What does the Magic of Marie Kondo have to do with mental wellness?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few months, you know who Marie Kondo is and have seen or heard people talk about her organizational magic.  Like most trends, I was a little late to the game.   My first impression was actually my husband watching her show on Netflix and I was a little wary (he’s a very neat guy, I’m not really, and this could spell a big project that I didn’t really want to get involved in).  But I was quickly mesmerized, mostly by her demeanor.  She seems to be a very gentle, joyous soul, and there is both a quietness and playfulness to her.  This is what made me want to watch more, but then I saw what she does.  Now, I’ve since had people tell me that she does it wrong, or that they are more organized or that they have way tidier homes, however her genius isn’t in how she folds a t-shirt it’s the process and the emotional result.  Stay with me here….

I’ll use the closet as my example.  Marie insists that you have to follow and trust the process and start by emptying all your clothing onto your bed at once, all of it.  What a commitment!  This is part of the point, you are committing to it.  But it also changes the status quo.  By just choosing things to toss from your closet, you are making the choice to throw things out, but by putting everything on the bed, you are choosing to keep things.  And she directs you to ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” and “Do I want to carry this forward with me?”  You are choosing which baggage to keep bringing along with you.  This simple change made me really look at things differently.  She also encourages you to thank the belongings you are letting go for their service, to thank them for what they did for you, for the joy that they once brought, but no longer do, and for the memories that they were witness to and part of in your life.  This made is much easier to let things go, by recognizing that they had a purpose but it no longer served you.  Genius!

And not just for clothes.  What if we did this for the other areas of our lives.  What if we put all our people, connections, friendships, relationships on the bed and had to choose to keep ones that brought us joy, that I had to choose to bring people intentionally with me into my future?  Would we keep them or find them easier to let them go than it is to let toxic people go in our lives?  That we could thank them for their service, for the joy that they may have once brought us but not feel obligated to keep dragging them around with us, if they no longer brought us joy. 

What if we did this with our habits, and not just look at the worst habits the ones that really cause us problems but look at the sum total of how we live day to day, does it serve me and bring me joy or is it just the status quo, what I’m used to?  Is it the best use of my mental space and time? 

As a therapist, the idea that really got my brain fired up was this, what if we could dump all our thoughts on the bed and really see what thoughts were hiding in the back of the closet, weighing us down, taking up space, crowding, preventing room for new fresh ideas, thoughts, perspectives.  What old outdated beliefs and opinons were no longer bringing us joy and whose purpose had long since expired were holding us back from new exciting, empowering joyous beliefs?  If only we could thank them for their service, and let that stuff go.  Let go of the ideas that no longer fit who we have become and probably will never fit us again, the assumptions that we impulsively made, and regretted but didn’t get rid of, the opinions that we endorsed because of peer pressure.  Choose with intention what we wanted to keep and not just keep it out of habit, laziness, lack of awareness of what lurked back there, in the back recesses of our mental closet.  I can only imagine the sense of lightness, relief, pride, liberation that this might feel like.  Exponentially better then cleaning my actual closet, which felt pretty good I will say. 

Another insight I had was while I was watching an episode about a couple who had moved into a house together but were having a hard time merging their stuff, especially their closet.  The closet was bursting at the seams and it was a veritable war over space, each encroaching on each other’s side.  It was causing them so much tension with each other and causing fights.  Each one telling or wanting the other to solve the problem, tidy their side.  Marie in her gentle way, firmly told each of them to worry about their own mess and leave the other to do the same.  You do you, and when each of you has handled your own stuff then you can work together on shared space.  Marie had just captured the whole purpose and challenge of the relationship of couples.  You worry about your baggage, I’ll worry about mine and we won’t interfere with each other, manage each other or pressure each other to fix ourselves.  We can however, encourage and cheer each other on, empathize with how hard it is.  And then we can work on your shared space, the relationship.  Each individual is responsible for their own health, and when they have, then the relationship can thrive.  It worked, the couple noticed the tension disappear once they weren’t encroaching on each other’s mess.  Beauty!

I can’t end this blog without talking about the folding.  In that first few minutes that I first saw her Marie was saying how folding clothes is fun.  Pfffft.  She almost lost me in that one sentence, but then her giggle brought me back in.  While I won’t go as far as calling it fun, if done her way (and I’m not talking about what the clothes actually look like folded but rather again the process) it is quite a calming experience.  She encourages you to purify the air, open a window, light a candle, diffuse some oils.  Right here, if you know me or know my work, you would know that I facilitate a DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) skills group and a major and central component of this type of therapy is mindfulness.  This one step of being aware of the air is tuning into your senses and being mindful of your environment.  Taking the item of clothing she asks you to lay it out, smooth it with your hands, touch it and “communicate your affection and gratitude for its continued support through your hands”.  Emphasizing the importance of holding this thought in your mind, again such a practice of mindfulness and intention.  While not the purely non-judgmental stance of mindfulness, choosing an intention of gratitude will keep your mind on the task and cancel out a critical mindset.  Excellent. 

Since doing my closet, I have heard lots of backlash about this organizational magic, that people aren’t maintaining it, that is isn’t making lasting impact or creating long term change.  But isn’t this the real battle?  Maintaining a practice is much less gratifying than a grand reveal of a makeover but the true benefit is in the practice of hanging on to your intention, taking the time to communicate your gratitude, practicing mindfulness, bringing these into our daily existence.  That no matter how you come to it “outer order= inner calm” (Gretchen Rubin, another declutter, organizational queen).  The true gift is not slipping back into old habits in our closet, in our minds or in our day to day lives. 

