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The Simple Act of Tidying

The simple act of tidying your home could also be clearing away mental clutter.

| January 2015

  • Clear physical and mental clutter using the Japanese art of decluttering presented in “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo.
    Cover courtesy Ten Speed Press
  • Many people tidy when they’re under pressure, but feel only temporary relief when the actual source of their anxiety is not addressed.
    Photo by iStock

Clear physical and mental clutter with the help of Japanese organizational consultant Marie Kondo. In her best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Ten Speed Press, 2014), Kondo takes tidying to a new level. The KonMari Method will help you simplify and organize your life, category by category, with lasting results. The following excerpt, from “Why Can’t I Keep My House in Order?,” suggests the act of tidying can help resolve inner turmoil.

This book can be purchased from the Mother Earth Living store: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

Have you ever found yourself unable to study the night before an exam and begun frantically tidying? I confess, I have. In fact, for me it was a regular event. I would take the piles of handouts covering my desk and throw them in the garbage. Then, unable to stop, I’d tackle the textbooks and papers littering the floor and begin arranging them in my bookcase. Finally, I’d open my desk drawer and start organizing my pens and pencils. Before I knew it, it would be two-thirty in the morning. Overcome by sleep, I’d jolt awake again at five and only then, in a complete panic, would I open my textbook and buckle down to study.

I thought that this urge to tidy before an exam was a peculiar quirk of my own, but after meeting many others who do the same, I realized that it was a common phe­nomenon. Many people get the urge to clean up when under pressure, such as just before an exam. But this urge doesn’t occur because they want to clean their room. It occurs because they need to put “something else” in order. Their brain is actually clamoring to study, but when it notices the cluttered space, the focus switches to “I need to clean up my room.” The fact that the tidying urge rarely continues once the crisis is over proves my theory. Once the exam has ended, the passion poured into cleaning the previous night dissipates and life returns to normal. All thought of tidying is wiped from the person’s mind. Why? Because the problem faced—that is, the need to study for the exam—has been “tidied away.”

This doesn’t mean that tidying your room will actu­ally calm your troubled mind. While it may help you feel refreshed temporarily, the relief won’t last because you haven’t addressed the true cause of your anxiety. If you let the temporary relief achieved by tidying up your physical space deceive you, you will never recognize the need to clean up your psychological space. This was true for me. Distracted by the “need” to tidy my room, it took me so long to get down to studying that my grades were always terrible. Let’s imagine a cluttered room. It does not get messy all by itself. You, the person who lives in it, makes the mess. There is a saying that “a messy room equals a messy mind.” I look at it this way. When a room becomes clut­tered, the cause is more than just physical. Visible mess helps distract us from the true source of the disorder. The act of cluttering is really an instinctive reflex that draws our attention away from the heart of an issue.

If you can’t feel relaxed in a clean and tidy room, try confronting your feeling of anxiety. It may shed light on what is really bothering you. When your room is clean and uncluttered, you have no choice but to examine your inner state. You can see any issues you have been avoiding and are forced to deal with them. From the moment you start tidying, you will be compelled to reset your life. As a result, your life will start to change. That’s why the task of putting your house in order should be done quickly. It allows you to confront the issues that are really import­ant. Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.

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