If you’re mad at your family, your room may be the cause - Finish discarding first

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing - Marie Kondo 2014

If you’re mad at your family, your room may be the cause
Finish discarding first

“Even if I tidy, the rest of my family just messes things up again.”

“My husband’s a packrat. How can I get him to throw things away?”

It can be very annoying when your family doesn’t cooperate with your attempts to achieve the “ideal” home. This is something I experienced many times in the past. At one time, I was so absorbed in tidying that cleaning my own room was not enough. I just had to tackle my siblings’ rooms and every other space in the house. And I was constantly frustrated by my untidy family. A major cause of distress was the communal storage closet in the middle of the house. To me more than half of it seemed to be devoted to unused and unnecessary junk. The clothing rods were jammed with outfits I had never seen my mother wear and suits belonging to my father that were clearly obsolete. Boxes of manga belonging to my brother covered the floor.

I would wait until the timing was right and confront the owner with this question: “You don’t use this anymore, right?” But the response was either, “Yes, I do,” or, “I’ll get rid of it myself,” which they never did. Every time I looked in that closet I would sigh and complain, “Why does everyone keep accumulating things? Can’t they see how hard I’m working to keep the house tidy?”

Fully aware that I was an anomaly when it came to tidying, I was not going to let them defeat me. When my frustration reached the limit, I decided to adopt stealth tactics. I identified items that had not been used for many years, judging by their design, the amount of dust they had gathered, and the way they smelled. I would move those items to the very back of the closet and observe what happened. If no one noticed that they were missing, I disposed of them, one item at a time, just as if I were thinning plants. After three months of this strategy, I had managed to dispose of ten bags’ worth.

In most cases, no one noticed, and life went on as usual. But when the volume reached a certain point, people began to miss a thing or two. When they pointed the finger at me, I responded quite shamelessly. My basic strategy was to play ignorant.

“Hey, do you know where my jacket went?”


If they pressed me further, my next step was denial.

“Mari, are you sure you didn’t throw it out?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Oh. Well, I wonder where it could be, then.”

If they gave up at this point, my conclusion was that whatever the item had been, it hadn’t been worth saving. But if they were no longer fooled, I still wasn’t fazed.

“I know it was here, Mari. I saw it with my own eyes just two months ago.”

Far from apologizing for discarding their things without permission, I would retort, “I threw it out for you because you weren’t capable of doing it yourself.”

In retrospect, I must admit that I was pretty arrogant. Once exposed, I was met with a flood of reproach and protest, and, in the end, I was forbidden to tidy anywhere but my own room. If I could, I’d go back and give myself a good smack and make sure that I didn’t even consider such a ridiculous campaign. Getting rid of other people’s things without permission demonstrates a sad lack of common sense. Although such stealth tactics generally succeed and the items discarded are never missed, the risk of losing your family’s trust when you are caught is far too great. Besides, it just isn’t right. If you really want your family to tidy up, there is a much easier way to go about it.

After I was banned from tidying other people’s spaces and had nowhere to turn but my own room, I took a good look around it and was struck by a surprising fact. There were far more items that needed discarding than I had noticed before—a shirt in my closet that I had never worn along with an outdated skirt that I wouldn’t wear again, books on my shelves that I knew I didn’t need. I realized with a shock that I was guilty of exactly the same thing I had been so bitterly accusing my family of doing. Not being in a position to criticize others, I sat down with my garbage bags and focused on tidying my own space.

After about two weeks, a change began to occur in my family. My brother, who had refused, no matter how much I had complained, to get rid of anything, began a thorough sorting of his belongings. In a single day, he disposed of more than two hundred books. Then my parents and my sister gradually began to sort and discard their clothes and accessories. In the end, my whole family was able to keep the house much tidier than before.

To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with a family that doesn’t tidy. As if drawn into your wake, they will begin weeding out unnecessary belongings and tidying without your having to utter a single complaint. It may sound incredible, but when someone starts tidying it sets off a chain reaction.

Cleaning quietly on one’s own generates another interesting change—the ability to tolerate a certain level of untidiness among your family members. Once I was satisfied with my own room, I no longer felt the urge to dispose of things belonging to my siblings or parents. When I noticed that communal spaces such as the living room or bathroom were messy, I cleaned them up without a second thought and never bothered to mention it. I have noticed this same change occur in many of my clients as well.

If you feel annoyed with your family for being untidy, I urge you to check your own space, especially your storage. You are bound to find things that need to be thrown away. The urge to point out someone else’s failure to tidy is usually a sign that you are neglecting to take care of your own space. This is why you should begin by discarding only your own things. You can leave the communal spaces to the end. The first step is to confront your own stuff.