What The Simplicity Guru Is Really Teaching Us About Modern Life
Picture the life you want to live. Imagine how you carry yourself, where you call home, how you spend your time, who you spend your time with, and how you move through the world. What does your best life look like? What about your best self?
Now picture the life you live right now. Maybe the pictures are identical—but maybe not. How do you get from here to there?
In Tidying Up—recently released on Netflix and based on her best-selling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—Marie Kondo seems to have an answer. Namely, put everything you own in systematic piles by category. Then hold up every single item one by one and get rid of anything that doesn’t create a physical uplifted feeling in your body—in her words, anything that doesn’t “spark joy”. Then simply keep what’s left.
Seems simple enough, right? But a lot of the conversation around the KonMari method has focused more on the act of sorting through and parting with possessions—and less on what should be behind it and what comes after. A drawer of neatly folded and horizontally stored socks that sparks joy doesn’t, in and of itself, change your life.
So what does?
"I think people see the problem as immediate and think they need to just get rid of stuff. But that’s not the first step,” says Felice Cohen, a professional organizer based in New York City. “The first step is finding your ‘why.’ Why do you want to organize a room? Sure, to get rid of the clutter, but it’s best to have a reason.”
A goal like creating a dedicated work space, opening up a room to more easily have people over, or being able to downsize more comfortably can give you motivation to create change in both your stuff and yourself. The key is to visualize.
“Our culture is currently more focused on ‘doing’ rather than ‘being,’” says Aimee DuFresne, a coach who focuses on radical joy. “Taking the opportunity to visualize what you desire and setting that intention is the most powerful part of not only decluttering but also of any endeavor in our lives.”
Setting your personal intentions and picturing the life you want to live, whatever that looks like, is where the magic happens, DuFresne says.
From there, everything that follows is a matter of making decisions instead of delaying them. After all, is holding onto that outfit you wore constantly for six months five years ago still making you happy? What about that blender that you swear you’re going to use to start making Bulletproof coffee—which you don’t even really like. And don’t even get us started about holding onto that paid-off junker you bought right after college and haven’t enjoyed driving in years.
The problem with these scenarios is that they’re doing more harm than keeping us from simply feeling “good”; often, they’re keeping us from feeling like ourselves. By holding onto something that doesn’t spark joy, you’re holding onto the security of the known and delaying making a choice. It’s safer, but it’s not better.
"Delaying decisions is another trap for feeling stuck in life, wherever that may be,” says Amy Trager, a professional organizer. “We can't move forward without making decisions. These items are physical reminders of those unmade decisions, of a life in limbo.”
In combination with sentimental or (often inaccurately perceived) financial value, putting off decisions about what you may or may never use again is simply an unhealthy example of putting off making decisions about your life.
You can apply the same principles to all areas of your life—like how you spend your time. Rather than directing your energy toward things you think you should like, ask yourself what you actually do like? Instead of the things you think should make you feel good, what actually makes you feel good?
“This all goes back to being mindful of the life you want to live, not the life you feel stuck in,” says Trager.
Instead of owning what you’re supposed to own, what do you actually want or need? What’s no longer serving you? What do you spend money on that you hate spending money on? Once you learn to answer those questions for yourself, you’ll start to learn how to take your life in the direction you want it to go.
Once you’ve visualized what you want and who you want to be—and practiced making the decisions in your life that you’ve avoided in order to get closer to your ideal—the final step is to put that skill set into action.
“We often think we have to work hard to earn joy,” says DuFresne. “Yet when we start with joy, life feels better and unfolds with more ease and grace. Let joy be your start point.”