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There’s a reason why some people are able to navigate life so much easier than the rest of us.
They work in a career they enjoy, and are paid well for it. They do interesting things in their personal life, and they just seem… lucky.
Three quarters of Americans live paycheck to paycheck their entire career. They try desperately to hang onto a job they can’t stand because well, they need to pay the bills.
So how do some people make life seem effortless while so many of us struggle with debt, confusion, and indecision?
What if it was as simple as knowing how to make the right decision every time?
Whether it’s a career decision, a sale on furniture, or you needed to create more living space… you always made the right decision. The one that’s best for you, personally.
It could be, that the people who make it look easy have just developed the mindset to create order in their life.
They know exactly what they need and what they need to eliminate.
So how do you do that?
You’ve probably heard of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s about tidying up your physical space, but it’s not just another guide on stacking and sorting.
She teaches you step by step, how to define what you want in life, and why that’s so important. Because isolating and eliminating things that are irrelevant to what you value is how you move forward.
People like Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett have both said that one of the keys to their success is not always what they do, but what they eliminate.
Marie’s KonMari method takes you through six steps to sort and tidy your physical space. But along the way, she helps you to develop the mindset to create order in your life.
In fact, she says:
“A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective”
Tidying and organizing is one of those skills we’re never taught in school, and probably not at home either. So “tidying” usually means shifting things from room to room, or garage to attic.
And likewise, most of us don’t have a life coach or a financial advisor following us around.
So without some kind of north star to guide our personal life, it’s easy to ride a career-long roller coaster of debt, indecision and mistakes.
I found myself in the midst of her book wondering how I can apply her method to other areas. Things like my habits, or the way I spend my time, and my paycheck.
Are you ready to give it a try, and see how getting control of your physical space can transform your personal life?
Her book is a quick read, but here’s a quick peek into the six steps she’ll ask you to do…
Initially, I thought it was odd that KonMari asks you to commit to the process before doing anything. But that’s because Marie knows something we don’t when we start.
It’s not about committing to keep your closet or your garage tidy in case company drops by. It’s not even about physical appearances.
Going through the KonMari steps prompts you to make decision after decision about what to keep and what to part with. And in the process, you’ll find yourself zeroing in on your values.
So it becomes as much about mental decluttering as it is physical. As Marie herself puts it:
“The initial tidying exercise is designed as a tool to drop you into the present moment and help you to discern the life you truly want.”
When you commit to examining everything you’ve accumulated, you’ll come across dozens of things that seemed important at one time, but just aren’t anymore. So you’re committing to let go of past versions of yourself and focus on the one that matters now.
When I went through this, it spurred thoughts like:
- I have a closet full of business clothes. Am I, or am I not going back to work in an office? If I’m not, then keeping so many feels like I have one foot stuck in the past.
- I’m decluttering a 4 bedroom home while my kids are starting their own lives. Seeing more space makes me wonder about the house itself. Why am I paying for much more house than I need now?
So yea, committing yourself to tidying up may start with sorting your shoes. But what you’re really promising, is to be open to the idea that you’ll have revelations bigger than a tidy closet.
And then to follow through with them.
2. Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle.
It’d be crazy to try and define every single thing that isn’t working in your life. But this step says you don’t need to.
Like tossing more and more things into your kitchen junk drawer, we add layer upon layer of possessions, habits, memberships, signups… even relationships.
Until one day you think…
“What happened? This isn’t what I expected. Life sucks right now.”
So rather than focusing on every negative, imagine what it’d be like a year from now if your life was… maybe not perfect, but better than it is now. Be specific.
- What kind of work would you be doing?
- Where would you do it?
- Who would you spend time with?
- What would your mornings look like, and how would you end your day?
- What kinds of foods would you eat?
- How would you spend your time off?
- What would your living space be like?
The more clearly you can identify your ideal lifestyle, the easier it’ll be to identify things that detract from it, or aren’t helping you to move in that direction.
Maybe you’d like to transition to another line of work that’d require some classes or training.
But debt payments consume every last dime, and at this point you’re not even sure exactly what you’re paying off. And your weekends pass by in a blur of chores and activities.
Maybe you’d like to spend more time with your kids or partner, but you commute 3 hours a day.
Or you’d like to have an emergency fund, but you pay $600/month on gas, tolls, dry cleaning, and membership fees.
Maybe you’d like to have more time to decompress at the gym or with yoga or walking, but every day is scheduled down to the minute.
It’s easier to let go of things when you have a good reason to.
Your ideal lifestyle is probably different now than it was five years ago. Maybe even one year ago.
So what would your ideal life be like?
3. Finish Discarding First
The reason you want to finish discarding first, is twofold:
It’s easy to think of “organizing” as buying a bunch of plastic storage containers, packing them, labeling them and stacking them to the ceiling. It may look organized, but that’s no different than shoving everything in the closet and squeezing the door closed.
You still own and mentally manage dozens of things that have no relevance to the ideal life you just defined.
When you zero in on your ideal lifestyle, it’ll become apparent which things contribute to it, and which ones don’t anymore.
So you’re still keeping things positive by focusing ahead, on the things that matter now.
The catch is, that it forces you to be brutally honest with yourself.
Many of the things around you may have added something to your life at one time. Or maybe they’re things you’ve accumulated because you thought they had meaning.
But if they don’t now, then they’re anchoring you in the past.
