Note: This post was originally published in January, 2019.
Simplicity. This is what I strive for, with my everyday life and my choices.
So back in 2014, when this little book with a long name called “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” by Marie Kondo became all the rage , I decided to leaf through the pages and see if I could come away with any pearls of wisdom.
For those that are not familiar with the book: Marie Kondo came from relative obscurity in Japan to now being a bestselling author, her books selling millions of copies. Her specific method of tidying and organizing has its own name: the KonMari method. You know you’ve hit it big when you have a method named after you.
THE ACCUMULATION OF STUFF
I have always kept a relatively clutter-free lifestyle. The combination of moving every few years, plus a lack of a shopping habit in general, resulted in me being able to keep my worldly possessions at a manageable level.
However, this changed dramatically when children entered the picture. The amount of baby gear and baby-related items was astounding. The diaper bag, the sippy cups, the exersaucer that took up precious living room real estate. The crib that took up a big chunk of the only bedroom in our apartment. Then there was the rocker, the bouncer, the pack and play. We had the umbrella stroller, then I splurged and got a jogging stroller because I’m a runner. The infant car seat (which we later had to upgrade to a convertible car seat, then a booster seat). The clothing that no longer fit in just a matter of weeks. The toys that lay scattered every which way.
That’s just for one child. We’ve got three.
We have now graduated from baby items to kid items. Books galore, arts and crafts, board games, video games, Lego sets, school supplies, clothing and gear for all four seasons, shoes for running, shoes for sand, shoes for snow. Athletic gear, bicycles, scooters, musical instruments, toys that they received as gifts and played with once or twice. The endless amounts of paper that comes home from school. The gift bags they receive from birthday parties.
So yes, there’s a reason I picked up this book.
When I first flipped through this book, I came to this conclusion: this book was not meant for people that had children. How in the world were you supposed to follow all of these rules, “talk” to your belongings, and fold your clothes in an unconventional way when you barely had time to take a shower? Children have an uncanny way of reminding you that you, indeed, have very little control over your living space.
So when I recently found out that she DID indeed have children AND that she had a Netflix special called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I was intrigued. I wanted to see how she worked her magic.
My conclusion after watching a few episodes? Either she’s an incredibly good actress, or Marie Kondo is genuinely passionate about what she does. Her passion and the effect it has on other people translates pretty well to television. Now, her book made a little more sense.
A HOME MAKEOVER SHOW, WITH A TWIST
Have you ever seen the TV show ‘Hoarders’? I’ve seen snippets of this show, and it was clear that these people needed more help than simply throwing away 99.9% of the things that they own. They were suffering from mental illness, which resulted in these people amassing an astounding amount of stuff, to the point where they were in real danger of being evicted out of their own homes.
Now take a look at the plethora of shows on HGTV. Home repair and renovation is all the rage these days. People LOVE sprucing up their homes. Seeing the before and after pictures are drool-worthy, especially for those of us that have less than stellar looking homes (which, I’m guessing, is the vast majority of us).
It’s both inspiring and spirit crushing at the same time: the “after” pictures may spur us to visit the local home goods store and pick up some home decor, but it’s unrealistic to expect the average household to re-create what they see on TV.
This Netflix show is decidedly different. There is nothing staged about their homes: their houses look like any average home that you would walk into. There are the neat and not-so-neat looking rooms. Random things piled up on the kitchen counters and in the corners of rooms. Closets filled with a huge assortment of clothes and other odds and ends.
The before and after pictures? Yes, you can definitely see a difference. But they lack the “shiny and new” factor that you see in other shows. They are simply spaces that have been decluttered and organized, with no fancy upgrades like major renovations, entirely new furniture, and accessorizing to the point where you don’t even recognize the space anymore. The spaces simply look cleaner, fresher. Tidier.
The real magic happens when the homeowners are going through their things, deciding which items “spark joy” (which is the title of her other popular book) in their lives and which ones don’t. They end up having a different relationship to their space and their belongings. This is the transformative part of the entire process.
OK, so how exactly does this relate to our money??
To be clear, following the KonMari method for your home is an all-in affair. It will take a lot of time and energy. Not everyone will be able to find the time to KonMari their house exactly the way it’s described in the book. But there were some key points that I thought were very applicable to how we deal with our money.
It’s not about getting rid of things for the sake of it. It’s not about tearing your budget down and building a new one in one fell swoop.
It’s about being purposeful, meaningful, and intentional about your money, similar to the KonMari method regarding your belongings.
Rather than focusing on what you want to get rid of, you’re now focusing on what you want to keep. Just that simple switch in mindset makes all the difference. What is your “why” when it comes to money? How can you use money as a tool to spark joy, rather than a means to unintentionally buy things that clutter your life?
“I had been so focused what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep.”Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Everyone will have a different answer to what sparks joy for them. That’s the beauty of personal finance. It’s your money. It’s personal. You get to choose how you want to use your money as a tool to enhance your life.
HOW TO KONMARI YOUR FINANCES: SOME KEY TAKEAWAYS
The first thing Marie Kondo does after walking into a home and introducing herself to the homeowners is to greet the actual home. She kneels on the floor, closes her eyes, and stays silent for a few moments. Sometimes the family members follow her lead. This looks very similar to someone who is meditating or praying.
