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If Marie Kondo Can’t Do It, Who Can?

Here's why it's time to get real about lifestyle behaviors like exercise.

Key points

  • Marie Kondo's honesty and vulnerability about tidying up provides a good model for fostering healthy habits.
  • Like tidying up, exercise is a healthy choice and an act of self-care.
  • Lifestyle changes are most effective when a person is realistic about their time, energy, and priorities.

Not long after the new year, I read this quote in a Washington Post article that stopped me in my tracks: "Marie Kondo, 38, has caught up with the rest of us, trying to corral the doom piles on our kitchen counters while on hold with the plumber and trying not to burn dinner."

I was shocked to discover that someone I had assumed was a person who had it all together when it came to organizing was having trouble doing just that because of the same real-life distractions that that the rest of us have! Even for the experts, and also similar to exercising, creating "good" habits for household organizing isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Let me say it one more time:

It's not about habits; it’s about life.

I had understood Kondo as a true habiter, very disciplined and able to create the conditions that result in effective tidying habits—after all, she had built up a lifetime of doing just that. I based this assumption on the system she created and written about, and the way she was depicted in her Netflix series.

Yet she’s not just a wildly successful businesswoman, she's also a human being who happens to be a partner and a parent of three. And the reality is that no matter who you are, the equation is the same: As the number of roles we have goes up—the time we have available for daily activities goes down.

The article points out that when she went from two children to three, Kondo hit her tipping point. She humbly acknowledged that something had to give, and while counterintuitive, it turned out to be tidying! “My home is messy," she explained, "but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life.” [Italics, mine.] Bravo, Kondo!

Let’s think about it: The biggest tidying guru in the world publicly acknowledges that once she hit three kids, she didn’t have the bandwidth to keep it up. We all have our own tipping point, whether it’s the new goldfish, a puppy, that new job, having one child or five.

So, inspired by Kondo's honesty, let's give ourselves permission to get real about our lives and our expectations for the ways in which we aim to take care of ourselves and our lives, whether it’s through organizing or exercise or something else.

As someone in the sandwich generation, I know I certainly need this permission.

For now, let's focus on exercise and movement, and take a step back to start at the beginning!

Get real about exercise in six steps

1. Ask yourself why it's actually important to you to have consistent exercise or movement in your life.

2. Assess which physical activities can help you realize that why. (Note: It may not be the ones you think! And in fact, on any given day your why for exercise can change based on how the day is going or what happened the night before.)

3. Make a kind and realistic plan to fit those activities into your life the way it really is, mess and all.

4. Implement that plan!

5. Evaluate what worked and what didn't.

6. Adjust your plan (and your why) as needed, and keep going!

Exercise is not tidying, and yet...

Think about it: Exercise is a self-care behavior, and so is tidying. We can be inspired to organize our closets and neatly fold our t-shirts by gurus like Marie Kondo, but most of us don’t expect to be able to do it as perfectly as Kondo. We understand we simply can't be perfect in this way. Yet, in stark contrast, many of us are not nearly as realistic or self-forgiving when it comes to following fitness gurus and their programs. But there is no reason why we should not be as self-compassionate about our exercise lives as Kondo is about her tidying life.

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