January 9, 2015

A warning about that "tidying up" book.

I recommended the book "The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing," by Marie Kondo, and I see that 40 or more of my readers bought the book. How are you liking it? My recommendation was based on the nicely motivating advice in the first third of the book. And I liked the clear sharp writing. Now that I've finished the book, I do feel that it's necessary to alert you to the weirdness that becomes quite pronounced toward the end.

On page 159, 79% of the way through the book, the author reveals: "I once worked as a Shinto shrine maiden for five years." Interesting use of the word "once"! 5 years is a long time period, not a one-time instance. A page later she talks about the effectiveness of Shinto charms. (They expire after one year, we are told.) On page 188, 92% of the way through, she tells us that when she goes to a client's home she "greet[s]" it by "kneel[ing] formally on the floor in the center of the house and address[ing] the house in my mind." She says: "I began this custom quite naturally based on the etiquette of worshipping at Shinto shrines."

Now, this is fine, but I felt ambushed by this information so late in the book. I want to know when someone is luring me into New Age thinking. Shinto is not "new age" for her, if she is in fact from the Shinto tradition, but repackaging it for those outside the tradition is a New Age move. I don't particularly mind rituals like this, but I certainly don't believe them, and I didn't interpret the word "magic" in the title to promise something supernatural.

Those are the only mentions of Shinto in the book, but there is also quite a bit of animism, and this may be Shintoism as well. In any case, it is a kind of religion. I'll just note a few of the examples of animism that jumped out at me:
I pointed to the balled-up socks. “Look at them carefully. This should be a time for them to rest. Do you really think they can get any rest like that?”...

Clothes that have been shut up for half a year look wilted, as if they have been stifled. Instead, let in some light and air occasionally. Open the drawer and run your hands over the contents. Let them know you care and look forward to wearing them when they are next in season. This kind of “communication” helps your clothes stay vibrant and keeps your relationship with them alive longer....

Just like the gentle shake we use to wake someone up, we can stimulate our belongings by physically moving them, exposing them to fresh air and making them “conscious.”...

I put my wristwatch in a pink antique case in the same drawer and place my necklace and earrings on the accessory tray beside it. Before closing the drawer, I say, “Thanks for all you did for me today.”...

I promise you: whatever you let go will come back in exactly the same amount, but only when it feels the desire to return to you. For this reason, when you part with something, don’t sigh and say, “Oh, I never used this,” or “Sorry I never got around to using you.” Instead, send it off joyfully with words like, “Thank you for finding me,” or “Have a good journey. See you again soon!” Get rid of those things that no longer spark joy. Make your parting a ceremony to launch them on a new journey. Celebrate this occasion with them. I truly believe that our possessions are even happier and more vibrant when we let them go than when we first get them.
I find all of that quite charming. I don't know if the author believes it or if she thinks it's fun and helpful and energizing to attribute consciousness to inanimate objects. I still recommend the book, but I thought I owed you a warning. If you have no patience with this kind of cutesiness or want to avoid immersions in religionish things that you don't believe, you might want to say to this book "Sorry I cannot use you, but may you find joy with someone else."

49 comments:

Clayton Hennesey said...

Having acquired it, Professor Althouse, will you be now be discarding it, or has it earned its joyful place in your life?

I, too, greet things in my house, but in my case I think it's just because I'm getting old.

Meade said...

"My wife, I think I'll keep her."

Ann Althouse said...

"Having acquired it, Professor Althouse, will you be now be discarding it, or has it earned its joyful place in your life?"

As you can tell from all the quotes and statistics in this post, I have the Kindle version of the book. I don't know if the book is happy in this incarnation, but that's where it is, and I certainly won't delete it.

By the way, the author does recommend that you discard her book if it (as an object) does not spark joy.

Ann Althouse said...

The standard for books is:

"The criterion is, of course, whether or not it gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch it. Remember, I said when you touch it. Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgment. Instead of asking yourself what you feel, you’ll start asking whether you need that book or not. Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?"

