The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo


Marie Kondo gets to the heart of decluttering

“Effective tidying involves only two essential actions: discarding and deciding where to store things.”

There are hundreds of decluttering and organising books on the market, guiding you on your chosen journey to ‘get rid of stuff’. I’ve read many of them over the past four years, after a “my stuff owns me” revelation in early 2011. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying (or The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, depending on the version) is possibly one of the most extremely simple, because she gets down to the nitty gritty by asking one brilliant question.

“Does it spark joy?”

When you hold something in your hand, and really feel it, does it make your heart sing, or do you feel indifferent, or, at the other end of the scale, repulsed? We think we might have indifferent reactions to, say, kitchen utensils, but if you hold your whisk and think, “That makes lovely scrambled eggs for breakfast on Sunday mornings” then the association is a good one, and therefore the item stays. If you hold a book in your hand and think “I disliked the main character immensely”, then, obviously, it’s a goner.

I read this book quite quickly, because Kondo has a very relaxed style, with the occasional anecdote and story from a client. She is a Japanese tidying expert, and has been decuttering, cleaning and organising things since she was a small child. It was her calling, so to speak. Once she’d finished with her room, she did her siblings’, and then her parents’, with mixed results! So she strongly suggests sticking with your own personal things at the beginning of your what-will-soon-be mania. Organising is divided into clothes, books, papers (sorting through papers! Argh!), miscellaneous items and lastly, sentimental items and keepsakes and should be done in this order.

As mentioned before, we live in a small house, which I love, because it limits what we can bring in. We have a wardrobe, set of three large drawers and two smaller chests of drawers each. Before reading this book, I was an advocate of Project333, where you have about 33 pieces of clothing in your cupboard for each season. I hadn’t quite got around to whittling my wardrobe down, because I pretty much had 33 items of clothing for EACH season, and stored the out-of-season clothes in the three large drawers and hung the in-season things, including t-shirts etc, in the cupboard. Then I only needed to look into the cupboard to decide what to wear. Surprisingly, I miss this a little bit – knowing everything you’d decided was right for the season is right there in front of you. I hung t-shirts and singlets and shirts and skirts and shorts and jeans in the cupboard. No guess work really.

Now, everything that needs to be hung is hung, so summer and winter skirts snuggle side by side. Seeing these summer skirts when it’s -4 outside does seem like a bit of a waste of space at the moment, but I’m making a commitment to the KonMari Method and know there will be an adjustment period! But one thing I am truly excited about is Kondo’s great way to fold clothes. When you read about it you slap your head in disbelief that you’d never thought of it before. For example, instead of putting all your t-shirts piled up on top of each other in a drawer, so the bottom ones rarely see the light of day, fold them all on their side, from the front of the drawer to the back, so you can “flick” through them easily and see them all in one go. This little change means I’m now wearing things I’d forgotten about.

Kondo could be classified as a little bit odd, but by goodness, she is passionate. And you cannot hold that kind of harmless passion against anyone. She loves it. She’s made a business of it. She’s written a million-copy bestseller about it. She’s into it! And I like that about her. She has many sweet ways to help you let things go and most of the time her logic is sound (note that I use “most of the time” … if you read it, I think you’ll know what I mean).

But her undeniably intelligent strategy is this – once you have only the things that spark joy, and you’re found the right place where they should live, you will never have to tidy or declutter again; the day-to-day house stuff solves itself. When you love what you see around you, the promise is almost there that it will be a life filled with much more joy. And therein lies her perfect pitch. After a recent clean-out, I still have the last three sections to attack (Papers! Argh!) and in a strange way, despite my joking protestations, I’m actually quite looking forward to it.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup


The original book was a best-seller

Once you get your head around the writing style – mainly the old-fashioned language – this book is fantastic. I pretty much read it in an afternoon, it was so engrossing … and very unsettling.

Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup was published in 1853 and documents Northup’s kidnapping and enslavement. After stating he was a free man from New York, he was beaten so badly by his captors he decided it was better to preserve his life and bide his time. He was sold and passed around between an unfortunate mix of decent and horrific owners (guess which way the balance fell), tried to escape, fought in self-defence, helped others, built things, picked cotton, played his violin at gentrified parties … it’s a life of one thousand men. What he goes through, and how he manages to be free, make for mesmerising reading.

