The Only Word Parents Need From That Magical Book on Decluttering

You are contemplating Marie Kondo’s best selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, because it promises to change your life.

kondo 1

But you are crazy busy and also you may have misplaced the copy that called to you from the bargain book aisle at Costco. (Pro tip: Good chance it’s shoved behind a mega box of goldfish. Bonus: you may also find the hiding spot for the fruit your kid’s not eating at lunch.)

Don’t worry about the book. I read it. And while The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing contains many words (including fourteen in the title alone), there’s really only one you need to create tidying up magic.

But first, let us set the stage with a scene that may sound all too familiar. A parent sits and carefully picks up the many pieces of an abandoned Monopoly game. Fifties are placed neatly in one pile, hundreds in another. Little plastic pieces nestle with their similarly sized little pieces in little plastic containers. Just like so:

game by mom

In her life-changing book, Ms. Kondo compares tidying to the joy some get from mediating in a deserted waterfall. While most of us have not yet reached that level of mindfulness, there is a certain pleasure in seeing the board game neatly put away.

Until the next time the children pull it out and unceremoniously dump everything in the middle of the floor and play. No tidy piles for organized bankers; it’s a free-for-all. Then they leave the mess in the middle of the floor.

How is the tidy parent to feel? You know how it feels to meditate in a deserted waterfall? Me neither. But I’m pretty sure what we feel is the exact opposite.

So here are our choices: an endless loop of tidying up and making everything just so, only to be thwarted again and again. Or we can choose a new path, one inspired by a magical word from that book on decluttering. And no, it doesn’t involve asking the kids to take the game in their hands and contemplate whether it sparks joy. They already think we’re crazy enough.

I give you the three step path.

  1. When the kids are done playing, tell them to clean up the game, then on to the next thing. No threats,  just this: “after you clean up, you can have snack/go outside/play video games.” That’s it.
  2. Oh, except you can’t tell them how to put it away. The only job you have is to ensure the tidying happens before the next thing. (This is the trust but verify stage.)
  3. Finally, channel inner peace with this one key word: WATERFALL.

Yep, waterfall. Think about it, how much you love a shower– the warm water, the peace, the privacy, having no one in your space… it’s like heaven.

For Kondo, tidying is the equivalent to meditating in a waterfall. For us parents, it needs a tweak: we mediate in our imaginary waterfalls while someone else tidies.

Let’s try it. Close your eyes and picture the scene: dramatic cliffs, brilliant skies, a cascade of water as warm and tranquil as that outdoor shower you stood under for a half hour at your bestie’s destination wedding ten years ago (yes, you still remember).

And as the kids grab handfuls of money and cards and game pieces and shove them in the box, you will take deep, calming breaths and feel the imaginary water run over your long glossy hair and you will use all your mediative powers to say… nothing. You will let the children clean up their way, because after all they have stuff to get to. And as long as the top fits on the box and Monopoly can join its stack of board game friends, they are done.

It will look the exact opposite of what you would have done.

new school Monopoly

Here’s the old school version if you prefer that one.

old school monopoly

But you will not care. Because this is you.

waterfall

And you will realize at the end of it, that it wasn’t that bad. The job was done by the people who needed to do it. And you can go back to your novel or work or tidying up your own stuff. Or maybe you’ll stay under that imaginary waterfall with the imaginary rainbow for a few more minutes, understanding that surest way to spark joy and tidiness in a family is to get people to clean up their own messes. In their own way.

Done? Go hang out in your favorite spot. You earned it.

shower2

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6 Responses to The Only Word Parents Need From That Magical Book on Decluttering

  1. Tori February 15, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

    <3

    Will Kondo even let me keep my Monopoly game? Those stacks of games are kind of cluttering up my den… but I love the potential kid energy they represent! A perfectly neat house is like a straitjacket (which if worn by all family members, by the way, would ensure my house stays neat).

    • Kristin O'Keefe February 15, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

      Ha, nice image! I’m hoping we turn to boardgames later on this snowy day. They remind me of kid energy too.

  2. Hunter February 15, 2016 at 2:58 pm #

    Humn… “some” might say that this would describe the different cleaning approaches of spouses perhaps…

    • Kristin O'Keefe February 15, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

      “This” author will not involve herself in that one. Waterfalls for everyone!

  3. Grandpa Ron & Grandma Terry February 22, 2016 at 9:20 am #

    Loved this Kristin! So well written and the pictures speak volumes! i’m thinking this technique could apply to messy closets too. Just shut the door!!

    • Kristin O'Keefe February 22, 2016 at 3:02 pm #

      Absolutely. Out of sight, out of mind works for lots of things!

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