Tome of the Month: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

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The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is having an enormous success worldwide. As I am attracted to minimalism, and am now adjusting to what might probably be my final and permanent home, this book came just at the right time.

The idea behind it is very simple, and can be summed up in a few points:

1) The discarding process must be done in one session, and only once in a lifetime.
I see her point and agree. The operation must be on a large scale and quickly completed in order to cause two shocks:

First, it should leave you wondering at how many things you own, and admitting with yourself that most of them are unnecessary. This is only attainable by taking everything out and piling it up in the middle of the room, because you don’t actually realize how many things you own as long as it is stored inside the furniture.

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Why did I even buy all these clothes, when I have almost no social life?

Second, the shock of seeing how much space has become available, and how calm they feel being in that room after the visual clutter has disappeared.

It is a healthy little trauma: if it makes a lasting impression, it is more likely that the process will lead to a change of habits. Discarding a few things a day, as suggested by other decluttering experts, won’t make a difference. The person will lose motivation and fill the void with new stuff.

2) Another good point is that you should not involve your family, unless they want to take part in the decluttering “festival”. In doubt, it’s better to avoid interference, at the cost of not getting any help. Many of our possessions that we would gladly let go continue to take up place in our houses because we feel obligations to dear ones who gave those to us. You don’t need more guilt-provoking complaints by your mum who tries to talk you into keeping that horrible coat because it’s such a good quality fabric.

3) Don’t organize; just toss. It’s no use buying more containers to effectively organize things: it will only prompt you to buy more stuff. You need to let go of a large portion of your possessions, and what’s left will fit in the furniture you already have. It’s much easier to keep things in order when you only have few: that’s a no-brainer. It’s amazing that we needed a book to tell us so. The solution may appear simplistic, but it’s probably the only one that works in the long run.

It may also seem elitist, because not everyone can afford to keep only what “sparks joy” and dispose of, donate or recycle the rest. But what is more of an economical waste? Throwing away several bags of crap that will eventually dumped anyway when we are dead, that’s not a crime in the face of the poor. The real crime would be replacing it with new stuff. It doesn’t matter if you get rid of 30 bags of clothes or just one, as long as you break the cycle of buying new things that you’ll only wear once or twice before they end up at the bottom of the pile and are forgotten. I am skeptical that putting away every object after use will alone keep the house tidy. What’s missing from the book is advice on shopping more wisely after the purge. Hopefully, there will be a sequel?

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The glossy feel of this green top definitely sparks joy…

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…and so does the checkered pattern of this shirt.

I was appalled to find out that there are adults out there who need to be told that clothes must be folded and not thrown loosely inside the closet. Skimming reviews and comments on the web I saw so many grown-ups who can’t be bothered to fold socks. They claim they have no time for that. Seriously, people?  Performing this very simple action literally takes 2 seconds, you only have to juxtapose the two of them and fold them in half. If you’re not convinced, think of the time lost trying to reunite the pair when you’re rummaging in your drawer of random underwear while getting dressed in a hurry in the morning.

Folding clothes is, again, a no-brainer: but there is obviously a market for that kind of tutorials, and Kondo made a couple videos that provide the practical explanations which are completely absent from the book. People can’t take care of themselves and use children as an excuse for their bad housekeeping. Starting from such a mentality, it’s quite easy to make a dent for Marie Kondo’s system.

I didn’t read this book because I have an organizational issue: my house is certainly not perfect, but everything has a place, more or less. Even so, it feels wrong. Let’s just say that I’m good at playing tetris. For instance, I can’t exercise because I have no space to place a mat on the floor and move comfortably, without being in the way between my family members and the TV. Also, my precious books had to be boxed and exiled downstairs, until I finally decided it was too much stuff even for the garage. Last year I threw away a large number of tomes, but I’m still very, very far from Kondo’s 30 books (which is not my goal – I DO value culture and education).

So, I did the purge. Did it work? In part.

Taking clothes out of the closet and mixing them kind of put them “out of context”, so I saw them in a different way. Spreading clothes on the bed enabled me to see flaws in two garments that I couldn’t have noticed by going quickly through the wardrobe racks. Also, touching an old, faded pajama top I was about to make into dusting rags made me change my mind and realize it was a keep. I wore it the following night and now I’m sure it was the right choice. It’s so comfortable!

