No Shoes, Please: Spring cleaning

Last month, I read that because they couldn’t handle the volume of donations, charitable organizations were forced to set limits on the amount of goods people were bringing in.

This unusual surge in American household spring cleaning was attributed to organizing guru Marie Kondo, who wrote the 2014 best-seller “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing” and hosts her own Netflix series, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.”

When it first came out, I was tempted to buy Kondo’s book because I’m both tidy and Japanese. However, at the same time, I presumed I wouldn’t benefit much from it for those exact reasons, so I went without. But I did watch a couple of episodes of her Netflix show, and actually incorporated a couple of her ideas into my own household management system.

One essential component that I didn’t quite buy into was the commitment to keeping only those items that spark joy within you. I found this linchpin concept for understanding and practicing the KonMari method to be unnecessary because I personally take to decluttering like a duck to water. Throwing something in the trash, or loading my car with bags destined for Goodwill, inspires cartwheels rotating around and around in my heart and an openness in my being as expansive as the Great Plains. For me, liquidation itself is joyous.

That isn’t to say that I don’t appreciate the way Kondo embraces mindfulness, and how she chooses to define the value and meaning of possessions. Her simple equation of discarding everything that doesn’t spark joy can also serve as basic consideration of a range of human enterprise and activity: relationships, ideas, careers, choices and purchases. Does that particular person or job add joy to your life? What prevents you from discarding unhappy thoughts? Is your experience of happiness truly yours or someone else’s?

I’ve been doing a lot of spring cleaning these past weeks. Although I’m not one to accrue, I still need to re-evaluate my possessions from time to time. There are items I bought on sale and never used or wore, and other things whose purpose and/or function I no longer recognize. My favorite discovery, however, is that long-treasured something that I am now ready to release.

For example, a few years back, I decided to return letters written to me on my birthday when I was in the third grade. My mother had made cupcakes the night before, but I was ill, so my sister delivered them in my absence. My classmates, therefore, each wrote me a note, thanking me for the treats, wishing me good health and informing me about what I had missed that day in school.

When my sister came home with those letters, I felt well-liked for literally the first time in my life – something I never felt again until well into adulthood.

I kept those letters precisely because of how they made me feel when I had first received them. Nearly 50 years later, however, I decided that a better purpose was served by affording my former classmates a glimpse of their 8-year-old selves: their penmanship, their drawings, their sentiments about life in school. In a reverse KonMari method move, I distributed those long-forgotten (by the authors) artifacts, hoping to spark joy – not within me, but within them.

For the most part, I believe I was successful. But I’ll never really know. That’s fine, I don’t need to hold onto anything regarding those letters. It’s time to let go, time to move on.

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