Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Book Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying

Author: Marie Kondo, London: Vermilion, 2014.

This is a bit of a departure for me – a book review I really wanted to write, but I wasn’t sure where to put it. So it’s going here. It doesn’t really mesh well with any of my blogs, yet could potentially be related to all of them. I was going to park it at Raspberry Blue, except that I haven’t posted anything there in two years and am unlikely to update it any time soon, so it felt like it would feel a bit irrelevant there. So I’m putting it here instead.

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying has been receiving a lot of attention on the internet lately. I was intrigued by her claim that her system will convert even the messiest person into a tidy person, so I got hold of the book and read it over a couple of days. These are just some of my immediate responses, both to the book itself and to specific recurring criticisms of it.

There are plenty of people out there claiming that Kondo’s book has changed their lives, but also a significant number declaring that she’s completely bonkers. I haven’t implemented her full system, so I can’t comment on its transformative potential, but I can see how it could happen. She’s clearly a bit of an obsessive, but I feel that much of her oddness is more about perspective.

In a nutshell, Kondo advocates getting rid of most of your stuff, only keeping the things which actively give you joy. This is not a new idea – for me it taps deeply into William Morris’ maxim to have nothing in your house which you don’t either believe to be beautiful or know to be useful. It’s simply a more extreme version which hinges heavily on identifying our emotional response to any given object.

The benefits of her “KonMari” method are, I think, clear: tidier storage, easier to find things, nothing that makes you go “meh” when you look at it will obviously all contribute to making people calmer and happier. But I think that in reading the book it is essential to remember that Kondo is Japanese. I got the feeling that many negative reviewers understood nothing about Japanese culture, and especially the importance of ritual, beauty and simplicity in Japanese culture and design. Without this context, I think the book might indeed come across as quite extreme and odd.

I want to address three key recurring criticisms of this book because I found for each one that a careful reading negated these objectsion:

1. She doesn’t recycle/donate/sell ANYTHING! Yes, this is true – there’s only one point in the book where she talks about giving things away and her terminology is very much about throwing things out. But there are two elements to this. First, if you’re looking at every object you own and have to decide not just whether to get rid of it but how to get rid of it, you’re going to make the process even harder than it already is. Second, Kondo’s insistence on going through your stuff by type actually allows you to pick your discard method in advance because things of any single type can generally be disposed of in the same way. Clearing clothes? Charity shop. Sorting papers? Shred and recycle.

2. OMG she wants me to rip pages out of my books???!!!! No, actually she doesn’t. She says she did this herself where she only wanted to keep 1 or 2 pages from a book (and only after she tried copying out extracts and photocopying and rejected both as taking too long [interruption of the mental tidying process]) but she also says that she discovered that she never once looked at the pages she’d torn out. The implication is that she could just as well not have bothered and just got rid of those books as she did the ones she didn’t want at all.

3. She thanks the clothes she’s throwing away – WTF?? Yes, she does. She also talks to the house and asks its help in clearing out unneeded stuff. For some this is odd. However, the ritual fosters a positive mindset to help relieve some of the stress of discarding objects, and particularly things which were once loved but now have no purpose in your life, or those never used at all. Feeling guilty or upset about throwing things away will hamper your ability to think clearly about getting rid of stuff, but the ritual of thanking these things finalises their life with you and clears your mind of the guilt, so you can move on. It’s a psychological trick.

I did feel that Kondo’s book was limited in a couple of areas, though. The digital plays no part in her method at all. Her focus is on material things, but I feel a KonMari cleanout of my computer could be a useful thing. I’d also have liked to hear her thoughts on things like replacing physical books with ebooks. She also doesn’t say anything about dealing with things which are truly necessary and useful but which spark no joy, even though I’m sure we all have some of those. Perhaps we should consider that the ‘joy’ criteria may include the joy of simply having the right tool to peel a potato, not just that the object in and of itself inspires delight.

In summary: I really enjoyed this book and I think there is much here of value – it encourages us to really think about our belongings and the place they occupy not only in our homes and working spaces, but in our lives in general.

