This story is part of a series on how we clean—from taming your trove of photos to washing your tuchus.
Gawd, just look at your kitchen drawers. Junk drawers, every single one of them. Your shelves are groaning with enough books to last you for a dozen desert islands. Your closets contain torrents of T-shirts, boxes full of papers, and piles of dust-bunnied shoes. Your desk is a forest of stress-beavered ballpoint pens. You need to tidy the fuck up.
I know it’s hard. It’s overwhelming, it’s emotional, it would take so much time. Messie Kondo feels your pain … but she’s not going to tolerate your bellyaching. In her new book Tidy the Fck Up*, Messie Condo gives you practical, salty, unvarnished advice about making your space your happy place—and maybe doing some emotional work on yourself while you’re at it. To get there, don’t worry about what brings you joy. Be pragmatic. Hold up your belongings and ask yourself if you like it, if you need it, if you can easily replace it. If you have no clue why you like something, that’s OK. Just focus on what makes you and you alone happy, she says. The truism “knowing what you really want is a superpower” extends beyond a newly pruned shoe collection. So let’s get to work: As Condo says, it’s time to put on some big girl pants and deal with your crap.
WIRED: Your book is … direct?
Messie Condo: I wanted to create a funny, down-to-earth guide to tidying for foul-mouthed, lazy people like me who want to get their shit together but don’t know where to start.
Obviously, you’re playing off of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
Well, I had read Kondo’s book and really wanted to implement it, but couldn’t quite wrap my head around the whole “sparking joy” thing. And one day when I was going through my closet, there was a shirt that I thought, “I don’t know why I love this I just love this.” And that’s when the idea of surrounding yourself with things that you love hit me.
I hope that my book is approachable and accounts for the fact that we are all just overwhelmed and trying to get through life.
So it’s for people for whom Marie Kondo is maybe a little too precious.
It does seem like she has more control over her life than a lot of us do.
Yes, exactly. Maybe it’s a cultural difference, but I feel like most people are messy and busy and just don’t have the time or energy to focus that much on creating a perfectly neat space.
When you’re happy with your space, even if it’s still a little messy, that’s where you stop. It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to look like the Container Store. It just has to make you happy.
So what’s the biggest mistake that people make when they aspire to tidiness?
Trying to be perfect. People are different and people change and life gets in the way and there’s no point in trying to be perfect. You just gotta do what works for you and leave the rest.
And is the salty language part of getting people to not strive for perfection?
I like to think of it as a balance between cheerleader and drill sergeant. The best advice is equal parts tough love and “I get where you’re coming from.”
Where should people start? What’s the quick, easy thing that people can do that just sort of unravels their brain that little bit?
Whatever is just bugging the crap out of you. That’s what you tackle first because that’s going to give you the most momentum, and that’s going to make you feel good when you’re finished with it. But it’s got to be something little, like the bathroom cabinet or your shoes in the hallway. Something where you can see immediate results.There’s no one size fits all. Everybody’s different and everybody’s going to have their quirks and their pet peeves. Tackle the pet peeve first.
Ack! But my basement just gets fuller and fuller and that task gets bigger and bigger.
That’s true. You have to chip away at it. I mean if you get in the mood where you want to go full Tasmanian Devil on something, hit the basement first. But more often than not, you just have to start chipping away.
One of the things you say is that knowing what you really want is a superpower. That’s deep.
I am not personally a super-decisive person, so I’ve come to realize that clarity is a superpower and deciding what you want is the only way to get it. But it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. It’s something that you need to practice—I’ve needed to practice it—and I think that in tidying and tackling these little projects, you’re really learning how to be more decisive and build up those “fuck it” muscles where you can say, “I’m done with this. It needs to go.”
Fuck it muscles—tell me more.
Fuck it muscles are when you pick up something, and you realize you’re getting in your head and it doesn’t actually matter, and you say fuck it and get rid of it. Do that with small things and say, “This doesn’t matter as much as I think it does. Fuck it.” Get rid of it. Donate it, recycle it, whatever you need to do. Then it becomes second nature. And when your fuck it muscles are nice and strong, that’s when you tackle the basement.
But some of those things are sentimental!
You’re getting in your head. You’re worrying about “Aunt Susan gave this to me. I really shouldn’t get rid of it.” But if you know how you want your space to look, you’re going to have a much easier time making those decisions. And as you make those decisions, you’re going to build up that ability and that’s going to carry through life. You’re going to be able to make those decisions in any situation—not just in tidying.
One of the things you talk about is storing stuff in the cloud. Which makes perfect sense, but it makes me really nervous. I have these old Zip disks and CDs and they have information on them that I thought was precious at one point, but I’ll never know what it is because I can’t read them anymore, because who has a Zip drive?
You thought it was precious at the time, but it’s clearly not anymore. So I think you’re OK to throw those things out. I’ve done the same thing. And that’s why I say the cloud’s the best thing. There is no physical thing that you need to plug into another thing that might not be there three years now.
Technology evolves too quickly to rely on physical storage. And it doesn’t seem like Google Drive is going anywhere. I may be wrong about that. We didn’t see the demise of the floppy disk coming. But it feels like Google’s here for the long haul.
I mean when we were first putting stuff on CD-ROM, we thought it was such a long term durable storage media …
And now computers don’t even have a CD drive. What are you supposed to do? I’m not going to go out and buy a CD drive. So I’m probably just going to throw out the CDs.
it’s like emotional shedding by obsolescence or something.
You’re being forced. Swept up in the tide of technology.
As the reader moves through the book, it becomes clear that a person has to deal with their psychological baggage even as they deal with their literal suitcase collection. How much did you intend this to be a book for external space versus internal space?
I don’t know that it was intentional. But I realized that what it comes down to is that you want your house to be your happy place. You want it to feel like a breath of fresh air, and that means that you’re going to have to do some internal work.
If you’re somebody who feels a lot of pressure and guilt, you’re never going to be able to focus on what you want to create that happy space. It’s all entwined. If your house is a total wreck, yes, it could be that you are too busy to deal with it. But it could also be that you haven’t dealt with some internal stuff, and you need to sort that out and then your house will reflect that.
You’re going to have to figure out what you want and discard some of the baggage that you have.
Last question: It’s about Legos. I used to have them organized by color and stored in plastic bins. But now they’re just all built-and-then-half-broken on the table in my kid’s room. We’re never going to put them all together again and display them on the shelves. They’re just kind of a messy boneyard. It makes me anxious.
The whole point of Legos is to keep playing and keep transforming them. So you don’t really want them to be set up on a shelf. If it’s bothering you to see it like that, then definitely sweep everything into a bin, as long as it’s not going to bother your kids to have their Legos in a bin. But if it’s actually a happy mess, then maybe don’t worry about it.
It’s a joyful thing. They’re playing they’re creating and it’s OK that some of them are half-formed. That’s how I think of Legos. It’s a happy mess. It’s not something you need to control.
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