And:

"So when deciding which books to keep, forget about whether you think you’ll read it again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take each book in your hand and decide whether it moves you or not. Keep only those books that will make you happy just to see them on your shelves, the ones that you really love. That includes this book , too. If you don’t feel any joy when you hold it in your hand, I would rather you discard it."

That's the part about throwing out HER book.

Meade said...

And she isn't just a joy sparker. She's a mind sticker.

Rob said...

Let's not mince words: Ms. Kondo is cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

Sounds like the dialogue in The Giver. And judging a book by its cover.

Ann Althouse said...

The criterion is, of course, whether or not your wife gives you a thrill of pleasure when you touch her. Remember, I said when you touch her. Make sure you don’t start understanding her. Understanding clouds your judgment. Forget about whether you think you’ll ever do anything interesting together again or whether you’ve mastered what’s inside. Instead, take her in your hands and decide whether she moves you or not. Keep only the wife that will make you happy just to see her on your furniture. If you don’t feel any joy when you hold her in your hands, I would rather you discard her.

Richard Dolan said...

"If you don't feel any joy when you hold her in your hands, I would rather you discard her."

You read it here first. It's the new feminism. Get with the times.

John Lynch said...

Wow. That was funny.

David-2 said...

"Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled only with books that you really love. Isn’t that image spellbinding? For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?""

Well, how about owning this library? Isn't that image even more spellbinding?

Geez, what a dumb question. Only someone who doesn't own books would ask it!

David-2 said...

I mean love not own - sorry!

JStewart said...

St. Basil said: “The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit.”

urpower said...

Isn't "joy" a religious formulation?

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

I don't particularly mind rituals like this, but I certainly don't believe them, and I didn't interpret the word "magic" in the title to promise something supernatural.

Like someone claiming to have self-arisen from the dead, for instance?

Original Mike said...

No "book" is happy as an E-book.

Anonymous said...

I think the American version should be named "Discard This Book."

At least when marketed to baby boomers.

Justin said...

How lovely a sentiment this book expresses. I recently got rid of about 70% of my clothes, and the feelin walking away from them was quite good.

Anglelyne said...

My recommendation was based on the nicely motivating advice in the first third of the book.

I checked out the book on this recommendation, but it was the anthropomorphized socks that really sold me. Plus the charm of the fluent English with its ever so slightly out of phase syntax and vocabulary. And the bug-eyed OCD crazy lurking underneath it all.

Ryan said...

I've been married to a Japanese woman for 15 years, and if the author is anything like my wife she believes exactly what she wrote.

Bud Throckmorton said...

40 spiffs = joy.

Smilin' Jack said...

"Having acquired it, Professor Althouse, will you be now be discarding it, or has it earned its joyful place in your life?"

As you can tell from all the quotes and statistics in this post, I have the Kindle version of the book. I don't know if the book is happy in this incarnation, but that's where it is, and I certainly won't delete it.


Nor will Althouse be discarding the remuneration she receives from Amazon for flogging this obvious-on-its-face New Age crapola, since that has certainly earned its joyful place in her life.

Chance said...

That's some serious big brother stuff with Althouse monitoring purchases made through her Amazon portal...

Herp McDerp said...

Where the heck is Crack? I thought he'd be here by now to deliver some cutting remarks about Newage Sewage.

I am not a robot. Nor am I a little teapot.

Coconuss Network said...

After all the hoobaloo of washing the old clothes for charity,"clearing out the closet" I decided they're my best friends at the moment and I'm keeping them for my future weight-loss. I'd rather buy new clothes and offer them for charity, clothes I'm not attached to.

Ralph Hyatt said...

Shinto is an animist religion. Everything has its own energy. The kanji for "shen" means spirit. In English it would be translated as essences or gods.

Ritual is very important in Shinto with the shrines and rituals designed to glorify Japan and its past.

Steve said...

I keep only those books I really believe I will want to read, for the first time or again. My theory is that joy lies in expectation. I also agree with Stendhal that "Beauty is that which promises happiness." If I do not expect I will read a book, no matter how much I once enjoyed it in the past, out it goes. My bookshelves therefore are not my history but my hopes.

