Marie Kondo has one rule for decluttering your home: You hold whatever it is in your hands—a pair of heels, a puffer coat, the collected works of T.S. Eliot—and ask yourself, “Does it spark joy?”
If the answer is no, out it goes. For Kondo, whose best-selling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has made her the Oprah of Japan, getting your shit together is less about what you need to toss, and more about what you want to keep. Because when you get that straight, everything you don’t need just falls away.
What makes Kondo’s approach, called the KonMari Method, less punishing (“You dirty hoarder!”) and more doable, is that it’s really all about seeing a joyless thing for what it is: a relationship that has come to an end. You part ways gratefully, says Kondo, thanking your old shoes and your beloved blazer for their dedication and support before you gingerly tuck them into the Good Will donations bin.
How to stop hoarding dudes (and more importantly, why)
I used this approach to effectively ditch three-quarters of my books, bags upon bags of clothing and even a whole cache of cosmetics. Not to mention a drawer of old lube (gross, how long have they been sitting there, open).
But I’ve also started using it on something else: people. More specifically, romantic prospects. Because if we’re being honest, we can often keep them around for the wrong reasons—nostalgia, habit, fear. And just as you can accumulate stuff you don’t really love or even like all that much, you can do the same with relationships, and end up feeling just as stuck. (Find out what I learned from hooking up with a guy I didn’t even like. True story.)
Trust me, I’ve done it, kept men around so that I felt that I had options, even if they were pretty bleak at the time. You’ve been there: You think you’re still “working it out” or that it will “turn into something”—when really that would-be relationship is no better than the pair of skis in your closet that have yet to see snow. Or that hook-up you hang onto like the practical coat you don’t even like wearing, but hesitate to toss, just in case it gets cold.
Tidying up your love life requires that you keep only what feels right, though it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Dating isn't about chaos and clutter; at its best, it’s about curating and savoring new and interesting connections, whether or not they take you into next season.
You literally have to face it just like the piles of unsorted mail. You have to look a guy in the eyes and ask yourself, does this spark joy, or unease, boredom, and self-loathing? Or all of the above. Be honest.
The men my friends shake their heads at
It’s worth noting that I’ve unapologetically dated people who were probably not the best fit: the musician who spends weeks abroad; the brainy bibliophile who lives several states away; the nervous, sensitive comic who fascinates and intrigues me. In most cases, our lives merged like two highways that shared the road for a few miles before curving off in completely different directions.
But joy isn’t always in stability or sure things, and there’s the rub. When I see a flicker of something, I stick with it for a bit, simply because it’s rare and, often, intoxicating. I see nothing wrong with that.
And then, sure, sometimes I discover it wasn’t what I thought it was—just a reflection of some unmet need or a flash of the imagination. No harm, no foul.
Kondo says, “The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t.” Let go of the ones who don’t deserve to take up space, like the broken appliance that you often tinker with, but are better off tossing; i.e., the guy who’s slow to respond and quick to cancel; the one who looks at you like a mirror, in search of himself instead of you; the one seems smart, but is as bland as a bar of soap. Oh, and the one who says he’s “focusing on himself right now.” Puh-lease.
I met a man from Canada last summer, a former Olympic speed skater. I forgave him the five years missing from his online profile pic, because he looked every bit the boyish athlete even though he was 40, and was awkward enough on the date to seem charmingly authentic (versus the player whose ultra-smooth edges raise flags).
And yet, I tell you, the man never asked me a single question. I wanted him to be more, to bring more, to ask for more, but you can’t make someone do that.
I made a few attempts to raise the thermostat of our connection, to heat things up a bit, to no avail. We had all the spark of a wet match. (It might be me and Canadians. This isn’t the first time.)
And so I did a thing that my type-A personality doesn’t often let me do: I stopped trying. And just like that, he vanished back into the ether. Doesn’t matter who let go first. In fact, I hadn’t thought of him until just now.
That Time I Was Kinda Catfished
But the real heartbreaker for me was a long-lost would-be boyfriend, the “one that got away,” who resurfaced after 10 years on Facebook, and all my old hopes came singing to the surface.
Yes! This is the guy—he knows me, he likes me, and this could so totally happen. But things took a curious turn when each and every time, something came up at the last second to sabotage our reunion—a friend needed help, his flight was delayed, he was working late.
I persisted in blind denial, defending every last-minute change of plans, until I saw the truth staring at me with a raised eyebrow. Yeah, this was not happening, not ever. (And really—it never did. I have yet to see him in person.)
That joy was anticipatory, but not real. It was stuck in suspended animation, existing only in the realm of potential—which takes up more room than you’d think. I didn’t realize quite how much, however, until it was gone.
Like that outfit you wonder if you’ll miss, even though you never wore it. And guess what? You don’t.
Say Goodbye for Reals
Lingering exes are their own breed of clutter, and can be particularly tough to oust. But keeping him within arm’s reach does you no good. It’s like stuffing your clutter into a box under your bed; you don’t see it, but you know it’s there.
When my last relationship ended, I knew I couldn’t do it halfway, and that it would hurt to try. So I said to him what I said to seven years of back issues of the now-defunct magazine I used to work for: that what we created was real and mattered, and I wouldn’t forget it, ever. But we were done.
We broke up via text, and we didn’t speak for months (which is why my post, “Unfriend Your Ex” gets more traffic daily than all my other posts combined).
There are two reasons you hang onto anything, says Kondo: Attachment to the past and fear of the future. This is not where joy takes root; you can’t trap or coax it. It must be nothing short of absolutely free.
Someone can only spark joy in you if you have the capacity for it—and when you give it room to breathe. And I don’t mean whimsical indulgence or passing pleasure.
I mean unbottled, unadulterated joy—the kind that beams and intrigues and laughs with its mouth open. You can never, ever have too much of that.