You’ve heard of Marie Kondo-ing your wardrobe, but have you ever thought about extending it to your friends?
It sounds brutal. But this isn’t about a mass cull or dropping your school friends off at the charity shop. It’s about making the most of your friends and your time: cherishing existing friendships, salvaging those that have drifted off course and ending relationships that aren’t adding anything to your life. (Or, as Marie Kondo would tell you, no longer “sparking joy”.)
And research backs it up, too. A study of more than 6,000 participants by the University of Leeds looked into the type and closeness of friendships in different age groups. The researchers found participants were happiest when they had the highest number of close friends, even if it meant their social network was reduced. When it comes to your wellbeing, it’s about the quality of your friendships, not the quantity, they concluded.
Simone Bose, counsellor for Relate, the UK’s relationship charity, believes Kondo’s approach can be extended to relationships as well as objects. “Having too many friends or a social calendar bursting at the seams can be exhausting and you can end up spreading yourself too thinly,” she says.
“I have clients who are exhausted and spend four times a week out socialising,” she explains. “If you think about a person and the balance of their life, there are other areas – such as spirituality, time for themselves, good quality relationships with close friends and family – and those areas often get neglected.”
Applying the KonMari method to friends isn’t just about asking whether each person “sparks joy” – as with T-shirts, not all friends have to make you beam. We have all different types of friendships and acquaintances in our lives – and a friend doesn’t need to make you laugh until your sides ache to mean they add something precious to your life, argues Bose. “Different friendships can provide different purposes for you.”
Friendships To Cherish
There are plenty of life stages that put pressure on friendships such as moving town, starting a romantic relationship or having kids. Let’s face it: we’re all guilty of letting Whatsapp messages go unanswered or cancelling plans because of a busy work schedule.
But while it’s easy to slip into the habit of disconnecting from friends – sometimes even a relief to get a free evening! – we shouldn’t lose sight of the power of friendships. Kate Leaver, journalist and author of The Friendship Cure, believes they can solve many ills and are worth nourishing regularly. “In romantic relationships, a lot of us are quite liberal with declarations of love and affection. I think we can do the same with friends, if we’re comfortable, to let them know they matter to us,” she says. “I frequently tell my closest girlfriends I love them, whether it’s with a series of heart-eye emojis or the words ‘I love you’.”
There are plenty of ways to remind a friend of their place in your heart, even if declarations are really not your thing, whether that’s inviting someone over for dinner or being there when they are going through a rough patch. You don’t need to see each other to show you care – a text or phone call can also be powerful. As an Australian who has lived in the UK for three years, Leaver has many friends on the other side of the world. Geography or circumstance doesn’t mean friendships have to become more distant, she argues, although it does make maintaining them more difficult
Friendships To Reconnect With
Just as Kondo folds clothes so you can look into your draw and see all your t-shirts displayed, you might find that rethinking friendships helps you also to focus on those friendships that could benefit from a little work; the friends from whom you may have drifted a little. To overdo the Kondo-isms a little more, it’s like darning a sock with a hole in it: friendships also need repairing sometimes.
Reviving a friendship can sometimes be tricky. But if you simply fell out of touch, overcome your awkwardness and suggest a long overdue catch up – and then make it a regular thing. Bose believes there is real power in holding on to friends from earlier in your life. “Even if you don’t see them that often and mostly reminisce, they give you a sense of your past and know you from a different part of your life,” she says.
When it comes to repairing a broken or flailing friendship, Leaver advises digging deep. “Salvaging a friendship usually requires you to be open, candid, gentle, compassionate and honest,” she says. “Try not to hold onto resentment or bitterness, work out if you’re ready to forgive and be clear that you want to keep someone in your life. When in doubt, be vocal and vulnerable about it.”
How To Let Go Of Toxic Friendships
It’s not an easy decision to end a friendship. No matter how long you’ve known someone, you will have shared experiences and memories, as well as friends in common. And if that friendship has become toxic, it can take a while to recognise its negative impact and to break free.
But how do you know who isn’t worth your time and energy anymore? Both Bose and Leaver say you have to ask yourself some difficult questions: what does this person bring to your life? How do they make you feel when you see them? How would you feel without them?
“I usually recommend that people do a very honest audit of their friendships and decide who they still think belongs in their life,” says Leaver. “If you’re keeping someone in your life out of fear, complacency or laziness, then they probably don’t belong there.”
Bose adds that sometimes allowing the relationship to naturally phase out can be the best approach: “There is no real guidebook about how to tell someone that you don’t want to be friends with them,” she notes.
Leaver recommends doing it tactfully but unambiguously. Consider sending a little break-up text, she says. “I get that it’s hard and confrontational, but ghosting or disappearing from someone’s life without explanation can be more cruel. Closure is a kindness so if you really intend to get rid of someone from your life, it is a courtesy to let them know.”
And bringing a toxic relationship to an end can also bring closure for you. Jane broke up with her best friend from university after realising she felt constantly let down, unsupported and humiliated.
“A big part of moving on from it was realising she wasn’t who I thought she was, and grieving that person,” she says. “Looking back the main thing I feel about ending the friendship is proud of myself, because I put a firm boundary down and was clear and specific about the terms. It was a bit like an actual breakup. I actually wrote it down and sent it so that it was clear.”
But don’t let the thought of a difficult conversation make you get cold feet. “It’s never going to be easy because friendships are very emotional,” says Bose. “People will have feelings hurt in life, if you want to do things good for you. It’s not always going to be easy, but in the long run it will be good for you.”