The KonMari Method Works With Friendships, Too

by Sarah Lynch

For most, tidying up is a dreary, rainy day activity, neglected until the mounting loads of clothes, papers, books and knick knacks have finally made our homes unlivable. But tidying guru and bestselling author Marie Kondo made other people’s messes the foundation for her lucrative career. Kondo introduces viewers to her KonMari method of cleaning and organizing, built off of her mantra, “spark joy.”

Marie espouses a simple policy: if an object sparks joy, keep it. If it doesn’t, thank the object for its service and let it go. Her show provides a unique perspective on material objects as she encourages each family, couple or individual to strive for minimalism. But Marie’s novel methods could also apply to personal relationships. Now you can’t quite put an old friend in a storage facility in San Francisco, but the general metaphor applies so bear with me.

Just like there’s only so much space in your home, there’s only so much time and energy that you have to give. It’s time to have an honest conversation with ourselves about the people we keep in our circles and how they affect our overall well being. Repurposing Marie’s six basic rules of tidying, we can make better decisions about who deserves space in our heads.

Marie’s Rule #1: Commit yourself to tidying up.

AKA: You have to be ready to reassess your friendships and relationships.

Embarking on this evaluative journey will take an ardent commitment to improving your own quality of life. Deep emotions pervade many of our personal relationships and our justifications for the company we keep are often intensely convoluted. This process needs to be deliberative and rational for it to breed success.

I’m not suggesting that you approach this like a witch hunt. Instead, just make sure you fully understand that this process may change the way you see friendships you’ve had for years and the people you share the deepest parts of yourself with. Start by committing.

Marie’s Rule #2: Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

AKA: Imagine yourself at the top of your game. Who’s by your side?

When you’ve reached a major milestone in your life – from crossing the finish line in a marathon to getting engaged to earning a promotion at work – who was in your corner cheering you on? Conversely, who was sulking on the outskirts, treating your success as their failure?

An ideal life could never be complete without our meaningful friendships. The people that will uplift us during our most joyful triumphs and mourn our devastating losses. You may have friends who are uproariously funny and the life of every party, but that’s all they are willing or capable of offering you. These people can be perfect peripheral friends, but your closest confidantes should offer more than entertainment value. Confide in those willing to walk through every flux of life alongside you and who count your successes as their own joys.

Marie’s Rule #3: Finish discarding first.

AKA: Be tactful when separating from people. Don’t rush this step.  

Let’s say, for instance, you and a longtime friend of yours are more different than you previously realized. Certain issues and arguments keep rearing their ugly heads and are coloring your relationship in a way that you no longer find positive. You’ve decided that you want to separate from that relationship, but it is crucial that you do not abruptly shun this person in a way that is jarring, cruel, or uncalled for.

Healthy separation can occur step by step, in a manner that is compassionate and careful.  You may choose to address your detachment with the person or let the rift run its course quietly and naturally. Use your best judgement, always taking into consideration the feelings of the other person. If the other person demonstrates a clear desire to stay close, communicate what needs to change to make that relationship worthwhile for everyone involved. They could change, or they could not. Either or, you can feel confident in your contemplative approach.

Marie’s Rule #4: Tidy by category, not by location.

AKA: Don’t let geographical desirability overshadow more meaningful traits.

Distance can be a problematic factor in friendships for many different reasons. A substantial distance can cause the heart to grow fonder, or cause someone to be out of sight and out of mind. On the other hand, too much together time can skew your perception of a person and induce some irrational irritability, be that with a roommate, sibling, partner or parent.

Location is certainly pertinent in regards to who you spend your time with, but do not consider it the be-all-and-end-all. A friend hundreds of miles away could be an invaluable support system and constant companion despite the distance. Don’t settle for convenience. Remember that a cherished relationship will always be worth the effort, hassle or occasional butting of heads.

Marie’s Rule #5: Follow the right order.

AKA: Prioritise the values that are most important to you.

Throughout this process as you reconsider those in your trusted circle, you are simultaneously learning about yourself. Maybe the reason you are entangled in this web of unsatisfying relationships is that your own values and characteristics have veered off path. You must look inward before you can make sound judgements about your outward communication with others.

Make a mental (or better yet, physical) list of the attributes you wish to uphold and that you hope to see reflected in the prominent people in your life. Is loyalty of utmost importance? How about trust, drive, resilience or positivity? There is no universally correct list; this is uniquely yours, and it can be influential in determining the what matters to you.

Marie’s Rule #6: Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

AKA: Listen to the voice that tells you that you deserve more.

The most difficult part about moving on from old friendships can be those nostalgic recollections of good times had together. If you’ve kept someone in your life for a substantial amount of time, chances are it’s because you were happy at one point or another. There was a point when that person sparked joy for you.

But recognize and dwell on that past tense. What served you once may not always serve you, and if you aren’t fully committed to a close relationship in your life then, franky, the other party is not being served either. Just because you don’t want to move forward with that person in your corner does not mean that those happy memories won’t always be there for you. Thank them (to their face, if appropriate, or just to yourself) and – as Marie would do with a never-worn Hawaiian shirt – let it go.

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