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Advent Calendar: 37

Well, it’s the final day of my advent project, officially, although I think that was really yesterday. I was feeling so burnt out this morning that I decided to take a bit of a break today and instead of panicking and exhausting myself over the two big pieces I haven’t finished yet, decided to focus on getting the house in order a bit in preparation for the coming term so that I can go back to work tomorrow like a little beaver without having to worry about wading through messes. I also did some listening, which I actually enjoyed today – Faure piano Nocturnes and John Adams’ Gnarly Buttons which I enjoyed more than at the London Sinfonietta performance I went to a little while back. So! Today I have…

  • struck the Christmas decorations and put them all back in their boxes (and realised I’d totally forgotten about my gorgeous fat robin, who would have made a big difference to the festive feel somewhere) because it’s 12th night and to leave them up would mean bad luck for the whole year
  • set up Roomba in the bedroom so I can start cleaning that without needing to clean it, if you get my drift, rather than him sitting in the doorway to the study gathering dust and getting in the way because there’s nowhere convenient up here to plug him in
  • done gargantuan quantities of washing up
  • changed the sheets and doona cover
  • put up the remaining shelves in the large bookshelf (which hadn’t been done because I was waiting on a second round of those nubby things that go in the holes to support the shelves to arrive)
  • set up reminders in rememberthemilk so that I don’t let my finances get so crazily out of date as before
  • taught Djelibeybi the pomodoro technique (which he then didn’t use)
  • started tidying the study – which is now a worse mess than ever before. Of course.
  • uploaded a bunch of recent photos to Flickr
  • and made my lunch for tomorrow (all bar cutting up an avocado, which as we all know, should be done at the last possible minute)

If you’re reading this, then I guess you’ve been following at least part of the past month. I do hope it hasn’t been too dull! Happy New Year to you all – see you in the new term!

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Friday, 2 September 2011

Tiny steps

Feeling the insanity coming flooding back this morning until I quelled it with Terry Fox’s wonderful The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Cats – it’s just amazing what 46 minutes of purring on repeat will do for your mental health.

It evidently did me some good though because after a couple of rounds of Labyrinth and finally getting the house to myself, I’ve been able to have another listen to the piece. And I ADDED A NOTE. How sad that this seems like progress. I think I’m stopping there though because my brain feels like it’s on the brink of overwhelm and Finale is driving me insane because it’s stuttering on every other note, so I think the time really has come to do the full system reinstall I’ve been threatening for a month. I am therefore now in the middle of manic backups and thinking about how best to organise my system when I redo it. Now that I’ve upgraded to Parallels 6, I’m going to see if I can ditch Bootcamp, for a start. I pretty much never use it, and hopefully the improvements to Parallels will mean I can run some of my PC games inside a virtual machine, which should free up some disk space. Looking forward to a shiny new system!

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Friday, 18 March 2011

Composition lesson no. 2!

It feels somewhat miraculous to have achieved a second composition lesson, given the stops and starts there’ve been. But yes, it happened this evening. And it was good. Simon brought along the scores of Paganini’s Caprices and Bach’s Partita and we looked at violin writing and what else might be done with the (ostensibly completed) Diabolus. Still some good ideas coming through – some of which I think I might touch on in the blog post when I (hopefully) get around to writing it on Sunday. In particular I liked his idea of making a bunch of versions and sending a different one to various violinists I might know, asking them each to make a recording, then listening to them all and seeing what works. Might actually follow through on this – might be a really good way to see how various things sound rather than just guessing what sounds right. Guess I’ll need to make a list of violinists now…

The rest of the day was pretty tame, but quite nice. A troubled night due to the troublesome dentals (6 days to root canal) and woke up with a crashing headache – haven’t had one of those in months, so I didn’t push myself too much but mostly tinkered around with fixing up my GTD implementation – my to-do lists in Remember the Milk had become insanely unweildy and totally unusable, so I deleted everything except my Tickler list and am starting again with a new approach. Ended up shunting about 15 projects into Someday/Maybe which had crept into Current, but just weren’t being dealt with and weren’t about to be. Someday/Maybe now lives in Evernote, which I think will help keep RTM much cleaner and entirely about the “what am I doing now” rather than the “hmm, what to play with next?”. I also went to Ryman’s and bought a stack of manila folders because my filing system’s no longer a system and needs help. Feels really, REALLY good to be getting organised again and feeling more confident that I know what needs to be done and what should be done nowish.

