Did you – like seemingly the rest of the country – watch Tidying Up With Marie Kondo when it was released on Netflix in January?
I certainly did! In fact, I mostly watched it on my phone while nap trapped by my sleeping baby girl, delightedly binging the episodes in bits and spurts over a string of long, rainy days and nights.
As a mostly-minimalist and ardent nester, I absolutely loved it and, on a purely home decorating/cleaning-level took lots of notes about ways I could spruce up my home one day in the future.
But as a therapist, I watched and appreciated the show on a whole other level because I found it – KonMari’ing or tidying up your home – to be a great metaphor for what we’re attempting to do in the therapy process.
To hear six reasons why KonMari’ing your home is the perfect metaphor for therapy,
6 Reasons Why KonMari’ing Your Home Is The Perfect Metaphor For Therapy.
First, a little caveat: The point of my post today isn’t meant to over-simplify the act of therapy.
Therapy is a complex, unique, and in my mind, sacred and mysterious, journey that can lead to profound healing and transformation for those who undertake it.
The parallel between KonMari’ing your home and the therapy isn’t meant to oversimplify the process or undermine the complexity or mysteriousness of it in any way.
But, because I get asked so often, “What exactly is therapy?” and “What happens in the therapy process and how does this actually change my life?” combined with the fact that it seems like almost everyone has told me they watched Tidying Up, I wanted to use the show to illustrate some of the principles of therapy in the hopes that it might help you understand more what can make therapy effective.
So, without further ado, here are 6 reasons why KonMari’ing your home is the perfect metaphor for therapy:
1. Both therapy and tidying your home involve deliberate work to help you more consciously choose how you to live.
With tidying up, we’re clearly dealing with an external space that we want to adjust to help us live better.
With therapy, we are, of course, talking about your internal space.
With your external spaces, you inventory your clothes, your books, your papers and your “
With your internal spaces, in the process of therapy, we do the same kind of “inventorying” work by discovering what your internalized views and beliefs of yourself, others, and the world are.
We compassionately confront your patterns of behavior, your defense mechanisms, your unconscious introjects and see what’s working well for you, and what may need to “go.”
With both kinds of inventorying work, I think the key here is the word “deliberate.”
Neither the act of tidying up your home nor confronting and working through your internal beliefs, introjects, and self- and world-views tends to happen automatically.
Both are processes that, most often, need to be undertaken deliberately in order to create big changes in our lives.
2. Tidying up IS work and sometimes it gets messier before it gets “cleaner.”
As the show’s participants undertook the tidying process, it often looked like they were making even more mess and clutter in their home by pulling everything out of the closets, nooks, and crannies.
Some of them must have been asking themselves, “What am I doing?!?!” as they stood surrounded by stuff on the floor, mountains of clothes on the bed, having made their living spaces even more messy by beginning the tidying up process.
Truthfully, I find that therapy can have a similar process and a similar reaction.
When you begin the work of therapy, especially if you’ve never been to therapy before, sometimes life and your internal landscape can feel a lot “messier” before it gets “cleaner.”
Think about it: you’re exhuming thoughts, patterns, and memories that have often been “hidden” in the closet/basement/under the bed.
Your stories about how you think you don’t deserve love or your memories about being emotionally abused by your father may not be at the forefront of your mind on a daily basis, and so when you start “pulling them out” it can often feel emotionally hard and overwhelming to now be seeing them.
In therapy, you pull your proverbial mental and emotional “clutter” out of the closet and sort through it, piece by piece alongside your therapist.
And sometimes, things WILL feel harder before they feel better, much like in Tidying Up, things often looked messier before they got tidier.
But, as the show’s participants persisted in their cleaning efforts and eventually created a cleaner, more nourishing and tidy space for themselves, so, too, can the act of therapy ultimately yield a better-feeling internal environment for you if you persist in the “decluttering” work.
3. In addition to or instead of asking “Does it spark joy?” ask “Does it serve me?”
One of the most famous and signature elements of the KonMari method involves weighing every possession against the question, “Does this spark joy?” If the answer is yes, the item is
Now, when it comes to therapy, it may be challenging to discern if the beliefs, thoughts, and patterns we confront “spark joy” so I think a more reasonable question to ask in the psychological tidying of therapy is “Does it [this thought or behavior] serve me?”
