The magic of letting go
Yes, I’m one of those annoying people that read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I started tidying (which should be called “throwing out”) on January 1, and while I don’t think my life has changed much, I’ve definitely learned some things.
First of all, I am sort of bulimic when it comes to possessions. I acquire and hoard (the binge) for a decade and then I purge things in a giant “fuck this shit” explosion. In my last purgesplosion I threw away a lifetime’s worth of journals and all of my school yearbooks. If you are a writer you will understand the exquisite pain that haunts me about that decision.
The ten or so years in between binge and purge are very, very cluttered. So. January 1 rolls around and I’m going to get started. I begin with the sock drawer. A giant sock drawer that contains a universe of socks: athletic socks, knee highs, fuzzy socks with lotion cooked in, socks with capes, socks that haven’t seen their mate in years. A lot of fucking socks.
So here’s the thing with the KonMari method: you hold each object in your hand and if it “sparks joy” you can keep it. Otherwise, out it goes. This can be a tough call. Because what might at first register as “joy” is really something else. It might be “But so-and-so GAVE me those,” or “But I might want to wear those in a Halloween costume one day.” That’s not joy; that’s rationalization. Unless I owned both socks, they were still in good shape, and they made me happy to put them on my feet, they went in the giant black trash bag.
After socks I did underwear. I folded them reverently and precisely until two madcap drawers of crazy became one small drawer of peace and order.
Shirts were next. I went from this
Now every shirt I put on gives me that “Hey, this looks and feels good” spark. I’m not wearing also-ran black t-shirts, I’m wearing the good black t-shirts that feel just right.
But I’ll be honest, some of those shirts were really hard to get rid of. In particular my Xbox and GamerchiX garb that I’ve been hoarding for sentimental reasons even though I left Microsoft over five years ago. Here is where what is magic and different about Marie Kondo’s book comes in. I was able to tell those shirts and hoodies “Thank you. You represent an important part of my life and accomplishments that made me proud.” No, I didn’t say it out loud because I felt a bit silly. But it allowed me to acknowledge how I felt about these inanimate objects and release them.
I had some of the same trouble with shoes.
My orange Chucks that I bought for the Tokyo Game Show. These cheapo little black flats from American Eagle Outfitters that I wore all over Paris and Versailles. It made me sad to let them go, but I feel so much lighter with just what I need and love.
I was really proud of myself, and moved onto books with enthusiasm. Ms. Kondo says to do all books at once, but honestly my living room floor isn’t large enough. So, I did one bookshelf. Yep, just one. And it took ALL DAMN DAY.
Why? Because I’m a unapologetic and life-long bookworm. I’ve purged many many books over the years, and I’ve read almost exclusively on Kindle since, well, the OG Kindle debuted in 2007. But the paper-and-ink volumes that I’ve held onto have meaning to me. They represent more than a job or a trip. They are my parallel selves, my possible me’s. The alternate Christa that learns Latin for instance, or writes profiles for the New Yorker (still my dream job!).
Or the me that becomes a professor of folklore and mythology. These books here? Joseph Campbell’s Masks of God series? They represent a future that never took place. But it was a dream that I–at the time a poor single mother attending college on a Pell Grant–was so excited about that I spent money I should have used for food or diapers on these four paperbacks. Joseph Campbell represented this dream and I held onto his complete works for far longer than I needed to. As you may have guessed, I didn’t even read most of them. I was determined to at the very least hang onto my Campbell. I sat on the floor surrounded by these books and sulked. I mourned that woman I never became. That career that didn’t happen. Because that’s really what I was afraid of letting go. In the end I hung onto books that can’t be replicated in e-ink: art books, image-heavy references like atlases, and books that are works of art unto themselves like these children’s books from 1907.
Anyway, at the end of a long painful dusty day I got a jam-packed, double-parked bookcase down to two simple shelves. I found interesting bookmarks. The funniest was a letter to me from the Friends of John Kerry and the saddest was a train ticket stub for a friend that killed himself.
Most importantly, of course, I offloaded a bunch of books that had become both physical and emotional baggage and turned it into cash at Half-Price Books.
Which I spent on more books.