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Saturday, 15 January 2011

Kinda quiet day

Also kinda not. Started out well! I spent the morning intermittently napping and reading The Betrayal of Richard III, then around midday suddenly realised that the house was an absolute pigsty and Djeli was going to return with dear friends for dinner in a few short hours and that if I didn’t want to totally horrify them I was going to have to sort myself out and do a bunch of housework. So I cleaned the whole bathroom, cleared all the mouldering Christmas food out of the fridge that I’d hoped would vanish while I was in Durham but which didn’t, cleared away the junk in the living room, did 3 loads of laundry which I then hid away in the study and vacuumed. Then I went and did the grocery shopping so there’d be something to feed them.

After all that I was ready to collapse, but no, dinner had to be made then. I did, however, succumb to a between-courses nap before returning to the kitchen to make ebelskivers with lemon curd and cream, all of which seemed to go down well.

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Tuesday, 11 January 2011

New year, new leaf? Trying …

Yet again this year I posted a rather ambitious list of creative goals for the new year. I’ve stopped doing “resolutions” – they always fail – so instead I prefer to focus on small-scale victories and try to gently guide myself to achieve them. So today I did a little guiding. Two of the big ones, which will be ongoing and probably affect a fair chunk of other stuff are helping Djelibeybi to sort out the study and to listen to one new or revisited work or album a month. These are the two I’ve started tackling today. I’m really happy with the start I’ve made too – the study thing does to a certain measure also include the bedroom – over the weekend we moved my white cabinet/bookshelf into the study to be a support for the printer, which gives a hole in the room’s furniture and a pile of books on the floor that formerly lived on top of the cabinet. So today I cleared off the top of the chest of drawers, got everything off the desk, cleaned them both, took my lamp out of the box it’s been languishing in since we moved in May, shredded some stuff, recycled a huge load of paper, sorted out what needed to be filed or scanned or otherwise processed in some way, fetched my desk chair out of the cupboard where it was stashed after the Christmas invasion and basically made everything nice and ready to be worked at. It’s still not 100% ready, but it’s a great deal closer to it than it has been for months. Still a lot of junk to be dealt with but now that it’s off the desk I’m hoping it can stay off.

For the listening I’ve been sampling a few random things the past couple of days in my listening for the new pieces I’m working on. Today was Ute Lemper – City of Strangers (which I didn’t even know I had) and the Michael Nyman Songbook, then (accidentally) moving on to Michael Torke’s Yellow Pages album from ever so long ago. And now I’m listening to a composer called Philipp Blume whose site I was directed to from a tweet by Lauren Redhead – not the sort of thing I normally gravitate to but I’m really rather enjoying it. I should start keeping that listening diary I said I would but I don’t really want to start a new book and not entirely sure how else to do it. Hmm. Also feel a bit of a prat writing sort-of reviews – I shouldn’t, really, because the aim of the exercise is to get more comfortable with really thinking about music and being able to talk about – and to listen more closely – but nevertheless, there it is. Will work on that.

I also made a chunky start on reworking Deconstruct: Point, line plane for chamber orchestra for the London Contemporary Chamber Orchestra’s call for scores which is due at the end of the month. Reasonably happy with the translations of the woodwind parts, but the piano bit isn’t working at all and I found myself getting in a muddle in Finale because of only being able to see half the staves at any given time, so instead I went out and got some proper orchestral-sized manuscript – going to have a go at doing this the old-fashioned way, then I’ll transcribe it into Finale. I think this should work well – while I don’t usually work with paper and pencil when I’m actually composing because I’m rubbish at working out what’s in my head if I can’t hear it as I write it down, it actually works well for me when I’m doing orchestration because I AM good at hearing tone colours in my head and imagining combinations of them. Seeing as the notes are done (although I may expand some bits later) this should be fine – looking forward to really getting started on this tomorrow.

And I made some biscuits. Nice to have a little something with one’s cup of tea.

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Sunday, 2 January 2011

End of a tiny era

Just saw my parents off at Heathrow for their return to Australia and now am very sad. In spite of my grumbling, it’s been lovely having them to stay for three months & I’m really going to miss them. Contemplating a trip to Aus this year now…

But enough moping. I did achieve something today: the start of the traditional New Year spring clean. There’s still tons to do but it feels great to have made a start!

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Saturday, 18 December 2010

Snow day!

