Learning that you can do without - The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life

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

Learning that you can do without
The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life

Once people get down to really tidying, they produce bag after bag of garbage. I have heard that the participants in my courses often compare notes on how many bags they have thrown away or share reports on what turned up in their house. The record number of garbage bags filled to date was by a couple who disposed of two hundred bags’ worth of stuff, plus more than ten items that were too large to put in bags. Most people laugh when they hear this and imagine that the couple must have had a very large house with lots of storage room, but they are wrong. They lived in a very ordinary two-story, four-room dwelling. It had slightly more floor area than many Japanese homes because it also had an attic, but the difference in space was not that great. Although there did seem to be a lot of things in view, the home did not appear at first glance to have that much garbage in it. In other words, any house has the potential to produce the same volume.

When I have my clients sort through and get rid of their belongings, I don’t stop halfway. The average amount discarded by a single person is easily twenty to thirty 45-liter bags, and for a family of three it’s closer to seventy bags. The sum total of all the garbage so far would exceed twenty-eight thousand bags, and the number of items discarded must be over one million. Yet despite the drastic reduction in their belongings, no one has ever complained that they had a problem later because I told them to get rid of something. The reason is very clear: discarding those things that don’t spark joy has no adverse effects whatsoever. When they finish tidying, all of my clients are surprised that they notice no inconvenience in their daily lives. It is a strong reminder that they have been living all this time surrounded by things that they don’t need. There are no exceptions. Even clients who have less than a fifth of their possessions left at the end feel this way.

Of course, I am not saying that my clients have never regretted discarding something. Far from it. You should expect this to happen at least three times during the tidying process, but don’t let it worry you. Even though my clients have regretted parting with something, they never complain. They have already learned through experience that any problem caused by lack of something can be solved through action. When my clients relate the experience of getting rid of something they shouldn’t have, they all sound extremely cheerful. Most of them laugh and say, “For a moment I thought I was in trouble, but then I realized it wasn’t life threatening.” This attitude does not stem from an optimistic personality nor does it mean they have become careless in their response to missing something. Rather, it shows that by selecting what to discard, they have changed their mind-set.

What if, for example, they need the contents of a document that they disposed of earlier? First, because they have already pared down the amount of documents they own, they can quickly confirm that they do not have it, without having to search all over. The fact that they do not need to search is actually an invaluable stress reliever. One of the reasons clutter eats away at us is because we have to search for something just to find out whether it’s even there, and many times, no matter how much we search, we cannot seem to find what we are looking for. When we have reduced the amount we own and store our documents all in the same place, we can tell at a glance whether we have it or not. If it’s gone, we can shift gears immediately and start thinking about what to do. We can ask someone we know, call the company, or look up the information ourselves. Once we have come up with a solution, we have no choice but to act. And when we do, we notice that the problem is often solved surprisingly easily.

Instead of suffering from the stress of looking and not finding, we take action, and these actions often lead to unexpected benefits. When we search for the content elsewhere, we may discover new information. When we contact a friend, we may deepen that relationship or he or she may introduce us to someone who is well versed in the field. Repeated experiences like these teach us that if we take action we will be able to obtain the necessary information when we need it. Life becomes far easier once you know that things will still work out even if you are lacking something.

There is another reason that my clients never complain about discarding things—and this is the most significant. Because they have continued to identify and dispense with things that they don’t need, they no longer abdicate responsibility for decision making to other people. When a problem arises, they don’t look for some external cause or person to blame. They now make their own decisions and are aware that considering what action to take in any situation is what really matters. Selecting and discarding one’s possessions is a continuous process of making decisions based on one’s own values. Discarding hones one’s decision-making skills. Isn’t it a waste to squander the opportunity to develop this capacity by saving things? When I visit my clients’ homes, I never throw anything away. I always leave the final decision up to them. If I chose what to discard for them, there would be no point in tidying. It is by putting one’s own house in order that one’s mind-set is changed.