The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story
Written by Marie Kondo
Illustrated by Yuko Uramoto
Translated by Cathy Hirano
Ten Speed Press
June 27 2017
I’m a pretty organized person. After a recent divorce and significant downsizing, my house is just perfect for my girls and me. We–okay, I–ascribe to my dad’s motto, “there’s a place for everything, and for everything there’s a place.” That’s not to say that there aren’t a few messes around the house. I am the perfect combination of my dad, who is organized, and my mom, who was all about cleanliness, but also kept various piles of fire hazards and lots of sentimental items in many places. All in all, I didn’t think that Netflix’s Tidying Up With Marie Kondo could help me organize myself better, but I was still very interested in learning what she had to say.
Turns out the show is not simply about, well, tidying up. A tidier home is the very basic end product. I certainly learned a few tricks, some of which I might implement, others not so much. (Yeah, I’m still gonna shove my clothes into drawers and closets. As long as nothing falls out when I open them, I am satisfied with not having everything folded into neat rectangles, but I appreciate the notion.) And my Funko aren’t going anywhere.
Instead, the show is about the diverse journeys of self-discovery that each family undertakes. Some are touching, some are frustrating, some speak to my personal experiences, some are dull, some are simply a joy to watch. I appreciated the little life lessons Marie Kondo imparts through her #KonMari process and the notion of shaping a space that makes you happy to come home to.
Despite enjoying the show, I hadn’t planned on picking up her book thereafter, because I’m not a self-help book kind of gal. But a self-help manga? Now that I can get behind.
The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story is not just an instructional manual, though it does include instructions on the fine art of tidying up through the KonMari Method. It also reads left to right, so it might be a good starter for newer manga readers. There are diagrams on how to fold everything from socks and underwear to large shirts, and each of the ten chapters closes with a summary of the lessons presented. All of this is threaded through a light-hearted story about Chiaki, a 29-year-old business woman who loves too hard and too quickly, and struggles with an apartment full of things she owns “just because.” When she feels ashamed after the cute neighbour sees the chaotic state of her home, she searches for justification for her mess, certain there are others who live just fine without tidying up. Instead, she discovers Marie Kondo–who introduces herself as KonMari.
Chiaki immediately makes the assumption many people seem to make about the show or method without taking the time to look a little deeper. She assumes KonMari, whom she thinks of as the tidying up fairy due to her diminutive size, is there to help her physically tackle the mess, and even goes so far as to purchase two sets of cleaning supplies so they can both get to work.
But on her first visit, Kondo doesn’t even touch the mess, instead leaving Chiaki with homework: think about the ideal lifestyle she wants to live and how tidying up can make that a reality.
And there we have the magic of the KonMari Method.
Much like the families in the Netflix series, Chiaki goes on a journey of self-discovery that leaves her exhausted, frustrated, and broken, but also exuberant and at peace with herself as much as with her home. The initial hook for Chiaki to tidy up is getting with the cute neighbour, but the plot goes deeper than that. Though there is a significant amount of time spent on her romantic relationships, it is all in relation to the objects that clutter her house and therefore her life. KonMari helps Chiaki understand the difference between living a life in the present that makes her happy, versus one that is caught up in the past or fearful of the future because of the weight she gives to the objects in her home.
Through Chiaki’s tale, KonMari remains the master, in comparison to the show, which reveals that Kondo can learn and adjust too, as she deals with different people and their varied approaches and connections to their clutter. The manga even takes a moment to provide some backstory on how KonMari came to discover this method, having gone through her own personal journey of obsessive tidying up and the anxiety it caused her until she was able to find the balance of finding joy in what to keep, rather than stressing over what to discard.
Many of the arguments against the KonMari Method focus on the guru’s willingness to throw away so many personal items. The manga illustrates KonMari’s focus first on keeping the things that truly matter to us, or that “spark joy,” and letting go of the rest after showing appreciation for the role each item has played in our lives.
Uramoto’s art shifts from detailed depictions of Chiaki’s personal chaos to more clean and simple panels, using many of the common, expressive elements of manga. Chiaki’s range of emotions is evident in every moment, in contrast to KonMari’s bright smile and unassuming nature–except in the moments when Uramoto presents KonMari admonishing Chiaki, typically for trying to jump ahead in the process. Having seen her gentle temperament in the series, it’s difficult to associate these moments with the diminutive, soft-spoken woman.
Though I didn’t learn much more than I did in the show, I appreciated the way Kondo seamlessly blends her method into a surprisingly fulfilling story of Chiaki’s personal growth. If you’re curious about the KonMari Method but don’t want to commit to the series or book, The Life-Changing Manga of Tidying Up: A Magical Story is a fun, sweet, quick read that gently presents its concepts in a way that is relatable and empowering, and surprisingly realistic in terms of the timing and effort involved in the lifestyle of tidying up. Maybe you’ll discover that the KonMari Method is just what you need to tidy up your life. Maybe you’ll just pick up a few useful tips. Maybe you’ll just appreciate a cute story.
Whatever you do or don’t get out of this book, KonMari is perfectly fine if you discard it when you’re done.