When we think of decluttering our social lives, our minds often race to those who are toxic to us. But we should pay equal attention to those we’re toxic to, and in doing so, we can take inspiration from tidying guru Marie Kondo.
Kondo’s idea on selecting objects is simple: Does it spark joy? It’s a fun tool to use for discarding items from a household, but it’s really about more than that. When I read Kondo, I noticed that in some areas of her book, she makes references to discarding people; in the introduction, she mentions a client who found success in realizing her husband “didn’t spark joy,” and at some points she makes analogies involving human relationships. At first, it seems funny that she should mention these things, and they look like clever little ways to illustrate her points. But on inspection, she is quite serious about these connections. Her methodology is a system of preference in general: How to choose our hobbies, our friends, our possessions, our paths of life, and so on.
Normally, she discusses whether something sparks joy—how we feel about an object—and ways of determining this. But she also tends to discuss how objects feel. In one section, she mentions our impact on our neglected possessions:
“If [neglected] things had feelings, they would certainly not be happy. Free them from the prison to which you have relegated them. Help them leave that deserted isle to which you have exiled them. Let them go, with gratitude. Not only you, but your things as well, will feel clear and refreshed when you are done tidying.”
I think this point is relevant in our own lives, especially in the fast-paced world of college romances and friendships. It is no secret that we can amass toxic dependencies for any number of reasons: desperation from loneliness, a wanting for reputation by association, a need for validation, and so on. And inevitably, when we are hurt enough, we seek a counterbalance by emphasizing the need to dissociate from toxic people.
Oftentimes, those who are toxic to us are the same people to whom we’re toxic. With them, we have mutually negative relationships which have outlived their purposes. But sometimes, only we’re the toxic ones. And we must ask ourselves, Is my friend or lover in a prison to which I have relegated them? (That is, if you want to sound like Marie Kondo.)
It is important, from a place of pain and our wanting to regain self-dignity, to leave behind toxic people. But it is also important to look from a place of humaneness and humility to ask ourselves, Am I the toxic one? We cannot hold onto one-sided relationships with good will, even if we are on the more rewarding side. For the freshman who sucks up to fit in, for the fake love interest we keep around for attention, and in general, for anyone who holds a one-sided emotional dependence for us, we must let them go.
Perhaps the message could be summed up like this: Ask not only, “Does it spark joy?” but also, “Do I spark joy?”