As an aside, I do like her method of folding, my drawers have never looked better, and while maintaining it is a little more time consuming, its does leave one feeling a little more peaceful then folding laundry usually leaves me.  It was also intriguing enough that my 8-year old daughter wanted to learn how to fold! Now that was an unexpected piece of joy!

Jan 27, 2019

Yay!  I am finally writing my first blog entry after years of thinking and talking about it.  This leads me to ponder why it has taken me so long.  The easy answer is that I have a busy life, I haven’t had time and there is always something more important to do.  While this is true, it’ probably not the main reason why I hadn’t written it yet because there are lots of other less important things that I have done in the last 4 or 5 years.  

So why haven’t I written before now?  I would say that writing has been an ambition of mine for a couple of decades in one form or another and in my current work in private practice, sometimes I have ideas that make a real impact for the people that I work with.  A few of my clients ask me why I haven’t written a book yet (my, I love my clients, they can be so flattering!), ideas, perspectives and interpretations of things occasionally really resonate for many of my clients and I consider, “could this help people if I wrote about it?”  I want to share some of these ideas, spark a discussion and if it helps just one person, I would consider it worthwhile.  Sometimes I just get so excited about something I want to share it and see what others think, and if they can build on the idea. So, if this was so important why wasn’t I writing yet?  Why was I just sitting in my intention, doing nothing, not writing when, I had an intention, a desire, an aspiration to be a writer, to write? 

A lot has been written about intention, a lot. At its base, intention is defined as a plan or an aim at its most vague, in more depth a person’s objective, purpose, goal, ambition.  We talk about intentions as something that guides our actions and the commitment to make it happen. It is both the road map and the gas that gets us there.

Although when we think and talk about this people have many intentions that are simply that thoughts and words. People have good intentions yet don’t make decisions that are congruent, or take the action necessary to make them happen.  I had the intention to write but it had no urgency to make it happen. Sometimes the feeling behind the intention is so powerful, it fools us into thinking that it is action.  We feel so strongly about something we fail to notice that we aren’t actually doing it.

So how do we turn intention into reality?  There has also been a great deal written about this and much of it is great, true and inspiring but its also important to understand what keeps most of us in the holding patterns of sitting in our intention.  I believe a few things to be fairly generally true of us as human beings.  First of all, we naturally seek relief from pain and suffering.  While this is an over simplification, and has sophisticated twists, this is basically true at our core.  We naturally avoid things that we assume will bring pain and suffering.  So, was I avoiding suffering by not writing the blog?  Maybe. I could say that it was fear.  Fear of failing, fear of being judged, fear that I’m not a good writer, or that nobody will read my blog.  But that doesn’t ring 100% true.  I’m kinda ok, if people don’t read my blog.  Well, if I’m honest I’m ok if not a lot of people read my blog, but I still hope that a few people read it.  And I’m ok of not everyone likes it, as long as a few people find it interesting and helpful. 

Second truth about human beings, most of us appreciate efficiency of effort.  We like the path of least resistance and a quick and easy solution.  Having a good intention makes us feel good about ourselves but requires little to no effort.  Making an intention happen takes effort, sometimes a lot. So maybe I’m lazy, that must be the reason.  But no, the evidence doesn’t support that either, not entirely.  There are many big projects that I have taken on and I’m not adverse to working hard to complete them.  But for some reason this project didn’t become a reality for a long time.

I didn’t know where to start.  True.  I didn’t know how to make my intention take shape in real life.  I didn’t know how writers write. I didn’t even read blogs, other than cooking ones, so I didn’t know how to write one.  I didn’t read the manual, I didn’t talk to writers to see how they started.  I didn’t reach out for guidance in an area I had no experience in.  I had an idea and some motivation to make it happen but no road map.

I started talking about it more, to more people.  Talking about it made my intention take shape.  I started reading blogs.  I started reading about the habits of writers.  This gave me an idea of what to do, how to start. I started writing my ideas down, kept a notebook, instead of just letting ideas float away with the vague notion that they would make a good topic to write about.  The gap between a vague idea to write and starting to see a blog take shape started to close.  I stared to see and understand how it could happen and it didn’t seem so nebulous or intimidating.  

And I started to build momentum. Momentum is different from motivation.  People talk a lot about motivation, and it’s a great thing, but its fleeting and fickle.  I trust and appreciate the power of momentum much more.  Mostly because of the second truth about people being lazy, um I mean, appreciating efficiency of effort.  Once you start getting going on something it takes less effort to keep it going then it does to start from the beginning again. 

So, I made time to do it.  I carved time out of my busy week.  It was inconvenient, there were a dozen other things I should have done instead.  I felt guilty for not doing them.  I did it anyway.  I went to a coffee shop, got a latte, pulled out my laptop, ignored my email, my desire to look up just one thing and I wrote.  It’s not the most insightful or amazing piece, it probably won’t change anyone’s life.  But I did it.  I wrote.  I hope I get better at it and produce posts that are funny, provoke thought and help people live the best versions of their lives. But for now, I am going to revel in the fact that my intention came to life.  And I am going to make time and do it every week, whether or not the product is post worthy or not I am going to ride the momentum.   

If you read this, thank you for witnessing the beginning of my journey as a writer.