What is Avid Weekly Ideas?
Each week I publish an idea or two either from a book I am currently reading or from my backlog of book notes. 📚
Of course, this isn’t intended to replace book notes or reading the book itself. Instead the aim is to extract a key idea or two from a book that struck me as insightful and share-worthy. Then I package it into a bite-sized digestible chunk. I hope these little nuggets of insight will spark some inspiration or ideas in your own mind. 💡
The Japanese Art of Decluttering
Having a messy workspace can have adverse effects on productivity.
Some of us seem naturally tidy while others could not get organized to save their lives. 😀
Like many things in life though, if you search hard enough you will find a book with best practices and principles to help make your life easier. 📖
That’s the beauty of reading!
Ok let’s dive into some of the key ideas I learned from the book.
At a high level tidying is easy
Early in the book Kondo explains that the physical act of tidying is very simple at its core.
It is a “series of simple actions in which objects are moved from one place to another.”
…don’t worry. Tidying in the end is just a physical act. The work involved can be broadly divided into two kinds: deciding whether or not to dispose of something and deciding where to put it. If you can do these two things, you can achieve perfection. Objects can be counted. All you need to do is look at each item, one at a time, and decide whether or not to keep it and where to put it. That’s all you need to do to complete this job. It is not hard to tidy up perfectly and completely in one fell swoop. In fact, anyone can do it. And if you want to avoid rebound, this is the only way to do it.
Let’s break that down:
- Pile everything up (things of the same category)
- Go through each item individually
- For each item make one of two decisions. Do you want to keep it? If yes decide on a permanent location for it (a “home” for everything)
- If not discard it
- That’s it. Henceforth always put things back where they belong, (i.e. in their “home”)
Here is a simple flowchart I made:
Should you keep it?
She then goes through some criteria on helping you decide if you want to keep something. Her main test is “does it spark joy?”
What standard do you use to decide what to get rid of?
There are several common patterns when it comes to discarding. One is to discard things when they cease being functional—for example, when something breaks down beyond repair or when part of a set is broken. Another is to discard things that are out of date, such as clothes that are no longer in fashion or things related to an event that has passed. It’s easy to get rid of things when there is an obvious reason for doing so. It’s much more difficult when there is no compelling reason. Various experts have proposed yardsticks for discarding things people find hard to part with. These include such rules as “discard anything you haven’t used for a year,” and “if you can’t decide, pack those items away in a box and look at them again six months later.” However, the moment you start focusing on how to choose what to throw away, you have actually veered significantly off course. In this state, it is extremely risky to continue tidying.
One day she had a realization.
I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep. Through this experience, I came to the conclusion that the best way to choose what to keep and what to throw away is to take each item in one’s hand and ask: “Does this spark joy?” If it does, keep it. If not, dispose of it. This is not only the simplest but also the most accurate yardstick by which to judge.
I really liked that because this is a great example of applying the principle of inversion to thinking about a problem. Instead of mulling over what to discard, which might cause stress or unhappiness, she flipped the problem around and turned the question into “what do I want to keep?”
This way, if you keep abiding by the “does it spark joy” test, then before long you will be living in an environment surrounded by things you love.
Some common pitfalls
Storage experts are hoarders:
What is the first problem that comes to mind when you think of tidying? For many, the answer is storage. My clients often want me to teach them what to put where. Believe me, I can relate, but unfortunately, this is not the real issue. A booby trap lies within the term “storage.” Features on how to organize and store your belongings and convenient storage products are always accompanied by stock phrases that make it sound simple, such as “organize your space in no time” or “make tidying fast and easy.” It’s human nature to take the easy route, and most people leap at storage methods that promise quick and convenient ways to remove visible clutter. I confess that I, too, was once captivated by the storage myth.”
The reason why she calls it a “booby trap” is because simply storing things away before deciding on whether you want to keep it or discard it is putting the cart before the horse. It is not going to the root of the problem, you are simply hiding the problem away. And it is simply a matter of time before the dreaded clutter rears its ugly head again.
Discard first then store:
Although I thought that I had been tidying, in fact I had merely been wasting my time shoving stuff out of sight, concealing the things I didn’t need under a lid. Putting things away creates the illusion that the clutter problem has been solved. But sooner or later, all the storage units are full, the room once again overflows with things, and some new and “easy” storage method becomes necessary, creating a negative spiral. This is why tidying must start with discarding. We need to exercise self-control and resist storing our belongings until we have finished identifying what we really want and need to keep.
The next point is a mistake commonly made by many people, myself included. How many times have you just dumped things into a pile somewhere – whether it be a stack of books, paper documents or clothes? Finding anything at all becomes a nightmare!
Never pile things: vertical storage is the key:
There are people who stack everything in piles, be it books, papers, or clothes. But this is a great waste. When it comes to storage, vertical is best. I am particularly obsessed with this point. I store every item vertically if possible, including clothes, which I fold and stand on edge in my drawers, and stockings, which I roll up and stand in a box.
I store things vertically and avoid stacking for two reasons. First, if you stack things, you end up with what seems like inexhaustible storage space. Things can be stacked forever and endlessly on top, which makes it harder to notice the increasing volume.
The other reason is this: stacking is very hard on the things at the bottom. When things are piled on top of one another, the things underneath get squished. Stacking weakens and exhausts the things that bear the weight of the pile. Just imagine how you would feel if you were forced to carry a heavy load for hours. Not only that, but the things in the pile virtually disappear because we forget that they even exist. When we pile our clothes one on top of the other, the clothes at the bottom are used less and less frequently.
This point seems so simple yet not everyone does it (I’m pretty guilty of this too!). But it is the same reason why books in a library are stored vertically so you can easily see all the books they have. Imagine if a library just piled books on top of each other vertically!
Other tidying principles
Sort by category, not by location:
Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me three years to see this.
Many people are surprised to hear that such a seemingly viable approach is actually a common pitfall. The root of the problem lies in the fact that people often store the same type of item in more than one place. When we tidy each place separately, we fail to see that we’re repeating the same work in many locations and become locked into a vicious circle of tidying. To avoid this, I recommend tidying by category. For example, instead of deciding that today you’ll tidy a particular room, set goals like “clothes today, books tomorrow.” One reason so many of us never succeed at tidying is because we have too much stuff. This excess is caused by our ignorance of how much we actually own. When we disperse storage of a particular item throughout the house and tidy one place at a time, we can never grasp the overall volume and therefore can never finish. To escape this negative spiral, tidy by category, not by place.”
Which begs the question: what order of categories to start with when tidying?
Start with clothes, then move on to books, papers, komono (miscellany), and finally things with sentimental value. If you reduce what you own in this order, your work will proceed with surprising ease. By starting with the easy things first and leaving the hardest for last, you can gradually hone your decision-making skills, so that by the end, it seems simple.
TL;DR of key ideas
- Being messy has certain productivity costs associated with it
- At a high level tidying is easy. Kondo lays out a simple framework for approaching this (see flowchart above)
- Kondo’s main test for helping decide whether to keep something is “does it spark joy”?
- Some common pitfalls include storing things before discarding and storing things in a pile rather than vertically.
- Other tidying principles include: sort by category not location and she provides a logical order of categories to start with.
If you liked this week’s idea, please consider reading the entire book to get the full context, meaning and nuance. As always, happy reading! 📚
Thanks for reading. If you enjoy these weekly bite-sized chunks of ideas from books and would like to support them, there are a couple of ways you could do that.
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