How to Find Joy rather than Oppression from your Possessions
Last year I sold my house, moved over a hundred of miles away from where I had lived and worked all my life. I did it to spark joy every day of my life.
I moved to be with people I loved. In moving closer to them, I no longer needed a multi-bedroom house so they would have a comfortable place when they came to visit.
I loved my little house, I truly did, but I needed to downsize. I did, by about 1,000 square feet.
In the months before my move, I anticipated that need to downsize. I slowly began, one closet at a time. However, on moving day, I still had a lot of possessions, many more than I needed.
As my nephew Nate said, “You’ve got a lot of stuff. A lot of stuff.”
And not in a good way.
I had discarded possessions before.
The first time followed my father’s death. Not many of the things he accumulated were discarded because my mother found it so difficult. We gifted a lot of things to family who wanted mementos or needed items, donated other things, and just tucked the remainder away.
But at the time of my move, I still had his award plaques and special belt buckles and pipes for smoking tobacco (even though smoking contributed mightily to his death).
The second time followed my mother’s death. I followed her procedure: gifts to family, donations, tucking away others–but downsizing required me to be ruthless. Yet I still found things I couldn’t let go of.
Many, many items had memories attached–but how many memories through items do I need? I remember my parents every day; I miss them terribly–but how many things do I need to remind me of them? Do I need any thing at all to remember them?
Even as I tell myself this, I still had these things.
Then, my former workplace wanted to give me a token that represented my job. The token had no real use. It would take up space. I certainly wasn’t going to display it. A token wasn’t necessary to remember 30 years of hard, stress-inducing work. Happy times over those years certainly didn’t need a token to be remembered.
So, because I was struggling with downsizing, I refused the token, thereby offending the person in charge of the giving of the token. Oops.
That kept things from coming into the house, but I had many, many more things to discard. I needed help.
Enter Marie Kondo’s Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
Now, I know how to tidy. My mother had this ability down and imparted her wisdom to me and my sister. But Marie Kondo’s book is about decluttering your life.
Decluttering! That’s what I needed!
Let me boil her process down to 9 crucial insights plus one that comes from another lady who understands what is essential.
“The best way to find out what we really need is to get rid of what we don’t [need].”
How much stuff have you crammed into corners? How many times have you said, “I have to get rid of this junk”? If you call those possessions stuff and junk that you cram in, do you really care for it? Do you need it?
Okay, I had that one, no biggie. But I know many people who struggle with this. After all, I had two practice sessions, but I still had trouble discarding my own possessions.
Here’s Marie Kondo’s epiphany: “I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things that I wanted to keep.”
This is me, with so many things that I needed to get rid of that I forgot to pay attention to the possessions that I really loved.
Is this you? Have you crowded too much into your life? Discard what you don’t need and don’t love.
But how do you decide between what you really love and what you just like? I mean, my likes are pretty powerful or they wouldn’t still be in the house.
“Imagine your ideal lifestyle to prevent relapse.”
My ideal lifestyle does not use plastic butter tubs to hold leftovers. My ideal lifestyle does not keep books related to work. And my ideal lifestyle is not focused on accumulating more and more: I want to do and be more and more.
What do I have that gives beauty to my life? And what do I just have? It’s nice and all, but it doesn’t reinforce the world I want.
If you have dreamed of a life without clutter, without stuff, without things crammed everywhere, resolve now to change. I resolved because I wanted to downsize. Kondo’s lessons, however, hit me where I live [pun intended, but not as a pun 😉 ].
How do we imagine this?
Curiously enough, one of the first steps is to visualize your closets, your pantry, your dresser drawers without all the stuff.
Determine what you really need before you attack the clutter. Think and work by category: accumulated winter outerwear then accumulated winter shirts and blouses, not winter clothes. When you pull out all of the similar items (winter jackets), you see what you have and realize what you don’t need and can discard.
Marie Kondo says, “Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard the rest. By doing this, you can reset your life and embark on a new lifestyle.”
From clothes, move to kitchen items (utensils then pots/pans then storage containers then extra plates/dishes and glasses, etc.), then those things stored in the bathroom. The laundry next, including the linen closet. Junk drawers. And finally, finally, get to those things you collect: books, music, dvds/games, artwork, old photos, etc.
