allenc allencheung

Review: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

An acquaintance referred me to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. As much as I like to peruse self-help and self-improvement books, I admit that I probably would not have been interested in this one without a recommendation. Turns out, my gut instinct was mostly on point, although I was ultimately able to take away from it a few pieces of advice.

The book is an English translation of a Japanese tome, written by an author who sounds like she devoted her entire life and career to helping herself and others clean their homes. I’m not its original target audience; there are various sections of Tidying Up which go into great detail about handbag storage and the size of Japanese homes. In fact, the book seems to be written by a single Japanese woman in her 30s living in a Tokyo condo, for other Japanese women with the same life parameters. This disconnect does make a few sections harder to relate to.

Tidying Up still works, though, because it gets into some of the philosophy and zen behind keeping a clean home. If I remember my college Japanese classes, the word is 清い — cleanliness, which is also synonymous with purity and clarity. In other words, Japanese culture1 ascribes beauty to tidiness, which becomes the motivation for her process. That said, she can lay it on a bit thick, particularly when she starts personifying her possessions and reasoning about the method of their storage affecting how they — e.g., her socks — “feel.”

A central theme is getting rid of one’s stuff, or to flip it around, only keeping things that bring joy to its owner. I do like this idea on the surface, and it inspired me to get donate a set of old clothes and books. My caveat is that this philosophy is not universally applicable, in the same way that “simple” is a luxury; buying replacements for thrown-away items can become unaffordable. I’m not advocating hoarding per se, but the other extreme is bare minimalism, which comes with its own problems and expenses.

I don’t regret having taken the time to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, even if my life didn’t follow the title’s cue. Even if I don’t buy into its philosophies, there were a number of tactics that I took away from the book2, and it made me think deeper about why I’d want a clean home.

Though, as a parent of a 2-year-old who has just gone through his Christmas presents —

This ideal is nigh unachievable.


  1. Though nowadays, “simple, clean design” is such an accepted philosophy that it may be a universal standard.

  2. E.g., how to fold shirts and organize jackets in closets

By allen
allenc allencheung

Elsewhere