With the start of the new year, it is no surprise that one of the most #trending topics floating around is the KonMari Method of tidying up, created by a Japanese native, Marie Kondo.
The KonMari Method™ encourages tidying by category – not by location – beginning with clothes, then moving on to books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and, finally, sentimental items. Keep only those things that speak to the heart, and discard items that no longer spark joy. Thank them for their service – then let them go.
I came across her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as an Amazon-suggested book (what were you trying to tell me, Amazon??) about a year ago but didn’t feel the need to purchase. Then came Netflix who picked up Marie’s revolutionary method and translated it into the popular and highly-addictive series it is now. Every episode focuses on different circumstances: a married couple with toddlers, empty nesters, a family downsizing their home, a widow, a couple that moved in together, expecting parents, and newlyweds. For a cleaning/tidying show, they managed to capture how emotional the process of letting go was, but that it also brought so much peace, harmony, and joy.
I believe the most appealing part of her method is that there is so much mindfulness that goes into the tidying process — picking up each item in your hands and asking yourself, “Does it spark joy?”. If it does and you can see yourself bringing it with you into your ideal self/future, you keep it. If not, you simply thank it, and let it go. This applies to clothes, books, household items, sentimental objects… It’s revolutionary in that the end goal shifts from simply cleaning to actively choosing what is meaningful for you. Mindfulness.
Inspired after binge-watching all eight episodes, I immediately started going through my closet — emptying my drawers into a huge pile on top of the bed and one by one sifted through my clothes asking if it sparks me joy and if it’s something I want to bring forward with me. I managed to get rid of a good amount, while making sure to be grateful: “Thank you, sweater, for keeping me warm.” “Thank you, old tattered t-shirt for being so comfy and easy to wear on the days I wanted to just lounge around the house.”
It then dawned onto me how this mindful letting go of stuff was something I had been doing for a few months now, especially since I got back from my Aruba yoga retreat. When people ask me about the trip, the first thing I say is how deeply spiritual of an experience it was, and that I did a lot of purging. With each yoga session, I would find myself crying either with an overwhelming sense of emotion or gratitude or just something deep inside me wanting to escape. I remember being in pigeon pose, an intense hip-opener, and tears uncontrollably streamed down my face. I didn’t know how or why but that release of tension in my hip also released some stuck energy (I later Googled this and found out that it is quite common for people to weep while in pigeon pose, as we carry a lot of our fears, traumas, and anxiety in our hips and lower regions aka chakras, so opening up this space helps release those emotions). With those tears came a great purging of fear, anxiety, anger, disappointment, blame, shame, and heartache.
In addition, I was introduced to journaling, not in the high-school Dear-Diary kind of way that, admittedly, turned me off at first, but rather as a very effective tool to purge the mind of thoughts. It could be toxic thoughts, destructive thoughts, recurring thoughts. But it could also be curious thoughts, nonsensical thoughts, or beautiful thoughts. I learned that by putting pen to paper, I was physically able to purge thoughts that would normally sit around and torment me silently. Interestingly enough, purging the negative allowed me to make room for the positive. Ideas, affirmations, realizations, aha! moments, dreams, jokes, stories, what-ifs, I-think-I-cans, and I-believes started coming through. My notebook and pen became my therapist, my friend, a mirror shining back exactly what I was and who I was at that exact moment. It gave me the ability to process and dissect if I wanted, accept if needed. It was a mindfulness purge. A mind purge.
Reflecting back, I didn’t do a good job of letting go of things, both literally and metaphorically. Before diagnosis, I spent most of my days and weeks inside the apartment working from home, convincing myself that I didn’t need to spend the money on a workspace and that I need not invest in a social structure here in NY because it was just a temporary move. “I’m only here for 2-3 years max then I get to go back to Cali where my friends and family are.” I didn’t realize that I was inadvertently isolating myself and thus didn’t have the channels to properly purge. I didn’t value the importance of conversation where most of us let go of our thoughts. I craved conversations with girlfriends where we could talk “girl talk” or new ventures or general reflection on how life was going. Because I had no office to go into and most of my work was done over IM chat and Skype calls, I had little to no interaction with anyone else so when Larry came home from work, I wanted him to just sit down and talk to me, which turned out to be an inherent challenge for a sleep-deprived over-worked medical intern. I couldn’t justify a gym membership because we had a small gym in our apartment building so there were days when I wouldn’t leave the house and work all day inside the apartment, and then do a quick gym session downstairs. I had a couple of friends in NY, but most were casual acquaintances or folks I met through Larry and his residency so I often looked to him to accompany me to this event or that place, which again, didn’t work so well when most of his free time had to be dedicated to studying and/or sleeping. What social structure of friends and family I had back home didn’t carry over to my new NY home, and so I felt stuck. Energy didn’t move, thoughts didn’t move, my body didn’t move. I couldn’t purge.
