Cleaning Up, Throwing Out

When several titles arrive in our book room on the same topic, it’s time to take notice, and the preponderance of books on cleaning up—both at home and in the rest of your life—has been quite noticeable lately. I’ve been taking their advice to heart, and finding that it’s contagious—cleaning up in one area makes you want to make similar transformation elsewhere in the house and even in your health.

KondoIt all started when I got hooked on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (Ten Speed Pr., 2014). The life-changing part is no exaggeration! Kondo advises a simple credo: if it doesn’t spark joy, get rid of it. She gets into further nitty-gritty: keep the same kinds of things in the same place—all bags in one closet, for example—but the simplicity of her basic principle will resonate in your life as you never imagined.

From there I read Gretchen Rubin’s Better than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives (Crown, 2015). Rubin, like Kondo, keeps it simple, relating what should be an obvious truth: “habits eliminate the need for self-control.” Who wouldn’t like to exercise less self-control? In accessible terms—no self-help jargon here—she goes on to describe how to form good habits so that they become second nature and you’re good to yourself by accident. LJ’s self-help columnist Deborah Bigelow called Better than Before “One of the best books available on the subject” (LJ 2/1/15) and gave it a starred review.

ThriftI got a boost from the past in Andrew L. Yarrow’s Thrift: The History of an American Cultural Movement (Univ. of Massachusetts Pr., 2015), which portrays thrift as “the ethic of wise use.” The ancestor of today’s move toward simplicity was a flapper-era effort by those who were less fortunate to move up the ladder by saving. The initiative petered out in the post–World War II consumer frenzy, but in its day it got backing from organizations such as the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, and the temperance movement, all of which saw thrift as a match for their hardy, clean-living ethos.

Some titles on taming clutter also came our way, and two earned starred reviews. Donna Smallin’s Clear the Clutter, Find Happiness: One–Minute Tips for Decluttering and Refreshing Your Home and Your Life (Storey, 2014; LJ 12/14) offers help for the time-starved; as Bigelow noted, “The last thing any time-challenged unorganized person needs is a psychological analysis of disorganization and ways to correct one’s thought processes.” Smallin’s book, she explained, covers easy steps such as “random acts of organizing” and things like emptying the car trash bag when stopping for gas. Alexandra Chauran’s Clearing Clutter: Physical, Mental, Spiritual (Llewellyn. Jul.) takes a more inward-looking approach. Bigelow explains in her review (LJ 5/1/15) that Chauran urges readers to get rid of mental clutter as much as household detritus; the author’s suggestions for doing so include “meditation, the release of resentments, and concentration on acting in accordance with one’s values.”

Lifestyle, business and relationship coach, and professional organizer June Saruwatari’s Behind the Clutter (Morgan James, 2015) takes a spiritual view of creating “your best life.” The author advises that readers focus on four key terms: truth, love, meaning, and purpose. Echoing Kondo’s “does-this-spark-joy” test, those faced with clutter, says Saruwatari, should ask themselves “Do I absolutely love this?” and “What purpose does this serve in my life?” Reflecting on truth and meaning should offer some revelations, too, with readers encouraged to ponder the truth of their current situation and the meaning of the items around them.

rightsizeClutter is bad enough if you’re staying put, but what if you and your belongings have to hit the road? Professional organizer Regina Leeds offers the help you need in Rightsize…Right Now!: The 8-Week Plan to Organize, Declutter, and Make Any Move Stress-Free (Da Capo, 2015). The author opens with general advice such as leaving enough time to do the job right, creating a to-do list, and deciding to have a positive attitude even if the circumstances of the move aren’t happy. The chapters that follow address a week each, from “Week 1: Make a Plan” to “Week 8: Hidden Pockets of Unmade Decisions,” and together outline, in commonsense language, a way to make the journey as painless as possible.

If the clutter is even more personal, try ABC News correspondent Mara Schiavocampo’s Thinspired: How I Lost 90 Pounds—My Plan for Lasting Weight Loss and Self-Acceptance (Gallery, 2014). Schiavocampo does not mince words. Throughout the book, and especially in the chapter titled “It’s All About the Food: Great Bodies Are Made in the Kitchen, Not the Gym,” she warns readers that working out is not enough, though it’s essential. The author has been there, as her book’s title shows, and the steps she took, while requiring substantial dedication, are simple to understand. Sleeping enough is important, for example, as is planning meals rather than trying to figure out what to eat when you’re rushed and hungry.

It shouldn’t be all hard work, though. After you clean up and slim down, you have my permission to hit the couch with a novel, a goal that should be motivation enough for anyone!

Henrietta Verma About Henrietta Verma

Henrietta Verma is Senior Editorial Communications Specialist at NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore, and was formerly the reviews editor at Library Journal.