Now, I have to disagree with Marie Kondo on some things. She would drastically pare down books and music cds. I have learned that to discard too ruthlessly in these categories is to regret the loss.
The same with old photos. My mother started pursuing genealogy in the 1970s. Those old photos are important. They help us remember people. Times. Events.
They are a record of the past. Do we need to erase the past? No!
But some of these “collections” do have JUNK in them. They are stuff. So when you de-clutter here, do so with a careful hand.
Part of the reason we accumulate stuff and junk is a lack of time to sort. We conquer that problem by devoting a day to cleaning out winter coats or our music collection or all the plastic that falls out when we open a kitchen cabinet door.
When you see the whole accumulated–all the jackets, all the music cds, all the Tupperware or Hefty bowls or plastic lids that fit nothing–you see the wealth of what you have (or dearth, depending on how you look at it).
If you like none of it, discard all of it and make a conscious decision to replace non-joy with a possession that is real-joy.
Marie Kondo advises that we “hold an item with both hands and ask yourself, ‘Does this spark joy?’”
Eye roll, please. I mean, holding something in front of me and asking “Ya got joy in ya?” People would know I was crazy (instead of just thinking it).
When we hold something with both hands, we focus our complete attention on it. With items (not with people), once we focus our attention, our brain clicks through want and need and then to a recognition of how we feel. Once we recognize that, we can make our decision.
Little things, useless things, damaged things: we have no trouble tossing these. It’s the things attached to memories or given by loved ones that create problems. Guilt at discarding what someone gave us makes us hold on to a china bowl we don’t like or a sweater that a favorite aunt gave to us yet we never wear it or artwork that’s not our taste.
Marie Kondo’s question is key: “Does this spark joy?” If all we feel is guilt when we see that thing we don’t want, then it’s not sparking joy.
Thank the object (yes, she advises that) for the thought behind it, for the intended purpose, and for its time with you. Then donate it for others who may love it.
“Don’t hold onto things for fear of the future” and “Don’t hold onto things to preserve the past.”
Can things protect us from future worries? Well, money in the bank can. That’s not in the house, though, is it? What else can protect us from future worries? Keep insurance policies and anything the IRS might audit, anything you might possibly need that’s associated with work.
And if you’ve got a black sheep relative, keep what might keep them out of the house.
“Things that preserve the past” is a tougher comment from Kondo. Here’s where I run into trouble. Here’s my solution. I hope I can abide by it. Keep out three small things that remind me of loved ones.
Three because one might get broken or damaged. Small so the items are portable in case of emergency.
As for the rest, hold only onto things that give you happiness. And gift the rest away.
“Tidying is just a tool, not the final destination. The true goal should be to establish the lifestyle you want most once your house has been put in order.”
See, again, it’s the life we want. We sometimes blame other people when we’re feeling crammed and out of sorts. Could it be that our desperate use of shopping for more and more is only crowding and cramming our lives? Once we look at what we have and truly see it, we may realize that we have enough things.
The root of our problem then becomes clear: things matter not at all. People matter. Relationships need to be deepened.
And just because you go shopping with your friends doesn’t mean that you have to buy something.
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
Kondo’s point here is very important. Our sorting and discarding is based on a positive, not a negative: what we want to keep.
Don’t look at what is leaving. That big piles that goes out with the trash or goes into a sack for donation is not giving you joy. Feel no guilt for the money spent, but do vow not to spend money needlessly. You now know your possessions; you know what you have and what you need to replace.
So many things in life don’t give joy. We need to surround ourselves with those things that “spark joy”, as Kondo says. When we look at a possession, we should smile.
Because that person who doesn’t make us smile is vastly harder to discard.
Insight 10 is not Marie Kondo But It’s the most Important
“We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have, and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, . . . we are kept in perpetual unrest: forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in, the fundamental verb, to Be: and that Being, not wanting, not having and not doing, is the essence of a spiritual life.” Evelyn Underhill
Start now discarding what doesn’t give you joy, what doesn’t help on your journey to Be the person God intended you to be.