How Marie Kondo Changed My Life: Finding My Joy in the Mess of Life

A few years ago I read Marie Kondo’s book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” It encouraged people to hold each item in their hands and ask if it sparked joy for them. If it did, they were instructed to keep the item, then ask it where it wants to go, and create a special place for it. It was amazing to think that such a small, unassuming book about organizing could change a person’s life. But, it did. It did something, indeed magical, in my life. So much so that I’m still processing all of what it did, how it worked, and why.

I’ve wanted to write about what this book meant to me as a way of processing my thoughts and feelings about the book: to not only pay homage to this incredible collection of thoughts and words, but also to place words to the overarching principles that I learned from the book that I can apply to other areas of my life. Since the book brought so much joy to me in the areas of my possessions, I knew that the principles could be applied and sprinkle happiness on other areas of my life too.

One of the things this book allowed me to do was to recognize the sensation and the beauty of joy. Growing up in a tough, blue collar working-class family, I was taught that hard work was not only paramount; next to family, it was everything. I was never given deep instruction on how to interact with joy, nor was I given a strong model for embracing joy by those around me. My family and those around me were very loving people. But, joy just wasn’t on their radar. Family made you happy. But, apart from that, speaking about joy was almost obsolete. I don’t remember hearing people ask or comment about emotional feelings amongst one another at all. I remember people showing signs of stress, but I don’t remember anyone ever talking about how stress was affecting them. I can’t say that I ever heard, “Do what inspires you” or “What speaks to you?” or “What sparks joy for you?” I heard plenty of, “Just keep going” with the idea of just get it done. Prior to reading Marie Kondo’s book, I don’t think I even knew how to really allow myself to embrace my joy. Without being able to acknowledge and value it, I couldn’t really navigate the space of that emotional state let alone to lean into it and cherish it.

I was raised to be tough, hard-working, respectful of others to the point of many times silencing my own thoughts and feelings, incredibly pragmatic to where I buried anything lighthearted and frivolous deep beneath my sense of duty, and responsible to an extreme. Desires were discussed as dreams or fantasies, not reality. Sometimes desires were even viewed as selfish.

This book allowed me to go easier on myself. It took the enormous and overwhelming task of tidying an entire house and broke it down into manageable component tasks. It allowed me to say that making the steps smaller and manageable was okay. It gave me a game plan so that I had a fighting chance in the form of somewhere to start, and a reliable, organized system that I felt good about. It allowed me to take each item in hand piece-by-piece and make a decision on it. And it allowed me to feel more comfortable following my own intuition. It allowed me to feel the confidence that I could make decisions and do something really daunting and typically-overwhelming if I had a system and just started.

It helped me to see that I could pick and choose my life based on my own thoughts and feelings. And rather than focus on worry, negative emotion, negative feelings, and fear, it opened me up to the magical perspective of basing the decisions in my life on joy. That was a profoundly powerful shift in my thinking. And I will be forever grateful. Marie Kondo helped me to go from a mindset of negativity, with a proclivity towards being depressed, worried, anxious, and fearful, to a positive, more meaningful and more productive mindset. She elevated my energetic frequency. She prompted me to live an inspired life: the life I wanted to live instead of the life I thought I should live or the life I had to live.

Before this book, I thought I procrastinated on big projects because I was afraid of doing all the work. But going through this process actually made me realize that I enjoyed doing all the tidying. I wasn’t afraid of hard work. I realized that I was actually just afraid of not being able to do the project (to finish it, or to do it well) or not knowing how to do it or where to start. It’s the unknown of it and the lack of confidence that actually paralyzed me and rendered me unproductive in the past. Going through this program actually helped to build my confidence, because I learned and mastered a skill. I did it! And it felt amazing to feel that sense of accomplishment. Learning and mastering a skill has actually been shown to be really important in the development of confidence in children. And I can see why.

But I think one of the most important things this book did was to demonstrate that I have agency over the way I live my life. What I keep in my life and what I discard of, I get to choose. That’s been a powerful revelation. And it’s something that contributes to happiness. Because we feel happy when we have control over our own lives. It drains our energy when we feel powerless, out of control, or hopeless. I can create a home that I love. And I deserve that. And it doesn’t take a lot of flashy or expensive things for me to be happy. I actually don’t need a lot of material things to be happy. I don’t even need to be wealthy to be happy. I get to choose. And to me, that is a core source of happiness: the freedom and the opportunity to choose the things I love and cherish.

Marie Kondo’s kindness and proclivity toward mindfulness, positivity, and gratitude also gave me permission to be in the moment, to connect with others, and to be seen. To be seen without fear of judgment. To be seen without fear of not being enough. It helped me to see that we are all in a process. But let’s be kind and acknowledge the good that things (and people) have done for us and thank them for it. Because it’s those things that have shaped us into who we are today.

The book gave me permission to be in the present moment long enough to feel gratitude, joy, contentedness and peace. I enjoyed it. I experienced a ton of joy while undergoing the process. At the completion of the program, it allowed me the moment to say, I’m finished. I often take too long getting things prepared for a project that I often don’t get started. Or, once I get started, I tend to take too long on all the details that I never get to the end. But going through the tidying process made me realize that having a distinct ending helps. Liking what you’ve done is rewarding and meaningful. This process helped me get to a place in my life processes where I could say, I’ve done everything I set out to do and to say, I am enough.

Thank you, MK.

-R