Psychology Blog: Individuality the Marie Kondo Way

I enjoy Netflix’s Tidying Up with Marie Kondo. I love how keeping a household item is determined on this show by the “joy” it currently sparks in its owner. I also appreciate Marie’s insistence that dishes, dresses, and dungarees are all “thanked for their service” before putting them on the donation pile.

While most of us are aware of the relief that occurs when we let go of material clutter, we overlook that the same principle applies when liberating our emotional lives. But to truly feel the “pow” of this point, a brief description of typical human development is needed:

Role Play for Beginners

Swaddled in pink or blue, from the moment we’re born we’re told what to do. As we grow, our family, friends, and culture dictate what’s appropriate. We soak in these surrounding perceptions – learning to “dress” in these endorsed identities to receive the acceptance and nurturing we need.

As we’re learning the ropes of what’s expected, we enter a series of developmental mazes – emotional litmus tests for receiving and holding onto approval and belonging. Once success is uncovered, we feverously return, again and again, to earn “more of that.”

Becoming increasingly aware of our talents sways our self-perceptions: We become obsessed with Little-league or dance class, self-identifying as baseball players or ballerinas because the more we do whatever we’re good at, the better we become – and the more comforting, praise, and acceptance we receive.

Outgrowing Our Roles

However, there comes a time when portions of our personas become threadbare: We reach points in our lives where ways of behaving no longer fit ourselves or our situations and we instinctively move toward solidifying individuality.

Think back to when you were 8 or 9 years old (or even your teenage years) and remember the thoughts that felt self-defining. Now, consider how ridiculous your life would be if you still hung onto and navigated your days using these early beliefs.

Cultural anthropologist Robbie Blinkoff suggests that rites of passage can only occur when there is a transformation of identity. Imagine trying to walk around in a pair of shoes that fit you when you were a child – how painful and debilitating that would be. We emotionally cripple ourselves in much the same way when we hang on too tightly to worn-out habits and beliefs.

Rummaging for Individuality

Emotional rummage sales are necessary, and a great way to achieve self-actualization, which, according to noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, is reached when: “people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others, and interested fulfilling their potential.

My role as a therapist is similar to that of a Professional Organizer: I help clients cleanout and reorder their psychological closets: clarifying with them what habits, beliefs, and behaviors give them meaning and bring them joy. We then go about the process of keeping the positives and dispensing of the negatives in the client’s life.

This activity doesn’t have to be daunting: Living forward creates an exuberance that hanging on can never conjure. The result: a solidified sense of individuality and freedom.

So, the next time you’re regressing (visiting family during the upcoming holidays, perhaps?) realize that you can update your psychological wardrobe and donate your neediness whenever and wherever you see fit.

Spark joy and feel the kind of gratitude that comes from letting go of the past and enjoying what you’ve made of what you’ve been given.