I’ve always considered myself a clean and tidy person. Clean as in I scrub every inch of my house frequently, and tidy as in I regularly organize my space. To be honest, I’ve never been the kind of person who had to say to a guest, “yeah it’s a bit messy right now…”. However, even though I pride myself on being a clean and tidy person, I often find that I have to do “spring cleaning” throughout the year and clear out stuff so I can feel refreshed in my home.
I’ve heard of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for a few years now (thank you Pinterest), but I never thought I needed a book to teach me how to tidy up and organize since I was already an organized person. Then the Gilmore Girls revival happened. My favorite character, Emily Gilmore, became a Kon-vert when her husband passed away and she sets off to de-clutter her life. A curious Google search and hours of YouTube videos later, I bought the book.
Compared to the average American, I don’t have a lot of stuff. Keep in mind, I’m 26, just married, and have no children. So when I was reading about Kondo’s clients with mountains of clothing and possessions, that was hard for me to relate to. I definitely am not a minimalist, but I have significantly less things than your average twenty-something. But one concept sunk in for me. In the book, Kondo goes in-depth to explain her process of de-cluttering. She de-clutters by category and in order – clothes, books, papers, misc, momento. As she works through each category, she’d hold each item in her hands and ask the question “does this spark joy?”
It felt a little bit silly to hold a blouse and ask myself, “does this spark joy?” But after a few attempts, I understood why she asks this vital question. Like I’ve said before, I don’t have that much stuff. But somehow, I have to take boxes of donation items to Goodwill several times a year. How is that possible? For me, I get lured by the idea of sales or something that catches my eye, and I purchase it. Although that item might have some use for me or my household, it doesn’t really enrich my life. So eventually it sees itself in the Goodwill box.
One thing that really spoke to me about the book was how as you get rid of stuff that don’t spark joy, you have to thank it. One of my really good friends from college is Japanese. She’s not religious, but before every meal, she’d say “itadakimasu”, which roughly translates to “I humbly receive”. This notion of gratitude for the hands that have prepared the food is really similar to my Christian upbringing when we’d say grace at the dinner table. Being Asian myself, some of the Japanese cultural acts like greeting your house when you enter, or always maintaining thankfulness isn’t that foreign.
For me, thanking an item for keeping me warm or being a good read is closure. I think I had trouble getting rid of some things in the past because I didn’t bring myself to acknowledge my journey with the item. For example, I kept the dress I wore to my college graduation for a long time even though it was no longer my style because it has that sentimental feeling attached to it. But it no longer “sparked joy”, so it was time to say goodbye. Thanking the dress for such a wonderful memory of graduating college with my friends gave me sufficient closure and the reassurance that I won’t regret this when it’s out of my hands.
It’s almost like a good breakup. Before I started dating my husband, I had one serious boyfriend. When we ended things, we both expressed our appreciation for one another and wished each other the best. We don’t talk anymore. But to me, that was an excellent closure. We enjoyed each other’s company when we were in each other’s lives. But when that chapter ended, we moved on to better things.
I think if we are fortunate enough to own a lot of material possessions, more often than not, we don’t treat them with proper respect. Our mindset is often that of “hey, I bought it, I can do whatever I want with it. If it breaks, I’ll go out and buy another.” But this kind of attitude is quite negative. So doing exercises like thanking inanimate objects might sound odd at first, but it does change your perspective on treating everything you own with proper respect.
For me, the KonMari method has really fit into my zero waste lifestyle seamlessly. I’m a lot more picky on what I want entering my house. Things don’t enter my house because they are a good deal or on clearance. They have to enrich my life. In de-cluttering my life, a lot of my belongings got sent to thrift stores, where they will hopefully spark joy in someone else’s life.