Tank said...

Well, pretty sure now I've read all I need from that book.

I don't keep any books. I use the library constantly (it's one of the few gov't things I use). When I buy or receive books as gifts, I read them, then give them to the library. I very rarely read a book twice, except by mistake (I've done that a couple of times).

So, I have virtually no book clutter.

Tank said...

People often say you can tell a lot about people by the books in their house.

You would be totally mislead about me based on looking for books in my house, other than that I don't keep books in the house.

rhhardin said...

John Derbyshire, worth copying

So here's the story. A chap in south China died at age 75, which is a good age — no tragedy there. South Chinese people are generally conservative, and this guy's family did what traditionalist conservative Chinese people do in the circumstances: they went to the local cemetery to pick out a plot.

If you're a traditionalist Chinese that's no small matter. In fact you need an expert to tell you which plot is the most auspicious, based on the surrounding scenery, gradient, rocks, plants, and so on. You need a fengshui man. Fengshui means "wind and water." It's a body of traditional ideas — I refuse to say "knowledge" — about which places, heights, orientations and so on are lucky.

So this family, who must have a bit of money, hired the best fengshui man in south China, a chap named Zheng Guoqiang, surname first of course. They brought him up from Hong Kong, over a hundred miles away, and took him to the cemetery. Mr. Zheng did a diligent survey and at last announced he'd found just the right spot for the grave, a spot where all the forces of wind, water, earth, and sky were in harmony.

He gathered key family members in that spot and began explaining to them all its harmonious perfections. Before he could get very far, there was a sudden mudslide on the slope above him. Seven people were buried alive. Six of them, including the fengshui master, died before they could be dug out.

The death toll was given in the press as two of the relatives, three cemetery workers, Mr. Zheng, and, quote, "a Taoist named Wu."

"A Taoist named Wu" … Isn't that a Johnny Cash song?

Further quote from the news story, quote:

A friend of Mr. Zheng's, metaphysician Lee Chengze, told TomoNews [that's a Taiwanese newswire] he was "puzzled" as to why Mr. Zheng had decided to visit the cemetery as that particular Sunday "was a bad day" to go there.

Ron said...

So would modern day Nazis set fire to thousands of Kindles ("Kindlingnacht") and thus, millions of books? The mind reels...

I clearly need breakfast.

Dennis said...

''If you think of Brick, you say to Brick, ‘What do you want, Brick?’ And Brick says to you, ‘I like an Arch.’ And if you say to Brick, ‘Look, arches are expensive, and I can use a concrete lintel over you. What do you think of that, Brick?’ Brick says, ‘I like an Arch.’ And it’s important, you see, that you honor the material that you use. [..] You can only do it if you honor the brick and glorify the brick instead of shortchanging it.''
Louis Kahn. Transcribed from the 2003 documentary 'My Architect: A Son’s Journey by Nathaniel Kahn'. Master class at Penn, 1971.

St. George said...

The words Martha Stewart translate into Chinese as Fung Shui.

Mundane housekeeping info always sounds more exotic in the context of an alien culture.

rehajm said...

So OCD isn't the only thing she needs medication for?

Dennis said...

Then the brick whispered: "If you don't make me an arch, I'd like to be thrown through your front window." But I protested, "But the repair would be so expensive, mister brick, sir!" The brick whispered in a his: "Then I want to smash your face..."

"MISTER BRICK!", I recoiled in horror.

rehajm said...

but I thought I owed you a warning

This is known as a disclaimer on okCupid.

rehajm said...

She must be allergic to cats.

CStanley said...

I'm completely unsurprised by this because the quotes in the first post already alluded to it. I sensed it even in the one about being transformed by experiencing order for the first time, it reminded me of a dichotomy I see in Christianity- where evangelicals believe in a transformative moment of "accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." In Catholicism I find a much more credible process of continually renewing and reorienting oneself toward God through the sacraments. It's a process, not a one time event.

