My girlfriend and I finally gave into the Marie Kondo craze earlier this year. I wouldn’t have called it a craze in 2019 since her book came out nearly 5 years ago, but her new TV show Tidying Up dropped on Netflix in January. It should be shocking to anyone who knows me that it took so long for me to check her out.
For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, Kondo published a book in 2014 called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Here’s the one sentence book summary from Four Minute Books: The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up takes you through the process of simplifying, organizing and storing your belongings step by step, to make your home a place of peace and clarity. (Get the full 4-minute summary here.)
The book title alone should have been enough to hook me, but I still haven’t read the book. I did read a bunch of articles and watched a few videos about the book when it was first published. Her style of folding shirts changed my life. I love being able to open my dresser drawer and see everything in the drawer all at once. Like, seriously love.
I finally decided to dive into Kondo’s world when I saw she had a show on Netflix. I mean, a book is great, but a before and after show about tidying up? I pick the before and after show over a book any day of the week and twice on Sundays, as the saying goes (Or 8 times on a Sunday if you decide to binge it like we did!)
On Kondo’s show, a couple overwhelmed by their stuff is saved by this cute little joyful sprite of a woman who does things like “greets” their house and “wakes up” books that have been in boxes before explaining how to sort them.
Her signature technique (besides the aforementioned amazing laundry folding) is to focus on one category at a time, gather everything from that category into one place, hold each individual item and only keep the items that “spark joy” when you hold them.
More than once my girlfriend turned to me and said something like “That’s just how you did it with me and my stuff.” It’s true. I had watched enough organization shows in my life to know the process (do I have any Mission Organization or Clean Sweep fans out there? No? Just me? OK.) and had implemented it in my own life and the lives of some of my friends and family.
There’s always a moment on Tidying Up where things get worse before they get better. I have definitely witnessed this before. I remember helping my girlfriend do some tidying up in her home a couple of years ago. She had this lovely hutch that she had used as a junk drawer. This was a hutch. It had multiple drawers and cupboards and all of them were treated like a junk drawer. That doesn’t mean the stuff in there was junk. It just means that things were treated like junk. Everything was kept, so everything seemed to have equal meaning.
As Peter Walsh, the professional organizer on Clean Sweep, says: “When everything is important, nothing is important.”
Back to the hutch. We emptied the contents of the hutch onto the living room floor. Then I had her consider every single item to determine what it meant to her so she could decide whether or not to keep it. The volume of stuff and the thought of considering each thing was too much to take at times. Some things she found were very sentimental and sometimes a break was needed. But she persisted and felt proud, light and happy when all was said and done.
Anxiety comes from not knowing what’s not getting done. When we were done tidying up there was no longer the weight of “What’s in there? Am I missing something?” on her mind or her heart. Things were clear, known and had a place, and she felt lighter as a result.
As my girlfriend and I watched episode after episode of Tidying Up we were warmed by the shift this simple, but challenging technique had on people. Sure, their houses got cleaned up and Goodwill got a ton of merchandise, but more impactful were the connections made between partners, the pride in what they had created for themselves and the vision they had for the future. In tidying up their everyday surroundings, they freed up energy to connect with their values, to be more present with their people and to imagine more possibilities for themselves.
After we binged Kondo’s show on Netflix, we got inspired and tackled our clothes. We pulled every last piece of clothing and shoes from everywhere in the house and piled them in the living room. We decided which ones brought us joy. We donated what didn’t. Then we categorized and folded things more effectively and put them away. We donated 6 bags of clothes and shoes…each! We were more clear about our priorities for our future clothing purchases. Using this method in just one area of life got us more focused and clear about our priorities. It’s made us more discerning and has saved us money because we don’t want to go back to our old ways.
The same thing can be said about tidying up the ground level elevations of life: Actions and Projects. Doing so frees up energy to achieve your Goals, and live your Vision, Values and Purpose. In other words, tidying up the overwhelm of day-to-day life frees you up to be more present, creative and intentional. Intention is what leads to sustainable success and a more fulfilling life.
So how can you take some of Kondo’s concepts beyond your closet and apply them to the stuff that’s on your mind, in your inbox and cluttering your desk?
- Gather everything together: Create a limited number of places that you’ll intentionally gather undecided, to-be-determined things until you can consider them. Your email inbox, an in-tray on your desk, and a task app on your phone/computer should do.
- Consider each item, one-by-one: Look at each email, piece of paper, idea, request one at a time and ask yourself two questions: 1. What does this thing mean to me? 2. Do I need to do anything about it?
- Let go of what you don’t need: Keeping things that don’t matter undermines your system and your sanity. Delete the email. Shred the piece of paper. Let go of the idea that’s no longer exciting.
- Group like things together: Put all actions in one place (your task list). Create folders for emails that you need to keep so they are no longer in your inbox. Put every appointment on your calendar (including your drive times…drive time is an appointment with your car).
Do this and you will feel lighter, just like Kondo’s clients on her show.
Unlike a Tidying Up episode, this process of tidying up your mental space doesn’t happen once. You’ll receive new emails and texts . Your brain will have new ideas. Your friends, family and clients will continue to have requests. You’ll aspire to learn and grow. In other words, the stuff will keep on coming in. To continue to feel lighter and get your energy back, this is a process you should repeat weekly.
I know first hand as I go through this process in my workspace every week. It’s amazing how much relief this gives me. I’ve also taught my clients how to do this in GYST, my 6-week productivity training program. As on Tidying Up, I get to see them reconnect to themselves and become lighter, calmer and more intentional.
I get to see the pride they have in what they have created.
I get to see their energy come back as they get redirected from all the clutter of day-to-day life back to what matters most to them.
And that sparks joy in me.
What sparks joy in you?
Ready to be more productive but aren’t sure if GYST is right for you?