Review – The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing

by Marie Kondo, published 2014

This is a work of philosophy under cover of personal organization and household habit. The question at the center of the book is “Why do you own what you own?” Put more bluntly, it is, “Why do you have so much stuff you don’t use and never will?” If those don’t seem like profound questions, maybe you don’t live your life and enjoy your material existence in a thoughtful way.

The book’s weakness, ironically, is in the specific tidying, folding and organizing methods Kondo advocates. Reading on Kindle, I did not find any helpful pictures or diagrams (but thankfully, there is a wealth of videos on YouTube where people have demonstrated her techniques) and I found the text-explanations of how to fold or where to store different things in a closet generally confusing. I believe my confusion will be relieved with some practice and patience in experimenting with different techniques over time. But if you’re hoping to learn the “KonMari Method” for folding, storing and the like, I don’t think this book is the best resource.

Instead, the book’s strength is its principles– always key to the strength of any philosophical work. Kondo suggests a general method for tidying one’s living space– start with your own possessions, then move to shared possessions; begin with clothes, then work through to other easily accumulated items such as books, kitchen and toilet supplies and finally to trinkets and trash; when tidying by category, locate ALL such possessions throughout the home and dump them in a pile on the floor before sorting. Anyone can grasp the principles of this method regardless of their specific circumstances. Her criteria for keeping things (note: this is a positive criteria, NOT a negative criteria for determining what to eliminate) is to hold the object and ask oneself, “Does this spark joy?” It seems ambiguous, emotional… subjective. But that’s the point! It’s a deeply individual approach to tidying. Neither Kondo nor anyone else can tell you what objects bring happiness to your life and which you can do without, you have to sense that on your own.

As a rational person I was alarmed by this at first. It seemed goofy and mystic, maybe not even serious. “Spark joy”, I don’t think in those terms. But I gave it some time and realized it made sense. I started thinking about shirts and sweaters and pants I look for an excuse to wear. I have a pair of corduroys, for example, that almost make me excited for cold weather. And then I have articles that are just taking up space in my dresser and closet, items that I can never seem to find a good opportunity to use them but nonetheless I keep holding on to them because they still fit and they are nice and in good condition. But every sweater I have that I don’t wear and won’t get rid of is another sweater I can’t acquire that I might actually enjoy.

When Kondo pointed out the cost of storing all this useless stuff, I was floored. I would never pay for a “self-storage” unit somewhere, or turn my garage into anything other than a place to put my car. In fact, I regularly shake my head when I peer into neighbor’s open garages as I walk past with my dog seeing them bulging with stacked crap all the way up to the door. What on earth are these people thinking? They’re never going to use this stuff!!

But then I realized that all the items I keep around my home that I have no use for is effectively absorbing part of my rent each month– I am paying to store these items! And what’s worse, as Kondo points out, much of the time these are items I bought in bulk to “save money” but which are in such significant supply that they will last me multiple months if not years. I am effectively floating the manufacturer’s inventory and parking part of it in my home, or thought of another way, I am subsidizing his production by buying several items I don’t really need and won’t ever use with each one I do need. Rather than saving money, I am costing myself– once for buying more than I needed and twice for paying to store it in my home. For me, I’d argue a third time with the emotional cost of being aware of and surrounded by these unused possessions that continually fail to “spark joy.” Just the other day I bought a pack of 12 pens for annotating books as I read. I was unhappy with my previous pens and wanted to try something new. I didn’t need 12 pens, I needed 1 or 2. But I bought 12 for around $10 because I was “saving” money over buying a pack of 3 for $5. The problem is, it turns out I kind of hate these pens and now I have enough to last me a couple years at my current rate of use. Kondo made this so clear to me!

Another startling revelation was the way I’ve shifted some of my own tidying burden to family members. It’s hard to visit my childhood home at times because my parents have a bad case of hoarding. But I’ve had no problem storing my finished or unread books in an unused room of the house I used to occupy when I occasionally stop by. One part of me has been mentally scolding my parents for hoarding and not cleaning up their living space. But another part of me has been dumping off my own clutter on them, completely unaware! I have resolved to go over there and dump a bunch of the stuff that remains.

While I am excited to declutter clothes (and look forward to the opportunity to purchase new articles I might actually enjoy wearing with the newly freed space), hallway closets, linen storage, bathroom and kitchen cupboards and more, one area I struggled with was her suggestion for decluttering one’s library. I love books. Or, rather, I love the idea of reading my books. But Kondo helped me clarify another meaningful point– many of the books I purchase and do not read were meant only to gratify my own ego, ie, “It’d be so great to know more about X.” When I purchase a book and don’t read it for months, I probably won’t read it ever. The inspiration and desire to study that topic has come and gone. I have made the mistake, time and time again, of purchasing far more books than I could ever hope to read and that I will ever be able to sustain an interest in. It’s wasteful.

