Cleaning by category, not location, is the key to staying tidy

Marie Kondo is a Japanese cleaning consultant who has created a new system for organising. This post first appeared in her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
My study of tidying began in earnest when I was in junior high and basically consisted of repeated practice. Every day I cleaned one place at a time — my own room, my brother’s room, my sister’s room, the bathroom.

Each day I planned where to tidy and launched solo campaigns that resembled bargain sales.

“The fifth of every month is ‘living room day’!” “Today is ‘clean the pantry day.'” “Tomorrow I conquer the bathroom cupboards!”

I maintained this custom even after entering high school. When I came home, I headed straight for the place I had decided to clean that day without even changing out of my school uniform. If my target was a set of plastic drawers in the washroom cupboard, I would open the doors and dump everything out of one of the drawers, including makeup samples, soaps, toothbrushes, and razors.

Then I would sort them by category, organise them into box dividers, and return them to the drawer. Finally, I would gaze in quiet admiration at the neatly organised contents before going on to the next drawer. I would sit on the floor for hours sorting things in the cupboard until my mother called me for supper.

One day, I was sorting the contents of a drawer in the hall cupboard when I stopped in surprise. “This must be the same drawer that I cleaned yesterday,” I thought.

It wasn’t, but the items inside were the same — makeup samples, soaps, toothbrushes, and razors. I was sorting them by category, putting them in boxes, and returning them to the drawer just like I had the day before. It was at this moment that it hit me: Tidying up by location is a fatal mistake. I’m ashamed to admit that it took me three years to see this.

Screen Shot 2015 02 12 at 10.27.44 AM_This story comes from Marie Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’

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.

Excerpted from THE LIFE-CHANGING MAGIC OF TIDYING UP Copyright © 2014 by Marie Kondo. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

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