KonMari: Ikigai & The Missing Step
Thinking beyond the special occasion of tidying, and channeling KonMari to help us find our true purpose
About a month ago, I was drawn to the famous Marie Kondo book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” for reasons I couldn’t quite tell you. I purchased the audio book and began listening every chance I got, and decided to embark on a life changing journey. I wrote about the things I learned here.
The topics of minimalism, consumerism and materialism have continued to fill my thoughts since I began this journey. I can’t stop thinking about how much consumerism affects our daily lives in ways that are practically invisible. After decades (almost a century) of the modern world manipulating our spending habits to boost our economy, we’re now seeing the other side. Waste, oceans filled with plastic, and an empty society that has lost its ability to look past superficial things in our daily lives.
Enter Marie Kondo. Her book is sold worldwide in a multitude of languages, teaching us the Japanese-rooted art of appreciating and carrying only what brings us joy. By taking each item ‘teate’ (with hands) and only keeping what sparks joy, it forces us to rethink our lives in ways we haven’t been taught to think for years. It’s not about what we have, but how these items are used as tools for our greater happiness. Her book is already incredibly thorough, stating common misconceptions and myths about decluttering and then breaking them in front of your very eyes. Although, the one thing that I find people have to fill in themselves is the WHY, or as the Japanese call it: ikigai.
Ikigai: The Reason for Being
Ikigai is a Japanese term that translates to “a reason to live”. It is the truest meaning of our lives, and is what gives us the motivation to even bother getting out of bed in the mornings. People with depression or mental illness often find their ikigai to be distorted by toxic thoughts, chemical imbalance and inescapable fatigue. Young people often haven’t experienced enough to understand what their strengths and weaknesses are to help them discover their ikigai. Older people feel that their ability to fulfill their ikigai has long passed and they begin to doubt what their true ikigai was in the first place. The concept of the will to live is not a new thing, it’s how we have survived as a species. Ikigai is commonly replaced with the English word, “Purpose”. I don’t know what your true purpose is, but I can tell you this: our purpose as humans is not to buy things and be in a never-ending cycle of debt until we die. Our purpose is to find something that brings us happiness, fulfill our instincts and make a difference. Our purpose is to find what brings us joy and live that with every fibre of our being.
So now we go back to the question of WHY we accumulate things, and why we cycle continuously through material objects that fill a temporary void. The reason we need to understand why is because once we find our ‘why’, we are one step closer on the path to knowing our ikigai. Why did we end up with all this stuff in the first place? What void are we trying to fill in our lives? How can we continue this awareness on a daily basis to keep our lives filled with only what we truly need and love. (I say truly because anyone can use the superficial excuse of “but I love this” to avoid tidying) These are questions that we need to continue asking ourselves regularly, beyond our special occasion of tidying, and these questions are not always easy or pretty.
In my case, I was collecting unnecessary items for three reasons.
Reason One: Conditioning
As a child of two very successful parents, their goal was to acquire things as monuments for their success. Get a promotion? Let’s buy a new car. Get an A+ on your report card? Here’s a gift to show how proud we are of your success. Feeling down? Retail therapy always helps!
Now, I will never fault my parents for this, because just as the many generations before them, they were conditioned this way. We are all conditioned this way, and all we want to do as humans is utilize the tools around us to create our definition of the best life we can live. Marketing, war economy, and good old fashioned evolutionary human behaviour have taught us these ways that have become so second nature. The act of consuming is also mutually beneficial. You consume for reputation (a social condition), satisfaction (a dopamine hit) and to boost society around you (an evolutionary condition). It’s very natural for us to consume like this, hence why I never place blame on anyone that behaves this way. Up until about a month ago, that’s how I behaved too! Also, I should add, there is nothing wrong with wanting nice things. The issue many people face with wanting luxury items, is buying them for the appeasement of others. We should focus on buying these luxury items because we love them and because they make us truly happy, not to impress other people or prove how much wealth we’ve accumulated. I like to think that we are all a product of our upbringing and our surroundings, and instead of blaming everyone in the generation before us, let’s think about how we can change for ourselves.
Reason Two: Distraction and Comfort
When I think about why I kept my place in a permanent state of clutter, it was for one reason only: distraction. As mentioned in my previous KonMari article, I was surrounding myself in a nest of ‘stuff’ to cushion my mental state. I was thinking about how to distract myself from my inner problems, and often when I was in a very bare room, I felt almost agoraphobic in a way. That cleanliness and spaciousness forced my thoughts inward. To be fair, I can’t imagine anyone wants to think of their inner problems, so avoiding it seems like a pretty obvious temporary solution most people fall into. Naturally, I found every way to avoid thinking of those negative thoughts that plagued my mind. It’s only natural for humans to avoid difficult or troublesome aspects of life, but the only way to deal with these things is to be aware of them. Running away from your problems is like trying to run away from your own shadow: you just can’t. The one thing we all have in this life are problems, but fortitude isn’t about not having any problems, it’s about the steps we take to solve them. I learned that burying myself (literally) in stuff, will never comfort me as much as peace and self-awareness does.
Reason Three: Addiction
I use addiction in the most primitive sense of the word. ‘Doing something repeatedly because it makes you feel good’ was kind of the direction I was going in. Instead of creating meaningful experiences, I was getting a quick fix for happiness: buying something. I did this with makeup almost weekly. Feeling down? Feeling stressed? Ooh let’s buy that pretty lipstick! It’ll fill the void for a day, but let’s not think about tomorrow. The reason why it’s so difficult to break away from this pattern is because it’s all around us. Marketing and advertisements play on our instinctual and habitual desires, and snapping out of that wavelength takes more than just one occasion. It takes practice everyday, and a continuous dialogue of self awareness. In order for us to be truly realistic about our material collectability we need to be honest with our true nature.
How this relates to KonMari:
When we think about the why behind our material accumulations, it is only then that we can truly adopt the method of KonMari, Minimalism, and Ikigai. You may not have all the answers now, but from my experience, KonMari is the first step in understanding this. By honing your ‘joy detection’ for material things, it opens the door to that same sensitivity to joy in all aspects of life. KonMari is like hitting a big red reset button for your home, your life and your personal outlook. Don’t stop at KonMari, but use its foundations and teachings you push you further into understanding why.
Once we have found ikigai beyond collecting irrelevant material things, only then can we truly complete KonMari and live a more curated and joyful life.
“Life truly begins after you have put your house in order” Marie Kondō