Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and her KonMari method of decluttering have become global sensations. Millions of people have tidied with KonMari and say that the 'once-cleaned, never-messy-again' approach just works.
For me KonMari ended up being much more than a mere effort to clean my closets. In the process of tidying, I learned six valuable insights about stress and productivity.
1 | Decide what to keep, not what to eliminate
With decluttering Kondo doesn't ask 'What should I discard?', she asks 'What should I keep?', because "focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness".
When we're stressed we instinctively think the solution is to eliminate tasks or to do them faster. The KonMari mindset change works here too:
From "What tasks can I skip or delegate?" to "What tasks are really important?"
From "Where can I save minutes or hours?" to "What should I be using an extra hour on?"
From "I can't do this" to "This I can do".
From "I don't have time for this" to "I will make time for this".
This change of perspective, "What will I keep and make time for?", transformed my approach to my schedule and hence my stress.
2 | We love feeling stressed in the same way we love holding on to things we don't need
We hold on to many things because we feel they say something about us. Those old designer jeans say I'm trendy, my books make me look intelligent, the expensive chair says I'm not cheap.
In the same way we hold on to things, we hold on to things to do.
Having a million things to do makes us feel important and valued, and hence we fill our days with small tasks that take time and energy, but do not take us forward.
This may be fine if being busy makes you feel exhilarated. But sooner or later the stress will creep in, and the bitterness will ensue.
I admit - I have been a task hoarder. Learning to be un-busy has been one of the most difficult and exhilarating experiences of my life.
3 | Is this important?
Marie Kondo asks you to take each item you own into your hand and ask "Does this spark joy?". If the answer is yes - it's a keeper.
Similarly, I applied this principle to my to do's. Looking at each task individually, and the week's task list as a whole, I ask "Is this important? Does this take me forward?"
When you look at each task and ask "Is this really important?" you may realise that your mind will add a doubtful pause on a few of them. Pay attention to that pause - it can tell you a lot.
4 | Prioritising is a special event
The premise to the KonMari decluttering method is that tidying should be a special event. You shouldn't be tidying every day. Do it once properly, and you'll never need to do it again.
This applies to stress too. Feeling overwhelmed by the 1,233 unread messages in your inbox? Doing a little every day won't fix it. You'll need to sort through it all once and find a way to manage it that works for you. If done properly, you'll never need to do it again.
I make prioritizing a special event. Prioritizing tasks can obviously not be done once and be over with (I'm not crazy), but prioritizing the week's tasks can. Every Friday I write down what I did that week and what next week holds. On Monday I review that list with fresh eyes and decide the week's priorities and tasks. Sometimes urgent things pop up, but mostly I'm able to keep focused.
Once prioritized, never unclear again.
5 | Learn to say no - with respect
We all own things that do not spark joy but we find hard to throw away for sentimental reasons. KonMari asks us to let go of those things, and to do so with gratitude.
In the same way people, projects, and events can take a huge chunk of our time and energy, even when they do not fill the requirement of 'being really important'. To these we need to learn to say no, and do so with respect.
When you're asked to do something you feel obliged to do, think carefully about that task's true purpose in your life. You'll be surprised how many things you're doing out of a sense of obligation, kindness or to avoid confrontation. By starting to respectfully say no you will be able to truly start putting your tasks, priorities and life in order.
6 | When we let go of being busy, we can see each moment more clearly
Many people who have tidied the KonMari way say they now feel much lighter. They own less stuff, their spaces are airier, and they value each item more. More importantly - they're surrounded by things they love, not things they 'kinda like'.
It's the same with 'schedule clutter':
When we focus on the important things, we eliminate the unnecessary time sinks and feel less harried and busy.
When we're not worrying about making our next appointment, we can really be present.
When we don't do too much, we notice that we get more space for thinking.
When we don't fill our calendars with meetings, we can allow ourselves to really enjoy the ones we do have.
When we no longer feel the need to fill every waking moment with things to do, we begin to see every moment more clearly.
And that's the beauty of the KonMari approach to stress.
This blog post originally appeared in Nora's blog: Brave New Work: Working with Energy. Living Wholeheartedly.