After cancer, I was so broken down and vulnerable that the “logical” mind that often controlled my decisions took a backseat; I had to let go. I listened to the direction of my soul, and it wanted to go places. I took up my doctor’s offer to introduce me to one of his patients that went through treatment a few years ago. Doing that gave me my “breastie”, Faith, who is now one of my closest friends and life-long go-to support. I signed up for Classpass, which allowed me to take yoga classes, dance classes, spin classes, and everything else in between so that I could move my body in many different ways in many different locations. I also signed up for Spacious, which transforms dinner only-serving restaurants into common spaces for people to work in. This allowed me to get out of the house, get fresh air, and work in an office-like setting. I reached out to my neighborhood church, asking how I could be of service, which led me to becoming a lector and eucharistic minister. I joined MeetUp groups like a women’s science and technology book club, women’s Toastmasters, as well as a Tahitian dance group/coalition. I scheduled phone dates with friends from back home, I introduced myself to new people, I invited current friends to hang out. I started this blog, pouring out my heart and soul with no intended audience or intention other than to write about my journey. Little did I know it was a crucial channel for me to purge so that I could transform challenges into learnings, which thankfully resonates with so many other people. I opened myself up via mind, body, and spirit, and doing so allowed me to let go. In so many ways, I allowed myself to purge words, thoughts, energy so that I could keep moving, keep creating, keep thriving.
So now that I am where I am — a better place, brighter, shinier, lighter, I am carrying over this mindful purging into other areas of my life:
- Scrolling through social media, I found myself consuming images that provoked unintended emotions: anxiety, envy, anger, lethargy, and the list goes on. So, I KonMari’d my Instagram. I pulled up my Follow list and un-followed anyone and anything that did not spark joy. If they regularly invoked feelings of agitation, lack, not being enough, or excess consumption, I let them go. I am trying to keep to accounts that promote creativity, imagination, positivity (and not just copy-pasted inspirational quotes), health and well-being, and of course dogs because..well, dogs.
- I am a digital photo hoarder. My photo stream contains duplicates, random screenshots, accidental videos, past events, amongst other things. Out of all of Marie’s categories, sentimental things is probably the hardest for me to let go. After all, memories are all we have to bring to now and the future. However, opening up my photos folder got so overwhelming because of the sheer volume that I am slowly but surely sorting and deleting those that don’t spark joyful memories. For duplicates, I choose the one that resonates with me the most and edit them so that they are vibrant and crisp as they could be.
- I am also an email hoarder. I have a junk email that I use to sign up for newsletters, retail mailing lists, discount sites, and so on. Unfortunately, this means being inundated with hundreds of emails a month which has piled up so bad, my mailbox wouldn’t load on my phone. So not only am I spending time deleting uncrucial and/or dated mail, I also unsubscribed to 90% of the groups in my inbox. I’m also adjusting my setting to auto-delete mail after 3 days so that I am forced to either take action on that piece of mail, or off to the trash can they go.
- Ruminations. This one is a tough one for me, as I sometimes get woken up by anxiety or thoughts mostly around cancer. I am good at staying inside my head so that a thought or event or something someone said plays over and over in my head. I look at it from different angles, come up with multiple theories on how/why it happened, ask myself if I could’ve handled it differently, or just simply replay it so that I watch it like a black and white movie over and over again. It’s exhausting. What I am learning is that my mind likes to tell myself stories — they could be true or untrue, but mostly they are theorizing and speculation. Just like old clothes and a mailbox full of junk mail, I am learning to distance myself from my thoughts, ask myself if this thought is worth anxious rumination (the answer is always no), and then let it go. Again, it is not easy and it’s an ongoing practice, but it’s something I am more mindful of, and definitely very open to letting go. I’ve heard multiple times now that this is the point of meditation — to be an observer of your thoughts instead of being your thoughts, and this allows you to be more present, and thus not be a slave to your mind. Powerful stuff, and something that will be an ongoing practice for me.
I know we like making a list of resolutions with the new year — goal weight, goal travel, better this, faster that. I wonder if instead of falling into the trap of “being better” and accumulating more, if we could learn the practice of letting go of that which does not serve us, that which does not bring us joy. To purge frequently and mindfully, so that we could discover that there is joy in letting go.
Happy 2019, dear loves.