feasible. Your clutter might disappear, but if your joy meter isn’t working well, you could end up with a great, big mess of regrets.
Nancy, Night Sky Woman, has been doing psychic card readings professionally for over 20 years. She is also an astrologer and has studied a variety of spiritualities and philosophies. She has been writing Taroscopes for over six years and teaches the tarot through lifelong learning. She reads out of the Bella Vista Restaurant and at events around Winnipeg, MB. To book an appointment or for information about classes, you can reach Nancy at 204-775-8368 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.