The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Decluttering My Home and Writing

KonMari-ing My Home
On an impulse last spring, I purchased Marie Kondo’s book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Much to Andy’s horror, I made us read a few pages every night after dinner. He made it seem like torture, but secretly he loved it.

We blocked out a weekend for our KonMari tidying marathon. We didn’t make it through the whole book, but we tried to follow (almost all) the outlined directions. Here are a few key points:

  • Visualize your destination
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely
  • Tidy by category.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”
  • Discard before putting things back

We went through everything. Marie Kondo was right; it felt amazing. In a three-day period, we got rid of almost 20 enormous trash bags of stuff. Apparently, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

The surfaces of our home may not always look super tidy (I blame the toddler for 85% of the mess!), but everything has a place: our shelves, drawers and cabinets feel much more organized. Our home feels lighter.

KonMari-ing My Writing
Around this time, I began taking The Craft and Business of Writing Children’s Picture Books, a writing class offered by The Children’s Book Academy (CBA). It was a fabulous course and I learned a ton about writing picture books.

One of my favorite lessons was about editing for brevity – or, getting the word count down. Currently, picture books range between 400-600 words, preferably less. This means picture book writers must convey plot, setting, character development, conflict, resolution, emotion and meaning in a just a few words. Every word counts. Literally.

Through the course, I learned several helpful strategies to edit for brevity. It is like using the KonMari method on writing:

  • Visualize your destination: What is the story really about? What are the core themes? Knowing these key ideas helps writers determine the necessary and superfluous aspects of their writing.
  • Discard all at once, intensely and completely: This is more KonMari + Joanna than CBA, but I have found that when I edit for brevity, I am more effective if I go through the entire story at one time. After each subsequent revision, I do another round of discarding. Tidying writing in one go helps me better understand the heart of my story. Then I revise and discard, revise and discard until I’m left with only heart. At least, this is how it works in theory; I’m still learning!
  • Tidy by category: For starters, chop characters, plot points that don’t move the story, unnecessary descriptions, conjunctions and qualifiers (and, just, but…), adjectives and adverbs, redundancy. Then, get into the nitty-gritty of word choice.
  • Ask, “Does it spark joy?”: Everything left in the story should “spark joy” so to speak. Is it vital to the story? Maybe it doesn’t spark joy; maybe it brings tears, or helps readers understand a character. Critique groups are usually right in their suggestions (my critique groups are wonderful!); but sometimes, despite what everyone else says, only the author knows the spark.
  • Discard before putting things back: Closely related to the second point. Discard before putting the story back together. Sometimes, this means rearranging things and reorganizing. Discard, rearrange, revise, repeat.

KonMari-ing my writing was initially a painful process. I felt attached to every character, every word, every detail. But, by the end of the class, I had edited my 1200+-word picture book down to 636 words. The story is vastly improved. The emotions, characters, plot and themes shine through more clearly now.

Apparently, like with our stuff, we don’t need most of the things we think we need.

KonMari-ing really is magical and life-changing!