Tidying Up Your Trust Clutter

I listened to Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up audiobook this week. I know it’s a super popular book, but this is the first time I’ve checked it out. I liked it!

It also strikes me that the way she relates to possessions would be an interesting way to handle trust wounds as well, as both can be resolved through a decluttering process. The problem with both areas that creates stuckness is that such a process isn’t usually done thoroughly enough to fully fix the recurring problem (recurring clutter or recurring trust wounds).

Not doing a truly thorough, one-time tidying process is the main reason for recurring clutter, according to the book. We could say that a similar oversight also leads to recurring trust clutter.

What is trust clutter? It’s the presence of triggers (usually people) in your life that trigger trust issues for you. These could be people who’ve violated your trust in the past, and every time you think about them, those old wounds pop up again. Perhaps you keep such people around out of loyalty. Note that this is how people often accumulate lots of physical clutter as well – out of loyalty.

Marie Kondo’s standard for tidying is that you should only keep possessions that spark joy. That’s a high standard, and many people won’t be willing to meet it, but imagine what your life would be like if all of your possessions did meet that standard. You’d be surrounded by possessions that trigger only happiness. As as she notes in her book, this really does raise the long-term happiness level of people’s lives. If you eliminate the unhappiness triggers, you naturally get to experience more happiness.

I live in a home with lots of possessions that I like, but I’m nowhere near the spark joy standard across the board. This has been making me question some possessions: If an item doesn’t spark joy, what does it spark instead?

I’m discovering that possessions that don’t spark joy have other associations, many of them mixed. Some possessions trigger memories. Some trigger associations to people, especially gifts or hand-me-downs. Most of these triggers are on the positive side, but some aren’t. If I went through the process of evaluating and releasing the misaligned items, I do think it would improve my overall happiness. If you take away the negative triggers and the mixed ones, then there are only happy triggers left.

What I find interesting is that I actually apply this standard much better in my social life. When people violate my trust, I have a habit of releasing them and moving on. I remove them from my social circle, and I tend not to look back. In the past I’d give people second and third chances, and they pretty much always made me regret it sooner or later. While I wouldn’t say that all of the people in my social circle spark joy, I do believe that most of them do, and the ones that don’t are sparking mostly neutrality or weaker forms of positivity, but not negativity, problems, or trust violations. Consequently, my social circle is full of people I trust.

How many people are in my social circle today that I don’t trust? It feels like I have to wrack my brain to think of even one. I think it’s zero by definition. For me to consider someone part of my social circle, I have to trust them, so if I don’t trust them, they aren’t part of my social circle.

As Marie Kondo notes, once you do a really thorough tidying of your physical space, which mostly involves discarding items, and you push through until the job is truly done, it permanently raises your standards, and you’re unlikely to relapse. Can you imagine tidying up so well that you never relapse back to cluttered conditions? Life becomes so nice on the other side that any clutter that pops up really grabs your attention and makes you want to fix it immediately.

That’s how I tend to feel about my social life. Since my norm is to have trusting relationships and since my life has been like this for years, when something nasty does happen, it stands out like a truly glaring issue that must immediately be addressed. I just don’t tolerate social nastiness in my sphere. That’s probably why my Facebook block list has 100+ people on it. Cross the line once, and I’m very likely to conclude that we’re incompatible, so I’ll release you permanently. I respond to trust clutter like Marie Kondo deals with physical clutter.

This might sound a bit harsh, just as Marie Kondo’s tidying style may seem extreme. But I can see the logic in what she proposes because of my own experiences in my social life. There really is some life-changing magic to tidying up, not incrementally but in the form of a deep, one-time purging of the misaligned. As she notes in her book, this typically takes about 6 months for possessions if you’re going to do it right. Doing it once in your life is enough because that will raise your standards permanently.

If you have trouble maintaining an aligned social circle, consider doing a deep and thorough social tidying – so thorough that you only have to do it once in your life, and then you’ll never want to relapse. Ask if each person in your life sparks joy for you. If not, why are you wasting your life maintaining a relationship with them? If they spark joy + some crap, they go in the discard pile.

You might think you’ll have no friends left if you maintain this standard, just as people might feel like they won’t have any possessions left. But if you really have to downsize that much, it means that most or all of your friends or possessions are misaligned, and so starting fresh will be a good thing.

You don’t have to declutter harshly. You needn’t discard items by throwing them into the fire while bellowing, “Die, foul chatzki!” Marie Kondo recommends thanking and appreciating items as you release them. Consider using a similar approach when releasing relationships. You’re not tossing people into the Fire Swamp. You’re thanking and releasing them while appreciating the role they’ve played. You’re graduating to more aligned experiences.

If you cling to misaligned relationships, you hold yourself back (tremendously!) from graduating to more aligned relationships and social connections. That’s your choice, but I wouldn’t recommend staying stuck due to misplaced loyalty for too long. Be loyal to your path of growth, and you’re likely to see your relationships get better and better. Similarly, be loyal to your overall relationship with your home and to awakening and stimulating your best energy patterns. Loyalty to misaligned possessions and loyalty to misaligned people isn’t real loyalty – it’s really just resistance to growth and change. This life doesn’t reward settling into your comfort zone; it will make your comfort zone increasingly uncomfortable till you get back on a path of growth. If you’re stubborn about it, then your intention isn’t to remain in your comfort zone to the death – it’s to remain there to the pain! And good luck with that.

What do you think of someone when you walk into their cluttered home, full of stuff they clearly don’t appreciate? What would you think of them if their home had few possessions, but you could tell they liked and appreciated what they owned? Now apply this on a social level. What do people think when they see you tolerating people who trigger you? What would they think if you had a much sparser social life, but you fully appreciated everyone in it?

Even if you have to take your social circle to zero to reach this standard, then do as Marie Kondo does and start by appreciating your possessions. Develop the relationship with your stuff that you’d like to have with people. Misalignments are infectious, and so are alignments.

You could also extend this to customers and clients if you have a business… or to co-workers if you have a job. If the people in your life don’t spark joy for you, why not release them? Donate them to another business. If you do this enough, it will raise your standards for business and life. I do this pretty well, and so I get to connect with customers that I really like each day… even to the extent that I married one last year. And it’s a very happy, fun, and mutually enjoyable marriage because we both spark joy for each other.

Tidying up your social circle like this might sound crazy, especially if your life is full of misaligned people that you feel you must tolerate. But if that’s your justification, realize that you sound just like those people in cluttered homes justifying why they must keep every possession that makes them feel less than happy. Doing a thorough social cleanup would be incredibly freeing, even if it means you have to switch jobs or companies and even if it means you have to redefine “family” as something different from your relatives.

Just as no one is forcing you to live in a cluttered home, no one is forcing you to tolerate a misaligned social circle. You’re free to choose to clean house whenever you’re ready.

If you have trust clutter repeatedly popping up in your life, what’s the real cause of these recurring trust problems? Perhaps the true cause is that you’ve never done a throughout social tidying, so you don’t get the life-changing magic till you do.

Thanks a bunch, Marie Kondo. I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated your book. 🙂

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Steve Pavlina

Steve Pavlina is an American self-help author, motivational speaker and entrepreneur. He is the author of the web site stevepavlina.com and the book Personal Development for Smart People.

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