The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Goals)

Last week, we discussed the importance of goal setting for achieving your long term goals with the aim of keeping a smile on your face. We also considered prioritising your goals when the demands of the world make it difficult to spend time working toward all of them. In this post (the final of our trilogy on goal setting for a happy life), we will combine the two previous topics to discuss how we can avoid setting too many goals with the intention of focusing on what most closely aligns with our values.


It’s a wonderful feeling having a tidy house.

Marie Kondo’s first book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up hit the shelves of the English speaking world in 2014, changing the attitude of many readers towards the contents of their home. And for some it was quite a significant change – we are subliminally taught from a young age that more is better, and that success is a direct result of the amount of stuff that we manage to accumulate. Like a new star sucking up matter via gravitation until they form an ordered solar system, we are expected to absorb ‘stuff’ into our world through the force of consumerism and assemble it all into a coherent life. Not so says Kondo.

Kondo’s system for arranging your possessions, known as the KonMari method, very roughly falls into a three step process:

1. Organise your clutter by deciding what does and doesn’t ‘spark joy’.

2. Eject clutter from your life (after thanking it for it’s service of course).

3. Organise the rest of your stuff.

The aim of this deceptively simple recipe for an organised life is to stop letting the paraphernalia of your life get in the way of your happiness. We should work towards minimising the amount of chore-like work we provide ourselves with, and instead make necessary work and it’s fruits as enjoyable as possible. In this new paradigm, we are allowed the space to breathe and we can focus on the things which spark joy in our lives.

This philosophy has a powerful feature: it’s generality. We can apply this three step process to an enormous number of things in our lives, including our goals. Indeed, it is baked in to the process of goal setting itself; under the hood we are organising our desires by what aligns most closely with our values. However, we often forgo consideration of the second step of the process – ejecting the clutter. If the ultimate aim is to maximise our happiness, we should spend our energy focusing on that which sparks most joy.

The easiest way I have found to achieve this is to apply the same methodology I use for prioritising my goals. In this case, it is myself that is demanding my time and energy. By trimming away all of the superfluous requirements of our time, we can focus on that which we value most. This is a kind of goal minimalism, and I have found that by adopting this approach, it is much harder for additional demands to creep into our lives.

The advantages of such an approach are, I think, obvious. When we focus on only a few goals at a time, we avoid the need for context switching which can lead impede our progress and cause frustration. We can also experience a kind of clarity that is rarely possible when using a more scattershot approach to goal setting. The ultimate result is that we can quickly see substantial progress which encourages our efforts and makes the sacrifices we often need to make in order to achieve these goals feel more worthwhile. All of this is important for staying on track, which given that these goals are filtered through our values, ultimately leads to a powerful feeling of personal fulfilment.

The past few posts have focussed on the effect of goal setting on our happiness. Well chosen goals are crucial for defining the direction of our lives and realising that direction. It is not always easy to form such goals; it requires a crucible of careful thought, driven by our values, to distil them from the many distractions in our lives. It also requires us to keep cognisant of our most closely held values when faced with competing demands that syphon time and energy from our goals. But the reward is priceless – the feeling of personal fulfilment that can be experienced is enormously satisfying.

Thanks for reading! Stay happy and stay safe,

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Ben Ross
Ben Ross

Director & Co-Founder at Humans of Code

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