How Listening to Marie Kondo and My 80-Year Old Self is Helping Me Lighten Up Once and For All

7 minute read

once movie poster

Marie Kondo made me do it.

I had just watched an episode of the hilarious Momsplaining with Kristen Bell that had Marie Kondo, the author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, as the main guest. Days later I made a routine visit to the library with my kids, and that book kept popping into my mind. Never one to dismiss these little mental nudges, I checked it out.

I fall in the middle of the road when it comes to organization. I love the idea of it and sure, The Container Store makes me swoon, but overall, I consider my surroundings clean and orderly but not borderline obsessive like the crazy ex-husband from Sleeping With the Enemy.

Well, since Ms. Kondo found her way into my life, I’ve kept the cozy and comfy and am in the process of ditching the “shoulds” and the “have to’s”. Liberating is the best way to describe it. See, long before this little hard covered life-saver and I ever met there was one word that kept showing up in my life.


Of course, my brain went straight to: Where? In my house? My relationships? Work? How do I do it? Where do I start? I don’t get it. Forget it. I’ll do it once the kids are older. Once this month is over. Once I have more time.

Ironically, I became more mentally cluttered than I was before. Then I took the plunge. Total lie. I dipped my toe in. Soon enough,  I grew slightly addicted to clearing space inside and out. Physical junk and mental gunk are clearly related. Through clearing out my exterior space, I was simultaneously making room in my brain without even realizing it. With every bag of clothes, gadgets, and goods donated, I felt lighter and more spacious. Like a mid-day natural high. I liked it. I liked it a lot. I needed my next fix.

Then before I knew it, I started paying attention to what I was thinking. Not just lost in thought but having clear moments of observing my thoughts.  I realized that a lot of the habitual thoughts ran on a loop in my head. So, the big question was what did I want to think about? I get to choose that. Whoa. Not rocket science but a bit of a necessary reminder.

The only way to describe the feeling inside was with every material purge, I felt a loosening. A rumbling. A dam about to burst with a flood of fresh, clean spring water that’s been there all along. Now, I am no way a minimalist. There’s a lot of debate about spirituality and materialism. I don’t subscribe to the thought that you need to rid yourself of all material pleasures to find your hot bed of zen. What resonated with me most from the book was the idea that in the end, what you are surrounded with are material objects that bring you joy. Plain and simple. I was sold.

As if on cue, during my next meditation session, instead of running through my grocery list, my blue-haired self appeared. Kind of like Socrates from The Peaceful Warrior but female with a little more quirk and giggles. We both stood there and watched this gush of water whizz by us and then it dropped into the most magnificent waterfall I’ve ever seen. The sun shined high above and scattered diamonds on every inch of water it could find. I stood in awe. My 80-year old self stood in delight.

A week later I came across an exercise that has my 80-year old self write a letter to my present self. The serendipity was not lost on me and made me feel like a kid. Since writing the letter, the change it’s had on my life has not been monumental but mental. Subtle and simple. It’s not at the level of people stopping me with a cocked head asking, “What’s different about you? Haircut?” It’s internal. It’s space. It’s power and comfort. Talking to my 80-year old self is refreshing and enjoyable and yes, gives me hope that I will live to be old and gray. And, from where I’m standing, the perfect blend of Anne Bancroft and Jane Fonda (with a dash of Diane Keaton for good measure).

The best thing about this strategy that keeps me going back to re-read that letter and keep it in the front of my mind is the way that it makes me feel. I feel better. I feel hopeful. I feel clear and focused. Talking from the perspective of my 80-year old self allows me to listen while gaining perspective and insight into what is worth focusing on and what isn’t; without spending a dime. It gives me a chance to pause and reflect. It offers an opportunity to sit with the awkwardness of being kind to myself and show some self-compassion. It tells me when to lighten up and let it go yet still holds me accountable for the tough conversations that need to be had. It makes me have faith that I’m on the right track and lessens self-doubt and uncertainty. To top the list, it gives me the go-ahead to take an unapologetic break daily.

I look out for little breadcrumbs that my 80-year old self leaves for me to notice. It keeps me curious and observant. Plus, it reignites my love of adventure and turns life into one big scavenger hunt. One clue leads to the next and to the next and so on.

