Claims about clutter

by on July 2, 2016 at 11:09 am in Books, Education, Science, The Arts | Permalink

Tidy by category, not by location

One of the most common mistakes people make is to tidy room by room.  This approach doesn’t work because people think they have tied up when in fact they have only shuffled their things around from one location to another or scattered items in the same category around the house, making it impossible to get an accurate grasp of the volume of things they actually own.

The correct approach is to tidy by category.  This means tidying up all the things in the same category in one go.  For example, when tidying the clothes category, the first step is to gather every item of clothing from the entire house in one spot.  This allows you to see objectively exactly how much you have.  Confronted with an enormous mound of clothes, you will also be forced to acknowledge how poorly you have been treating your possessions.  It’s very important to get an accurate grasp of the sheer volume for each category.

That is from Marie Kondo, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying, a recommended book.  Also never tidy the kitchen first, do not keep make-up and skin care products together, and “…the first step in tidying is to get rid of things that don’t spark joy.”

I have a related tip.  If you want to do a truly significant clean-up, focus only on those problems which are not immediately visible.  This will help you build efficient systems, and prepare the way for more systematic solutions to your clutter problems.  You’ll then be prompted to take care of the visible problems in any case.  If you focus on the visible problems instead, you will solve them for a day or two but they will rapidly reemerge because the overall quality of your systems has not improved.

1 Christine July 2, 2016 at 11:21 am

Love Marie Kondo’s first book. I will probably pick up the second, SPARK JOY, sooner or later, although on first perusal I thought it was too much about folding. I’ve begun her system, made my way entirely through clothing, books, papers, office, and craft supplies. I predict I will be fully Kon-Mari’ed some time this winter when I have more indoor time. I’m curious how Tyler feels about the “books” category. Are books clutter?

2 prior_test2 July 2, 2016 at 11:29 am

‘Are books clutter?’

No need to ask – ‘Tyler Cowen sits with a cranberry juice and a pile of books he no longer intends to read. He’s at Harry’s Tap Room, near the Air France ticket counter in the main terminal of Dulles International Airport, on his way to São Paulo. Two days ago he e-mailed me his reading list for the trip—27 books—and I vowed to keep up with it. Already, before he boards, he has assembled a pile of discards. “Unger. I’d say I browsed it. I looked at every page,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with the book. It’s a good book to stir up leftists.” Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Left Alternative falls with a thud to the table.

Cowen, 49, has round features, a hesitant posture, and an unconcerned haircut. He handles each book as he ticks it off his list. “This I discarded. It appeared to get a good review, but there’s no framework, just scattered vignettes. I looked at 20, 30 pages.” Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes, thud. Cowen’s first rule of reading is as follows: You need not finish. He takes up books with great hope and no mercy, and when he is done—sometimes after five minutes—he abandons them in public, an act he calls a “liberation.”‘

In slightly less charitable terms, if the Bloomberg article is to be relied on, Prof. Cowen prefers letting other people deal with the clutter he just abandons in public.

3 Christine July 2, 2016 at 11:31 am

I was hoping Tyler would answer, not you.

4 prior_test2 July 2, 2016 at 12:52 pm

Prof. Cowen’s actions, as described in that article, don’t speak louder than words for you?

You must be a loyal reader.

5 The First Christine July 2, 2016 at 2:25 pm

I actually didn’t write that. I didn’t expect Tyler to respond, and was just trying to spark discussion.

6 Thiago Ribeiro July 2, 2016 at 11:54 am

“Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Left Alternative falls with a thud to the table.” Maybe Mr. Cowen should be a little more open-minded. Mr. Unger was one of the youngest faculty members to receive tenure from the Harvard Law School (among his students the most famous one probably is the America president, Mr. Obama), is among Brazil’s leading intellectuals and, as Long-Term Planning Secretary and Minister of Strategic Affairs, he was one of the main architects of Brazil’s current economical/political/social system and also helped to choose Brazilian military priorities until 2020. He’s an accomplished social thinker, law philosopher, educator, politician, campaign manager and political adviser.

7 ChrisA July 2, 2016 at 2:02 pm

“He’s an accomplished social thinker, law philosopher, educator, politician, campaign manager and political adviser.” – instead of catagories, can you point to any tangible things he has “accomplished”? Not to be snarky, but few members of academia actually achieve anything real.

