I have a 4th place embossed glass trophy from a ski race where there were only 6 racers. I have a first place ribbon from a relay race where we were the only team. I have certificates of achievement with my name handwritten on a line that all look alike because they were Microsoft Word templates, printed for free in the staff room at school. I won things like “most sportsmanlike player” and “team MVP” when I never scored the goal or got on base without walking or bunting.
“I’m so proud of you!”
“Way to go!”
Red and white race ribbons and bronze colored medals hung from the curtain rod while ski and soccer trophies lined the windowsill of my childhood room. Certificates plastered the corner of the wall, or lay in plastic sleeves in my memory box. Look, I’m important! I am worth something! I have all these awards to prove it!
I have a habit of equating my accomplishments with my self-worth. Achievement is value. Without achievement, I’m worthless.
This has worked for me in the past, especially having grown up in the “participation award” era. I won or got recognized for fucking everything.
This year, I fucking changed that.
This week I took a huge step toward crossing it off. Over a 3 hour Google Hangout Video call, on Saturday Mom and I Konmaried all the crap I still own at home in Alaska. I moved away from home in 2006, so most of what I had stored there was from childhood and adolescence.
Mom used to call me a pack rat. I kept everything. One day I might need this. This is special. I slept with a box of things in my bed. It felt safe. I couldn’t sleep until everything was there with me. I loved my stuff.
Growing up, mom had us all keep a memory box. She promised us that one day, we would thank ourselves for saving that report card and trinket from our family vacation and student ID. One day, we’d look back and cherish and treasure all these things, memories of our childhood, the things that shaped and defined us. One day, these things would bring us immense joy. For me, everything sparked joy. I kept it all.
When I was nearing the end of elementary school, one day I threw away everything that Dad had ever bought me. Every wooden whale statue and wicker box from Bali. Every boomerang and opal from Australia. Every wind chime and gold necklace from Indonesia. Every t-shirt from New Zealand. All these things, collected from his travels around the world when all I wanted from him was his time, meant nothing to me. So sometime around the end of fourth or fifth grade, right before the garbage man came around the curb that morning, I heaved the industrial size black bag into the trash and didn’t turn around to see it dumped in the truck. Those things had served their purpose. I was done with them.
Sometimes I regret doing that, but only because I wish I’d understood the concepts of resale value and donation. All of those things were beautiful and nice, but none brought me joy. Instead, they caused me stress. Pain. Anxiety. I’d look at every woven tapestry and hand carved rubber band gun and hidden compartment box with bitterness and resentment. I didn’t want things. I wanted a present parent.
I guess you could say I Konmaried before I knew it was a thing.
Now two decades later, I’m dealing with the rest of my emotions- which is what the Konmari method is really about. What remained was not pain, but rather those items that lasted years of sifting through my stuff deciding what to keep. What remained were the things I kept to define myself and ultimately, my sense of self-worth.
Mom held up each book, piece of paper, award, and item at a time, and I, in turn, asked myself a simple question: does this spark joy?
Usually, the answer was no.
I kept the photos and the school yearbooks and the $1 bill tucked away in that Hard Rock Cafe folder that I got to keep from my first HRC experience on a softball trip. Don’t get confused: I tossed the folder and kept the dollar.
I kept the first edition hardback Harry Potter books that my future kids will read and the brass 20-year calendar keychain my dad’s boat cook gave me in 1999. I wondered where that thing went. I loved Mary and it’s still good for another 2 years!
I kept my entire stamp collection and the miniature porcelain tea set in the wicker basket with the broken hinge my late grandparents gave me. I plan to pass those on some day.
I kept the Shakespeare books that have been in my family longer than anyone remembers. Books are hard to get rid of, especially old leather-bound special ones.
But that’s about it.
Included in the toss/recycle/donate pile were newspapers dating back to 1988, the year I was born. In all the years I’ve had these papers, I’ve never once read the old news. I don’t even particularly smile when I hold it. I’ve always just kind of tossed it aside, thinking that keeping it was some kind of non-negotiable thing.
I tossed my high school diploma in its fake leather sheath, which, let’s be honest, has no practical value in the real world and isn’t exactly a monumental achievement I still feel the need to display. I only graduated that year early because I wanted the hell out of there so I crammed a bunch of easy-as-shit-all-open-note-open-book correspondence courses into my last year. I’m convinced going 4 years was the hard road. Finishing in 3 years was my easy way out. I do not need my diploma to remember that or to derive a sense of accomplishment. It served its purpose the moment the principal handed it to me as I walked across the stage. It was the period to the run-on sentence that was high school.
I finally let go of the binders of science fair projects and culinary school notes, even from the year I won the science fair and from the wines class in culinary school where I took all those detailed and meticulous notes. I don’t plan to brush up on any of this stuff. These binders served their purpose and I don’t need their stories anymore.
Navy uniforms. Navy documents. Release records. I can’t believe I was in the Navy. I don’t quire memorabilia to recall that dark time in my life, and what happened no longer defines me or matters. It’s just another blip in time.
A TI-83 graphing calculator handbook. A stack of AP Calculus CD-ROMS. A cassette tape from when Lyndsey and I recorded a radio ad in New Zealand. An early 2000s Nokia brick phone. Relics of the past.
Probably a dozen diaries dating back to the late 90’s, but also some from as recent as college, mostly about boys and girls and confusion and what the fuck I should maybe do with my life someday when I grow up. So many diaries. But I’m not one to look back. Memories are often sweeter than reality (it’s actually science; we tend to romanticize the past). What’s the point in remembering the brutal and unnecessary details?
All those ribbons and medals and trophies, some of them just for participation, just one of them first place. For as long as I lived at home, I defined my sense of self-worth by the number of awards displayed in my windowsill and certificates in my memory box. Not anymore.
Certificates and SAT scores and report cards and school projects. I certainly would not have kept low scores or bad grades, so why keep the good? More outdated definitions of my worthiness.
I had boxes of all that stuff we keep because we feel we have to, and last weekend I let it all go.
When we finished, mom texted me this: “Wow- I just had this thought…when we clear out all our stuff we are dealing with our ego. No wonder it’s mentally exhausting!”
Then it all clicked.
Thank you, mom.