I was listening to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast on my way to work this morning, which is a habit of mine, and it occurred to me that there are some striking similarities between my favorite method of decluttering and DaveRamsey’s 7 Baby Steps.
Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps is the most effective method I’ve heard of getting out of debt, and worked for me and my husband, as well as thousands of other families. Marie Kondo’s KonMari method is the most effective method of decluttering permanently that I’m aware of. But what makes them particularly effective, where so many other programs show moderate results, might be connected.
First, let’s talk about the processes for each program:
Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps tells you to stop borrowing money, then list all your debts smallest to largest. Once you are current on all bills, you save $1,000 as a starter emergency fund, then pay off each debt smallest to largest with great intensity until all your debts are gone. After you are debt-free except your mortgage, you then save up to a have a three to six-month emergency fund. When your full emergency fund is in place, you then put 15% of your paycheck into pre-tax retirement. Those are steps 1-4. Steps 5-7 include saving for kids’ college, paying off the house, and building wealth while giving money away.
Marie Kondo’s KonMari method tells you to gather together everything by category, not by location, starting with your clothes. That means pulling all your clothes – tops, bottoms, underwear, shoes, coats, and even bags – into one pile and taking stock of what you have – much like Ramsey’s method of listing out all your debts. In her book, The Life-ChangingMagic of Tidying Up, Kondo explains that we have the least emotional attachment to our clothing, and that is why we start there. It is much easier to decide whether a pair of underwear sparks joy than Aunt Penny’s old crystal decanter. KonMari then tells you to hold each item in your hand and feel whether or not it “sparks joy.” Kondo talks about feeling a little lift when you touch something that brings you joy. Following this method of holding every item, you then proceed through in the correct order: Books, Papers, Miscellaneous, Mementos.
The similarities aren’t apparent until you look at the process and the drivers.
Ramsey repeatedly tells his listeners he wants them to “get mad” at their debt. His focus is on an emotional reaction to what is causing the financial lethargy. Kondo also aims for an emotional reaction, which she calls “sparking joy.”
The takeaway: Change happens when you recognize an emotional reaction.
Ramsey has listeners start with the smallest debt first, not the highest interest rate. The reason behind what some would call a mathematical mistake is simple: easy wins early on make the program easier to continue. Likewise, Kondo tells her readers to start with clothes, because they typically carry the lowest emotional connection – that’s the underwear analogy.
The takeaway: Aim big, but give yourself some easy wins early on.
Ramsey has his listeners get rid of all their debt first, instead of investing, saving, and paying off debt. The reason is simple: the faster you get it done, the more likely it is to stick. Likewise, with Kondo’s plan she says “Tidy all at once and completely.”
The takeaway: Concentrated effort results in permanent change.
Finally, Ramsey talks to his listeners a lot about having “a big Why.” His point is that making change is virtually impossible if the reason for change doesn’t feel bigger than the effort of changing. Likewise, Kondo tells her readers to imagine their perfect environment, and have a very clear, very strong image of how they want their home to look and feel.
The takeaway: A powerful reason outweighs a perfect plan every time.
For me, the takeaway is more powerful: programs that work universally, regardless of age, gender, race, or nationality, have specific aspects in common. The most effective way to make a change is remember why you’re changing, and set yourself up to succeed early on.