However, the number of discarded clothes amounts to only 30 items. That is, one garbage bag and a half. The photos show there is no big difference in the closet, except the pile of sweaters on the left side has disappeared. It seemed a success at first, because I had managed to fit everything except the boxes in the right section of the wardrobe. Unfortunately, the comeback of a tracksuit and a few T-shirts form the laundry messed up everything again, and I had to occupy the empty space with those.

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Books were even more difficult. I filled a large shopping bag, but 33 volumes out of several hundreds is a drop in the bucket. The author says you should get rid of unread books because if you haven’t read them yet chances are you will never have the time or will to do it in the future. But I don’t “stock” on books. I have read every single book in my collection, and the dull ones have left this house long ago.

There are also individual reasons why the method hasn’t worked wonders in my case:

– I moved 3 times in the last 7 years, so I’d already had the enlightening experience of seeing the totality of my belongings scattered through the floor in all their impossible abundance;

– I had already thrown away some stuff before each move;

– I tend to dress in a classic style rather than following the latest fashion, which means most of my clothes don’t become outdated so quickly;

– I hand-wash clothes that are meant to be hand-washed, which results in a longer lifespan of the item.

I’d recommend The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to fellow aspiring minimalists because the simplicity of the method is what makes it effective.

However, I believe this self-help book will only work for people who buy on impulse big time, are extremely untidy or have never tried at decluttering systematically before.

If you’re just someone who has realized he or she has too many things and is affected by the psychological burden of owning too much stuff, the KonMari method is not likely to have a big impact. The change will be more noticeable in a house that is overwhelmed by chaos, than in one that’s simply too full.

P.S.: I would like to know more about the author. Does she cook? Does she have a garage? Are the Japanese not required to keep important papers such as receipts, payslips, warranty, documents proving you own your house? Hopefully she will translate more of her site into English soon.

Tome of the Month: The End

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It’s official: I’ve set a new world record in ineffectiveness and inconsistency. My plan to make Tome of the Month a regular feature hasn’t worked out. Yes, I know: after only two instalments.

My time management issue has not been solved. In fact, it’s getting worse. Before I get so distracted that I make a huge mistake at work, which might result in getting fired, or before I burn the breakfast milk (again), which will result in a revolting smell all around the house, I must take measures. I need to further downsize my 2015 reading list and not feel compelled to review every book I finish. My need to revert to a healthy, active lifestyle collides with sedentary hobbies and interests like reading and writing.

Moreover, I’ve realized lately that I lack some practical skills. There are vital things I should learn from my mother before she’s gone, such as gardening, making hand-made pasta and cooking “advanced” dishes like fish and rabbit chasseur. Also, I know I’ve delegated too many tasks to my husband (especially car-related ones), and they’re all things I’d better learn or re-learn. As long as I was single, I had gotten used to take care of myself quite well, but after he came into my life I’ve become lazy and let him take charge. Should anything happen to him, I’d find myself quite lost. Survival skills are certainly more important than writing skills!

This blogger was thrown in a natural environment out of the blue. He has obviously no clue what to do with all that grass. He’s lost, so he reverts to the screen.

It was exciting and reassuring to see that the writer in me still remembers how to hold a pen in her hand, after all these years of dumb office work. But I did a reality check, and had to admit blogging is not a priority. So I have to limit my activity here to poetry. I won’t stop posting book reviews and other things, but I will do that occasionally. Sadly, I can’t seriously commit to writing: trying to become an author means dedicating at least one hour a day to that goal, and I just can’t fit it into my schedule.

A rabbit stew. It doesn’t quite match my mother’s recipe, but it’s the closest I found to a rabbit chasseur.

As I realize my liberal arts background has brought me nowhere – and if it hasn’t done anything for me so far, it never will – I have come to see my education as a burden that weighs me down and as mental clutter, rather than a useful asset which might help me pursue a satisfactory career. It’s time to face the fact that I have failed to become an intellectual like in my childhood dreams, and took an ordinary job that pays the bills instead. No deep thinking required there. I must come to terms with it. I must finally let go of that chapter of my past, archive it and close the door, keeping a receptive attitude and be confident that new doors will open. Throwing several boxes of old textbooks and notes seals it.

So be it. I know this is the wisest thing to do right now.

Tome of the Month: And the Mountains Echoed

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The third book by Khaled Hosseini, published in 2003 ten years from the release of his best seller The Kite Runner, shows an author who has matured and sharpened the tools of the trade.

