You could be forgiven for thinking that life-changing magic would be hard to come by. Or that it’s prohibitively expensive or reserved for particularly spiritual people.
So when I first saw a book on “the life-changing magic of tidying up,” I scoffed out loud (SOL). Then I saw it again. And again. And again. At my favorite bookstore, the small book (“practically a booklet,” I sniffed) proudly bore the label “3 million copies sold.”
As an author of a book that has sold <ahem> somewhat fewer copies, I was curious about what could make it so popular. As a nipponophile, I was intrigued that it was written by a Japanese woman, Marie Kondo, and translated into English.
So I bought it, and a few weeks later, the magic happened.
The Christmas Day Purge
I read the book straight through, sitting on a plane heading to Mexico on our family vacation. I handed it straight to my wife, saying “We should do this.” She read it and - this sounds strange even to me - we couldn’t wait to get home and clear things from our apartment.
We came back on Christmas Eve, and before we opened up any presents, there were bags of things to give away. The author insists that before you start cleaning up you start discarding things using a simple guideline:
“Does this spark joy? If it does, keep it. if it doesn’t, dispose of it.”
Within a week, we had 15 bags of things to give away or recycle. We donated hundreds of books. I even finally got rid of those cans of leftover paint I had been saving “in case I need to touch up a wall.” They had been sitting there, unopened, for 5 years.
It was liberating and empowering. I felt something I can only describe as joy.
But there was no special formula in the book. The magic wasn’t her insight to “Tidy in the right order.” or admonitions (in bold) like “Do not even think of putting things away until you have finished discarding first."
It’s was something else. And for people who have read the book, the benefits go far beyond a tidier home.
“After your course, I launched my own business doing something I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a child.”
“I finally succeeded in losing ten pounds.”
"My husband and I are getting along much better.”
Our need for permission
In a section titled “Permission,” she told the story of a woman who came up to her at a book-signing.
“Eat, Pray, Love changed my life. You inspired me to leave my abusive marriage and set myself free. It was all because of that one moment in your book - that moment when you describe putting a restraining order on your ex-husband because you’d had enough of his violence and you weren’t going to tolerate it anymore.”
Great! Except Elizabeth Gilbert said nothing like that happened in Eat, Pray, Love or in her own life or in anything she had written. The woman had invented it.
“It may have been easier for her, somehow, to believe that her burst of resolve and strength had come from me and not from herself.”
Where you can find life-changing magic
It should be clear by now that the magic you’re seeking probably isn’t in a book (or a movie or blog or course or box). It’s in you. Those other things just give you permission to see what's already there.
Right now, at this very moment, there is life-changing magic bottled up inside you, waiting for you to let it out and experience it.
By all means, read a book. Form a peer support group. Tape a sign on your bathroom mirror. Do whatever you need to do to give yourself permission.
Let the magic out.