Sometimes we end up with people in our lives in much the same way we end up with Tupperware containers. You’re not sure how you picked them up, they smell a bit funny, and they certainly don’t “spark joy” for you in the way they must spark joy for someone else who would appreciate them more.
My latest Netflix binge was on Marie Kondo’s new Netflix series “Tidying up with Marie Kondo”. Created by the author of “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, Marie Kondo helps families across America with tidying up their homes and getting unstuck in the process. She suggests that we spend time with each of our possessions, and if they don’t “spark joy” for us, we take a moment to thank that item for being a part of our lives and say goodbye.
I feel like this method helps to shortcut a lot of the complicated feelings we have about clearing items away, so we can make our lives more joyful. Instead of guilt about throwing things by the wayside, we have genuine gratitude for the path that has led us to this moment, while opening ourselves to what the future may bring when we’re not treating our mementos like lodestones.
It got me thinking of some of the other areas that would benefit from applying the KonMari method. I’ve identified a few, so this will be a series of articles about how we can apply this method in places other than the bathroom drawers.
The first one is people.
The people we surround ourselves with should be examined every so often. Much in the same way we check on the overall health of our romantic relationships or talk to our bosses about how we feel about our working environment, we ought to check in with ourselves to ask some questions to appreciate our friends and identify tiny issues before they grow bigger.
Handy relationship questions
1. How often are we in touch?
2. Do I normally initiate, do they, or is it even?
3. Am I happy with that?
4. When we speak, is the other person interested in what I have to say and how i feel?
5. Am I interested in what they have to say and how they feel?
6. What do I value in a friendship?
7. Do this person’s values align with my values?
8. When we talk about our hopes and plans, are we encouraging each other to do the best we can, or are we pointing out all the ways the other person is failing?
9. How do I talk about this person to other people?
10. Is the relationship equal?
11. How even is the share of money in our friendship?
12. Am I always shouting for lunch?
13. Do they do way more in the way of favours than I do?
Note: it doesn’t need to be even dollar for dollar, especially if there’s an imbalance of resources or time. This is about what you want in a relationship and what you’re happy with. If you spring for the lavish meals, but they’re always thankful and they’re the first to lend a hand with the time they’ve got, that’s fine as long as you’re happy.
This isn’t about making a report card or itemised invoice. This is about taking a moment to check in and see if anything has changed lately or see if there’s room for improvement. If something in this list has changed over the last few months and you’re not sure why, it’s worth checking in it’s the other person to see if everything is okay.
But most importantly, it’s about checking in with the way a relationship is right now and asking yourself if it “sparks joy”. When you think of this person that you spend so much of your life with, do you feel happy inside? Or when the phone rings, do you think “oh god, what do they want now?’
I’m not telling you to ditch a mate the second they stop entertaining you, especially if something is going on for them that makes them a little more stressed than usual. It’s about checking in to see if your relationship with that person makes you happy.
Frogs in pots
Change can sneak up on us slowly over time when we’re not paying attention. It can go from having a good time together, to a friend only calling when they want something. We can find ourselves gently “teasing” each other in ways that don’t feel light hearted and supportive.
People change over time, too, and sometimes those changes can be incompatible with the standards we set for ourselves and the actions we expect from others. This is especially true in our current political climate. This can also come up when one person has done a lot of maturing or self-improvement and the other person feels like it’s a threat.
Sometimes something comes out of the woodwork that was always there and was never compatible with how we need the people in our lives to behave, and now you’re seeing it for the first time. This one can be especially hard when you start thinking of all of the ways they have helped and guided you.
Sometimes, no one changes or does anything wrong, but you don’t like how you feel when you’re with that other person. While it’s healthy for the people in our lives to challenge us and help us grow, we should never walk away feeling like we’re not good enough.
So, what to do?
First up, take your time.
This takes longer than holding a shirt and folding it into thirds. Perhaps do a check in, make a note about things that concern you, bring them up with the friend, and then check again in six months.
Feelings also change over time, especially if you’re dealing with mental health concerns. A symptom of depression is feeling guilt, and many illnesses make us feel like a burden. Wait for that feeling to pass and reflect on it on a range of different days and a range of different moods.
That being said…
Trust your gut.
We’re looking for that sparking joy feeling, not thinking our way into convincing ourselves that friend is a really nice guy. If they make you really happy to think about, but there’s just this one thing, talk to them about it and see if they can change that behaviour.
If they can’t, ask yourself if that impacts on your enjoyment of that person. It may be a deal breaker for you (he hates tomato), or it may be mildly annoying (he had you tattooed while you were sleeping).
Note: If that one thing is that he beats his kids, or she’s a white supremacist though, ditch them.
1. The one who was my best friend right up until he wasn’t.
Something people often say in these situations is “But I don’t want to dump them after everything they’ve done for me”.
