The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck (2015) is a self-help spin on Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, the source of the popular KonMari method of decluttering and organization. Rather than tidying up your house, Sarah Knight encourages you to tidy up your mind by policing the amount of “fucks” (emotional energy) you give over things that either annoy you or bring joy to your life. To Knight, not giving a fuck “allows you to stop spending time you don’t have with people you don’t like doing things you don’t want to do” with the intention of using that saved energy on something more satisfying. In her take-off of the KonMari method, which she cleverly calls the NotSorry Method, we’re advised to “take a moment to question not only whether you give a fuck about the matter at hand, but whether it deserves a fuck given to it as a line item on your Fuck Budget” – the amount of time, emotional energy, money you have available to spend at any given time.
The NotSorry Method encourages the practitioner to:
1. Contemplate your reasons for not giving a fuck
2. Visualize the effect that your lack of fucks will have on anyone else involved
3. Mitigate the potential for hurt feelings
4. Be honest and polite
5. Don’t be an asshole
So let’s take an example of discussing politics. Too often in my own extended family, certain parties enjoy very passionately soapboxing about political and religious views that I simply do not share. I could certainly debate these views and I have my own firm opinions about them, but I don’t choose to because I don’t feel that family functions are the time or place for such discourse. My tactic for most of my marriage, in an effort to maintain my husband’s tenuous relationships with his family, has therefore been to just sit silently and wait for them to wear themselves out or for the subject to turn on its own to something I can comfortably discuss – but this has brought its own problems of swallowed resentment and the feeling that I am an accessory to my husband rather than a respected member of the family. Luckily, the NotSorry method has a better alternative. In this case I would:
1. Examine my need to expend emotional energy on debating politics with my hotheaded ultra-conservative brother-in-law. (Hint: that need is a big fat 0%.)
2. Evaluate how those around me will be affected by my not expending emotional energy. Yes, my brother-in-law might not like being cut off, but the rest of the family might like getting a word in edgewise about what’s been going on in our lives and the lives of our kids, so it’s still a win by a large margin.
3. Try my best to hurt as few feelings as possible. In this case, my brother-in-law isn’t spoiling for a fight, but looking for an audience, so the only person whose feelings might be hurt are his because I don’t give his soapboxing the time of day. I am okay with this level of pain infliction if it means I don’t have to go through the pain of listening to him espouse views that irritate the hell out of me.
4. Politely say that I respect that he has a firm opinion, but I don’t share it and would prefer to talk about other things. I don’t need to debate it to prove that I have a different opinion or to try to tear down his values to defend mine – I only need to say that I differ in thought so that it categorizes the talk as opinion rather than fact and highlights that there are more opinions out there than just his.
5. Move the conversation on to something else that everyone, including my brother-in-law, can participate in instead – thereby not being an asshole by trying to shout him down or cut him out of the conversation altogether.
One of the most important tenets of Knight’s method is that of separating opinion from feelings. That separation was a revelation for me, as was the idea that politely disagreeing or not sharing someone else’s opinion is a passive stance, not an attack on their feelings, and hurts no one. In so doing, “you’ve given no fucks accepting or actively debating” the issue, you didn’t tear down their values or hurt their feelings, and you were honest and polite – therefore you were not an asshole and no one involved can fault you for anything you said. This is one of the parts of the NotSorry method that I’m most looking forward to trying, although I’m not sure how well it will work, since some of my in-laws would probably be able to find a political slant to a discussion about the weather or the price of beans these days. At least it gives me something new to try and some slim hope.
Another main tenet has to do with our motivations for spending emotional energy. Knight tells us that “there are two reasons you tend to give a fuck about what other people think: one, because you don’t want to be a bad person, and two, because you don’t want to look like a bad person.” The trick is to care less about the look part and more about the be part. In my own experience, again with my in-laws, I’ve been thought to be a bad person because I have not shared an opinion with the group, but upon further examination, my disagreement isn’t the problem…it’s their refusal to accept it and focus instead on other elements of our relationship that we do agree upon more firmly. Again, I was not an asshole – just honest and polite in my disagreement, so according to Knight, I don’t have waste emotional energy worrying about what they think about me because I know I did no wrong.
