I just finished reading Marie Kondō’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s one of those books I’d read about a third of while killing time in a Hudson News (I’m one of those people), but hadn’t bought because let’s be honest, I’m already a pretty tidy person. I don’t need any pointers!
Or so I thought.
But sharing my last post further exacerbated my desire for less. Minimalism is a form of control, but can also be a spiritual practice. And for this I am grateful.
Kondō’s humble and simple approach to tidying struck an actual “life-changing” chord with me. But before I get into that, I highly recommend you check out the book if you answer yes to any of the following questions:
- Do you feel like you have too much stuff?
- Do you have trouble getting rid of stuff?
- Do you feel the need to keep things “just because”?
- Do you feel attached to your past?
- Do you fear or feel anxious for the future?
- Does your living environment not feel quite right, but you can’t figure out why?
- Are you into minimalism, organization or general tidiness?
- Are you human?
OK, great. Did you buy yourself a copy? It’s a fun read!
I’m good at throwing things out. I’m notorious for donating unused and unwanted clothes and books and things on a semi-regular basis. One time while clearing out the proverbial junk drawer, I tossed a mystery charging cord, which I later found out happened to be the charger for my external monitor! Oops. But at the time, I couldn’t place its exact use. So I tossed (donated) it. Along with an old Nokia brick and first generation Apple ear buds. Who needs shit like that? Not me.
But when it comes to certain sentimental items, especially those which are also practical in use, I struggle. Hard.
When something is both practical and sentimental, letting it go seems like both a waste and a disservice to the past. Like clothing. Let’s get into that. What am I really saying here?
First, let’s be clear about one thing. If something is sentimental, practical, and I genuinely love it, then I don’t get rid of it. According to Kondō, things that “spark joy” are the things you keep. They are the only things you keep.
What I am talking about are those things you feel obligated to keep. The things you keep “just because” or “just in case.”
Like these shirts, which are all either stretched, don’t fit right, or feel frumpy as fuck:
Each of these shirts represents an amazing time in my life. But those memories are still with me. I do not need the shirt to remember (and now I have the picture!). To be honest, each time I hold one of these shirts, I feel this sinking feeling of obligation to keep it, not wear it, but just keep it in my drawer.
None of them fit right. The tank tops are too big and stretched. The T-shirt is worn and unflattering. And yet I feel obligated to keep them, as if getting rid of them is some kind of violation. Who, or what, exactly, would I be violating if I let go?
I relegated them to “lounge wear” a while back, but when I lounge in clothing that doesn’t feel right, I don’t feel right. Have you ever noticed how different clothing makes you feel? When I wear frumpy and unflattering clothing, I feel like a slob.
So why am I forcing myself to keep and wear clothing that makes me feel bad?
Out of obligation? Why?
The purpose of each of these shirts has been fulfilled. I experienced joy while buying them. I experienced joy while wearing them at first. And most importantly, the moments they commemorate are now life-long memories. The only purpose they now serve is to remind me that nothing is permanent, we are not the collection of our material possessions, and that I no longer need to hold on to these material items as though the preservation of my happy memories depends on it!
The same logic applies to gifts. If you’ve received a gift, the purpose of that gift has been fulfilled: to receive it. The person who gave it to you experienced joy while picking it out, while giving it to you, and while watching you open it. You experienced joy and connection while receiving it. If it’s now just laying around “just because,” but doesn’t spark joy or add value to your life, toss it.
Holding onto sentimental stuff is really our way of holding onto and preserving our past. Holding onto stuff like this prevents us from moving forward and living in the moment. The past is a place we can never revisit. It happened. Enjoy your memories, clear the clutter and move on.
It’s remarkable how much lighter I felt after following that advice.
This week I finally donated those shirts to a thrift store, along with bags of more sentimental and other items I’d been holding onto “just because.”
There were a few things I finally let go which actually caused a degree of pain when I looked at them. Like the table runner from Thailand whose color scheme and texture I’d grown to detest, and also I hated the experience with the woman who sold it to me. And yet, I had held onto it and even prominently displayed it “just because.” Thank god that ugly piece of shit is finally off the table and out of the house! I can finally breathe.
If something doesn’t “spark joy,” why keep it? Why surround ourselves with things that spark feelings of obligation or “ugh”? Imagine if you were surrounded only by things you completely adored.
It’s incredible how good it feels to finally let go.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up taught me that it’s OK to dispose of sentimental things I secretly loathe. Nobody is here to judge me or to force me into keeping them but myself. Holding on to material things as if they are the memories themselves is cluttering for both our environment and for our mind.
Letting go of the past and moving into the present is one of the most liberating things we can do for our mental well-being. I urge you to try it and see.
What are you holding onto? Do you also find it difficult to purge your past and get rid of sentimental stuff you secretly loathe? I’d really love to hear what you think and feel about this topic!
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