Written by Writer’s Corps member Maya Martinkus
This past Christmas, I was gifted The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, by Marie Kondo. The Japanese guide to decluttering and organizing has sold millions of copies and gained a cult following across the globe, so as a neat freak and a bookworm, I was excited enough about it. However, I never could have anticipated how this one little book would impact my relationships with the people around me.
The objective of the KonMari method, I read, is to assess each and every one of your belongings by category, and assess whether each item brings you joy. If it doesn’t (and most things don’t), you thank it for the purpose it served in your life up to this point, and get rid of it. In the end, you’re surrounded with much less clutter, because you have only kept what truly makes you happy. Gone are the things you kept out of guilt because of someone giving it to you as a gift, gone are the things you “might wear someday”, gone are the things you impulsively bought but have no real use for. The space around you becomes streamlined and contains only things that are useful and make you happy. With the clutter gone, you’re able to really appreciate what you have, and rarely do you miss what you got rid of.
I realized how easily this method can apply not just to belongings but also the people we keep in our life, and I was inspired to reassess my relationships, from family members to social media “friends” to childhood friends, and ask myself how each of these relationships affected me. I have a habit of investing too much of myself into people who don’t deserve it. I give more time, energy, emotion and even gifts to people who don’t pay attention to me or treat me badly in hopes that they’ll change, and I am constantly hurt and disappointed when they don’t. I knew the exercise would be good for me to finally face some of my insecurities head on.
We’ve all experienced a friend or romantic partner that didn’t bring us joy at some point in our lives. For many of us, it happens as we outgrow friendships from our childhood, or begin romantic relationships that end up feeling unhappy or even unhealthy. But it can be hard to recognize when a relationship is bringing you more unhappiness than happiness. And it can be even harder to imagine moving forward in life without them. Even people who bring us down can offer a false sense of stability and it can be intimidating to admit to yourself that this stage of life is over and it’s time to move onto the next.
“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go,” says Kondo, “there are only two [reasons]: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.” It’s common for some people to prolong a romantic relationship they know they’re not happy in because the thought “what if I never meet anyone better?” enters our mind. Likewise, it’s hard to let go of a friendship we’ve spent many years building, with many memories attached, even if that person isn’t a good influence on us.
I know I’ve had friendships I’ve held onto long after it was clear that we’d grown apart, simply because we’d been friends for a long time. For example, I had a friendship with someone we’ll call Amanda. Amanda and I had been friends since 10th grade, so we had many years of friendship under our belt, but the closer I looked at the last few years’ worth of interactions, the more I realized we’d outgrown each other. Not only that, but her presence was causing me to be stressed and upset. I once enjoyed her snarky retorts and dramatic ways – as a teenager, it was fun and entertaining. But as we headed into adulthood, I found our lives were going in two very different directions, and we butted heads practically every time we talked. She wasn’t there for my big moments, or even supportive of the little things.
A friendship filled with high school memories and grown-up “firsts” can be a hard thing to let go of. But I also knew I was worthy of better treatment, and subjecting myself to constant criticism and bullying that came from this “friend” wasn’t doing myself any favors. Finally, after she instigated yet another pointless argument over text messaging, I realized I was ready to let go. I thanked her for her past friendship, wished her the very best in her future, and deleted her from all social media. I wasn’t sorry. Removing her toxic friendship from my life was a breath of fresh air. I felt so much freer and lighter.
By clearing the space taken up by a negative presence, I was more open to new friends and strengthening new bonds with good people I’d been overlooking. I was reminded that I am worthy of solid friendships and relationships, that I deserve to be built up, not torn down.
The next time you’re spring cleaning, remember to spring clean not just your belongings, but also the people in your life, who affect you every bit as much as the environment you live in. Scroll through who you follow on social media, think about who you go out to lunch with, who you share your dreams and goals with.
Ask yourself: does this person bring me joy? Am I as important to them as they are to me? Are they supportive and understanding? Do they inspire me to be the best version of myself? Are they there when I need them? If not, it might be time to say goodbye.