Tidying up

Prescriptive books (the ones that tell the reader how to live life) are almost invariably irritating. That's largely because everyone needs to discover their own path, and no two people -- even identical twins -- share that same path. So every book that aims to tell a story about a way to orient life runs the risk of turning its readers either into cultists or sworn enemies.

"The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up" has, beneath all the prescriptive layers, a useful message buried all the way back on page 187:

"Selecting and discarding one's possessions is a continuous process of making decisions based on one's own values. Discarding hones one's decision-making skills." 

That's not a bad message -- and it's also neither the message likely to be taken away by the "tidying up" cultists, nor by the sworn enemies (some of whom have fixated on the author's admission that she keeps only 30 books).

In the end, it's ironic that a book about "tidying up" itself contains a lot of padding -- filler that doesn't really contribute to the narrative. There's a good chance that much of the book will rub the average reader the wrong way, but when taken at arm's length, there is something redemptive to the core idea of having a deliberate relationship with one's "stuff" (rather than letting it accumulate passively all around).

Verdict: Discount the prescriptions, but consider the overall diagnosis

Brian Gongol

Brian Gongol

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