“The fact that you possess a surplus of things that you can’t bring yourself to discard doesn’t mean you are taking good care of them. In fact, it is quite the opposite.”
I handed the trash bags of clothes over to the donation worker, a mild buzz of panic in the back of my mind. They were perfectly good, most still fit me, how could I give them away? Never mind that I always chose among a handful of other garments, leaving these ones to stagnate in the back of the drawer, or clinging to their hangers dejectedly in the closet.
As a frugal person, I thought it my responsibility to wear any usable garment until it was threadbare (even, I suppose, if it was so rarely worn that it would not visibly deteriorate for decades). But the reality is, I just don’t wear clothes that fit too tight or too baggy, or always needed to be paired with another layer for modesty’s sake, or in any way throw up all sorts of “ugh, that thing” when I see them. The truly responsible course is to make the garments available to someone who does need them, while they are in reasonably good shape and not years out of style.
So I ruthlessly went through my clothing, inspired by Marie Kondo’s book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I was grateful for her insight into why we keep what we keep:
“But when we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”
I am nostalgic by nature, and for some reason, having the moth-eaten sixteen year-old wool sweater that Dustin bought me our first year of marriage, was my tangible link to the memory; it was almost my “hold” on that time, my anchor to the past. Though it was too ratty to wear anywhere, I held on. But did I, when seeing it huddled on the shelf in my closet think “Ah, the sweetness of our newly married life!” or did I feel rather a mixture of annoyance that I hadn’t gotten rid of the very tattered sweater yet and guilt that I should even think of doing so? The latter, I’m afraid.
Fears for the future played their part as well…”But what if I need this?”. This area was a lot easier to work with. A simple “God provides” preached to my own heart put the fear in its place. Besides, if I don’t want to wear it now, why would I want to wear it later on?
Probably the goofiest, and yet incredibly effective, advice she gives is to thank your possessions before you dispose of them. That dances a bit too close to animism for my taste, but I did thank God for the items and for taking such good care of me. I handled His gifts with respect and gratitude, preparing them to bless another’s life. It was no longer a guilt-ridden process, but a joyful one; releasing gifts that had served me well to go on and serve another, rather than storing and neglecting them.
She recommends doing the whole process very quickly, but with my children to care for I am doing them at a pace that enables me to look after my family and not make everyone crazy. So far I’ve worked my way through most of my family’s clothing, and half of the kitchen. The area I am most dreading is the books! I love my books of all kinds, and I do not anticipate this being a pleasant task, but I could be surprised. Marie’s encouragements come to mind:
“I had been so focused on what to discard, on attacking the unwanted obstacles around me, that I had forgotten to cherish the things that I loved, the things I wanted to keep.”
“We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”
I have already been rewarded by my modest progress. There is deep satisfaction to pulling open my shirt drawer and seeing every one of them at a glance, folded neatly and almost filed in their vertical shapes. I know what I have, where it is, and what I need more of. For example, in my sorting I discovered that I only own five short-sleeved t-shirts. Come summertime this will not be enough, so when I find a good price on them I know just what to buy, and what I do not need as well.
As a mother of five, who is always dealing with disorder, strewn toys, and messes, it gives me a thrill of joy and a lot of peace when I come into my room at day’s end and find it less like a storage room and more like a sanctuary. My eyes can rest contentedly and not be agitated by visual reminders of work-needing-done.
I highly recommend the book, though for Christians, wade past the goofiness in order to reach the good stuff. You’ll be glad you made the effort!