A Practice of Letting Things Go: Marie Kondo and Me

A Practice of Letting Go
By Hunter Laine

I hate to admit how much my things mean to me — I know that they shouldn’t. I know that I should strive to place less value on material things, but sometimes it’s hard! For me, it’s not so much labels or the newest technology. I just can’t seem to get rid of that top that I never wear but would be perfect for this one very particular, possible scenario. Even more than that, the memories and emotional weight I unintentionally attach to items makes it nearly impossible to cultivate a practice of letting things go. Like a stuffed animal that I certainly don’t need at this point in my life, that I never look at, and never display. But every time I think about giving it up, I remember how old I was when my dad gave it to me; how it felt so important when I was little. And really, having a couple of things like that isn’t a problem. But as I live more, and leave more people and important moments behind, those kinds of things become ubiquitous. Everything has some important story; a memory about who or where I was at that point in time.

So, one of my goals in this coming year, is to create a practice of letting things go. Of finding better ways to hold on to important memories without all of the clutter. And what better place to start than with the wisdom of internationally hailed tidying expert, Marie Kondo, and her Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

In 2014, Marie Kondo became an overnight global sensation with her bestselling book and subsequent Netflix series, proving that almost everyone feels like they could use some tidying up magic in their life. In case the only thing that you absorbed from Kondo’s rise was, “Does it spark joy?”, here’s an overview of her six rules to tidying up.

1. Commit yourself to tidying up.

Alright, step one: the commitment. As with any habit, ingrained practice, or addiction, to break the cycle and make progress, there has to be buy-in on your part. If you’re doing it only because someone else is saying that you need to, it’s going to be pretty difficult to get anything truly effecting done. Make the decision and commit yourself.

2. Imagine your ideal lifestyle.

Okay, this next step actually plays into the final step, sparking joy, so, spend some time here picturing what that lifestyle looks like. Is your closet spotless and organized so that when you go to get dressed in the morning, there’s a Zen calm? Does your current style align with what you picture in your head when you envision your best life? Is your living room minimalist with open space or cozy and warm? How do you want your spaces to function for you? In what ways are they not currently functioning the way you would like?

3. Finish discarding first. Before getting rid of items, sincerely thank each item for serving its purpose.

Getting rid of something does not mean that you don’t care about it’s meaning or that you are rejecting people or memories from the past. It simply means that that object, doesn’t fit into your future. The memory still can! If you’re having a lot of trouble letting go of something because of its meaning (but not it’s actual presence), try taking up journaling. I know – it’s another to-do, but it will take up a lot less space, and truly preserve what matters. The item isn’t what holds the value, the memory is (with most items anyway). So, write about it! In doing so, you’ll probably get a lot more down on paper than you realized was in your head, and you can always go back and revisit the journal entry. (Now, if you end up cluttering your life with too many memory journals, then I apologize for the suggestion!)

4. Tidy by category, not location.

As someone perpetually trying to de-clutter (operative word very much being, “trying”, as I am often unsuccessful), this tip is a departure from my norm. I am used to breaking down cleaning by room. First the bedroom, then the kitchen, etc. … It turns out that de-cluttering by category is much more effective. For one thing, it allows for comparison. This benefit is clearest when it comes to clothing. Does this dress “spark joy” as much as this one does? When you can tell which things really fit the “spark joy” bill, it can be easier to then identify which ones don’t.

5. Follow the right order: clothes, books, papers, komono (miscellaneous items), and sentimental items

Start easy, then move along to the harder stuff after you’ve had some practice. I’m not saying that getting rid of clothing is easy, but it’s definitely much simpler than photographs, childhood artwork, and old travel tickets. The things that hold the most emotional weight, take a pretty well-practiced, highly-conditioned tidying muscle to let go of. Start small and work your way toward things that tend to hold more meaning.

6. Ask yourself if it sparks joy.

This is the part that seems to have stuck the most in our collective minds. If you hear “Marie Kondo”, the almost instinctual reaction is, “Oh yeah, the “does it spark joy” woman”. But the thing is, most of us don’t truly understand what that means. It turns out there’s sort of something lost in translation between the Japanese, “tokimeku”, and the English, “spark joy”. As Kondo explains in a Los Angeles Times piece in 2016, when you hold an item “firmly in both hands as if communing with it, pay close attention to how your body responds… When something sparks joy, you should feel a little thrill.”

Didn’t clear it up? Refer back to step two of this list: Imagine your ideal lifestyle. Does the item fit in the vision that you conjured? Sometimes this slightly more tangible test can be helpful.

None of this is a quick and easy cure-all (unfortunately). Letting go of things is a practice to cultivate and nurture. The cool thing is, there are many sources, including this one, that show that there are real benefits to tidying up and letting go things. As with anything, apply these steps in a way that works for you and your situation. And try not to be too hard on yourself, always, but especially in the world of today.

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