Minimalism is no longer just a design aesthetic. While certain cultures have adhered to this lifestyle for centuries, it has officially gone “mainstream.”
Proof of this is the overnight success of a small book called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. In this book, Japanese declutterer and professional cleaner, Marie Kondo, lays out a step-by-step process for tidying up your life by keeping only those items that truly “spark joy.”
The KonMari Method aligns with the core principle of minimalism: to omit needless things. By identifying the items you truly cannot live without, you appreciate those things even more and often find it easier to get rid of the superfluous “stuff” you unconsciously keep around. While Marie Kondo focuses on tangible items, such as clothing, books, and paper, the process can theoretically be applied to many other areas of your life, including relationships…
Apparently, people only have the capacity to maintain up to 150 relationships at one time. It might sound like a lot, but if you consider all the people you’ve come into contact with throughout your lifetime, it adds up quickly. So what are we supposed to do when we meet someone new who happens to be number 151? How long do we have to maintain a friendship that, if we’re being honest with ourselves, hasn’t felt fulfilling for years?
We’re talking about people – not plants – here, so there’s a limit to how rigorous we can be about “tidying up.” But a lot can be learned from applying some of Marie Kondo’s basic principles. Here is a four step process for decluttering your relationships so you can focus on the ones that matter, and make room for new people who spark joy in your life.
Step 1: Take stock.
Take some time to create a list of all the relationships in your life that you feel a certain pressure to maintain. Whether you text them daily, or visit them once a year when you’re home for Christmas, list every person who you have dedicated energy or time to over the past 12 months. How many people are on your list?
Step 2: Ask yourself the magic question.
The KonMari Method relies on a simple yet profound question: “Does [it] spark joy?” As you go through your closets, cabinets, and picture collections, you are meant to pick up each item and ask yourself if it sparks joy. If the answer is “no,” you thank it for its service and say your goodbyes. Of course, this is a much easier process when you’re talking about a pair of jeans or an old photo frame, rather than a childhood friend. Nonetheless, it’s surprisingly effective when trying to prioritize what relationships to invest in.
Go through your list of friends and for each person ask yourself “Does he/she spark joy in my life?” In other words: Do I enjoy spending time with this person? Do I look forward to hearing from them? Do I feel more energized and excited about life after a phone call or meeting with them?
You will likely have a few clear YES and NO answers, along with a lot of MAYBE’s. That’s OK. But it’s worth asking yourself where the “maybe” is coming from. Is it because you haven’t seen this person in a while, or are there additional factors to consider: maybe your interests have changed, or maybe you feel pressure to maintain the friendship because of a shared connection or history?
The main take away from this exercise is not to get caught up in the “MAYBE’s,” or end 90% of your relationships overnight. Rather, it’s to focus on the clear YES’s and make sure you’re spending the majority of your time surrounded by these people.
Step 3: Ditch the guilt.
One element that Marie Kondo does not address (perhaps because it’s less relevant when tidying up stuff vs. people…) is guilt. But the key to success is fully letting go of any feelings of guilt that might be associated with the act of “re-evaluating” your relationship priorities.
This is not about awakening your inner Mean Girl. This is about being protective of your most valuable asset: time. By limiting the time you spend with people who don’t spark joy or drain you, you can free up more time to spend with people who energize and inspire you. This exercise can also help you make space for new friends and relationships that you may be missing out on.
Step 4: Cut the cord.
Before saying your goodbyes, the KonMari Method encourages you to acknowledge an item for what it’s done for you: say thank you and then MOVE ON. Again, it seems trivial, but it’s actually a critical step in the process because it allows you to end the relationship on a high note.
There’s a similar spiritual practice called “cord cutting.” The idea is that you automatically create an energetic cord with anyone you come into contact with. From the moment you meet, every emotion, interaction, or feeling is attached to that cord. Some cords are stronger than others, some cords are positive, while others hold a negative energy. According to this theory, you want to sever any negative cords in order to prevent the energy from carrying over into your life or other relationships. The beauty is that you can “cut a cord” with someone without ever speaking to them.
There’s no need to call an old friend to say “thanks for being my friend during grade school, but you no longer spark joy and I’m cutting you out of my friend group.” You simply find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and imagine the person in question. Acknowledge him or her and thank them for the role they played in your life. Then clearly state the intention (important: to yourself, not to them) that you’re cutting this cord, releasing yourself from any pressure you might have felt to maintain that relationship.