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Japanese Wisdom For Modern Living:

Lessons from applying the Marie Kondo technique during lockdown.

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This article is intended to help you live in a space that feels more comfortable, reduce the time you spend cleaning and tidying, feel more peaceful when at home, and eliminate the psychological weight our possessions can have over us.

Feel free skip parts and use the sub-titles to navigate through.

Lockdown and Tidying Up

Depending on your circumstances more time at home has meant anything on the spectrum from total overload being a single Mum with three kids, to feeling lonely at your parent’s second home in North Cornwall, to struggling with mental health from being isolated and watching too much Netflix, to being locked down at your in-laws home complete with tennis courts and swimming pool, to a London family stuck in a high-rise with the parents struggling to maintain harmony.

It’s been a right palaver, to say the least. And I’m continually amazed by people’s stoic efforts to make the most of their situation and get through this in one piece.

I have, like others, suffered from feeling bored, switching to feeling overly busy, to feeling that others must be making really good use of their time and are probably perfecting their musical talents or learning new skills, to practicing the afternoon nap, to, on occasions, feeling completely lost and confused switching the next day to elated that the world devouring machine of Western capitalism is finally creaking to a halt (albeit temporarily).

Tidying up, and not only that, but following instructions on exactly how to do that tidying, has been something of a life-saver. A balm to my soul. Something to put my energy towards that feels productive.

The techniques I’ve followed for this process is that of Marie Kondo shared in her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying”.

Before going any further just a wee caveat. I’m a single man, 34, living in a two bedroom home in Frome, Somerset and I’ve been furloughed. My circumstances definitely enabled me to spend time and effort on this process. In writing this article I’m in no way suggesting everybody should do this, or that I’ve nailed this process, or that if you didn’t do this in lockdown then you missed out and didn’t make the most of the opportunity.

That’s not where I’m going with this. It’s more that I’ve had a practice of putting her technique into action and want to share some of the more useful aspects to the process.

It is, quite literally, life changing.

Here is why.

This practice will help you:

live in a space that feels spacious and comfortable, and that reflects more accurately who you are now and how you want to be living going forwards.

reduce the amount of time spend tidying or cleaning your home; once you’ve gone through the process tidying and cleaning drastically reduced

feel proud, peaceful and complete when resting in your home because it’s how you want it (think of that bookshelf that’s slowly accumulated too many books, magazines, article, kid’s drawings, bicycle stabilisers etc etc)

eliminate background psychological weight or emotional strain through attempting to hold on to too many things that hold too many different memories or meanings.

Why the Marie Kondo Technique could be for You.

If you live in a Western ‘civilised’ society bent on consumption and driven by capitalism then this is definitely for you.

If you have ever felt that you’ve started to be owned by your possessions, that they exert some kind of hold over you and that hold is becoming restrictive or oppressive, then, well, this process really will be life changing.

Last year I went through a divorce. It was painful and difficult, though perfectly amicable and respectful, yet even with the best will and plenty of love still between us there is, at some point, a process of moving on that needs to happen. I continued to live in the property we’d shared for 3.5 years, surrounded by our stuff, or my stuff, or her stuff but at least stuff that held energy and memories of our shared lives for the past seven years.

It was like a weight I didn’t realise was around my neck. A ball and chain holding me back, a straight jacket restricting movement and growth. Your circumstances may not be so extreme, but there is, almost always, some form of holding onto the past that need not be there.

Psychologically exhausting, emotionally uncomfortable and physically oppressive if not carefully managed our lives can become almost unmanageable. It can be frustrating and limiting to operate within certain restrictive patterns dictated by the past, the stuff we have, and the way we hold onto the objects. And through that hold on objects we unintentionally hold onto the memories, the stories, the associations that our physical possessions unknowingly embody.

Have you ever felt that your possessions are mounting up?

That there’s stuff you own that you don’t use but you’re not sure what to do with it, and you want to do something with it as it’s taking up space, both physically and emotionally and mentally?