I remember borrowing his debut novel for an English-speaking friend when it was hot off the press, and being told: “The writing is nothing special, but the plot is compelling”. What made The Kite Runner interesting was indeed the moving plot.

In his latest book And the Mountains Echoed the plot is still emotionally involving, but the author’s writing is also more skillful. Not so much for the style, which is still plain and without frills, but for the complexity of structure: the story has a circular pattern, there are unexpected plot twists, and none of the characters is just black or white.

The chapters are short stories that would also work if read individually. However, it can still considered a novel as the characters’ storylines intertwine. The episodes are also bound together by the theme of the double, embodied by a number of couples: the siblings Abdullah and Pari, the brothers Idris and Timur, the sisters Parwana and Masooma, the wealthy Suleiman and his employee Nabi, the Greek surgeon and his childhood friend, the doctor and the wounded girl, the refugee camp boy and the warlord’s son, the two women sharing the same name.

Each of these pairs is flawed one way or another: be it because of separation, disease, rivalry, jealousy, unreciprocated love, mutilation, guilt, a broken promise or desire for revenge.

Violence and suffering, both physical and emotional, permeate the book. Like in The Kite Runner we are not spared strong imagery. It’s no surprise since Hosseini worked as a doctor for a decade before becoming a full-time writer.

One more topic is the sense of estrangement of Afghan refugees who go back to or visit their country after the war. They feel awkward and unable to really create a bond with the locals. The author himself emigrated to the US at 11, so it’s probably something he experienced first hand. This idea expands to the ethical implications of using other people’s painful real life experience as inspiration for fictional works.

To me, And the Mountains Echoed confirms that Hosseini is not a one hit wonder and I’ll be looking forward to read future works by this author.

Tome of the Month: The Gunslinger

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bookAs life becomes more hectic and I feel increasingly overwhelmed, I am starting to realize it’s time to sit down and rethink my priorities. Reading fiction is of course not vital, and I’m getting detached from culture as I realize education has played no role in helping my find my place in the world. All the same, I can’t give up completely on what has been a very important part of my existence. I decided to resize my reading goal to a dozen book a year. I’ll publish a review on each of these books, every 20th of the month: I hope I can keep up with making it a regular blog feature.


The Gunslinger is a novel by Stephen King, first published in 1982. The die-hard, tenacious, ruthless Roland has spent the last twelve years chasing a sorcerer in the attempt to find the Dark Tower. The atmosphere of is ominous, arcane. There are no good guys, here: even the main charachter is mostly unsympathetic. Everyone is just evil.

If I could sum up in a word my reaction to this book, that would be: bewilderment. Where are we? On an alien planet? On Earth, but in a future when civilization has regressed and survivors of the human race are slaves to drugs? Are we in a drunken cowboy’s nightmare? Is everything only happening in his mind? Is this the afterlife, or an alternative universe?

The author is brilliant at keeping the level of suspence high, and does a great job making the chain of events unpredictable. But one thing is easy to figure out: things are not going to get better. This is quite depressing, but maybe it’s how horror stories are supposed to be: I’ve always avoided the genre, but then I thought it was time to try out something by this prolific and popular author. Having to choose one to start with, I felt intrigued by the Dark Tower cycle because it falls within the weird west genre, a combination of western and fantasy.

The opening line is effective, bringing us directly in the middle of the story, and I like its being an epic quests. However, even an accomplished writer like King has some flaws. After all, he wrote this novel when he was still a student. The writing style is sometimes too heavy and the description of the characters’ inner feelings is sometimes too detailed. I don’t need to know about every bowel movement in the gunslinger’s digestive tract.

The narrator has too many irons in the fire. Too much information of an esoteric kind is thrown at the reader. Too many reference to facts external to the story, and the hope that all will be revealed in the following volumes in not enough to hook me up. The very last sentence seem to shine a light on the sense of it all, but I’ll have to read the remaining seven books, but I’m not sure I want to extend such an unpleasant experience for the remaining 4026 pages. I fail to identify with the main charachter, who is definitely a anti-hero, anaffective except for a brief pedophilic crush; I’m offended by the blasphemy that permeates the book; the overall ambiance puts me in a miserable mood.

I was hoping in vain to find illumination in the author’s final note, but in the afterword in King only goes on about a stack of paper, his college years and the fact that he might never finish the Dark Tower saga, of which The Gunslinger is the first instalment. He eventually did, but the completion of the series took 30 years and he saw it as a work in progress, at least until the publishment of the revised edition of the first volume in 2003.