Putting the Pieces of My Life Together: Discovering How to Choose Joy

In the years following my birth family reunion, I read a book called, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It’s now one of my favorite books. This book completely changed my life and allowed me to connect with my feelings in a profound way — all through tidying up! This book encourages readers to hold each item they own in a systematic program, called the KonMari Method, and ask if the item sparks joy. If the item doesn’t spark joy, the readers are encouraged to let it go. Marie Kondo outlines which category of items to attend to first (clothes) and then provides a systematic order for which category to attend to next until you’ve organized all of your belongings.

Her method recommends grouping all items by category for each owner within the home. So, for instance, all my shoes belong together in one place and all my husband’s shoes belong together in one place. It makes it easier to find because you know where your designated shoe location is. It also makes it easier to see exactly how many shoes you really own because they aren’t dispersed in many different places. If you tend to keep your shoes in the foyer, that can be their spot. While your spouse may keep his or her shoes in the bedroom closet. The point is that all like items are grouped together by owner. I really loved this because I tend to love systems and efficiency. It makes me happy to feel like I know where all of my shoes are. And having a spot for everything makes me feel like I’m wasting less time looking for things when I need them. This method also helps me to feel distinctly differentiated from my husband. With all the meshing of stuff between spouses, it’s nice to have your own spot for your things and a separate spot for your spouse’s things. It provided a sense of ownership and order.

I started writing about what this book meant to me in a previous blog post. And I noticed that there were certain themes that arose that I wanted to explore. Each theme centered on a change in the way that I thought. So, I created a list of the ways that my thinking changed. In other words, myths that were busted. Here’s the list that evolved:

MYTH BUSTED: I don’t need confidence

Having a system like this gave me confidence in myself and confidence that I could take control of my possessions and my life. It broke the huge task of organizing my house into smaller component parts. It gave me a layout of what to do first, second, third and so on. I’m realizing that confidence is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal. I used to believe that I didn’t need confidence. I believed that I just needed to “push through” and not think about things or even to feel things to get them done. But now being more attached to my feelings, I definitely see what a powerful tool that confidence is. Breaking up the huge task of organizing my belongings into manageable parts helped me to feel confident that I could perform each part. This helped to jump-start my endeavors. Then, after completing each portion of the project, my confidence grew. This newfound confidence was not only invigorating, it actually fueled my efforts to do even more and to be even more productive.

MYTH BUSTED: Possessions need to be expensive to be valuable

The idea of joy in this process wasn’t associated with how expensive my possessions were, or even what others thought of them. It was about how I connected with the items and what they meant to me.

MYTH BUSTED: Aesthetics Don’t Matter

Again, it wasn’t about how expensive the item was. It wasn’t just about the superficial appearance of an item. It was about what the items meant to me personally. It was about what they meant in my life. We deserve to do more than kill ourselves working. We deserve to care about beauty. And even more importantly, we are allowed to enjoy beautiful things. Aesthetics speak to our joy and add a sense of peace and wonder to our lives. It takes us to the next level from just surviving to thriving. Each of us deserves to find happiness, joy, and beauty in our lives. We are allowed to care about that. And we are allowed to shine. We are allowed to love things, people, experiences, and moments. And, for a brighter, happier, kinder world; it’s imperative that we do.

MYTH BUSTED: A home-base doesn’t matter

I was exploring the idea of living everywhere but nowhere. But the idea of home matters. The idea of stability matters. The idea of reliability matters. The ideas of routines and habits matter. They allow us to forget about the mundane steps involved in everyday tasks like making your morning coffee and gathering your belongings to head out the door so that you can focus your attention and energy on a fresh day ahead of you. Having free brain-space means that you have the available cognitive power to notice moments of beauty and peace throughout your day, which makes life enjoyable and meaningful. And having free brainpower allows more energy for creative problem-solving during the inevitable challenges of your day as well as more energy for innovation in your work and home. Not to mention that it gives you a sense of settledness.   

Feeling like you belong somewhere matters. Feeling like this is your space makes a huge difference. I recently began a new job, and I wasn’t sure if they were going to have space for me because office space is complicated there. Being a busy environment, I also wasn’t sure if they’d be ready for my arrival. To my surprise, they had a desk and an office space ready for me with my name printed on the door. It meant the world to me. I felt like I had arrived. It speaks to our soul to belong. There’s something innately important about a sense of belonging to our human spirit. Not to mention the power and confidence that comes in knowing that you are meant to be exactly where you are.

MYTH BUSTED: My possessions don’t matter

My possessions matter because they matter to me. Your possessions mean something because they mean something to you. I matter. You matter. Period. Having a sense of pride in your life, including the life that you’ve built in your home, your belongings, your clothes, your routine, and your work, makes a difference. When I don’t feel a sense of pride in something, I can definitely feel my confidence, my motivation, and my inspiration waning. With those down, I am not as productive or efficient. Not to mention that a lack of pride (e.g. shame) can wear on your mental energy, draining from the reservoir of cognitive and emotional capacity to make decisions wisely and to think creatively and constructively.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a system doesn’t matter. 