Family is an especially tricky area to practice the NotSorry method in because, as Knight states, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that family members tend to think other family members have to give a fuck about their lives just because they share DNA.” However, her studies show that most of the people she interviewed don’t feel that way at all, disliking “mandated togetherness” or forced attempts to make them “like” all family members despite personal, religious, and political differences. As much as I’d like my family to be one of those that gets along well and has joyous reunions at the holiday that fill our proverbial cup until it runneth over with joy, that is simply not the case.
My family situation boils down to another main pillar of the NotSorry method: choice vs. obligation — the things you can control vs. the things you can’t. We may not be able to control who we are related to, but we can control how we interact with people, or indeed whether we choose to interact with them at all, regardless of our relationship with them. Knight feels that as long as we are honest and polite when relaying our choices, it’s okay for us to choose not to participate in the circles we do not wish to inhabit. As tempting as it is for me to jump on this particular idea, it’s important to note that Knight is very light on the subject of familial obligation dictated by societal mores here, though: events such as an emergency or illness that arises with an estranged parent, or navigating a funeral among mixed company of those family members you do give a fuck about and those you do not. No matter how you spin it, if you don’t show up during these times, you will be seen as an asshole, and by more people than just the family you dislike. My questions here center on issues of how involved I need to stay with the contentious part of the family so that I am connected enough to help in these situations, but still can avoid being unnecessarily drained of emotional energy during the in-between times. I personally need to address these deeper issues more fully, and just in case any of you are in a similar familial boat as I am, please know that this book is not the source of that information.
Other aspects of the NotSorry method focus more on allocation of fucks, or the budgeted expenditure of emotional energy, in daily life. Every time we expend emotional energy on something unimportant to us or on something we have no control over, we have less to give to something that we DO care about and that we CAN control. The adage of “you can’t pour from an empty cup” comes to mind – we must be sure to protect the contents of our cup for when they’re needed and not let petty, insignificant distractions poke leaks into it so our energy dribbles out unnoticed. For example, in personal and work relationships, Knight advises us to care less about being liked (which we cannot control) and more about being worthy of respect (which we can control by doing what we know to be right). As Knight says, “In order to maximize your potential for happiness, you need to consider outcomes before committing to giving your fucks” – this way you don’t have to waste time and energy figuring out how to avoid hurt feelings by undoing things you agreed to by not acting mindfully in the first place.
Knight also goes into limiting the amount of energy we’re expected to allocate on friends’ causes and crusades (as opposed to direct needs) through the setting of boundaries and personal policies. Anything that drains your emotional energy, your time, or your money must be carefully examined to see whether it worth the expense – this includes fundraisers, Kickstarter campaigns, benefits, support rallies, and all other solicitations. There are, of course, times when you will find that the benefit of helping is much greater than the deficit to your emotional or financial budget, but you must choose these times mindfully and defend your resources against the other requests that can tap us dry if we don’t stand firm and politely refuse them. And spending emotional energy when we don’t really wish to will quickly become expected of us if we don’t marshal it carefully.
Most importantly in the NotSorry method is the tenet that “Your time, energy, and/or money spent should result in greater joy for you.” When you begin to worry whether or not you’re being too harsh by setting boundaries, invoking personal policies, or just excusing yourself from spending emotional energy that you really need elsewhere, Knight advises us to ask ourselves the following question: “Would you want people to feel obligated and/or guilted into doing something for you that you knew they didn’t want to do?” There are certainly situations that this method would be too simplistic to cover, but for an overall life manifesto, it’s not the worst idea to stop giving a fuck about the things that just don’t matter.