Don’t change the method to suit your personality - 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

Don’t change the method to suit your personality
Why can’t I keep my house in order?

Handbooks for tidying often claim that the cause of clutter differs depending on the person, and that therefore we should select the method that best suits our personality type. At first glance, this argument seems convincing. “So that’s why I can’t seem to keep my space tidy,” we might think. “The method I’ve been using doesn’t suit my character.” We can check the handy chart on what method works for lazy people, busy people, picky people, or nonpicky people, and choose the one that fits.

At one point, I explored this idea of categorizing methods of tidying by character type. I read books on psychology, interviewed my clients about their blood types, their parents’ characters, and so on, and even tried a popular type of astrology called Dobutsu uranai, or zoological fortune-telling. I spent over five years analyzing my findings in my search for a general principle governing the best method for each personality type. Instead, I discovered that there is no point whatsoever in changing your approach to suit your personality. When it comes to tidying, the majority of people are lazy. They are also busy. As for being picky, everyone is particular about certain things but not about others. When I examined the personality categories suggested, I realized that I fit all of them. So by what standard was I to categorize people’s reasons for being untidy?

I have a habit of trying to categorize everything, probably because I have spent so much time pondering how to organize. When I first started out as a consultant, I worked very hard to categorize my clients and tailor the content of my services to suit each type. In retrospect, however, I can see that I had an ulterior motive. Somehow I imagined that a complex approach consisting of different methods for different character types would make me look more professional. After careful consideration, however, I came to the conclusion that it makes far more sense to categorize people by their actions rather than by some generalized personality trait.

Using this approach, people who can’t stay tidy can be categorized into just three types: the “can’t-throw-it-away” type, the “can’t-put-it-back” type, and the “first-two-combined” type. Looking at my clients, I further realized that 90 percent fall into the third category—the “can’t-throw-it-away, can’t-put-it-back” type—while the remaining 10 percent fall into the “can’t-put-it-back” type. I have yet to find someone who is purely the “can’t throw it away” type, probably because anyone who can’t throw things away will soon end up with so much stuff that their storage space overflows. As for the 10 percent who can discard but can’t put things away, when we start tidying seriously, it is soon obvious that they could discard much more because they produce at least thirty bags of garbage.

My point is that tidying must begin with discarding regardless of personality type. As long as my clients grasp this principle, there is no need for me to change the content of what I teach to suit the person. I teach the same approach to everyone. How I convey it and the way each client puts it into practice will naturally differ because each individual is just as unique as the way he or she furnishes the house. But I don’t need to worry about identifying these differences or creating complex categories. Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things. Of the two, discarding must come first. This principle does not change. The rest depends on the level of tidiness you personally want to achieve.