Are you watching Tidying Up with Marie Kondo? Or perhaps you’ve heard of the “KonMari Method” of decluttering. I don’t recall when I first heard of Kondo, but when she was featured in Elle Australia magazine in 2015, I was not surprised. It seemed that Kondo was all over the internet for a minute there, and everyone was talking about the ‘magic’ of her approach.
Now, 3 years down the track Marie Kondo is back with a Netflix series Tidying Up and everyone seems to have jumped back aboard the KonMari wagon.
A link between clutter and clarity?
In the July 2015 issue, Elle Australia journalist Gemma Askham posed the question “could purging possessions cleanse your mind of emotional baggage?” [Spoiler alert – yes, it probably does]. As someone who works with identifying, addressing and clearing emotional baggage in everyday conflict, I was intrigued. Does mental clutter intersect with our conflict management style?
Peter Walsh, clutter organizer to the stars, has an interesting theory about physical clutter. He says that all that stuff cluttering up your house has a noise. The more stuff in the house, the more noise there is. The ‘noise’ Taylor refers to is not the sound of a pile of clothing toppling off the chair you threw it on (hypothetically speaking…). It is the symphony of thoughts and emotions generated by the presence of all that disorder: feeling too embarrassed to have people over; being unable to find peace, stillness or calm in a cluttered home; dousing our ability to feel motivated in our space.
As well as the material clutter, many of us are also dealing with online clutter. Our constant connectivity via mobile phones and tablets create all sorts of digital detritus, from emails and social media to television, music and movies on demand. According to Dr Anna-Marie Taylor, a clinical psychologist, “We’re so addicted to this agitated, switched-on state, which constantly generates a low-level chemical response of adrenaline, that people actually start to fear being in a quiet place.”
If a constant state of switched-on agitation triggers a constant stream of low-level adrenaline, does the constant background noise generated by everyday conflict generate the same chemical response? If getting rid of your physical stuff is good for your mental health, how great would you feel if you could purge all the mental clutter that unresolved conflict creates too?
If you think about it, we all navigate and manage varying levels of conflict in our everyday lives. Whether it’s being cut off in traffic, responding to criticism at work, getting the kids to do as they’re asked, or explaining to your significant other why it is you needed another pair of shoes; barely a day goes by without a little bit of frisson; and that’s before we even think about the big stuff.
How much time and energy goes in to managing these ordinary, everyday distractions? Minutes? Hours? Days? How often do you replay an incident in your mind, thinking up witty retorts that you wish you’d said, like George Costanza in an episode of Seinfeld? That’s what I call conflict clutter!
How to KonMarie your Conflict Clutter
Following the method set out in Marie Kondo’s book and program, here are 6 steps you can take to KonMarie your mental clutter.
- Visualise your ideal outcome. If you had a magic wand, how would you resolve the conflict or problem? What would that look, sound, fell, smell like? Is it permanent or fleeting? Are you alone or are others with you?
While I can’t guarantee that visualising your ideal outcome will make all your wishes come true, it is a very useful way to identify what you really want out of any given situation. And even if visualisation doesn’t work, what harm can it do? Take a few deep, calming breaths, close your eyes and really see your post-conflict utopia come to life.
- Think about what steps need to be taken to achieve that outcome. Can you do it alone, or do you need the input of others. How much time, effort, and money would you need to invest to create your ideal future?
- Evaluate whether you are willing to make that investment. Weigh the cost against the potential outcome. Is it really worth it? Can you achieve a similar result that is almost as good as your ideal outcome, with less investment? What is the bare minimum you can live with?
Again, visualising the next best and bare minimum resolutions can be a useful way to see whether you really can live with it.
- Sort and if necessary discard the other’s person’s verbal and emotional clutter. You do not need to respond to everything that has been said or done. Anything that does not go directly to the issue in dispute is junk. Anything that is merely the other person’s opinion about you, your behaviour, or your personality, is junk.
If the other person is clearly unwilling or unable to change their point of view, then don’t waste time responding to it. Discard and move on to what you can change, because as Marie Kondo herself says “letting go is more important than adding”.
- Keep your focus on points of agreement, and don’t let them get lost in the conflict clutter. Even the smallest thing can make a big difference in bridging the gap between you. Sometimes I go as far as to generate the flimsiest of agreements, like how bad the coffee is at the mediation venue, or that everyone wants to remain living in the same house. Remind yourself and others of what you have in common and don’t let your disagreement become the sole definition of your relationship.
- Tidy your words before you say them. Resist the urge to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. Instead, take the time to craft your responses. Writing everything down with a pen and paper can help in this process.
Instead of telling the other person what you really think of them, write them a letter – but keep it to yourself!
Once you have purged your true feelings, sort through your response in the same way you sorted through the other person’s words. Keep only the good stuff, discard the junk. When you are ready to reply, only reply to the comments that bring you closer to an outcome, choose words that are “neutral and mutual”, and allow the other person time to consider, reflect and respond.
Practice these 6 steps and soon you will have decluttered your mind and your conflict!