Reflections on The Magic of Tidying

Reflections on The Magic of Tidying: The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo with Illustrations by Yuko Uramoto

If you want to understand Marie Kondo, you have to understand Japan. If you want to understand Japan, you have to understand Shintoism. And if you want to understand Shintoism, you have to understand the difference between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Let’s start there!

Studying religions is a particular hobby of mine and after living and teaching in Japan for some time, everything Japan became a bit of a hobby too. Once I learned about the difference between orthodoxy and orthpraxy a lightbulb went off about the indigenous religion of Shintoism. I’ve visited countless shrines, clapped my hands and bought omomori like anyone else. Shintoism made a simple kind of sense to me, with its love of order, the belief in life and animation in even the most lifeless-seeming objects, and the peaceful arrangement of water, stone, thatching, color, and wood in every shrine.

Of course it’s not a simple religion. Which religion is? But the feeling it gave off was simple to grasp. I wish everyone could experience the kind of restful peace that comes with a breeze blowing through the leaves of a tree on shrine grounds and the faint scent of moisture on ancient wood.

The life breathed into every rhythmic motion at a shrine is a direct result of the focus of such an old animistic faith: orthopraxy. If orthodoxy is faith through belief, orthopraxy is faith through action. Each action, large and small, has a certain holiness to it. It’s the action itself that’s blessed, not necessarily the belief behind it. The spirit in everything, animal, mineral, or vegetable, needs tending. Tidying up itself is a practice of a faith, not just something to occupy a Saturday afternoon.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo is so popular and so many are picking up on Kondo’s wish for order, peace, happiness, and joy. Critics, and there are many, argue that her practices of thanking objects as you say goodbye to them, dressing up for a tidying party, and beginning the tidying process with a little ritual are at best unnecessary and at worst silly and naive. I’d like to challenge this take on KonMari-ing (her term for the tidying method). What if Kondo’s beliefs and practices reflect a deeper order in her heart? What if they’re one of the keys to unlocking the magic and mystery of an entire culture? Of course, the Japanese psyche is something that you can never really plumb the depths of, but an understanding of orthopraxy is a good place to start!

Using the lens of faith and culture, let’s look at the Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up. The visual order of the world and creative expression of that are very important to Japanese culture. Manga, or Japanese comics, came out of that spirit. Putting things in order on the page and breathing life into something non-sentient like the page of a book reflect an inner orderliness and the joy of orthopraxy. The medium itself, comics, is a way to tidy all of these thoughts and theories up. I love how the two messages, order in life and order in medium, dovetail so nicely together. It’s like Kondo herself is introducing two old friends, “form, meet function!”

There is a certain sprightliness and magic in Kondo herself, her approach, and tying that together in an illustrated manual. I’ve read both The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy in the traditional form. Though they’re both fun to read, the manga version adds an extra story element and adorable illustrations of Kondo herself and her client. I really couldn’t put it down! I can be a slow reader sometimes, and the format helped me speed through this in two days. That’s it’s own kind of magic!

The thing that really delighted me were the funny only-in-Japan references. When Kondo’s fictional client Chiaki worries about trash day and sets her garbage or gomi on her balcony, I’m reminded of a yearbook of sorts that my group of friends created upon leaving Japan. One of the more serious questions was, “What are you bringing with you?” And another was, “What are you leaving behind?” My answer to the latter was “gomi on my balcony.” That was it! I was moving on as Kondo encourages and actually leaving garbage on my balcony. With nearly 20 different categories of garbage and recycling, something had to give! Visitors to Japan, longtime residents, and anyone really interested in Japanese life will appreciate these references, and I’m guessing it will trip those memories wires in their brains just like it did mine.

The three big takeaways for me from the manga version that I don’t recall sticking as much in the book format are the ideas: of “for the time being,” “just because,” and the idea that when we hold on to things we’re “attached to the past… or afraid of the future.” These are dialogues I hear frequently in myself and especially in friends and acquaintances who tend to hold on to a lot of things they may or may not need. As a seasoned organizer and minimizer, I don’t have quite the volume of things that many have, but I can still hear my own thoughts in Kondo’s pithy observations. I heard recently that depression lives in the past and anxiety lives in the future. Kondo connects these states with our belongings and hopes to change our state of mind with a change in our environment… or at least jumpstart internal changes with outward ones. I can get on board with that!

To date, I’ve completely Konmari-ed my home, gone through every category, and discarded bags and bags of belongings. I like the idea that I’m deciding what to keep, not what to get rid of. Now when I look around my house, pretty much everything is my favorite. Whether it’s shoes that fit, look great, and help me feel confident or the sheet music that inspires me to play piano when I have a free moment. My living space reflects the life I lead and the life I’m creating every day. The Life Changing Manga of Tidying Up reminded me of the value of this method and is a nice refresher course on Konmari-ing.

Here’s a tiny example of some tidying in my purse recently!

For those who read this book or anything else she has written, I encourage you to give this method a try! In my own life, I’ve found such positive and permanent changes and a real flow and direction to my living space. If you’re a bit skeptical of Kondo’s methods, I also encourage you to follow her advice thoroughly and completely and see what kind of change it brings. I’m an “all in” kind of person, and I found that the more I committed to Kondo’s methods, the better the end result. Even if it involves thanking my clothing for serving me so well!

I hope you find some inspiration in this book and see that the actions we take and the inanimate objects in our world can help give us inner peace, calm, and a little bit of magic in our everyday lives.

I'd love to hear from you!

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