The Cluttered Millennial

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Life Lessons from Marie Kondo

Last year, Marie Kondo blew up the internet, when she came out with her Netflix show about tidying up your life and decluttering. We at LSA love this show, not only because we try our best to keep our office clean, but because Marie Kondo teaches a profound life lesson about clutter. She says clutter is anything in your life that doesn’t spark joy.

In other words, clutter is something that gets in the way of your happiness. You can have a cluttered room, a cluttered schedule, or a cluttered mind.

The Cluttered Millennial

In my life, clutter has taken many different forms. When I was young, I thought the main thing that would bring me joy was stuff. I was obsessed with getting new toys, buying video games, and owning the latest and greatest tech. Throughout my childhood, I owned a lot of things, but I didn’t really respect them. I lost them, broke them, and threw them away. As soon as they felt old, I replaced them.

My wake-up call came when I turned 11: my family moved from a house into a trailer and in doing that, I had to get rid of half of my stuff. Looking back on it, losing some toys doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was devastating.

When they were gone, I felt like I lost a piece of my own self-worth.

As I got into my teen years, I decided to focus less on stuff, because it wasn’t a dependable source of joy. Instead, I wanted to focus my time on activities. I obsessed over filling my schedule. I played football, soccer, baseball, wrestling, track, and any other sport I could find time for. Even though I spent so much time playing sports, I was never very good any of them. So, they didn’t bring me joy.

Next, I thought that I would be happier if I could prove I was smart. I obsessed over learning as much as I could. I read books, watched documentaries, spent hours reading Wikipedia, and fixated on getting good grades. I felt happy when people called me smart or when I did well in school, but when I got bad grades felt like a failure. I stressed about studying, and I stressed about school. This wasn’t my idea of joy.

When high school came around, I decided that the only thing that would make me happy is being like by everyone. I made it my mission to be Mr. Popular. I tried to be friends with everyone I met, I joined theater so I could get more attention, and I obsessed over getting a girlfriend. I had a blast in high school, but when I got to college, I found out that no one cares about what I did when I was 17 years old. Joy from popularity was fleeting.

In college, I decided that the best source of joy was making fat stacks of cash. I chose a degree solely based on what would make me the most money, engineering. On the weekends, I took up various sales jobs to make extra money. I worked so hard that I never made time for sleep… and it came back to bite me. I fell asleep wherever I went; in class, at the movies, hanging with friends.

So there I was—21 years old, a full schedule, a long list of hobbies, but very little joy. I didn’t care about what I was studying. I never had enough money. I was still worried about what everyone thought of me. And I never felt like I had enough time in the day to do the things that I thought would make me happy. My life was cluttered with commitments, but none of them were fulfilling. I so busy trying to prove something to others, I never figured out what I wanted for myself.

Decluttering My Life

That’s when I decided to take the Kondo approach. I made a list of everything I was doing in my life and I asked myself, “What sparks joy?”

At that time, I happened to be working at a research group in Arizona State University. We were doing leadership coaching for high schoolers, college kids, and professionals. I found out that I loved helping people overcome problems and reach their goals. This brought me joy!

The only problem was, in order to get better at helping people, I needed to develop my skills. I had to make work a higher priority, but my life was still bogged down with other commitments. I stayed up late, slept in, fell asleep at work, and felt tired every day. I realized that if I wanted to get better at work, I needed to work on my sleep habits.

At first, I thought the only way to get better sleep was to cut all hobbies and socializing out of my life. My life was only about work and sleep… I started to lose my mind! I discovered that my hobbies and social life were actually good for me. I needed them to relax and unwind. I learned how to make space in my life, so nothing got in the way of work and sleep, but I was still able to enjoy the simple pleasures.

I soon found creative ways to unwind while still improving my professional skills. I started socializing for different reasons—instead of trying to make people like me, I focused on help people and practicing my listening skills. I started reading books and watching movies that I could use at work. Everything I did, aligned with my source of joy—teaching, coaching, and helping others. This lifestyle helped me feel happier, healthier, and it led me to marry the girl of my dreams!

The Kondo Life

Marie Kondo teaches that in order to get rid of clutter, we have to learn respect. Instead of filling our lives with things that we don’t care about, we need to learn to value and respect the things that we already have.

That’s what I did. I stopped obsessing over new things and new commitments. I learned to appreciate my natural abilities. I realized that I had inherent value. To my surprise, my abilities in teaching, writing, and presenting helped people.

Decluttering life starts with respect. Find one thing in your life that brings joy, and think about all the ways that you can show it more respect. Start small. Start by finding unique ways to manage stress and bring a little more joy to your life (here’s a great article for more resources).

You will find that as you respect yourself, your time, and the things that bring you joy, the respect will spread to all other parts of your life and the clutter will naturally disappear.

About the Author

Dr. Jake Gunnoe is an education consultant who sits on the Board of Directors at LSA.

Jake received his Master’s and PhD in management; his research efforts focus on integrating engineering and scientific processes with professional talent management and leadership development. Jake co-founded LSA with the objective of providing young students with professional success coaching to help them develop key social skills and industry-proven character traits that lead to greater success. Jake presents to groups of industry leaders offering insight on how to better engage the millennial workforce.