I’ll admit it: “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” actually changed my life

Obsession
Life as Laboratory
Obsession
Life as Laboratory

The hardest part of changing your life is getting started.

This time last year, I was living with my boyfriend of several years—like me, in his early 30s—and we were stuck. I couldn’t tell if we were working through our final fears before making a bigger commitment, or just spiraling in and out of happy moments on our way to total dissolution. I agonized about “making a decision,” and whether I would know when—if ever—to end it. But when that moment finally came, there was no decision at all. It was just announcing the inevitable: I was moving out.

Up until then, I had leaned hard on friends, family, even co-workers, and—this is New York—a therapist for support. But when it was suddenly time to pack my stuff and move out of the apartment, I mostly did it on my own. I was processing loss through purging, packing, and unpacking.  Though girlfriends dipped in and out, riding shotgun for Salvation Army runs, and watching for cops while I double-parked outside my new studio, the hands-on job just felt too intimate to share: I was processing loss through purging, packing, and unpacking.

Much to my own surprise, I came to rely on three strangers as I did it: organization guru Marie Kondo, pop star Taylor Swift, and comic Marc Maron.

It started with Kondo’s best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The “magic,” I found, was trusting in Kondo’s experience and surrendering to her methods. (Emotionally exhausted, I found this to be a relief.) I’d never used a self-help book before, but I’m pretty sure this is how they work. The Life-Changing Magic—along with Taylor Swift’s album, 1989, and Marc Maron’s podcast, WTF—guided me through three stages of moving on, and actually helped me change my life in 2015.

One year later, as the time for resolutions and clean breaks draws near, consider this three-step process if you’re ready for a fresh start.

I. Clean out the clutter

Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

marie kondo life changing magic of tidying up

By now you’ve probably heard about Marie Kondo’s KonMari method, with its precious folding and indiscriminate discarding of unread books. That’s all fine. Here’s the real thing to know about The Life-Changing Magic. It’s all about intuition, gratitude, and letting go. And it’s not just for your sock drawer.

How to use it:

Mercilessly. You should buy into Kondo’s method as if you are temporarily insane, and have no free will to question her wisdom. When she tells you to clean by category (ie: books) rather than room or space (ie: home office, basement, kitchen cookbook shelf), listen to her. Make a giant pile of all your books, sweaters, necklaces, whatever, and dive in. (I suggest setting a timer for each category to keep yourself moving.)

 Buy into Kondo’s method as if you are temporarily insane. 

The main action involves picking up an item—a college sweatshirt, earrings your mother-in-law gave you, a guidebook—and asking yourself whether it “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t, you get rid of it, even if it once made you happy. You recognize that its purpose in your life is done, and as ridiculous as it sounds, you say thanks. You actually say, Thanks sweater, for keeping me warm when I was 25, but now you look so boxy, and would probably make someone else much happier. And then you put it in a bag, and you keep going.

Before you know it, you will have guiltlessly cleaned out a significant portion of your life’s clutter, and be left with just your favorite things. Perhaps more importantly, you will have practiced, again and again, how to trust your gut instinct, express gratitude, and let something go.

II. Tap into emotional energy and channel it productively

Taylor Swift, 1989

taylor swift 1989

As a busy, functioning adult—especially in a city—it can be difficult to find the time, space, and wherewithal to process loss and change. (See also: crying on the subway; crying at yoga.)

Because of Swift’s decision to keep her album off Spotify, it became the only one I ever purchased on Google Play, making it easy to play 1989—and nothing else—on repeat as I packed up the contents of my newly KonMari’d closets, cabinets, shelves, and drawers.

How to use it:

In private—on your headphones, in your car, or at home. But then, don’t question it and don’t apologize. Taylor Swift is a breakup specialist and a gifted songwriter, so blast this girl power-charged album’s mix of catchy power anthems, energizing dance beats, and mournful ballads on repeat when you’re alone, and ride the emotional roller coaster it provides. The tight pacing and run-time of 1989 make it a perfect soundtrack for the breakup-to-getting-back-on-your-feet montage in the rom-com of your life.

Whether or not you’re a TaySwift fan, once you have cycled through 1989 three or four times, the songs will start to grow on you. Before long, you will be dance-cleaning to “Shake it Off” and tearfully belting out the chorus to “This Love,” emoting healthily as you pack your boxes, drive cross-country, go for a run, whatever.

Then, start it over again and just keep going.

III. Get some perspective and laugh

Marc Maron, WTF

wtf marc maron

Marc Maron’s strength as an interviewer is his raw honesty and vulnerability, which in turn opens up his guests. Most of Maron’s interview subjects are, like their host, successful writers, comedians, actors, and musicians. (This year Maron interviewed President Obama in his Los Angeles garage studio and his personal white whale, Lorne Michaels, in New York.) Many, also like Maron, are recovered addicts as well.

 Successful creators are just semi-neurotic working stiffs like the rest of us. They talk about their careers and tell funny stories about other famous people, but they also get into the anxiety and anguish of producing good work, addiction and recovery, relationships and sex lives. They remind us that successful creators are just semi-neurotic working stiffs like the rest of us, working through their issues as they try to become better, happier, more productive people.

How to use it:

When you’re feeling emotionally or mentally drained and have a semi-mindless task at hand, just cue up an episode of WTF and let it rip. In the beginning, you may find Maron’s 20 minutes of pre-interview personal ramblings tiresome and feel tempted to skip it. Then, you’ll turn the corner and find yourself riveted and empathetic as he over-shares about doctor’s appointments, car trouble, and re-sealing his driveway.

You can listen in fits and starts, but I found that when faced with a mountain of moving boxes, telling myself I’d devote one WTF episode to unpacking each night after work helped me to tackle an overwhelming job in substantial, manageable chunks—and maintain some humor and perspective at the same time.

Epilogue

I’m ending this year on an optimistic note. I live in a sweet little home, surrounded by friends. I love my job. I feel creative. I’m dating someone I’m crazy about—and it’s mutual. Things are so good that I’m a little afraid I’ll be hit by a taxi, which feels like something Maron might identify with.

I still try to regularly apply Marie Kondo’s principles to keep my tiny place tidy, with varying success. Once in a while I listen to 1989 when I run at the track down the street, and often, WTF is on my headphones while I ride the subway to work.

Once it gets going, change takes on its own momentum. Thanks to these three strangers, I’ve kept it going in the right direction and the road feels clear, straight into 2016.

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