8 Thiago Ribeiro July 2, 2016 at 3:46 pm

Take your pick: Aside teaching thousands of students (including the current leader of the Free World) at the world’s most important university in the world and training them for greatness, he managed two presidential campaigns, almost got a seat in the Lower House (he fell short of winning by about 1000 votes) despite having almost no budget or donations– he was my parents’ generation’s Bernie Sanders—, he revised Brazilian military strategy, approved the plans for building Brazilian nuclear submarines and buying new fighter aircraft to replace all our 40-year old F-5s. He also helped to plan the Rio Olympic Games, introduced sweeping reforms in the state institutions that take care of homeless children in Rio de Janeiro State in the 80’s, was one of the leading theorists of the Critical Legal Studies in the USA, wrote tens of books on Law, Philosophy and Religion, was of the main political advisors of both president Lula and president Dilma (before resigning in 2015 and go back to Harvard) and was chief of staff of the opposition party, the MDB, that would eventually succeed in ending the decades-long dictatorial regime in Brazil. He also devised a bold plan, now in the early phases of implementation, for the sustenaible develoment of Brazil’s Amazon basin– a region which comprise about half of Brazil territory and whose relative poverty and backwardness have been the shame of a nation.

9 Anon7 July 3, 2016 at 3:52 am

Brazil’s military does nothing of any great military consequence and his helping to ensure that it doesn’t is nothing to crow about (not to mention the political and economic shambles left by Lula and Dilma).

10 Thiago Ribeiro July 3, 2016 at 6:06 am

“Brazil’s military does nothing of any great military consequence and his helping to ensure that it doesn’t is nothing to crow about (not to mention the political and economic shambles left by Lula and Dilma).”
We don’t do heroic feats like bombing weddings, raping Japanese school girls (at least, I think, American soldiers don’t rape boys, how macho!) and torturing war prisoners, that’s true, but Brazil is the key to South America’s long term stability, its current political configuration been the work of the Brazilian Empire in the late 1800s when Brazil overthrew the proto-fascist regimes of Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina. As Mr. Nixon said, wherever Brazil goes, there will go all South America. Also Brazil was a strategic ally of the USA in its deadly struggle against Mr. Hitler (as Mr. Dean Acheson acknowledged in an ardent letter to Mr. Molotov in the late 40s against the hateful criticism the propaganda sheet called Pravda published against Brazil–that you choose to side with Pravda and Joseph Stalin is, to be honest, no surprise: the widespread and unprincipled anti-Brazilian propaganda creates strange bedfellows).

11 Anon7 July 3, 2016 at 2:49 pm

I don’t see how torturing Brazil’s own population is better than torturing illegal enemy combatants. Strategic ally during WWII? I guess if you mean doing virtually nothing (Canada with a quarter of Brazil’s population performed impressively during WWII) and then hosting fleeing Nazis on Brazil’s lovely beaches after the war counts.

12 Thiago Ribeiro July 3, 2016 at 4:06 pm

1) We don’t torture our own people or foreigners (suffices to say that Brazil only accepted to intern our Japanese population–and remember: São Paulo is the biggest “Japanese city” outside Japan– after a Japanese rebellion started after WW II ended, even our para-fascist war regime wouldn’t dare to do what your president, Congress and Supreme Court did, motivated only by racism, against harmless civilians). We don’t rape the schoolchildren of our allies. We don’t bomb weddings. We have nothing in our history like your Civil War and your Jim Crow laws.

2) As for Brazil’s strategic importance for the cause of democracy in the World, ask Mr. Acheson why he praised us and ask Mr. Stalin why he hated us. If Brazil hadn’t betrayed the Nazis and lent his air bases to the USA, it would have striken a might blown against America’s war effort. Also, Brazilian soldiers were essential to the conquest of Italy. Also, we kept the pro-Nazism Argemtines in check, preventing them from taking advantage of America’s engagements in Europe and Asia to backstab America. The Argentines welcomed the Nazi fugitives, we never did it–the ones who found their way to Brazil (Mr Mengele, the Angel of Death is an exmple) just succeeded in hiding their true identity (in Argentina, Mengele used his real name) and evade the Brazilian authorities as they did with the American and European authorities. Brazil wholeheartedly supported the cause of freedom, peace human dignity, fighting ahainst the Nazist beast and welcoming Jewish refugees, while Americans turned them down and sent them back to death in Germany-occupied Europe. We did what was right and we are both made proud and humble by our forefathers’ great legacy. They have fought a good fight, they have finished their course, they have kept the faith. Go and do likewise.