Still exhausted, and with the heavy snowfall and the arrival of Djelibeybi’s sister to stay for the weekend, most of the day got wasted in frantic house-cleaning, then photographing the snow. I never did quite wake up and though I tried very hard in the afternoon to progress the layout stuff for the quintet, nothing really got done, so in the end I gave up and made a chicken and leek pie instead. I fell asleep in front of the telly in the evening, which is a measure of how exhausted I was – I NEVER do that. I absolutely loathe it. Heigh ho.

Winter wonderland, Ealing

And, in the interests of Christmas culinary experimentation, we made our first-ever batch of ebelskivers. Just plain ones, with the vanilla sugar we brought back from Copenhagen several Christmases ago sprinkled over them. They turned out fabulously – I was worried about turning them over, to start with (you need to turn them with 2 skewers which looked harder than it turned out to be) and whether they’d be cooked in the middle. But both worries turned out to be without cause. They went down very well – and very fast, so it now looks like we’ll have a go at making a version with dill in the batter and a smoked salmon and cream cheese filling (out of our ebelskiver cookbook) for Boxing Day breakfast.

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Sunday, 12 December 2010

Urgh Ikea…

Still no better, but it had to be done so we hired a car and steeled ourselves and toddled off to Ikea. Mission? To buy a tablecloth, vase and a couple of picture frames. We came home with a tablecloth (not the one we intended – they’d sold out of that one), a vase, 18 glasses, a pitcher, a recycling bin, a wall clock for the kitchen, some red boxes to organise messy crap, and a railing to put up in the pantry. Um. Well, that’s Ikea for you. Oh, and 2 bottles of lingonberry cordial and another 2 of elderflower cordial.

So it wasn’t entirely the plan, but I have to say that the results have been awesome. Finally the flat is starting to look lived in rather than camped in! The clock, red boxes and railing have almost transformed the kitchen/pantry area. Neater, more stylish, more loved-looking. And we got the hall clear too so at last I can vacuum properly! And the plastic recycling is neatly encased in its new box and so isn’t flopping about in front of the bookcase. Exciting!

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Saturday, 28 August 2010


A good friend gave me a talking-to on Friday about how I’m always trying to do too much. And he’s right. I woke up absolutely hating everything today. The house is too neutral, I was disappointed with the work the landlord had done in the bathroom – he seems to do everything on the cheap and often without consideration for how it looks or functions, so in changing the shower setup so we can shower without crouching, he removed the good quality, perfectly functional and convenient mixer tap and replaced it with two cheap taps, so we no longer have the convenience of staggering, half-asleep into the bathroom & just lifting the mixer tap, knowing it’s on the right temperature – we’re back to faffing around with trying to get the temperature right before we can step in. And they’re the sort of taps where the colour panels on top start unwinding themselves the instant you start to use them. And the plumber put them on the wrong way round so hot says cold and vice versa. Small things, but enough to set off an attack of the glums.

So I spent a fair chunk of the morning thinking about how I can make the house brighter and better and feel more like home than rental accommodation. And I think I’ve at least settled on a palette of red, orange and teal. It’s kind of hard to make stuff go with the oatmealy walls because they’re neutral but not truly neutral – in the kitchen, for example, depending on the time of day and available light, like right now (overcast, indoor lighting on) one wall looks pale yellow, the other looks almost apricot. But it’s the same colour. So I think strong colours are really the only way to tackle it. Anything else will be wishy washy.

On the plus side, this fit of frustration made me get up and do some tidying and cleaning and to write some lists of all the things we need to buy or get done before my parents arrive in about 3 weeks’ time. I put on the CD of Tripod vs the Dragon which we bought at the show in Edinburgh (awesome!) and sorted a bunch of stuff out.

Djelibeybi had to go to Andover in the evening so I caught the train with him as far as Shepherd’s Bush, bought some stuff for dinner and wandered round the shops & finally caved on the beautiful little red & orange Le Creuset Poterie ramekins I’ve been eyeing off for at least 2 years. They were a little more expensive than I’d seen them elsewhere, but I was so desperate for colour that I just thought ‘sod it’ and took them to the counter… Where I discovered they were 20% off!

Sad day treat

And then I decided to take the evening off too – house to myself, Wiener schnitzel for my tea, I made apple and raspberry crumble in the ramekins and watched a whole DVD of Season 1 of Chuck. Happiness!

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