It’s okay for someone’s past kindness to give them a little bit of leeway when it comes to troubling behaviours, but if someone once gave you ten thousand dollars, if doesn’t mean that down the track they can trash your house and get away with it.
It feels bad when someone has done a lot of nice things in the past but now they’re acting poorly. It feels like you’re being ungrateful for the good times when you feel unhappy about the bad times.
Like those shoes you wore on your first date that now give you blisters, Marie Kondo’s method makes saying goodbye easier. We don’t discount their importance in our lives. In fact, we deliberately identify and feel that gratitude before saying goodbye. We can do this with friends, too.
Saying a heartfelt thank you can be very insightful and good for closure, even if you don’t say it to the person involved.
Here’s an example:
Joe, I am very grateful for the good times we had together. I appreciate all of the time you spent with me, and how much fun we had. I appreciate the opportunity I had to learn that I am a worthy and good friend in return.
I feel gratitude because you taught me that not everyone I love is willing to help when something bad happens, and that I am capable of looking after myself, and you helped me discover that I value myself enough to not allow you to do that to me again.
Thank you, Joe.
Note: if someone says “but what about all the things I’ve done for you” when you tell them that they have hurt you, that’s a manipulative behaviour that suggests that the other person thinks that it’s acceptable to hurt someone as long as they’re also nice sometimes.
2. The one who didn’t really do anything wrong.
We often see the end of a relationship as a relationship “failing”. When two people who are dating break up, we often ask who the bad guy was.
Often, people need to feel like the hero or the good guy so much that they cast the other person as the “bad guy”, when the truth is that you just grew apart.
Ending a relationship when it’s not bringing joy anymore instead of waiting until a catastrophic breakdown can be a great thing for everyone involved. It can save a lot of heartache, and also means that there is potential for a relationship to be picked back up at a later date if you’re both in a good place for it, and the idea does “spark joy” for both of you.
Here’s an example of how we might talk to someone in this situation:
I value and appreciate the friendship we’ve had over the last few years. I really enjoy it when we talk, but when we get together, we end up gossiping about people, and I really don’t like myself much when I do that.
It’s not anyone’s fault, but it is a habit that I need to break, so I want to thank you for all of the loyalty and empathy that you have brought into our friendship and say goodbye until we can interact in a really healthy and nourishing way for both of us.
Thank you, and goodbye for now.
3. The one who did something horrible to someone who wasn’t me.
I want to be straight up and tell you that it’s fine to call time on a friendship if someone does something that goes against your values, even if they didn’t do it to you.
While I do think that rehabilitation from past behaviour is possible, it doesn’t mean that you have to stick around to watch, and if the person is doing something without remorse and without intention to own that behaviour and address it, you can absolutely walk.
Applying Marie Kondo’s methods in a slightly different way, we could frame it like this:
You absolutely do spark joy for me. You’re smart, funny, and fun to be around.
I recently found out that you send really disturbing, vulgar messages to women on the internet. While you have never sent a message like that to me, we had a chat about it and told you that I think it’s wrong, and you didn’t agree.
When I think about the kind of person that I want to be, it does not include supporting a person who does this to other people, so I want to take a moment and have gratitude for everything that you have given me over the years, and thank you for teaching me about the kind of person I want to be and the values that I hold dear.
4. The one that dumped me first.
You may not have had a choice when a friend decided they didn’t want to be friends anymore, but you do get to decide what to do in the aftermath of that. If you don’t take charge of that healing process, you can continue to emotionally invest in that relationship long after the other person has gone, without meaning to, especially when we’re using that energy to rehash old hurts or stalk them on Facebook.
We can ask ourselves “Does the part that this person still has in my life spark joy?” And if the answer is no, we can deliberately let them go, and practise self-compassion if they work their way back into our minds. I might say something like this to them:
Since you told me you didn’t want to be my friend anymore, I have thought of you often. While it came as a surprise at the time and left me with a lot of sadness and hurt, I want to express my gratitude.
Thank you for the many years of friendship that we shared together. The hurt of the last few months does not erase the good of the past. You were always there when I needed you, and I will always value that gift.
I also want to thank you for teaching me that I can stand on my own, thank you for teaching me about how I would like to be treated, and for teaching me about how I want to treat my other friends.
I hope that the friendships that you still have in your life bring you as much joy as you brought me.
This method can apply to anyone in your life, including people who have passed on. Where it’s someone we go to school with, live with, or work with where we can’t avoid seeing them, we can say goodbye and thank you to them within ourselves and decide to stop emotionally investing in them.
I hope this gives you some insight into how you’d like to maintain your social circle in the future. I feel like one of the best things that Marie Kondo can bring to us is making decisions deliberately and most in tune with who we are and what we need.
Now, if anyone has a sneaky way of folding a friend into thirds so I can keep them in my house, let me know.