Last month I was with five of my dearest friends in Northern Michigan. We spent a solid hour gushing – like preteens might have over Justin Bieber a few years back – over a book on how to clean and declutter your home. We rhapsodized over our vertical-folded drawers. We swooned over our pared-down bookshelves, bonded over the liberation of using joy as a decision tool.
One friend who had not yet read it looked a little alarmed, like we might have drank the Kool-Aid in her absence. (We made sure she had a copy by the end of the trip – even though she’s a world explorer who mainly lives out of suitcases!)
I heard about Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up early this year – Facebook/newsletter/friends seemed to all be gushing about it at once, so much so that I refused to even read it for a while. Eventually I put myself on the library waiting list, got my copy several months later, and promptly fell in love.
I strongly recommend you read the book yourself if you have any interest in decluttering or changing your house or life. It’s magical in its own way – you can tell Kondo has true passion for this topic – and it’s impossible to capture the essence of the book in a post. (Though if you want a preview, Modern Mrs. Darcy does a great job describing the core KonMari method and providing the context you need to make it work.)
What I’d like to address today is the core of her method and how it can be seriously challenging – and liberating – for anyone who has done extensive therapy or is in the process of transitioning out of it. The process in this book is the fastest way I have experienced to bring up unconscious patterns and change them.
The core of the method is only keeping things that spark joy in you when you touch them. That’s it. There’s tons more in the book that helps you actually do that, but that’s the fundamental premise.
Kondo addresses how this challenges people in the book – those of us who hold on to sentimental items are often holding on to the past, and those of us who hold on to ‘just in case’ items are holding on to the future.
Releasing the Past
For anyone who has invested in therapy, letting go of the past can bring up a lot of fear. The box of childhood toys you used as prompts for journal exercises or recalling memories – what happens if you let it go? What about all the journals you’ve written over the course of therapy – what if you want to go back and review your progress?
Our past, the things we’ve overcome to be the people we are today, the work we’ve done to get here – it’s easy to cling on to these things. It’s become part of our identity. If you let go of the person who had to do so much work, who are you?
Therapy, at its best, allows us to process and release the past. Sometimes we excel at the processing part and struggle with the releasing part. When I am working with clients who have transitioned out of therapy, we’re often working on the releasing part. Releasing the need struggle. Releasing the idea that we’re broken and need fixing. Releasing the idea that we have to ‘work on’ ourselves.
All of these things are reflected somewhere in our ‘stuff’ around the house, and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is sure to bring it up! (So much so that I’m incorporating this book as part of my year-long coaching program.) The process of ‘tidying up’ helps to examine, thank, and release the past in a gentle, joyful way.
Releasing Fear, Unworthiness, and Fantasy Futures
On the opposite side of the spectrum are the items we’re holding on to because they relate to our future or inherent worth.
Fear-based: Many of us who have gone through trauma and healing have our fight-or-flight responses set to “on” more often than is truly needed. This can lead to scarcity thinking and a tendency to try to plan to be safe at all costs.
Scarcity can look like a fear of not having any way to replace something, so we will keep the crappy thing we have because it’s better than having nothing. Sometimes safety looks like having a ten month supply of rice because what if we run out?
Does it spark joy to have 10 pounds of rice at home? Generally, no. Does it spark fear to donate the rice? Sometimes! What if we can’t replace it?
Worthiness-based: Sometimes we don’t think we deserve to live surrounded by things that spark joy, making it hard to let go of anything at all. If we still have shadows of unworthiness (and most of us do, no matter how many years of therapy), choosing things based on joy will bring this up front and center.
One of my clients hated his shampoo, but refused to let go of it because it was wasteful and he could cope with having this bad shampoo for another six months. Sometimes the work in front of us is deciding we are worth having something that we love today, not six months from now when we’ve used up this crappy thing we bought.
Fantasy-based: These are the things that represent fantasy versions of our future selves. It might be clothes in different sizes than you can wear today, gourmet cooking appliances that you never use, or a series of classic books you’ll read someday.
I have several future-fantasy-self items in my home that I’m struggling to let go of right now. One is a frame drum (because obviously I’m going to be a drummer, even though I hate practicing and never play). Another is a beautiful easel, which I never use to create art of any kind. But I might!
The thing that makes this method so profound is that it only asks if the item sparks joy right now.
My drum does not spark joy – neither does my easel. What they actually spark is guilt for not being more creative, and annoyance that they take up so much room in my closet. Why should I keep them? As Kondo says, I can always replace it if I decide I really want it again.
If you’re transitioning out of therapy, the struggle might be that you can’t tell if an item sparks joy or not. This is not because you’re broken or wounded, but simply because you may be out of practice. The process of being wounded and healing through therapy doesn’t always leave a lot of room for know what sparks joy and delight.
Instead it creates warriors, people who can face their greatest fears and handle nearly any emotional situation with a fair amount of grace. Relearning what sparks joy is simple, and only takes consistent attention towards what is lighting you up on a daily basis.
If you’d like help awakening what sparks joy in you before tackling the book, check out my Rekindle Your Passion Jumpstart course – a thirty-day e-course that gives you a thirty-second method to know what lights you up, and a whole month of practice in using it in small, concrete ways in your daily life.