For instance, when you’re doing your psychological tidying and you get in touch with one of your core beliefs such as “It’s not safe to show my anger to others.” it’s important to ask whether this thought is continuing to serve you and if it’s a thought you want to continue thinking and acting upon in the future.
Asking the question, “Does it serve me” is a wonderful discerning tool in thinking through what kind of future we want to create for ourselves.
4. In therapy, we can also have gratitude for what no longer serves us.
When we ask the question, “Does this still serve me?” and the answer is no, similar to how Marie Kondo invites us to thank the items that are no longer serving us before we get rid of them, in therapy we can also have compassion and gratitude for how our out-dated beliefs and patterns may, at one time, have served us.
For instance, the binge eating habit you developed as a response to not receiving love from your parents as a child could be viewed as your attempt to “nourish” yourself in some way at a time when you had fewer options.
You may hate the impact that binge eating is currently having on your present life and want something different for yourself moving forward, but if you are able to reframe your past behaviors and notice how they served you at one time (even though they don’t
And compassion for yourself is almost always therapeutic.
5. Unlike Tidying Up, we don’t fully “get rid” of what doesn’t serve us; but we do minimize its impact.
Where the metaphor between the KonMari method and the therapy process diverges, I believe, is in the fact that, unlike with physical items, we don’t always fully “get rid” of psychological beliefs and patterns.
For example, you can donate your excess clothing to the Goodwill, or shred your mountain of old credit card statements, but when it comes to internalized inner critic
You do this by finding and substituting new world views, kinder and more supportive inner voices, and by slowly changing your automatic behaviors over time.
There may always be a part of you that sounds exactly like the internalized critical voice of your judgemental mother, but, over time in therapy, you will hopefully dim the volume of that voice and raise the volume on other, more supportive internal voices.
So, while we can donate/trash/get rid of physical items in the physical tidying up process, in the therapeutic process, it’s not so much that we get rid of our psychological clutter as much as we minimize the impact it has on our lives.
6. Both physical and psychological “tidying up” can have huge and surprising transformative effects.
I thought it was interesting to witness the Tidying Up participants speak about how much the physical act of cleaning and decluttering positively impacted their relationships, their sense of peace, their role as a parent, etc..
By taking the time to declutter their physical spaces, many aspects of their life seemingly improved.
Very similarly, when we take the time and make the deliberate effort to “psychologically tidy” in therapy, we can expect transformative change to occur in many aspects of our lives.
Think about it: when you confront a belief that you are unlovable and, instead, start to internalize and live out a newer, more supportive belief that you are indeed lovable, this shift in your thinking can positively impact not only your relationship to
Psychological “tidying up” has, much like physical tidying up, the possibility of positively transforming our lives in myriad and sometimes surprising ways.
Inquiries for you:
Does reading this list make you curious about the “psychological tidying” you may need or want to do? If so, this series of prompts can help you get started:
- If your mind and heart were a house, what rooms do you know you need to work on/”tidy”? For example: Imagine romantic relationships as a room, your relationship to yourself as another, your relationship to money as a third, your relationship to eating as a fourth, etc..
- What are all of the thoughts and behaviors in one of these rooms that you want to begin to “tidy”?
- What beliefs and actions, while they served you well at one time, do you need to thank and let go?
- What beliefs and actions are still working well for you that you want to keep in this “room”? Which “spark joy”?
- What do you imagine your “room” will feel like when it’s not so cluttered with thoughts and actions that are no longer working for you?
- What’s the cost to you if you don’t “tidy” this room?
- What resources do you need to help you “tidy” this “room”?
If you need support, I’d love to be your proverbial psychological Marie Kondo.
Laura has Monday, Wednesday, and Friday late afternoon and evening openings as well as Saturday openings from 9am-4pm. You can book a consult call or a therapy session with her here.
And whether you work with us or someone else, I hope you will get to experience the life-changing magic of “psychological tidying up” by embarking on a therapy journey at some point.
Would you like a guide to navigating these unprecedented times?
This book is that guide. It's a steadying hand on your back, therapy between two covers, a lifeline for when you're sad, lonely, scared and overwhelmed.