Gratitude from Letting Go

I bought The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and began the "Konmari" process outlined in the book immediately after reading it. Marie Kondo is a bit of a freak about discarding old, unused, unloved things that "don't spark joy." Although at times I found her passion for decluttering and organizing...um...uniquely obsessive, I tidied up my house with dedication to see her process from beginning to end. 

And: she was right. Getting rid of things feels really good, and it is magical. I have never considered myself a pack rat, but as I moved from one category to the next, I realized I held onto a lot of things I never used. Sometimes I had forgotten about that jar of pills three years expired; sometimes I kept that book or that piece of clothing because I thought I might need it some day. For everything I went through, I remembered where I got it, when I wore, read, or used it, and what memories remained wrapped up in its material existence. 

Mid-tidying process aka closet barfed all over the room.

That's where the "magic" began. Sure, some things were just plain old rice or a box of cold medicine. But the vast majority of things had very particular feelings attached to them. Stay with me here--this is where a process as mundane as tidying turns into a quasi-magical experience. By going through and literally releasing the things that no longer serve me in some relevant, joy-sparking way, I was essentially releasing the past so I could be more present with what I have now--and, in essence, who I am now. I could see more clearly what I value and how I want to spend my time.

This bookshelf was packed side to side on all five shelves.

For example, I kept a lot of books. I mean, a lot a lot. Between college, grad school, and recreational reading, I filled two giant bookshelves and one smaller bookshelf. I thought they looked cool, and I had convinced myself that I would probably read each one of them again at some point.

Meanwhile, my stack of books I haven't read but would like to kept piling up. It seemed the more books I kept, the less I actually read. So when it came time to pick what books to keep, I decided to be ruthless. I donated or sold more than two hundred books. As a result, I can see better the books I want to read, and my mind can relax with the space left open where the words of titles once demanded my attention. And I hope by releasing the books back into the world, other people will enjoy them as much as I did. 

Marie recommends saving sentimental items for last, after you've honed in on your discarding skills and you're in the zone. This is when I entered the dreaded cluttered closet. I'm a sentimental softy, and since I was a teenager I've squirreled away almost every card and letter I've received. No joke. I've also kept every journal I've written in...just in case I ever wanted to return to sixteen-year-old angst, because who wouldn't want to do that?

Before

Decluttering this closet proved to be the grand finale of my tidying epicness. Not only because it had the most drastic "before and after" results, but because I went through over a decade of experiences in a day. And you know what? I let most of the stuff go. I kept the really special things, like a letter from my deceased grandma and photos from before the digital camera age. When it was all said and done, I recycled over twenty pounds of paper.

Oodles and oodles of doodles and diary pages

After

From clothes to food to books to cards, one experience bound the tidying process together: Gratitude.

Immense gratitude for having warm clothes, shelter, food, an education, and the "problem" of excess to begin with.

Gratitude for the people in my life: from presents I've received to a handmade condolence card from fifth grade when the family dog died, I internalized the love I've received from family and friends. Although I didn't keep every letter or present, I was able to feel the love these things embody and hold onto that feeling instead.

Gratitude for open space--and ultimately, gratitude for the fact that I don't need a lot of things to be happy and healthy.

I also realized that a majority of the things I have bought don't end up being used a few months after I bought them. In this light, I don't want to buy more things unless I really want or need them. I'd rather buy experiences, which I guess is a cliche for a reason. So in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and in contrast to Black Friday, I recommend the Konmari process of discarding. The magic is real. 

More from Life