Of course being mindful during the series of actions and events does help it to take hold and transform your life. And my faith tells me that there is something else there which really will transform me if I am open to it (that is, God's grace.) the practice of mindfulness can help us to experience grace whether it is the direct grace of God or the good feeling that comes from a sense of order in our surroundings,

Johanna Lapp said...

I'm neither a Shaker nor a Christian -- in fact, I'm a nondogmatic atheist -- but my alarm clock's wake-up playlist features "Simple Gifts" and "Sleepers, Wake" and any number of classical pieces that were originally liturgical music, folk songs from a time when the vast majority of folks shared Christian symbols, language, stories and characters who imbued their lyrics, and modern songs like Bob Franke's "Thanksgiving Eve" or Lui Collins' "There's a Light" that might be heard as devoutly Christian or woo-woo New Agey, depending upon the ears you bring to the lyrics on the CD.

I want the gifts of simplicity, freedom and humility, whether they come from the lyricist's God, the hearts of my forebears, or my own imagination. I can desire modesty and sexual self-control without being shackled to the Shakers' lifelong chastity. I can abstractly prize the uncluttered Shaker aesthetic amid piles of redundant books and CDs, knickknacks and clothing, devices and tools.

If there's useful information in a book, read around the ham-handed propaganda. In the immortal words of the philosopher Robbie Robertson, you take what you need and leave the rest.

How poor would we be if we demanded every friend renounce every thought we know is nonsense?

MayBee said...

Very very Japanese.

Johanna Lapp said...

My last comment inspired me to search, and I find Amazon at last has digital downloads of one of my favorite out-of-print albums. Lovely voices, sweet arrangements, uplifting sentiments.

Enter through Althouse's Amazon portal, search for "Ford and Heriza" and give a listen.

I explicitly disown track 10 and the horrible black and white photos on the cobbled-together cover art. If you do buy something, hit me up for the original album cover art.

Phil 3:14 said...

"it reminded me of a dichotomy I see in Christianity- where evangelicals believe in a transformative moment of "accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior." In Catholicism I find a much more credible process of continually renewing and reorienting oneself toward God through the sacraments. It's a process, not a one time event."

A misunderstanding Protestantism, evangelical or otherwise.

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure. "

Fernandinande said...

JStewart said...
the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot;


I cried because I had no shoes, then I met a man who had no feet, and I said to him "hey, man, can I have your shoes?"

Roger Sweeny said...

Just this morning I read a Popular Science article about robots:

"Those fears don’t particularly resonate in Japan. Unlike in Western nations, many citizens have always felt comfortable with the concept of robots. One reason for this, Hornyak suggests, is the country’s Shintoist heritage. The religion has imbued Japanese culture with deep animist beliefs, a tendency to ascribe spirit and personality to inanimate objects. The tradition, embedded in Japanese folklore and myth, can be seen around Tokyo even today. The city has a monument to eyeglasses in one park, Hornyak notes, and there’s an annual ceremony at Sensoji Temple to pay respect to needles that have seen their last use."

http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/will-your-next-best-friend-be-robot

JKB said...

I bought the book. Even in the first third, it has a new agey feel, but that is what sells.

This post about the animism reminded me of that Ikea commercial from a few years back with the lamp set on the curb, all alone, in the rain...

Christy said...

The evening ritual is a variation of a gratitude list, useful for focussing on what does and does not work in our lives.

Wonder what she would make of the Gormenghast attic, my idea of Wonderland?

Gabriel said...

I think it's unfair to tar the book as "New Age". The woman is Shinto, and Shinto is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. She wrote in Japanese for Japanese people, and her book has now been translated into English.

I don't see anything New Age about that.

Johanna Lapp said...

The self-appointed heralds of the New Age seem to appropriate and misrepresent the most ancient truths. Anybody promising you Zen wisdom between bookcovers is selling ten-cent shortcuts.

But yes, Ms Kondo is being unfairly lumped in with unlike things. Her book is on my library waiting list.

Anonymous said...

"If you don’t feel any joy when you hold her in your hands, I would rather you discard her."

I make that judgment everytime I have to hold my penis.