The Kondo effect: using travel to de-clutter the mind

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Most of us live in a quagmire of clutter. We have too many things, and those things weigh us down mentally. Endless decisions and choices vie for space in our increasingly hectic daily routines, clogging up valuable head space. It’s a familiar ailment of modern times, and one that Marie Kondo takes aim at in her bestselling tome, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.

With over four million copies sold worldwide, Kondo’s philosophy on de-cluttering is nothing short of addictive. By eliminating physical and emotional baggage, she argues, we simplify our lives and attain a greater sense of purpose. It’s a deliciously simple approach that can be achieved by travelling the world, too. Here’s how:

Rid yourself of clutter


Kondo argues that by getting rid of your physical clutter in one big purge, without thinking about it too much, you free up emotional space. This process happens with travelling, too:

  • You are physically limited when you travel, so you narrow down your packing list to the bare essentials. The more you travel, the less items you realise you need to exist. It’s a liberating experience
  • You have less choice when you travel. Instead of pondering a series of tiny decisions, you zoom in on what’s important: where to eat, where to sleep and how to get from A to B. Your mind uses the extra space to wander and be creative
  • Travel brings distance, perspective and happiness. This is a prime state of mind in which to rid yourself of the emotional clutter that hampers you back home

Identify what “sparks joy” in you

So, how to blitz that emotional clutter? Central to Kondo’s approach is choosing what to keep in your life – rather than what to throw away. You do this by identifying what “sparks joy”. This is an instinctive process, led by your heart not your head. By holding at item in your hand, Kondo says, you know straight away whether it sparks joy.

Read more: 5 fears of solo travel, and how I faced them

Similarly, travelling is a very instinctive process that draws from the simple premise of joy. You go where you want to, and know immediately whether a place chimes with you. This might be due to an abstract quality (chilling out in nature, meeting new people) or something more specific (a heated spring in Banff, a crowded rooftop bar in Bogotá). By spending time away from the hustle of your daily routine, you can better identify what makes you happy and what does not.

Discard what doesn’t bring you joy

The next step, according to Kondo, is to discard what does not bring you joy. This is an immediate process, played out via your gut.

Use the sharp focus travelling brings to cast a lens over your life back home, and decide what doesn’t make you tick. The key is not to overthink this. Don’t fall down the trap of caveats such as “I don’t really enjoy the commute but…” or “I shouldn’t leave because…”. Honestly confront how you feel about different facets of your life back home, and act accordingly.

This can be the big things (career, relationships, where you live) or smaller inconveniences (your friend always cancelling at the last minute, that weekly budget meeting you hate). Calmly remove anything that doesn’t bring value to your life. Of course, we can’t all live on a beach and some problems aren’t fixable. But you’ll be surprised how quickly you can whittle down the things that don’t enrich you, using this approach.

Live in the moment

OK – you’ve begun getting rid of the things that don’t bring you joy. This won’t always be a walk in the park. Throwing away that gift your mum gave you that you never use isn’t easy, and neither is calling time on a draining relationship.

Read more: how to tell when you’re stuck in a career rut

Kondo says the main reason we keep things is either because of attachment to the past, or fear of the future. Neither are valid reasons for holding onto a particular item, routine or person in your life. It has to bring you joy.

The more you practise this, the more adept you’ll become. Soon enough, you’ll be surrounded by the facets of life which mostly bring you joy – with no links to the past or future. Unencumbered by debris, you can better live in the now and draw meaning from experiences as they happen. Which, as research shows, will only make you happier (and is also easier to do while travelling).

Say no to storage

Kondo isn’t a fan of storage. She believes it merely serves to hide clutter and procrastinate your decision over whether to keep things or not. Using this logic, you shouldn’t store up the problems that are worrying you back home when you’re travelling. Simply decide what brings you joy, and eliminate as much as you can of what does not (in your home life). Then, move on.

Incidentally, Kondo believes you’ll always carry the good aspects of what you discard within you. So, you might ditch a present your mum gave you, but you’ll never lose the love that the exchange brought about. The same goes for a relationship or job that once was good but you’ve now decided to discard.

Understand your purpose


Travelling for any period of time gives you the freedom to decide what really brings you joy in life. Simultaneously, you can use the distance and perspective to eliminate what does not. And you repeat this process until you develop a habit of good decisions – reacting quickly and clearly, based on an instinct of what makes you happy.

Read more: solo travel fuels this major happiness habit

Using Kondo logic, the more you shift emotional baggage and simplify things, the easier it is to understand who you are. By blitzing the noise and distractions, you free up head space to look inwards. Surrounded just by the experiences that bring you joy, you develop a more focused grasp on your passions.

And with that, you hit the ultimate Kondo-travel sweet spot. Of all the destinations in the world, it’s a beautiful place to be at…


Photos from Shutterstock and Flash Pack

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