Friday, February 1, 2019

Tidying Up: Friendship Edition

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Households all over the world, especially here in the United States, have been busy pulling clothes out of their closets and dressers, piling them up on their beds and floors, going through their shelves and pantries to pare down their 'stuff'. This is largely due to best-selling author, and now Netflix star, Marie Kondo. On her show and in her books, Kondo talks about appreciating what we have to the fullest and surrounding ourselves with things that spark joy. If you've not been living under a rock, you're most likely familiar with the tidying up ritual of holding each possession in your hands and feeling if it sparks joy within you, and if not, then thank it and let it go.

Beyond just asking yourself if something sparks joy for you, Kondo further adds another criterion for deciding if you should keep or let go of something. She suggests honestly assessing if it's something you'd want to take with you (or if it's worth taking with you) to the future. 

It's clear to me that Kondo is not about imposing how much you should keep, or that you absolutely need to go through this process. If something isn't bothering you, you have enough space for it, and its presence does not steal your joy, then by all means keep them and don't feel like you need to tidy up in this manner. 

To me, that's an important point. And that is the same reason why I believe I need to apply the KonMari method to my relationships, friendships in particular. 

Recently, I realized how I call too many people my friends when in reality, it's an abuse of the term. I've gotten tired of doing air quotes when I talk to my husband about certain people as my "friends" when in reality, they're just acquaintances, potential friends, work colleagues, social media contact, virtual avatar. 

I also feel that I need to go through this tidying up because it will force me to be clear within myself about my expectations of my relationships. I can't keep feeling consumed by disappointment when people don't live up to my expectations. It's taken a toll on my peace of mind, and frankly, my joy. I'm not in control of others' choices and behaviors, but I'm absolutely the one in control of my expectations and how I relate to others. 

If I define my standards for friendships, I can more accurately assess if someone is able to deliver or is failing. And if they're failing, it doesn't mean I have to cut them off so brutally. (Humans are far more complex and fluid than inanimate possessions that you can discard, unless of course it's a toxic relationship, in which case, thank you and goodbye). 

I would recommend a 3-step process in tidying up your friendships. The first is to ask if the person sparks joy in you. If they don't, the next step is to ask if they're someone you feel is worth taking with you to your future, if you still feel they serve some purpose especially in your growth and evolution. If the answer is no, then let the relationship go. If it's yes and it's someone you decide to keep in your life, then comes the step of organizing. 

Now that you've painstakingly decluttered, here comes the fun part of getting your containers and labeling them. You need brutal honesty as you try to label and categorize the friends you decide to keep. For this process, you will find that you'll end up promoting some friends, and sadly, demoting others. A 'virtual friend' might be a 'good friend' now, and another 'good friend' may now be better suited to be in just plain 'colleague' category. The beauty of this is that nothing is static. Someone who's been demoted today, may be promoted by the end of the year depending on how you both change. Things are fluid, people and circumstances evolve. Allow yourself this process and be at peace with it.

This process of relabeling or demoting requires forgiveness. It's not your 'friend's' fault that circumstances have changed that have made it impossible for them to tend to the friendship to the level you require. Nor should you be faulted for the expectations you uphold. You will still be in each other's lives, just not in the same way. Somehow, the hope is that relaxing your expectations of each other and relabeling each other will allow both of you a guilt-free co-existence and afford you the space to figure out where you want to go from here and what you're realistically capable of giving each other. Perhaps demoting is what can save your friendship, instead of focusing on how you've constantly disappointed and hurt each other. 

It's important that we surround ourselves with friends who bring out the best, not the worst, in us. For me, that's an important standard in deciding who you want to keep in your life and how much value you give to them. I also appreciate friends who are present in the moment, people who put in the effort to make me feel valued and heard, instead of making me feel like a distraction or just an obligation. These are what I value and I try to keep giving the same when I feel mutuality. However, I'm not a perfect friend, not by a long shot. I'm sure I've been promoted and demoted through the years. But how I tidy up is my business, just as how my friends tidy up and label me in their life is their business. 

Acknowledging our expectations and boundaries is nothing to apologize for. We all need to do what's necessary in order to focus on what sparks joy in our lives, instead of holding on to emotional clutter and things that have obviously run their course and just weigh us down. As Marie Kondo advises, The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”


  1. Great perspective! Of course it is trickier than donating clothes that just don't work to charity to dissolve or not encourage a friendship but I think you make a great point. We are in charge of our own lives for joy with people who spark it now! I think this applies to family members too. Just because you are related does not mean you have to be inclusive of them.

  2. I'm finding my friendship numbers are dwindling by natural attrition. I've reached the stage where I don't chase after people - if they want to be in my life then I need them to reach out to me as often as I do to them. If they don't keep in contact then I'm allowing myself to drift quietly away and focus my energies on friends who want to be part of my life.


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