Perhaps you listen to your body when it tells you that you’ve overdone it at the gym or that you shouldn’t have binge watched all of season two of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel the day it dropped. Maybe there were times you ignored the subtle messages of your body until they got louder, fighting hard to get your attention, and you found yourself with the flu or a pulled muscle in your back. Your body had to shout, take care of me!
But do you listen to your body when it’s not in distress? When it’s happy?
In reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and then watching the new Netflix’s series Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I realized what it is that Marie Kondo does—she shows people what sparks joy for them by teaching them to listen to their bodies.
If you are unfamiliar with the KonMari Method, it is a systematic way of working through a home. Basically the participants are confronted by everything they own and must decide item by item what to keep. The sorting is done in five categories performed in order beginning with clothing, then books, followed by papers, komono (miscellaneous items) and finally sentimental items. Once you discard what you no longer need, you can begin organizing. But this isn’t just about getting rid stuff, in the process of teaching tidying Kondo also teaches people how to open communication with their bodies.
For the first lesson, clothing, they must go through their entire apartment or house and gather all their clothes—every last sock, t-shirt, set of gloves—into a pile on their bed. In one episode there’s a pretty impressive heap, covering a queen-size bed that nearly touches the ceiling. It’s a satisfying visual with great before-and-after potential. After everything is gathered, the owner must pick up each item in her hands and decide whether or not to keep it. No one else can help. While it’s a tremendous amount of work, sorting clothing proves an excellent training ground.
This is not a mental endeavor of rationalizing the worth of each item. The mind can’t help but be judgmental. After all it is its job to discriminate, and so it will justify keeping a never-worn jacket, because of the financial cost of buying it. Or it will hold on to a once-worn sweater, because it doesn’t want to offend the person who has probably forgotten their generosity of fifteen years ago.
Kondo instructs them to feel if the clothing sparks joy. This is key to the KonMari Method. There is no judgment. Only the body’s reaction to the item at that moment.
In the first episode, confusion crosses the woman’s face as she stands next to the mound of her belongings. Kondo shows her what it feels like to experience joy. She rises up on her toes, smiling and brimming with energy until a sound like “KEE” escapes her body. She says, “You feel all of yourself rising …you feel it when you hold a puppy or wear your favorite outfit. It’s a warm and positive feeling.”
It is a physical sensation. A feeling produced purely in the body. In another segment, Kondo explains: “Some of you may not know how that feels yet, but please do not worry. Your sensitivity to joy will be honed as you progress through the tidying process.”
In another episode, a man is having trouble sorting through his books. She instructs him to find a book he loves and hold it. He chooses To Kill a Mockingbird and you can see the joy on his face as he holds it. Memories of what it means to him wash over him. In that moment, he learns how his body experiences joy.
As people sort through their clothing, books, papers, komono, they pick up each item and listen to their bodies. If it doesn’t spark joy, they thank it and give it away. Now they can move on to other things that would be harder to tackle, because by this point they know how to listen to their bodies and understand the physical reaction to any article in their homes. They know what joy feels like to them. They trust their own intuition.
In essence, their bodies choose what to keep. By the time they move to the last and most difficult lesson – Sentimental Items, they have built a trust in their body’s ability to make a decision. With easily over a thousand touches, they have not only decluttered and organized their homes; they have been trained to listen to their bodies. The line of communication is firmly established. They act on that information with confidence.
This process of keeping only things that spark joy may sound silly, but by the end of the process people have learned this valuable skill. Often people’s lives are transformed after they have completed the KonMari Method. Their relationships improve. There’s less bickering about mess. They have more time, because everything has its place. They have more energy, because they are not weighed down by all the accumulated junk of their lives. This is all true.
But the biggest change is they now listen to their bodies. A skill they can use in every aspect of their lives. They know when something does not spark joy. They know how they experience joy and they like it. They realize that they have surrounded themselves with stuff they don’t need or even like sometimes out of fear or habit or sentiment. They no longer hang on to their former selves, bad relationships, or goals. They know what joy feels like and they won’t settle for less. This is the true life-changing magic.