6 things tidying with KonMari taught me about stress

Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying and the Japanese 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.

I was sceptical when I started out. But for me KonMari ended up being so much more than a mere effort to clean my closets. In the process of tidying I noticed how the KonMari principles taught me six valuable insights about stress and productivity.

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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.

“What will I keep and make time for?”, can transform your approach to your schedule and hence your stress.

The KonMari approach works for stress too.

From “What tasks can I skip or delegate?” to “What tasks are really important to do?”

From “Where can I save minutes or hours?” to “What should I be devoting an extra hour to?”

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?”, can transform your approach to your schedule and hence your stress.

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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 of what those items say 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.

In other words, we love to be busy. 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 can be okay as long as your busy life makes you feel exhilarated. But sooner or later the stress will creep in, and the bitterness will ensue.

In the same way we hold on to things, we hold on to things to do.

So don’t become a task hoarder – minimize the mind clutter with this principle:

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3 | Is this important?

KonMari 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 one individually, and the week’s list as a whole, I ask “Is this important? Does this take me forward?”

When you look at each to do item and ask “Is this really important?” you may realize that your mind will add a doubtful pause on a few of them. Pay attention to that pause – it can tell you a lot.

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4 | Prioritizing 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 your tasks can obviously not be done just once and be over with (I’m not crazy), but prioritizing your tasks for the week can be done once. Every Friday I write down what I did that week and what next week holds. Then on Monday with fresh eyes I review that list and decide the week’s priorities and tasks. Sometimes urgent things pop up, but mostly I’m able to keep focused when the prioritization is done properly once.

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5 | Learn to say no – with respect

By respectfully starting to say no you will be able to truly start putting your tasks, priorities and life in order.

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 that 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 an avoidance of confrontation. By respectfully starting to practice saying no you will be able to truly start putting your tasks, priorities and life in order.

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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’.

When we no longer feel the need to fill every waking moment with things to do, we begin to see every moment more clearly.

It’s the same with ‘schedule clutter’:

When we focus on the important things, we eliminate the unnecessary time sinks, and we feel less harried and busy.

When we’re no longer worrying about making our next appointment, we allow ourselves to be present, really be present, in each situation.

When we don’t do too much, all of a sudden we notice that we have space for thinking.

When we don’t fill our calendar with appointments and meetings, we can allow ourselves to breathe and really enjoy the ones we 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.

I warmly recommend the book:

 

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