(Do It the  Japanese Way)

Tidying up your home can dramatically improve your life. Yes, dramatically. Tidying—clearing away clutter—can help you let go of the past…increase your confidence in your decision-making abilities…reduce stress…clarify what’s truly important in your life…and make it easier to see where you should focus your energies in the future.

Unfortunately, tidied homes often degenerate back into clutter. But Marie Kondo, a cleaning consultant in Japan, has come up with ways to declutter a home so that it stays decluttered. In Japan, where apartments are small, tidiness is a philosophy of living. Her personal neatness education began at age five, when she learned feng shui principles from her mother. At age 18, she worked at a Shinto shrine keeping order for the shrine elder. She has taken what she’s learned and created her own life-­changing method for creating order…

Tidy up in one big push. The usual advice is to tidy a very cluttered home a little at a time so that the task does not seem overwhelming. This slow-and-steady method does not work.

If you completely declutter your entire home within a short period—in perhaps a few days—the transformation is jarring and unforgettable. You feel happier and calmer…and are truly inspired to continue to live this way. If you tackle the task of tidying a little at a time, there is no jarring transformation and, likely, no fundamental change in mind-set. The bad habits that led to clutter in your past likely will recur. In fact, you might already be recluttering parts of your house before you declutter other parts.

Helpful: The best time to start ­decluttering is first thing in the ­morning. That’s when the mind is clear and sharp. If you struggle to begin this big job—or struggle to see it through—visualize what it will be like to live in a clutter-free home. That will help motivate you.

Tidy by category rather than by room. It seems natural to clean first one room, then the next. Trouble is, most people have similar items stored in more than one room in their homes. Clothes might be in multiple closets and in the attic…books might be spread throughout the house. If you tidy room by room, you could easily fail to notice that you have more of something than you need. Tidying category by category avoids this problem.

Start with categories that hold little sentimental value, such as clothes, books and paperwork. Leave the category of family mementos for last—these are especially challenging to give away.

Keep things that bring you joy, and get rid of the rest. Hold a possession that is not in regular use in your hands. Ask yourself, Does this spark joy? If it does not, you’re better off without it. It is cluttering your life, and that is keeping you from joy. Repeat this with every rarely used item in your home.

Warning: It can be difficult to get rid of items that still are in good condition—it feels wasteful. Thank these items for the joy they gave you in the past…or for teaching you that items like them do not truly bring you the joy you expected. These objects cannot hear you, of course, but you will hear these words. Hearing this could help your mind understand that these objects have served their purpose, so it is not wasteful to get rid of them.

Honor the past by discarding items that have sentimental value. People often hang onto things from the past because they think throwing them away would dishonor a treasured memory. In fact, it’s leaving these items untouched in boxes that dishonors memories. Discarding sentimental items—for example, family photos—involves picking them up, holding them and reliving the memories, which is likely more honor than has been bestowed upon these things in years. It also lets you identify the small percentage of your sentimental items that spark the greatest joy. These few items can then be truly treasured rather than left untouched in boxes.

Don’t buy organizing products. Home stores are full of storage bins, shelving systems and other organizing products that claim to contain the clutter. Do not buy these—they’re a trap, especially when you are just beginning the tidying up process. No matter how many storage bins you buy, they soon will be filled to overflowing. The primary solution is not putting things away more efficiently…it’s getting rid of the things that you don’t need.

Do not badger other members of your household to tidy with you. This will only sour them on the task. Instead, quietly go about decluttering your own spaces and your own possessions. You might find that the other people in your household start to tidy, too, as if by magic—tidying can be contagious.

Do not put out-of-season clothing into storage. Organizing professionals often recommend freeing up closet space by stashing winter clothes in bins during summer and summer clothes in bins during winter. This is a mistake.

People who free up closet space this way often end up filling that space by buying more clothes—including duplicates of garments they already own, because they forget what’s in storage. Packing and unpacking seasonal clothes twice a year is a time-­consuming task that’s often delayed until deep into a season. Clothes look wilted after months in bins. And this system makes it difficult to access warm clothes on unseasonably cold summer days and light clothes on unseasonably warm winter days.

Stash out-of-season clothes in bins only if your closet is extremely small.


These items almost always should be disposed of during the tidying up process…

Unwanted gifts and old greeting cards. The purpose of gifts and greeting cards is to convey the giver’s feelings. Once they are received, they have served this purpose and can be discarded if they do not spark joy.

Unidentified electrical cords and plugs. These will remain unidentified. Most probably are for products that you stopped using long ago.

Broken appliances. These will never be fixed.

Electronics packaging. This is unlikely to ever be needed again.

Promotional giveaways. Companies often give out free items bearing their logos. Most are never used.

Credit card statements and old check registers. Once you have paid credit card bills and balanced your checking account, these no longer serve any purpose. If you later need to track down some spending detail, you can do so through your bank or credit card issuer’s website.

User manuals. Most people never refer to the manuals that come with the products they purchase, at least not after the first few days of ownership. User manuals typically are available online if they are needed.