A tidying marathon doesn’t cause rebound - Why can’t I keep my house in order?

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

A tidying marathon doesn’t cause rebound
Why can’t I keep my house in order?

“I clean up when I realize how untidy my place is, but once I’m done, it’s not long before it’s a mess again.” This is a common complaint, and the standard response touted by magazine advice columns is, “Don’t try tidying your entire house all at once. You’ll just rebound. Make a habit of doing a little at a time.” I first stumbled across this refrain when I was five. As the middle child of three children, I was raised with a great deal of freedom. My mother was busy taking care of my newborn younger sister, and my brother, who was two years older than me, was always glued to the TV playing video games. Consequently, I spent most of my time at home on my own.

My favorite pastime was reading home and lifestyle magazines. My mother subscribed to ESSE—a magazine with features on interior decorating, cleaning tips, and product reviews. As soon as it was delivered, I would snatch it from the mailbox before my mother even knew it had arrived, rip open the envelope, and immerse myself in the contents. On my way home from school, I liked to stop at the bookstore and browse through Orange Page, a popular Japanese food magazine. I wasn’t actually able to read all the words, but these magazines, with their photos of scrumptious dishes, amazing tips for removing stains and grease, and penny-saving ideas, were as fascinating for me as game guides were for my brother. I would fold the corner of a page that caught my interest and dream of trying out the tip described.

I also made up a variety of my own solitary “games.” For example, after reading a feature on saving money, I immediately launched into a “power-saving game” that involved roaming about the house and unplugging things that weren’t in use, even though I knew nothing about electric meters. In response to another feature, I filled plastic bottles with water and put them in the toilet tank in a solo “water-saving contest.” Articles on storage inspired me to convert milk cartons into dividers for my drawers and make a letter rack by stacking empty video cases between two pieces of furniture. At school, while other kids were playing dodge ball or skipping, I’d slip away to rearrange the bookshelves in our classroom, or check the contents of the mop cupboard, all the while muttering about the poor storage methods. “If only there were an S-hook, it would be so much easier to use.”

But there was one problem that seemed unsolvable. No matter how much I tidied, it wasn’t long before every space was a mess again. The milk carton dividers in my desk drawer soon overflowed with pens. The rack made from video cases was soon so crammed with letters and papers that it crumpled to the floor. With cooking or sewing, practice makes perfect, but even though tidying is also housework, I never seemed to improve no matter how often I did it—nowhere stayed tidy for long.

“It can’t be helped,” I consoled myself. “Rebound comes with the territory. If I tackle the job all at once, I’ll just get discouraged.” I had read this in many articles about tidying and assumed it was true. If I had a time machine now, I’d go back and tell myself, “That’s wrong. If you use the right approach, you’ll never rebound.”

Most people associate the word “rebound” with dieting, but when they hear it used in the context of tidying, it still makes sense. It seems logical that a sudden, drastic reduction in clutter could have the same effect as a drastic cut in calories. But don’t be deceived. The moment you begin moving furniture around and getting rid of garbage, your room changes. It’s very simple. If you put your house in order in one fell swoop, you will have tidied up in one fell swoop. (In Japanese, the term is ikki ni, or “in one go.”) Rebound occurs because people mistakenly believe they have tidied thoroughly, when in fact they have only sorted and stored things halfway. If you put your house in order properly, you’ll be able to keep your room tidy, even if you are lazy or sloppy by nature.