Having a system helps keep your mind and your belongings organized. Our brains are wired for organization. The tasks that we do are organized not only spatially but sequentially. So, timing and order matter. The more things are organized in a meaningful way, the more efficient you can be. The more that systems make sense, the more powerful and accurate your decisions become. The better your outcomes are, the more confidence and success build upon one another. The more reasons you have for doing things, the more meaningful your life becomes. Meaning, connection, successful outcomes, and true confidence build not only successful and happy careers, but happier, more motivated and more productive people.

MYTH BUSTED: Having a plan doesn’t matter or help.

I used to believe that I did my best work when I was acting on a whim, when I had no set plans or when I was acting in a mad fury to get things done under the final pressure of an impending deadline. But I’ve come to realize that I love planning ahead! I love setting plans and building on them. Not to mention— it’s nice to know what to expect.

MYTH BUSTED: What you do doesn’t matter.

In the past, I felt like my house didn’t need to be organized because I was living ‘just fine’ despite the fact that I couldn’t organize everything I wanted to. But, I took this mentality to an extreme, where I began believing that since I couldn’t do everything I wanted, that none of the tasks I did mattered. But, what you do matters. In fact, it seems that this is one of the biggest predictors of happiness. Studies found that doing something and learning a skill contributed to increased happiness and confidence in children. You are bound to get better at what you work on. What you do leads to learning new skills and getting things done, which both add to your sense of accomplishment and sense of confidence in yourself. And these boost your happiness.

MYTH BUSTED: Enjoying things and connecting with your heart is for sissies, or is silly, trivial, and insignificant.

It seems like a silly task and it seems even silly for me to say. But, going through this method changed me. Growing up in a typical working-class east-Baltimore family, I was taught to be tough. You keep your head down, nose to the grind, and just keep going, like a workhorse. The focus was never on my feelings or my thoughts. It was on just getting things done, and working hard. It didn’t matter if you didn’t like something, or didn’t want to do something; you just did it. And when you didn’t like to do something or didn’t want to do something, it was even more imperative that you push through to get it done. I wasn’t shown how to connect with my heart. Yes, my feelings mattered to an extent, but what I cared about didn’t really matter when it came head-to-head with tradition, work, or duty. Those “should be” ways of living always overrode my feelings. As if my desires and my feelings were second-rate citizens. Or as if they were trivial and insignificant. I think this is how I became such a dutiful workaholic who grew up feeling guilty whenever I couldn’t get something done. This translated to my early adult life when I had difficulty asking for help or saying that I couldn’t finish something.

What you care about matters tremendously. It affects you, your life, your motivation, your outlook, and therefore your performance and productivity. This, in turn, affects the people around you.

It was a wonderful exercise of self-growth for me to take each of my possessions in hand and to search my heart for if it brought me joy. I was able to connect with my heart in a deeper way and to know myself in a deeper way than I ever thought I could. 

During the time following my birth family reunion, my identity felt nebulous, hazy and ill-defined. I felt like I was grasping at my identity like someone trying to grab the wind. I felt like a blank slate. I didn’t know who I was. I was grappling with the idea that I could’ve become someone else if the events in my life were different. I was wondering what elements of my personality were inherent and which were fluid and learned. Of those that were learned, what was shaped by the family who raised me. Of those that were inherited, what did that mean? Did that mean that I was destined to have those traits? Could I choose who I wanted to be? Did I have a say in the life I wanted to lead going forward? Could I still just be me? And if so, who was that?

I came to realize that no matter what inherent traits we were born with and no matter what we were taught by our families or by our environment, we all have the ability to choose the people we are. And that’s a lot of power. In fact, it could be the difference between a life filled with peace, contentedness and joy and a life filled with emptiness, unsettledness, and depression. We have some agency over our lives. We can’t control what we were born with or what happens to us. But, we can definitely change elements of who we are. We can shift our own viewpoints and modify our own perspective. We can be creative thinkers. We can be dynamic problem-solvers and innovators. We can build the life we want, beginning with our own thoughts and ideas.

During this time when I felt devoid of personality that was my own and devoid of an identity that was mine, I found the KonMarie method to be a wonderfully transformative process. As I connected with my own thoughts and feelings about each of my possessions, my experience and outlook of the items within my house transformed. And therefore, my life experience changed. I disregarded the opinions of others during the process and connected with thoughts and feelings that were uniquely mine.

And I found that I could not only know what I was feeling, but I also connected with my heart: who I was at my core. And this is something that people need to do more. Doctors and healthcare professionals, business people, law enforcement, artists, anyone and everyone can lead happier lives by paying attention to what sparks joy for them. And when we are doing what we love, it shows. When we are motivated and inspired, breakthroughs happen. And we do more. We have more endurance to do more over the long-term. We have more resilience to bounce back after challenges, setbacks, and distractions. And this, in turn, can help us to be a more creative, innovative, and productive society.

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