By now, anyone who's seen Tidying Up With Marie Kondo — or been anywhere near the internet — is at least tangentially acquainted with its tiny, smiling, titular ray of sunshine. I'd first heard of the Japanese author and decluttering consultant in 2016, when she published The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It had been on my reading list since then, but I'd just never gotten around to it. That is, until my boyfriend of nearly four years unceremoniously broke up with me at the end of November. At first, the idea of dividing up the things in our shared apartment — and letting go of the life we'd built there together — felt insurmountable, but Marie Kondo and her signature KonMari method of organization became a therapeutic process that helped me work through the end of my relationship. If you start to get your physical things in order, Kondo teaches, the rest of your life will follow.
After graduating college in 2014, I decided to move to Berlin, Germany from my home in Rochester, New York. While packing for the move, I knew I would only be able to take with me whatever I could carry on the plane. So, I bought a massive suitcase and carefully filled it with my then-favorite things. Cut to four years later, and I've gone from one piece of luggage to a 645 square foot apartment and a zillion things to fill it with. Newly single, I'd have to pare everything back down in order to fit into my new room in a shared apartment, with just a 161 square foot bedroom of my own.
I'd remembered what it had been like to scale back my possessions before, but this time was different. I didn't feel like I was preparing for an exciting new adventure as much as I was undoing four years of love, memories, and hard work. Desperate and depressed, I decided it was time to finally buy The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and see if it could lend me the life-changing magic it promised — and that I so badly needed.
Thankfully, it did, but I was surprised to learn it wasn't the regimented steps or special folding techniques I found most helpful (though certainly, those served their purpose). Instead, it was Kondo's infectious joy. In her book, she tells readers to make tidying a special occasion: dress up in nice clothes, turn off your TV or any music, and really devote yourself to what you're doing because it's fun.
With no other alternative besides staying miserable and drowning in clutter, I embraced that mindset wholeheartedly — and I actually felt it lift my spirits. Suddenly, clad in a new sweater and sneakers that sparked a heck of a lot of joy, packing up my things kind of did feel like the beginning of a new adventure — one in which I, much like I did four years ago, could start anew with a clean slate.
In Episode 7 of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo, Kondo explains the reason behind one of the KonMari method's more unusual steps: thanking the items you're going to discard. Even though it feels a little weird to talk to a dusty old candle you never lit, switching your focus to gratitude helps steer your mind away from the urge to hold on. In my case, it steered me toward Ariana Grande, as I found myself silently singing "thank u, next" to all the pieces I let go. In doing so, I felt myself gaining back some of the power and control over my own life that I felt I'd lost. While it didn't completely dissolve the negative feelings I had surrounding my old relationship, it did make me confident that I could let go of them when I was ready. That knowledge is a big comfort in and of itself.
Marie Kondo teaches that things are more than just things. They have a spirit and energy, and they take up your energy, too, so getting rid of physical baggage does wonders when it comes to helping you process emotional baggage. But Kondo herself says it's better to focus more on what you want to keep than what you're discarding, since that's the stuff you'll be taking into your future with you. Rather than concentrating on everything I'd be leaving behind in my old life, I tried as hard as I could to envision the kind of future I wanted to create for myself.
When I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was feeling like nothing would spark joy in my life ever again. But soon I realized that of course, some things still did, and those things deserved to be valued. As I thanked and discarded the non-joy items, I was left with only a few extremely precious, beautiful things — just enough to fit comfortably in my new, smaller room. So far, I haven't regretted discarding a single thing.
Tidying Up With Marie Kondo hit Netflix one week after I'd moved into my new place. Watching the show felt like spending time with an old friend, and seeing Kondo in action kind of made me feel like I had my own tiny, tidy fairy godmother. Now, I think about the KonMari method every time I buy something new or begin to tackle the piles of clutter that inevitably build up in my new room. And while I thought I'd never be happy without my bright, spacious apartment and the life and relationship that went with it, I look around my new room and find my eyes resting on all the many things that spark joy for me, including the fact that I feel lighter, calmer, and prepared for my next adventure.