No wonder it was turned into a movie (which I haven’t seen). I’ll be looking out for it now though.

Have you ever been so engrossed in a book, you turn into a zombie? Here are photos Leo took to prove it.


Can’t talk, or even look …


When it got a bit cold, I just rugged up more. No way was I moving!

I wanted to read it fast because not only was it just one of those stories, but I also didn’t want that stop-start reading experience I had with Alice Monro.

Do you think you enjoy a book more when you read it in one or two sittings, rather than a page or two each night? I really like getting my teeth into a book and believe this intensive reading experience plays a major role in how much you enjoy a story.

I’d definitely recommend this book … to be in awe of one man’s fight against injustice.

The love of a good woman by Alice Monro


A collection of short stories

Maybe I was distracted while reading this collection of short stories by Canadian author Alice Monro, but I just couldn’t get my teeth into it. Possibly that is part of the short story genre?

Monro writes beautifully, and some of the stories will stay with me for a while, but her style is such that the end isn’t really the end. There’s a lot left to the imagination, some guessing going on, and you’re left with more to think about. Preferably, I like a story to have an absolute ending, a resolution, but maybe that’s something I need to work on, as opposed to saying it’s a fault in her style, because she’s a very popular writer.

Something sinister lies behind almost every story in the collection. Something happens, or is hinted at happening, that is unsettling. The title story is about a death that for years goes unexplained, and it slowly comes to light that some of the nice people of the town are not all that nice after all. For the main character to still love, and want to be involved with, the murderer was a mystery to me. It takes all kinds in this world, I know.

Of all the stories, I enjoyed “The Children Stay” the most. It was beautifully told, about a woman’s life going in a direction no one expected, not even her. The ending left a melancholy, but satisfied, feeling.

Maybe towards the end of the year, I’ll try reading another collection of Monro’s works. The love of a good woman has definitely contributed to my mental fitness, as the outcomes were challenging. But for now, I’m going to search out stories that have a beginning, a middle, and a definite end.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

What a load of bollocks!

What a load of bollocks!

The first half of this book was okay, an interesting theme with some interesting, albeit unlikeable, characters.

The second half was a travesty. I got to page 395 (of 482) before a shouted “THIS IS B**LSH*T” to the empty room. Waiting so long to say that, and keeping it so clean, showed some serious restraint.

I read to the end, but wow, what a major disappointment. The book was terrible. Illogical. Implausible. Sick. And it ended so abruptly it was as if the author wanted to be rid of the book as much as I did.

Such a letdown, as I had really enjoyed The Time Traveler’s Wife all those years ago.

Sigh. Onwards and upwards.

This book shouldn’t be categorised in the Mentally Fit section, because it has contributed to me being mentally UNfit, but it’s a book I’ve read in 2015 and therefore has to be categorised somewhere.


Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Reese Witherspoon will play Cheryl Strayed in the upcoming movie for Wild

Reese Witherspoon will play Cheryl Strayed in the upcoming movie for Wild

If you don’t know me so well, you may not know I’m an avid walker. I’ve done a lot of day walks in Switzerland plus I’ve walked Der Weg der Schweiz (2014), Hadrians Wall in England (2014), from Bingen to Koblenz on the Rhine in Germany (2013), the middle section of the Swiss Camino (2012) and it all started back in 2011 when I walked 900km on The Camino Frances in Spain. I met my partner on that walk too!

So when I heard a new movie was being made about a woman who went on a three-month walk in America, it was time to find the non-fiction book.

It’s my first book for 2015, and it made me want to sling on my backpack and go walking again.

Cheryl does it pretty hard though – she’s packed the kitchen sink, has massive problems with her feet (oh I can relate!) and sleeps in a tent most nights (whereas I had the luxury of sleeping in a bed every night – not always a great one, but at least a bed). She meets some fun people, soaks up the views, and generally has a great time despite her minimal budget and some hairy situations.

Highly recommended for an easy, inspirational read.

It will be interesting to see Reese Witherspoon play Cheryl in the upcoming movie.