13 Michael July 2, 2016 at 4:46 pm

looking at the mess that is Brazil, how exactly is this to impress us? Also, being minister, getting tenure etc. show that he’s a successfull careerist, not that he’s any good intellectually
(mind you, I don’t know either way, he may well have written the mother of all books, but you give zero argument for it)

14 Thiago Ribeiro July 2, 2016 at 5:29 pm

“Also, being minister, getting tenure etc. show that he’s a successfull careerist, not that he’s any good intellectually.”

Evidently, the sole reason you and I didn’t get tenure at Harvard, didn’t revolutionized the military affairs of a country larger than the Roman Empire at its height, didn’t become one of the leading lights of an important school of tought, didn’t help to bring down an oppressive regime, didn’t lead a South American country to achieve an unprecedent opportunity to host the Olympic Games and didn’t improve dramatically the lives of hundreds of thousands of homeless children is because we’re too good for all that. It’s what I tell my wife, anyway. “It’s all politics, you know”.

15 Thor July 3, 2016 at 1:07 am

I’ve read two of his books (not the latest). He’s a second tier thinker, at best. If you are an info-vore or a bibliophile you will perhaps have heard of him, but that’s true of hundreds of thinkers. If you were writing a history of the Critical Legal Studies movement, he would get a mention. But in this (MR) context, Thiago wouldn’t be mentioning him — extolling his virtues — if he weren’t Brazilian.

16 Thiago Ribeiro July 3, 2016 at 6:31 am

“He’s a second tier thinker, at best. If you are an info-vore or a bibliophile you will perhaps have heard of him, but that’s true of hundreds of thinkers.”
For example, literally thousands of thinkers MR bloggers and commenters praise extravagantly every month–like stones casted in the water, they make some little circles and then sink. I, for one, freely admit I don’t measure the size of the contribution of a great intellectual by the number of times he’s mentioned by People magazine or by MTV. But again I am not American.
” But in this (MR) context, Thiago wouldn’t be mentioning him — extolling his virtues — if he weren’t Brazilian.”
I wouldn’t be mentioning him if he had not been mentioned first in a most dismissive and, to be frank, foppipsh fashion by a guy whose thing is pretending every will-o’-the-wisp is the Sun. It is sad to see, once again, prejudice barring our people from a fair hearing and for winning the place we surely deserve at the Concert of Nations.

17 stephan July 2, 2016 at 11:40 am

Her first book (“The life changing magic of tidying up is 80-90% of it), the second book is refinement and yes has a chapter on folding ( pack drawers like a bento box/fold clothes like origami). I found the first book very useful. I got rid of most of my clothes and half of my books. I don’t seem to miss them. Actually I got rid of “Spark joy” after I read i but I kept “The life changing magic”

18 Oriol July 2, 2016 at 11:23 am

Reminds me of how much cleaner my code looks after eliminating duplicities

19 Dr Jeckly and Mr. Hyde July 2, 2016 at 12:16 pm

Why would you eliminate dupilcates when instead you could go to Diesny world and say high to mickey mouse and bugs bunny?

20 Simon July 2, 2016 at 12:17 pm

That is the most nonsensical sentence I have ever read.

21 anomdebus July 2, 2016 at 5:19 pm

Pour encourager les autres

22 prior_test2 July 2, 2016 at 11:34 am

That is not appropriate.

23 PC police strick again July 2, 2016 at 12:15 pm

Get a sense of humor

24 prior_test2 July 2, 2016 at 12:54 pm

Are we knowing trying for double headers, mistyping included?

Streng Dich an, bitte.

25 too hot for MR July 2, 2016 at 1:37 pm

He’s a German who spends his days trolling the blog of some professors he’s bitter toward. Probably hit a little close to home.

