One of the stories I enjoy telling about my late mother involves her linen closet. It was a good-sized area, located in the kitchen, with three or four shelves neatly arranged with stacks of sheets, pillow cases and towels.

On the floor, however, was a large cardboard box that was stuffed with fabric and curtains. This was not a good system. Everything became jumbled, especially as Mom liked to change the draperies with the seasons.

Every so often, she would take everything out of the box, set the pile on the kitchen table, and sort through it. Then, after an hour, she’d throw up her hands in despair, put everything back into the closet and shut the door firmly behind her.

I have always been amused by mother’s inability to deal with that one area of her home, but I don’t find it funny that I have inherited her organizational skills.

I’ve thus become one of the millions of avid fans of Marie Kondo, a Japanese organizing consultant who promotes the idea — in a nutshell — to dump all of your belongings of a specific type on the floor and then sort through them. Of course, you are then supposed to get rid of many of them, and find homes for the rest, something Mom and I never seemed to grasp.

Kondo’s book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” is an international best seller. It’s a pint-sized book of 206 pages that can be read in a sitting. I have found Kondo’s ideas on the topic of tidiness to be the best I’ve encountered. And believe me, I’ve read a lot on the subject.

She must be so popular because there are many other people just like me. We enjoy buying things and having things, but keeping them in place — not so much. I’ve always thought Japanese homes were Zen-like, minimalist places, but I’ve learned that’s not always the case. They have similar levels of disposable income as Americans, and like to shop. But a typical Japanese home has far less space than an American one. The result is mega-clutter.

Kondo says her passion for organizing began as a child, when she discovered she enjoyed reading home-decorating magazines. I, too, liked reading such periodicals, and studying the house plans they often included. What happened to me? Why didn’t I start organizing everything in sight?

That’s what Kondo did, much to her family’s dismay. But, over time, she developed a system for her ideas, and turned it into a business.

Her basic premise is this: You gather together all your items of clothing, books, paper, “komono” (miscellaneous items) and mementos. You assemble one group at a time and sort through it before moving on to the next one, following that specific order.

You pick up one item at a time and consider whether it brings you happiness. If it doesn’t, off it goes. The only exceptions to this rule are necessary items, such as bills. No bills make us happy. Yet, we must keep them, or otherwise face far more serious trouble than a messy desk.

Kondo wants us to discard before reorganizing, and to eventually keep all items from one category in one place.

I connect to Kondo’s precept of happiness, especially as it relates to greeting cards. Once you’ve read the card, and enjoyed it, the card has served its purpose. Toss it. Wow, imagine the freedom!

Unfortunately, I never seem to have the time to do a thorough cleanup. My husband, Paul, and I have bookcases all over the house. I shudder at the thought of gathering all of our books in one room to weed them. Instead, I’ve tried to pare other areas. My sock drawer was my greatest victory. I disposed of solo socks, ripped tights and ugly footwear I knew I’d never wear again. The result was a perfectly organized drawer.

I have kept it tidy, because everything has its place. That, in fact, is Kondo’s promise. Once you have a place for everything, you’ll never have to tidy up again.

Warning: You will have to put stuff away.

Her philosophy helped me understand why I am disorganized. What do I do about the stack of magazines here, the tower of books there? Well, I imagine Kondo would say read them or move them out. So simple, and yet so wise.

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected]


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