And it’s not just shirts or souveniers.
- Maybe you’ve wanted to travel but you spend $500/month on restaurants and take-out.
- Or you watch four hours of TV each night to take your mind off the job you hate.
- Or weekends are spent cleaning, maintaining and paying for a home larger than you need.
4. Tidy by Category, Not by Location.
A big reason we accumulate so much stuff is because we store the same category in multiple locations. So “cleaning” involves going from room to room organizing the same types of things over and over.
And it never ends.
You can stop that vicious cycle of tidying by storing similar things together. Whether it’s shoes, make up brushes or screwdrivers, gather them all into one place.
Then decide on one location where they’ll live, and which ones you’ll keep.
When I tried this my first reactions were,
- How did I accumulate like 6 pairs of tan pants?
- How do I own over 40 t-shirts? What’s the reason I buy so many?
- I have 4 tape measures? How come I can never find one when I need it?
- I have file cabinets, boxes of “old files”, and more records online. So why do I feel so unorganized?
Gathering everything in each category might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s the only way to get a true picture of just how much stuff you have.
And when you do, it’ll stimulate thoughts you may not have expected, like:
- Am I shopping because I need things, or is there another reason?
- What void in my life am I trying to fill by acquiring things?
- What else could I be doing with my time and money?
- What other “categories” can I declutter? Email lists, subscriptions, memberships, credit cards, maybe even non-material things like… my schedule, my plans for the next year, maybe even relationships?
5. Follow the Right Order
The KonMari method seems simple enough.
You commit to the process, you imagine your ideal lifestyle, then you start attacking each category:
First clothes, then books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items… kitchen, bath, etc), and finally, sentimental items.
But just like tidying by category ends the constant cycle of organizing, there’s a purpose behind the order in which you sort categories:
The reason for this order is that you’ll be making dozens of keep or discard decisions, and this moves from the easiest to the hardest category.
Once you’ve focused on your ideal life, then start seeing the results of decluttering impersonal things that detract from it, you’ll have the incentive to tackle more sentimental things.
This method reminded me of another post, How Bogie and Bacall Can Teach Us About Money and Life, where I talked about our circle of control, and how we can overcome the sense of hopelessness when we’re living paycheck to paycheck.
When you’re so focused on the urgent things like paying the bills and affording groceries, the important things like saving, investing and maybe even travel can seem impossibly out of reach.
But by taking control of smaller things – things like your closets, your garage and even how you spend your time, these smaller actions can create the momentum you need to expand your circle of control beyond just getting by each month.
- Once you’ve decluttered your home, what’s to stop you from decluttering your spending pattern and begin using a budget to lock down where your money is going?
- Or take control of debt and set a debt-free target date.
- And what if less debt and more control over your income could help you to afford a class or training to do what you really want to do?
Another way the KonMari process can influence your finances is through her philosophy that once you decide to tidy a category, you’ve gotta be all in.
You can’t quit until you’re done.
Tidying room by room, and reorganizing clothes or office supplies today, then again next week, and still again next month is a process that’ll never end.
It’s like trying to pay off $8000 in credit card bills through monthly minimum payments.
Instead, you’d want to look at all debt, and come up with a plan to attack it with every dime you can spare.
You’d create a budget. You’d make lifestyle changes and maybe even come up with a plan to generate more income.
You wouldn’t just address one account, you’d focus on the category of debt and devise a plan to systematically eliminate it.
6. Only Keep Things That Spark Joy
Ok I admit, I struggled with this. Sure, I agree that gathering everything from a category into literally one pile is the only way to appreciate how much you’ve accumulated.
Seeing a four foot pile of clothes completely covering your bed is pretty eye-opening.
Marie says you should hold each piece of clothing or knick-knack, or tool and see if it sparks joy.
And for some things, sure. You’re favorite pair of jeans can spark joy. But those skinny jeans you’ve kept for four years just in case you lose 15 pounds? At some point, they stop being an inspiration and can just make you feel inadequate.
I have a souvenier rock from each hike I’ve been on, and dammit I’m keeping them.
But if you struggle with this step – if you’re not sure whether something sparks joy, one other KonMari tenet might help:
“The question of what you want to own, is really the question of how you want to live your life.”
In my case, that rack of business clothes in my closet reminds me of commuting to a cubicle where we were all gradually outsourced, and began reporting to people overseas whom we’d never even met.
Seeing a rack of business casual clothes hanging there now keeps the notion alive, that maybe what I’m doing now isn’t gonna work out. I’m keeping one foot stuck in the past while trying to move on.
So KonMari encourages you to focus on the positive – the things that spark joy.
But if you run into things that seem to fall into a grey area, where they don’t really spark joy, but are in perfect condition, and maybe represent a significant cost, ask yourself:
Is it relevant to the life I want to lead now?
So if you decide to try the KonMari method, you’ll see that it isn’t focused on filling garbage bags and becoming a minimalist.
It’s about isolating the things you do want in your life, having gratitude for them and releasing the rest.
Because remember… what we don’t do can be just as important as what we do.
What we no longer have, and stop pursuing can let us focus on what we want.
If you trust the process, you’re likely to be sorting socks or sweaters while you consider other categories in your life.
Your time, your paycheck, your job, your plans for the next few years…
Who knew that creating order in your bedroom can help you to put your past and your future in order?
How about you?
Have you tried KonMari, or do you plan to?
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