I’ve always been interested in finding ways to take control of my future, especially as I was going through my divorce. So when a friend passed along to me a copy of Marie Kondō’s best-selling book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,” I couldn’t wait to begin reading it.
As soon as I got home, I added it to the already 10 books sitting on my nightstand, titles that included “The Co-Parents’ Handbook: Raising Well-Adjusted, Resilient, and Resourceful Kids in a Two-Home Family from Little Ones to Young Adults” by Karen Bonnell, “The Happy Stepmother” by Rachelle Katz, and, “The 5 Love Languages” by Gary D. Chapman.
The titles on my reading list each dealt in some way with positivity and directly or indirectly my chosen career as a family and divorce lawyer. Though differing in subject matter, what the works shared in common was that they each provided a roadmap for how I could improve my life, something I strive to do on an ongoing basis, even now that I’m long past my divorce, remarried, and established in my chosen career.
I placed the new self-help title on top of the stack, giving it a prime position in anticipation of that night’s bedtime reading. Though I read multiple books at a time, going from one to the other depending on my mood and what piques my interest on any given day, I was even more excited than usual to learn about Kondō’s philosophy and methods and how to implement them.
Based on all the buzz surrounding the book, I thought someone had finally given me the key to living a stress-free life. According to Kondō, the sooner I could get rid of those items in my home that no longer “spark joy,” the sooner I could find peacefulness.
I began to read. Kondō recommends a complete overhaul at once, except she suggests doing it by category, not room. If you do a little every day, she warns, you’ll never get to the bottom of the clutter and, instead, perpetuate the cycle of living with excess.
Kondō claims her method is tried and true and, if practiced according to her carefully laid out program, you’ll reap positive changes in your personal and professional life. Enticing for sure, but I still wasn’t sold.
That’s because, once upon a time, I strived to live a clutter-free existence, even with four young kids who I homeschooled. It was also the time I felt the most miserable. I know this because I used ordering as a way to cover up the lack of order I felt when it came to my finances. It’s why I believe a financial plan and clean credit, not a clean house, is the first step toward a good night’s sleep.
Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m all for maintaining neatness in my home, not letting clutter accumulate on surfaces, and donating clothing I no longer wear, which, I admit, I still have far too much of laying around.
But, what I believe, what I know, is that far worse than having messy closets is failing to keep track of your bills because you let unopened mail stack up, spent without a detailed household budget in place, and didn’t have a financial plan for the future and in case of an emergency.
I know because it happened to me; first, when I discovered a drawer filled with unpaid tax notices and realized my husband was mismanaging our finances. And then when Hurricane Katrina hit, forcing us to evacuate our New Orleans’ home, and we didn’t have a financial plan and safety net to catch us.
If the financial picture I describe reminds you of yourself, make no mistake; it’s time to get your house in order, but not in the order you think and not by beginning with your shoe rack. Decluttering starts in your mind. And personal finances, especially when they’re spiraling out of control, will make you less motivated to tidy up in the first place, regardless of your intentions.
It’s not that I’m against Marie Kondō’s message; I’m actually for it, but as the second step in regaining control of your out-of-control life, not the first.
This is especially true during and after a divorce when your life may feel most chaotic. That way, when you finally take away the pile you created of things that do not spark joy, donating some and selling others, you have somewhere specific to put those proceeds, such as in a 401k, IRA, or an emergency fund. And the mindshare to create a livable financial plan for the future.
Just as your car keys need a place in your home dedicated to only them, your money does, too. And, I’m sure we can all agree, the financial worry cluttering our minds is something we can all afford to give away.