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Decluttering Transformed My Life (and My Home)

Focusing on people, activities, and work that give a ‘spark of joy’
the life changing magic of tidying up decluttering your home and life spark of joy

Photo Credit: Belathee Photography

Most of my adult life, my mornings went like this: Alarm. SNOOZE. Alarm. SNOOZE. Alarm. SNOOZE. Alarm. “Oh, my GOSH! What time is it? How could this have happened? Again?!” Jump out of bed, sprint to the bathroom, toothbrush in mouth. Run to closet. Pull out various tops and bottoms, none of which ever seem to match. Settle on an outfit, hate it, throw it on the floor, repeat. Pull hair back, grab makeup bag, run to car juggling tons of stuff. Apply makeup at stoplights. Charge into work a minute early or late (take your pick).

Stressed yet?

Upon returning home, rather than deal with the disaster I had created in the morning, I’d simply push it into a massive heap on the bed. Ill deal with it over the weekend, I always promised myself. By the time the weekend came, that task was akin to climbing Mount Everest. By Tuesday, my room was chaos once more. I knew no other way. I was too busy sprinting to ponder an alternative way to live.

This vicious cycle was my norm for years. That is, until I found a book by Marie Kondo called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Previously, I wrote about how the book helped me declutter my home. But the more core element of Kondo’s book is that once you create a living space that allows you to focus on what is important to you, you will have the mental and emotional space to improve your personal life. I was curious to see if this would prove to be true.

Now I wake up and see only things I love and need around me, and I’ve simplified my routine. The peace of my environment has brought me mental clarity and focus as opposed to the scatterbrained anxiety I had before.

The result has been a serene start to my day and a sense of enjoyment upon returning home. I also have far more time and energy for other activities I enjoy. Some time has passed since I underwent this transformation, but I’ve found that the principles Kondo taught me have carried over into other areas of my life. From relationships to leisure time, the tidying-up mentality has changed my perspective on how I live. Here are three ways.

01. I extended the ‘spark of joy’ philosophy to friendships and activities.

Kondo’s key to decluttering is to only keep the things that bring you a “spark of joy.” Now I’m intentional about asking myself, “Does this person or event give me a spark of joy?” If the answer is yes, then I make sure to plan my time accordingly. This may sound like a no-brainer, but my fellow workaholics out there can relate. It is much easier to justify working on extra projects than it is to take two hours to volunteer or have brunch with a friend. But when I ask myself, “What gives me a spark of joy?” the decision is simple. Volunteering and brunch it is!

If something does not give me joy, I ask myself if I have a good reason to go (such as, this event means a lot to a loved one). If there is a worthy reason, then I will make a sacrifice and go out of love. If there isn’t a worthy reason—I cheerfully decline.

02. Dealing with my bills is a lot like dealing with uncomfortable conversations.

According to the KonMari method, we should be prompt in dealing with bills and paperwork. Kondo suggests that when a bill comes, pay it immediately, and then shred it. Then you will have dealt with it and moved on rather than letting it hang over your head.

Now, people are not bills. As tempting as it may be from time to time to shred someone from your life—and sometimes, truly toxic people need to go—there’s no need to be callous. As Audrey Hepburn once said, “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.” That said, unpleasant situations may arise in our interactions with others. These situations are like bills—unpleasant to handle but important. Deal with these situations head-on. Then move on. Don’t allow them to linger because you’d rather deal with them later.

Easier said than done for some of us. But there are graceful and gracious ways to speak up at work or say no in relationships. When my house and life were so cluttered, it was difficult for me to find the time to reflect on my relationships, let alone speak up after particular conversations. I accepted whatever others said to me, brushing off rude or disrespectful comments.

After decluttering my house, I was able to slow down and be more introspective. I discovered that frustration and hurt from negative comments or encounters cluttered my mind. I decided that I needed to handle these situations the way I handled my bills—promptly and decisively.

An opportunity to practice this came quickly. An acquaintance offended me (not for the first time). Seething with frustration, I resolved to just let it go. But I caught myself, “No,” I thought. “The time is now because otherwise I am the one who goes home and lives with emotional clutter.” We ended up having a phenomenal conversation. He had no idea that his actions and words came across as offensive. And I came to have a much deeper respect and appreciation for him. Since then, we have had positive and mutually respectful interactions.

03. Having a place for everything taught me that there is also a time for everything.

Another key tenet of Kondo’s system is that once you have kept all the things that bring you joy, find a place for each and every one of them. This extends to how I choose to spend my time: In my case, this means running, setting Netflix aside, and coping with my worries.

Creating spaces in my time for the things I want to do helps me actually achieve my goals. Time to go for a run? Grab those shoes, and head out the door. Tempted to watch Netflix? Do that laundry, and go volunteer first. (By the time I get home from volunteering, I’m too happy and tired to binge watch). Thinking too much about a problem or work? I tell myself, “Now is not the time to think about this. You may think about this tomorrow while you have your coffee. Now it’s time to write a note to someone.” The bizarre thing is that this actually works. Plus, having a designated time for thinking brings clarity.

Is my life a blissful utopia now? Not at all. In fact, as a teacher, the past month has been a vortex of deadlines, emergencies, and migraines. Life is full of unforeseen events and emergencies, as we all know. Despite this, I have a certain baseline of peace and confidence. I know that I can and will get things back in order. It is OK to have miserable days and weeks, as long as we give it our best effort. The most important result of striving to fill my life with people and events that bring a “spark of joy” is that I am always reminded to be grateful. Life is filled with incredible people and beautiful moments, and that brings me the greatest joy of all.