Should we be treating our friendships more like our wardrobes and embracing the friendship “declutter”?
As the new year rhetoric begins to rear its head, as does talk of clearing out our wardrobes, repurposing our spaces and detoxing our lives. But should we be thinking about how we can declutter our relationships too?
As an idea, “relationship minimalism” has been floating around for a while, and follows a similar principle to the lifestyle.
Minimalism is all about owning only what adds value and meaning to your life and removing the rest. This means cutting excess material items, and also meaningless relationships and ‘emotional clutter’ that use your time and energy.
In September 2021, The Guardian profiled a group of so-called relationship minimalists, who explained that if their friendships are non-satisfactory, they eschew them, opting for fewer but more quality relationships.
However, this idea of purging those closest to us, just because they no longer “serve” the purpose we think they should, may sound callous to some. Surely, in times of such uncertainty, the people around us are those we should be clinging to, not cutting out of our lives?
Indeed, there has been a large amount of study on the mental health benefits of friendship.
Sociologists have found that close friendships foreshadow higher levels of self-esteem, psychosocial adjustment, and interpersonal sensitivity throughout our lives.
Adults who describe their friendships as more positive and satisfying also report lesser feelings of anxiety and hostility and those who described a close friendship in preadolescence have been found to show greater enjoyment, intimacy, emotional support, sensitivity, loyalty, affection, and overall higher quality of life than those who didn’t.
Let’s face it. We all have those relationships in our lives that we’re less than enthusiastic about. Whether it’s a reply-only friend who drains our energy to keep a one-sided friendship afloat, or a historic friendship that, sadly, has fizzled and died.
So how do you know when to keep a valuable relationship alive, or start a Marie Kondo-style culling of the people that no longer spark joy? Is it time to bite the bullet and start clearing space in our inner circle?
Psychotherapist and relationship expert Lucy Beresford says yes.
“The theory that friends come into our life ‘for a reason, a season, or a lifetime’ can be useful when trying to work out why a particular friendship is no longer working or giving us pleasure,” she tells Stylist.
“Maybe there is that friend you always agree to meet, but who you always cancel on the day? Someone whose phone calls you divert to voicemail, or whose texts you never quite get round to answering? Or someone whose toxic company either brings out the worst in us, or who exhausts us, mentally or physically? You may find that some of things you used to get from a particular friendship – fun, stimulation, support – are no longer present. Or maybe the friendship has become painfully unbalanced. If so, it’s time for a friendship cleanse.”
Beresford explains that it’s essential to detox bad energy from your life, whatever form it comes in.
“Assessing our friendships is about noticing when the energy has tipped off balance. We need to ask: is this friend building us up or pulling us down?
“Crucially, exploring a dysfunctional relationship will tell us as much about ourselves as about the other person. Why have we allowed the drama to persist? What unconscious needs of our own have been met by staying in a toxic relationship? Does it stop us feeling lonely, or make us feel useful, important, passive, or in control?”
How to conduct a friendship detox
Ending a friendship doesn’t have to be a door-slamming dramatic moment. “Asking yourself what your needs and values are will help you assess whether this relationship has exceeded its shelf-life,” explains Beresford.
“After letting a toxic friend go, not only do you have more emotional energy available, you have more time to connect with people where the relationship has the chance to be more harmonious, more authentic, more rewarding.”
You don’t even have to draw a line in the sand if the idea of confrontation and a full-blown friendship breakup fills you with dread.
A friendship detox can absolutely be an insular thing, focused more on you compartmentalising the different aspects of your life and rearranging your priorities accordingly. Small steps like starting to say no to events you don’t want to go to can be an effective way to start the process.
“By conducting this friendship audit and setting this boundary for yourself, you will, in the future, be more alert to the friend who can’t be bothered. By valuing yourself, you will attract people who value you too,” Beresford adds.