There are a few books I really do enjoy and which I will read again. There are books I’d like to keep which I may not read again, but which I believe my children will gain a benefit from studying at an appropriate time in their life as I did. You can argue that it’d be better to buy them their own copy at that time, which is true, but this is a limited case in which I am okay holding on to a few titles for them in the meanwhile. But most of the books I own that I haven’t read yet, won’t get read– they’ll remain as costly monuments to an ambition not realized. And many more which I have read and absorbed from them what I can will similarly sit on my shelves unused as a monument to the hope that there is more juice to squeeze. But the pulp is dry at this point. I have made another resolution, which is to keep the few titles I know I will re-read because I’ve re-read in the past, the few titles I want to share with my kids and the few titles I am excited to read in the next month or two at my normal pace of reading. Everything else (read, unread) is getting sold or donated. I want to have a limited library of titles that “spark joy” and feel good to see on my shelf and not a stack of paper that I subconsciously feel a burden to get to as some kind of project.

Marie Kondo’s “Life Changing Magic” invites us to live our lives more consciously and to purchase, use and store with purpose. Any book that helps me to resolve logical contradictions in my own thoughts and actions is valuable to me. I took far more away from this book than I thought I would going into it given that I already have a reputation for being a neat freak!

 

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Notes – Emotional Intelligence/EQ

The following are notes I took from an introductory course on Emotional Intelligence.

The Four Components of EQ

Emotional Intelligence is composed of four major facets:

  • self-awareness, how aware are you of your own emotional state and thoughts?
  • self-management, how well can you control your emotions and thoughts?
  • social awareness, how aware are you of other people’s emotional states and thoughts?
  • social management, how well can you control your behaviors that influence the emotional states and thoughts of others?

It is possible to have high self-awareness but poor self-management, or to be good at managing oneself and one’s social environment without having significant awareness of either one. Many possible EQ patterns are possible or conceivable, though typically people are either stronger at the self-related items or the social-related items but not both.

Where does EQ fit in?

EQ is considered as “the brains ability to recognize emotions from oneself and others and to use this information to guide thinking and behavior.”

EQ is leg of a three-legged stool of self-awareness. The other components are the DiSC and Core Values Index (CVI) assessments. Whereas the CVI attempts to determine the “unchanging nature of the person” and DiSC seeks to explain behavioral tendencies developed through experiential learning, EQ ideally serves as a way to quantify a person’s ability to modify their behavior and influence the behaviors of others based on perceived emotional states.

EQ is considered related to IQ in that it measures something about an individual and their boundaries for achievement. But whereas IQ measures intelligence or problem-solving ability and is considered fixed at birth by genetic factors, EQ measures perceptive and self-control abilities in social settings and it is considered improvable over time, that is a person who a low EQ score in one of the four components might be able to raise their score with conscious effort and examination of their behavior over time.

Applications of EQ

Some people consider EQ to be more valuable than IQ in a business setting because businesses are about peopleĀ (employees and customers) so having a superior ability to influence the behaviors of people could be considered more valuable than the raw intelligence necessary to solve problems. If you have the solution to a problem but can’t convince anyone to cooperate with you in implementing it, what do you actually have?

Part of the value of EQ comes from the way the brain is physically hard-wired to handle new data inputs. Stimuli entering the brain pass through the emotional area of the brain and trigger an emotional reaction before passing through a secondary filter and entering the part of the brain where a rational filter is applied and a behavioral response is shaped. The brain gives priority to emotion over reason.

The development of EQ in an individual involves increasing tiers of awareness and capability best thought of as a kind of pyramid with the lowest function at the bottom and the highest function at the top:

  1. (Top) influence
  2. building trust
  3. adapting and connecting to build rapport
  4. recognizing the needs of others
  5. controlling impulses to achieve positive outcomes
  6. (Bottom) acknowledging the self and impact on others

Emotional range

The basic emotions common to all humanity are:

  • mad
  • glad
  • sad
  • fear
  • shame (embarrassment about a state of being)
  • guilt (embarrassment about an action undertaken)

The entire range of emotions people experience can be explained by low, medium and high intensities of these basic emotions. For example, one can be satisfied, excited or elated in terms of experiencing the emotion of glad.

Rage is not a feeling, but rather it is an uncontrolled reaction to pent-up, diverse feelings that have not been expressed and come out all at once. It is a sign of emotional disorder, not an intensity of anger, sadness or fear by itself.

With regards to fear specifically, there are four “fatal” fears that typify most of the emotional experiences:

  1. failure (or success!)
  2. rejection
  3. emotional or physical discomfort
  4. being or looking wrong

The whole person

People are complex, there is no doubt about it. EQ is not better than or worse than IQ, it is simply another component of the “whole person”. In fact, intellectually (rather than biologically), the “whole person” is best described by considering EQ, IQ and personality together.