Sure, this may seem a little out there, a bit odd. But it doesn’t take much to believe that there is a connection that we share with our living space, with our home.
A house a physical structure, made up of various elements like wood and glass. A home is what you make of the house; it’s what makes it special and unique to you. It’s not limited to what’s physically in the home, but also the memories that have been made in that home.
What happens when you “greet” your financial home? Does it bring you joy? Anxiety? Fear? Hope?
Once you figure this out, you can then move on to the next steps.
The First Two Rules
The KonMari method has 6 basic rules, and I believe the first two are really important when it comes to your finances.
Rule #1 is that you commit yourself to the task.
Rule #2 is imagining your ideal lifestyle.
In personal finance, this is called “Finding your Why.” It’s hard to convince someone to care about saving for retirement when retirement can be decades away.
But we go through many seasons in life. And what we want at 25 is very different from what we want at 45, or 65. A 25 year old may be more concerned about paying off student debt and building an emergency fund. A 45 year old may be motivated to save retirement. A 65 year old is figuring out how to spend their time and money in retirement and about their legacy. Just saying that these are the financially responsible things to do isn’t enough. You need to actually visualize how your life will be transformed by achieving these goals. How will you use your money once the debt is paid off? What does your dream house and your dream retirement look like to you?
After finding my own “why,” it was much easier to start caring more about my money and my future. Without this crucial step, there would have been little reason to be excited about taking care of my finances. Sure, I could have gone through a checklist and made sure that we checked off certain boxes and had our financial ducks in a row. But this process is so much easier when you have your “why” to motivate you.
Working Towards a Plan
After you’ve found your “why,” it’s natural to ask “how?”
If you watch the show, you’ll see the part where the homeowners empty out all of their clothing into one huge pile. It’s usually a massive pile. They must then go through the pile and pick out all of the clothing that they want to keep, one by one. As you can imagine, this is quite the task, but the destination is clear: you are whittling down your clothing possessions to only those pieces that spark joy.
Of course, when it comes to our finances, we cannot easily discard parts that don’t bring us joy. Getting rid of credit card debt and student debt isn’t as easy as putting it aside and throwing it away (I wish!).
However, you DO need to take stock of what you own. No matter your financial goal, I think it’s a great idea to calculate your net worth. What are your assets minus your liabilities?
This is the beginning of gathering some hard data that will allow you to make concrete changes. By coming up with your net worth number, you will be organizing all of your financial information in one place. This is a snapshot of your current financial situation (you can download the PDF that walks you through this HERE) and a great starting point with any financial goal.
It’s amazing how much we can spend with hardly a second thought. When we see that something is on sale, we’re so quick to buy it, even if we have no real need for that sale item.
So many of us fall into the lifestyle inflation trap, where all of a sudden our spending is simply to keep up with everything we have, and we’re having to work harder to keep up with our lifestyle. This leaves little time to enjoy what we actually have.
“The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life.”Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
As much as you enjoy your job, I bet if given the choice, you’d spend a little less time working and more time with people that you love and hobbies that feed your soul.
How much happier would we be if our spending aligned with what we truly value in life? This is what I mean by finding joy in your spending. Spending intentionally leads to spending joyfully, not with fear and guilt.
Organize and Simplify
Once people keep the things they want, the next order of business is to organize.
With the advent of fintech (short for financial technology), there are no shortage of ways that technology can help us organize our finances.
If you’re looking for a simple way to see your accounts all in one place, including your investment accounts, Personal Capital is a popular choice.
And of course, there is always the option to make your own spreadsheet in Excel or use a template in the software program of your choice.
Use what works best for you. With so many choices, there is no longer any excuse as to why you can’t start and maintain a budget/spending plan.
But what about hiring someone? This decluttering and organizing business seems like a lot of work. I want Marie Kondo to come to my house and do it for me!
Ah yes. This is when people usually throw in the towel and hire an expert. When it comes to money, this means a financial advisor. However, this is not the advisor’s job.
Marie Kondo is a guide. She’s not the one that’s going through everyone’s clothes, one by one, choosing which ones to keep and which ones to get rid of. It is completely up to the individual to make those choices, because it’s all about what sparks joy for that person.
Similarly, your financial advisor is someone that should listen very carefully to what you want to achieve financially. This will usually align with a bigger life goal and vision. Then it’s their job to guide you along a path to get to where YOU want to go. They will help you come up with a plan. But make no mistake, you will still need to do the heavy lifting and make sure that you follow through. Even the work of finding the RIGHT financial advisor falls on you; choosing the wrong one will lead to a waste of your time and your money. You want to find a financial advisor that is the equivalent of a Marie Kondo.
“As an organizing professional and fanatic, I can tell you right now that no matter how hard I try to organize another’s space, no matter how perfect a storage system I devise, I can never put someone else’s house in order in the true sense of the term. Why? Because a person’s awareness and perspective on his or her own lifestyle are far more important than any skill at sorting, storing, or whatever. Order is dependent on the extremely personal values of what a person wants to live with.”Marie Kondo, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I hope you can use this post as inspiration towards decluttering your physical and/or your financial space. In today’s busy world, finding ways to simplify our lives becomes more important than ever. Once you have a system in place, it will become less time-consuming, thereby freeing up your time and money to spend however you wish.
Have you tried the KonMari method with your home and/or your finances? What are some tips or tricks you’ve used to declutter and simplify your financial life?