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Discard Everything

July 13, 2015

“There’s nothing wrong with this country but soap and hot water.” I’m paraphrasing a quote from the early 70s.

Of course there was more wrong then, but the statement makes a point about our habits and our environment. We use a lot of soap, and it goes quietly down the drain, left for the wastewater treatment plant to deal with.

We use a lot of hot water, mostly a luxury, and hot water takes energy. And using a lot of hot water means a lot of fresh water, an increasingly scarce commodity.

Pollution, energy, water. Forty years later, the issues remain, not least because there are more of us. And despite the fact that the average home is larger now, we seem crowded with stuff. Thus, the rise of the self-storage industry.

And the self-help industry—how to organize or throw out or simplify. Last week, I mentioned noticing the book “Throw Out Fifty Things: clear the clutter, find your life.”

The next day, a friend said, That’s the best book!, and he lent me his copy. Indeed, it looks like a good one, and one point struck me as vitally true: Clutter is a consequence of indecision.

Next, a library staff member handed me a book, “The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.”

The book is sufficiently odd that I have to recommend it. There’s no real Japanese art involved—the author happens to Japanese, and some of the curiosities in the book come from cultural differences, possibly from translation.

But mostly, the author is odd. I was torn at times about whether to feel sorry for her obsessions, but she is open about her obsession with “tidying,” as the translation says, since childhood. And, she has thought deeply about the matter and has turned her obsession into some insight.

I found the oddness appealing—appealing in the book; not that I could live with her. I can’t say if the translation does the book justice or not. Just that I continued to turn pages.

She seems to have applied her ideas of decluttering to the very idea of decluttering. She has tried to simplify the approach, so there are no tables for how long to keep certain paperwork, etc.

She still discusses plenty of circumstances and includes anecdotes from her clients (she is a tidying consultant in Japan). The book uses bold type in a handy way to highlight important sentences or paragraphs in her detailed discussions of issues.

Under “Sorting Papers” the subtitle is “Rule of thumb—discard everything.” But she proceeds to discuss how to choose what to keep and how to keep it. She starts her clients with clothing, though.

As odd and endearing as certain things are in the book, she’s also quite martial about decluttering. Because I don’t have to live with her, I can chuckle about it.

With clothing, she insists on removing every piece of clothing from its respective hidey-hole and piling it in the middle of the floor. Her point is to tidy by category versus room or location. Thus, clothing, or off-season clothing, or tops; not closet, bedroom, etc.

Then—the critical point—one picks up each and every item one at a time and decides “Does it spark joy?” or “Does it make me happy?” Any hesitation, out it goes.

And just like “Throw Out Fifty Things” and many others, the book’s point is that ending clutter is liberating. Even if your house is tidy, you might enjoy this book.

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2 Comments
  1. Jeff, so ironic that you mentioned that book. I was visiting my brother-in-law in CA in March, and he had a copy. It was an easy book to breeze through, and like you, I found many of her ideas “unconventional” to say the least (throw all your clothes into a big pile indeed!). Nevertheless, for all of us, clutter creeps up on us. Thanks for the words.
    Rick

  2. Entertaining review. And now, basically, I don’t need to read the book–you uncluttered it down to the essentials.

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