26 rayward July 2, 2016 at 12:06 pm

I prefer the French term: mise en place. Everything in its place. It’s usually used in a culinary setting but has universal application. First time visitors to my home sometimes ask if anybody lives there. I take it as a compliment. I solved clothing clutter after attending a party at my friend/client’s home. Known for (among other things) his impeccable clothing, I was impressed with the closet in his bedroom: on one side, a rack of identical, custom made dress shirts, light blue with white French cuffs and white collars, and on the other side, a rack of identical dark blue pin stripe custom made wool suits. Problem solved. I have a home in the low country, where it’s warm much of the year. The array of casual clothing sold in stores is bewildering. I solved it like my friend/client: a drawer full of identical seersucker shorts, blue and green, and a closet full of identical seersucker trousers and polo shirts, pink and blue. Not only does it solve clutter in my closet, it eliminated clutter in my brain since I don’t have to make decisions about what to wear since all the choices are the same. Too many choices creates clutter. I’m bewildered by the choices of automobiles, not only different makes and styles but different colors. No two cars are alike because no two people are alike. The same applies to most everything, from clothing and cars to furniture and paint colors. That most people have no taste is, I assume, beside the point. Mise en place.

27 Pedro Armendariz July 3, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Where I come from we call these Class A and Class B uniforms.


28 Mark Thorson July 2, 2016 at 12:46 pm

There’s a sense of neatness which is peculiar to the Japanese. My father once commented on how everything I built was so neat. My father taught me how to solder and build circuits, but somehow my mother taught me to be neat. The resistors were always arranged with their color codes in the same direction, and the wires always grouped in bundles. It’s the Japanese way. If this woman can teach it to Westerners, I suppose that’s okay. It can’t hurt them, but it may set an unreasonable goal.

29 too hot for MR July 2, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Ten years ago, it was standard practice in banks and casinos to “bank-face” currency…i.e. all the Benjamins are face-up and aligned the same direction. It’s very nice in presentation, though of course somewhat meaningless and fastidious. Young cashiers and tellers today frequently can’t be bothered.

I see after typing this that Fed did away with the requirement several years ago.

30 Rich Berger July 2, 2016 at 1:38 pm

A friend sent me these last week. My wife said they were old, and she had seen the before.

When a man steals your wife, there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.

King David

After marriage, husband and wife become two sides of a coin; they just can’t face each other, but still they stay together.

Sasha Guitry

By all means marry. If you get a good wife, you’ll be happy.
If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher.

Woman inspires us to great things, and prevents us from achieving them.
The great question, which I have not been able to answer… is, “What does a woman want?”
I had some words with my wife, and she had some paragraphs with me.

Sigmund Freud

‘Some people ask the secret of our long marriage. We take time to go to a restaurant two times a week. A little candlelight, dinner, soft music and dancing. She goes Tuesdays, I go Fridays’
Red Skelton

‘There’s a way of transferring funds that is even faster than electronic banking. It’s called marriage.’

Sam Kinison

‘I’ve had bad luck with both my wives
The first one left me, and the second one didn’t.’
James Holt McGavra

Two secrets to keep your marriage brimming.
1. Whenever you’re wrong, admit it,
2. Whenever you’re right, shut up.
Patrick Murray
The most effective way to remember your wife’s birthday is to forget it once…

You know what I did before I married?
Anything I wanted to.

My wife and I were happy for twenty years.
Then we met.
Henry Youngman
A good wife always forgives her husband when she’s wrong.

Rodney Dangerfield

A man inserted an ‘ad’ in the classifieds: ‘Wife wanted’. Next day he received a hundred letters.
They all said the same thing: ‘You can have mine.’


First Guy (proudly): ‘My wife’s an angel!’
Second Guy : ‘You’re lucky, mine’s still alive.’

31 too hot for MR July 2, 2016 at 1:53 pm

Joke among Jews: Why do Jewish men die before their wives?

Because they want to.

32 Rich Berger July 2, 2016 at 2:15 pm

My wife had a refrigerator magnet that said “No woman ever shot a man who was doing the dishes”. I always thought of that as my safe space.

33 Thomas Taylor July 2, 2016 at 3:53 pm

Those are great. Evidently my wife is great, and she is looking over my shoulders, too.