And is it your partner who doesn’t like throwing stuff out!? (You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard that when speaking about this) I’m pretty sure that was also my reason / excuse for a long time.

The notion of ‘blaming’ the accumulation of stuff on your partner is a good example of one of the regular challenges that come up when faced with having a deep tidy of your home.

Others include not having enough time, not really wanting to (not being up for it, rather doing something else et), feeling ashamed of unleashing the mess, too busy, avoidance of a difficult trip down memory lane.

These are all valid. But what I really think holds people back is not knowing how.

Not understanding the technique of a deep Marie Kondo-style life tidying session.

In one way it’s really simple. Marie shares hereself it’s a simple as this:

“Start by discarding. Then organise your space, thoroughly, completely, in one go. If you adopt this strategy, you’ll never revert to clutter again.”

Yup. It’s that simple.

And then she’s gone on to write a whole book about actually how to do this. I love this kind of thing in life. It’s super simple on one level, and then nuanced and refined on another. Like playing the guitar, or gardening. Really simple, yet infinitely complex at the same time.

Marie recommends:

  • Using a process of physically contacting each possession you own and asking ‘Does this spark joy?’ and if it doesn’t then seeking a way to dispose of it.
  • She suggests that ‘tidying is a special event. Don’t do it every day’ and a bunch of other really useful shifts in perspective that help make the entire process going smoothly. Like how to sort through your photos, or how the gift giver has had their moment of glory when you happily received their gift years ago, and that giving didn’t come with the accolade or condition that you must look after this for ever even if you don’t want to.

The Invitation

You could definitely buy the book or watch a few youtube videos and you’ll be able to make a good start on this process.

Get some help in ‘holding space’ for you (and your partner if involved) to go through this process. That would look like;

  • setting up timings and boundaries for this tidying process to happen within
  • coordinating actual tidying sessions meaning helping you remain focused on the task in hand and bringing to mind the useful perspective shifts and actions that Marie suggests (like asking ‘Does this spark joy?’ or the processes necessary to enable you to sort your entire home by category, in a more or less functional order)
  • get support as and where necessary; this may be physical (moving boxes), emotional (having space to talk through challenging memories as a way of helping let go of the physical object) or psychological (navigating the changes in attitude to enable tidying to really work for you).

Marie writes beautifully about the nuanced approach to being with your possessions:

“While not exactly a meditative state, there are times when I am cleaning that I can quietly commune with myself. The work of carefully considering each object I own to see if it sparks joy inside me is like conversing with myself through the medium of my possessions.”

She goes on to recommend the conditions appropriate for creating this state of personal communing; quiet and clear space, done in silence etc. But what I really take from this is the significance of the act of communing with our objects and with ourselves through the process of being with our stuff.

By doing so we’re reforming a relationship with the sacred part of our material possessions.

Eisenstein’s work speaks to the creation of a new (and ancient) conceptualisation of life that involves the re-sacralisation of our material reality. Many spiritual traditions (most notably the Abrahamic faiths) have placed the Holy, sacred and divine in the after-life, or in heaven, or anywhere but just not on this earth.

This underlying perceptual construct — that what is sacred is exists outside of this world — means we don’t treat our material world with the respect it’s due. We see the world as a resource to be extracted and used up, and we see our stuff in our home and just that, stuff, or possessions.

What if part of the healing of this wound is the ‘re-sanctification’ of our world, of our homes, and of our possessions. The process of imbuing each thing we have in our home with divine significance.

What if you only had stuff in your home that felt was imbued with the sacred?

Matter and things (pen, garden fork, ornamental bowl, chair) that, when held and communed deeply with, you felt that spark of joy in your heart. And that spark is there because what you hold is divine, sacred and worth keeping hold of.

That may be too far out. But it’s what I see is going on underneath this process.

And it’s why it’s so valuable and, potentially, life-changing.

Written by

Mostly muddling through. Exploring topics that seem to be good in some way.

Mostly muddling through. Exploring topics that seem to be good in some way.

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