So the other day when I saw a pamphlet for a local meditation and yoga instructor, I wasn’t surprised at what I found. What caught my attention more than the teacher’s offerings or credentials was the quote on the back from a participant from one of her classes. The participant said that she remembers being so excited to take a yoga class once she retired and had the time, and then once that day came she realized that she could barely move from having sat for eight-plus hours a day for decades.

She waited too long.

Just like so many of us. We wait. We’ll do that thing that would be fun or bring us joy… later. Even later. Nah, even later. Laters morph into tomorrow’s dreams in an instant. Once the kids are grown. Once I make X amount of dollars. Once I lose the weight. Once this project is done. Once the weather is better. Once I move. Once my doctor says so. Once I retire. Once… Once…Once… We can once ourselves to death – which is actually what we’re doing. We keep cutting a bad deal on our dreams with shady Someday.

“Someday isn’t a day of the week” is one of those coffee mug phrases that actually works on me. It gives me the fastest jolt that flies me into deliberate action. Not just action for the sake of it, but a movement towards something. And sometimes that action is to jump in the car and hit the road. Other times it’s staying put and taking a warm bath, or making a collage, or cleaning out that room or closet or facing that intimidating blank page.

Find your phrase! Post it where you can see it daily. Whatever it is so that you can keep a part of yourself for yourself. Because here’s the thing: taking action builds momentum. Even the smallest act that makes you feel good will lead to the next step that continues to make you feel good. You start becoming more aware of how you’re spending your time and feel so much more in control of the fact that you create your own reality.

Whether you’re working hard or hardly working; wanting to run and hide from your job or love it so much that the work-life line is blurred, we all need time to take a break alone or with loved ones. Checking in by checking out needs to be a daily occurrence. Hiding away so that you can sneak in fifteen minutes to do something that brings you joy may seem wild and crazy, but it’s what will keep you recharged instead of burnt out.

Rounding out 2016, 54% of Americans left unused vacation days on the table. Breaking that down we’re looking at 662 million vacation days or translated in another way: American workers gifted their employers an average of $604 of work time = $66.4 billion of benefits. Are we losing it or what??

Stepping away from work is such tricky territory since we now have the ability (or burden) to be in our cyber-office within seconds of a quick phone pull from our pocket.
If taking a legit vacation sounds like a dream but makes you have nightmares, you are not alone. Start small. Take a day. A half day. A few hours a couple times a month. Sure, the weekends help out, but it’s time we stop living for the weekend. Plus, C’mon, playing hooky never gets old.

Thanks to Karen Horneffer-Ginter over at Full Cup, Thirsty Spirit, she offers 50 ways to take a break in an aesthetically pleasing and inspiring graphic that looks perfect on a fridge, a bulletin board, or in a cute frame on your office wall. Plus, the majority of them are short and sweet – or long and sweet, depending on your time frame.

If you’re unsure where to start, here are a few fun exercises to help get you there*:

  1. You guessed it… write a letter from your 80-year old self to yourself now. What are you doing at 80? Are you happy? Are you on an island? Are you still working and loving it? What does this version of yourself have to tell you? What are the highlights of the years between now and then? Where do you need to focus more? What does your older self need to remind you? Pay attention to what comes up!
  2. List of Joy – Exactly what it sounds like. What brings you joy? List as many things as you can think of. Nothing is too little or too outrageous. Yes, even a successful a.m. poop before coffee can top the list. It’s your list, and you’re the boss, so there. Then once you’ve completed that you can stop there and see how you feel or continue to…
  3. List of Fun – What do you love to do for fun? You may know in your head but writing it down brings it to a whole new level. What is fun to you? Believe me, if you shelf fun long enough you forget how to get there. Once you have your list, go through and write down the last time you did each activity. Chances are, it will have been some time for a lot of them. Why? Because life swoops us up and we put fun on the back burner for someday. See how sneaky Someday can be?? People may pop up in your mind who you haven’t talked to for awhile and that girls’ trip may just actually happen now. Or that drum set will finally be dusted off. Maybe you’ll take up bowling again or tennis. The point is, once you write it down it’s out of your mind and into your reality.

Let me know how it goes!

*All exercises are adapted from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way

Once (2007. Director: John Carney. Writers: Glen Hansard, Markéta Irglo´va, and Hugh Walsh) A modern-day musical about a busker and an immigrant and their eventful week in Dublin, as they write, rehearse and record songs that tell their love story. 


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