34 dearieme July 2, 2016 at 1:51 pm

The joy of decluttering is finding what you own. Oh, look, some freshman physics notes. Goodness me, did I really know so much Field Theory? Oh, there’s some freshman maths. Did I really do over a thousand example problems? Stone the crows! What’s this? Bloody hell, it’s the Sherman Morrison update. I’d forgotten all about that. Etc etc. Mind you, you won’t necessarily get decluttering done quickly, but you will enjoy yourself. Good Lord, a Peter Drucker book! And some notes including the lecturer’s opinion of Joan Robinson: oooh, he didn’t like her, did he?

Fantastic fun.

35 Todd K July 2, 2016 at 3:49 pm

“Oh, look, some freshman physics notes. Goodness me, did I really know so much Field Theory?”

It’s even worse when you find notes from advanced physics courses if you haven’t done it in over a decade or two: “Was that seriously me?”
A truly bizarre experience but sort of funny for a few minutes before you forget again that that was you for another decade.

36 ChrisA July 2, 2016 at 2:07 pm

The best way to manage clutter is to move every 2 or 3 years.

37 Todd K July 2, 2016 at 3:51 pm


38 Anon July 2, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Not necessarily. We have moved twice internationally and once within the U.S in the past 6 years ; everytime we resolve to get rid of clutter, but end up packing quite a bit of it putting it off for the next time.

39 PatrickM July 2, 2016 at 10:37 pm

Actually the moving thing does work (for me) as it means all my stuff in one place. When I see all my clothes in a pile…or all my cycling stuff…or my books…I am aware of how a certain % of that has no use to me. But spread out across multiple rooms, each thing has a place in “that room” even if it might not have a place in my actual life. Thanks for the post.

40 Todd K July 2, 2016 at 10:47 pm

Twenty years ago I was returning home from a stint in Japan and stopped for a few hours in Manila Airport. I switched airlines so was told I needed to ditch a suitcase and put important things into a box to send to the U.S instead.

I never got that box and whenever I looked for something that wasn’t in my apartment it warmed my heart to remember that someone in the Philippians was using it and was kind enough to help me get rid of what would have eventually become clutter.

41 Bill July 2, 2016 at 2:35 pm

A tidy office is for a sterile and unimaginative mind.

That’s what I tell my wife when she asks me to clean my office.

I then cite her to research on creativity and clutter.

But, I have to find it first some place over there in that pile.

42 mikeInThe716 July 2, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Being acquainted with hoarding types, I think the guilt (and sort error) implications from recycling diktats are non-minor factors in clutter accumulation.
Living in a poor, mildly corrupt, blue urban area has a benefit of near zero enforcement of recycling. Visiting green-ish friends have been have been visibly shaken (and upset?) at my ease and simplicity of throwing everything into a trash dumpster. Which often often contains mortal-sin type items like lawn clippings and worn greasy auto parts from the landlord / shade-tree mechanic.

43 Butler T. Reynolds July 5, 2016 at 11:52 am

When I throw a beer bottle in the trash in view of my lefty friends, the look on their faces are similar to what I’d imagine if I casually dropped a bible or flag in the trash in front of my righty friends.

44 NG July 2, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Right on, brother.

45 Troll me July 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm

If it doesn’t fit in my backpack then it doesn’t come. Easy. Well, there’s always a little more room then.

46 Thor July 3, 2016 at 1:17 am

You need to tell us how big your back is before this means anything. I’m travelling with a smallish 20 litre backpack (and a big suitcase) and in order to carry Matthew White’s brilliant book Atrocitology, I had to jettison Herodotus and a Dumas novel.

47 Thor July 3, 2016 at 1:18 am

Backpack. Stupid autocorrect.

48 Cyrus July 3, 2016 at 7:01 am

Japan sometimes seems to illustrate the claim that once a compulsive behavior is widely shared among the population, it is no longer a symptom of mental illness.

49 prairie economist July 3, 2016 at 8:01 am

A few years ago, I divvied up routine cleaning role assignments for me, the wife and kids as follows:

*Upper surfaces (tables and counters)
*Lower surfaces (floors)
*Trash duty

That did, of course, leave off deep-cleaning things that are more rarely done, but kept the fundamentals tidy enough. Since we rotated the chores, it also gave each child experience in each of those categories.

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