I recently read a book on my cousin’s recommendation and found it just as profoundly impactful and life-changing as she did, but possibly for different reasons than the author explicitly intended.
I got quite a ways into The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up before I realized that I was reading the same book I’d seen referenced in dozens of Facebook posts, blog entries, and articles, outlining the KonMari method. Just as I wondered, “Is this the book that tells you to get rid of anything that doesn’t spark joy?” I turned the page and the question was posed.
It is a great book and a solid method, written in a charming, conversational tone that makes it a pleasure. For better or worse, I didn’t necessarily need the advice about literally tidying up because I had my come-to-Jesus moment when I purged and donated so much of what I owned before moving out of Staten Island. I was very careful in setting up my new apartment, and basically I walk around sparking joy whenever I’m in my home.
What surprised me so much, though, was how directly applicable the tidying-up method was toward my interior life and psychological wellbeing. Marie Kondo discusses our relationship to possessions as a reflection of our relationship to ourselves: we project guilt, conflict, regret, dread, and all kinds of negative, counterproductive emotions onto objects that remind us of our relationships with our past or future self. As someone who has given away more than a few barely-used yoga mats, this idea of disappointing one’s past intentions resonated deeply with me. The items that caused me the most pain to give away were definitely the aspirational ones, but only on hindsight can I see how hanging onto them was making me feel worse every day.
The method urges the reader to be grateful for the purpose things serve in life, even if it was just to give a person joy while buying them and imagining using them. Then once the purpose is served, thank the objects, and release them. It’s a sweet, lovely, if ever-so-slightly cutesy anthropomorphization of clothing, books, kitchen utensils, and all the objects that comprise the domestic sphere. Tucked within the simple messages of gratitude and living in the present is a beautiful philosophy of accepting and being gentle to oneself, using joy as a guide.
I looked in my heart and started to see the way I have been positively hoarding negative memories, past hurts and disappointments, and all kinds of relationships and situations that made me constantly angry or frustrated when I think of them. As much as I thought I had moved past all of them, I realized I was still carrying them around, like a pile of clutter I had to step over every time I wanted to walk into my bedroom.
One boyfriend (who did end up breaking my heart spectacularly) said that sometimes I’d look at him and even when I was smiling, he saw flickers of darkness in my eyes, years of pain and hurt. “You make me feel like I broke your heart already,” he said, “and I thought I was being pretty good to it.” It’s ironic because my official policy is to not bad-mouth my exes or wish them anything but the best in life. Once I decide to end a friendship or romance, I try to look at it with gratitude for the ways it helped me grow and change and move along my path. But I haven’t been letting go of all the psychological clutter, and I see, abundantly and clearly, that I seriously need to.
I thought it would take months or years, and I know I’m nowhere near done, but over a few weeks with the kind of surreally beautiful spring weather that makes anything but singsong optimism seem perverse, I got rid of all kinds of mental stuff. I compartmentalized it by writing down every thought or experience that was making me furious or upset for a while (and for once, not venting it to friends or family), then choosing, actively, to stop dwelling on all of those things. Emotional deaccessioning. And it really was that easy and that straightforward to identify the toxic feelings and decide I didn’t want them to have meaning for me anymore.
I’m still working on it, but I’m delighted at how much lighter and freer I feel when instead of being upset or angry somewhat regularly when I see people I can’t avoid, I am taking a Don Draper approach, “I don’t think about you at all,” and actually meaning it. Taking the clutter off my radar and sweeping it right out the door, it is getting out of my way, and I am finding more and more joy.
That is the true life-changing magic in this pretty book about housekeeping:
“As for you, pour your time and passion into what brings you the most joy, your mission in life. I am convinced that putting your house in order will help you find the mission that speaks to your heart. Life truly begins after you have put your house in order.”
Swap out “house” for “mind,” and here we are. I am being nice to myself, and I am only looking forward. I’m reminding myself daily that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, and it’s up to me to find joy every day.
It feels truly amazing.