Róisín Ingle on . . . the life changing magic of tidying up

"I am secretly delighted that instead of Electric Picnic, this weekend I will continue on a very different mission: I am finally putting my house in order"

I can’t say I’m not jealous of everyone reading this in a field in Stradbally, Co Laois, deciding whether to have noodles or a gourmet bap for breakfast, wandering into Mindfield to sit under a tree and ponder life’s biggest conundrums, before celebrating with a cocktail at noon and several adventures later heading to the main stage for a giant sing-song with Blur.

Of course I’m jealous but I brought it on myself, deciding not to go this year for reasons that varied from the profound to the mundane.

Mostly, all that festival FOMO aside, I am secretly delighted that instead of Electric Picnic, this weekend I will continue on a very different mission: I am finally putting my house in order.

Yes, this is another column about how I can't seem to keep my house tidy. But this one has a twist. In this one, I actually discover how to do it. Well, that is,I discover a book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up : The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising, by Marie Kondo.


As usual, I am very late to the magical cleaning party. People have been going on about this book and the KonMari method of tidying for months. But it was only when I got home from holidays and my sister, who was helping me declutter, kept asking me a surprising question when she’d hold up some unloved, unworn piece of jewellery, or an unused luminous green eye shadow that I had held on to for about five years. The question was: “But does it spark joy in you?”

Does it spark joy? It took me a while to grasp the concept. Did it give me a buzz, is what she meant, was there an emotional jolt within me suggesting that without this particular item, my life would be somehow emptier or sadder? Then she told me about Kondo’s book and her KonMari and her notion that if something doesn’t spark joy it has no place in your home and you should get rid of it immediately. Kondo calls this random stuff we keep for no apparent reason komono.

“Does it spark joy?” my sister asked for two productive hours, to which the answer seven times out of 10 was “No”. Which is how I ended up a couple of hours later with 10 bin bags of komono that didn’t spark a speck of joy in me, but quite possibly might spark joy in somebody else, all destined for the charity shop.

Based on this experience with my sister, I have since ordered the book, which has already sold more than three million copies. In the meantime, I’ve been reading articles about the technique and applying what I’ve read. Kondo is revelatory about clothes storage. All these years I never realised that my ritualistic morning angst about what to wear to work was seriously exacerbated by the jumbled up positioning of clothes in drawers. Where usually everything had been sorted in piles so I could only see the item on top, Kondo’s method had me folding or rolling my clothes into neat parcels and lining them up in rows.

Now I can see every piece of clothing I own when I open the drawers. Sometimes I go and open a drawer just for the thrill of gazing in wonder at the neat rows of clothes. (I will be doing this while some of you are watching Blur tonight. Talk about living the dream.)

Kondo makes life-changing claims for her method, and for once I think a self-help guru is actually speaking the truth. Once you get the gist of what she’s saying, not only are her proclamations not annoying, they begin to sound liberating: “Once you have experienced what it’s like to have a truly ordered house, you’ll feel your whole world brighten. Never again will you revert to clutter. This is what I call the magic of tidying. And the effects are stupendous. Not only will you never be messy again, but you’ll also get a new start on life.”

I know this woman is right. I feel the magic every time I bend down to pick something up and put it away in the place I have designated for it. I feel it when I look in my drawers and instead of a mess of random clothes, most of which I’ll never wear, I see neatly rolled up and folded items, each one of which is wearable and joy-sparkable.

I was not born tidy. But then nobody is, according to Marie Kondo, which was genuinely news to me. All my life I thought I had missed out on some kind of tidy gene. But tidying is not a talent or a gift. It turns out tidying can be taught and every eejit can do it.

Even me. roisin@irishtimes.com