“By handling each sentimental item and deciding what to discard, you process your past. If you just stow these things away in a drawer or cardboard box, before you realise it, your past will become a weight that holds you back and keeps you from living in the here and now.” ~ Marie Kondo
I am in the midst of preparing a move this summer with my husband Colin and our two teenaged children. For some, the idea of being in my shoes may give you a pang of anxiety. In actual fact, it is becoming strangely calming for me. Although seemingly paradoxical, I am starting to figure out why. In preparing for our move, we are decluttering, organizing and minimizing. What have left for the move are the things that really matter to us and bring us joy.
If I back up a bit, I have to provide some context around Colin, my husband of 20+ years. He has always been labeled as “OCD”, even by me admittedly, but in actual fact, he is extremely organized and a true minimalist at heart. Not to come across as ridiculously fortunate, but when he is on holidays, the first thing he does is to clean and organize the house. I know – not the first thing on my list although I am starting to see why it is the first thing he does to unwind. As Gretchen Rubin says, “outer order contributes to inner calm”.
Another point I should make about my situation is that we moved across the country 9 years ago so one could argue, and I would agree, that we are already at somewhat of a vantage point when it comes to clutter. However, the move happened within a very short time span so a lot of ‘stuff’ just got boxed up to be dealt with ‘later’.
Even day-to-day, I think we all fall prey to the notion that when we don’t know what to do with an item(s), we put into one abyss or another – my preferred ‘dump zones’ include the kitchen island, a few scattered drawers and my office shelving. Invariably, when I do sort through these areas much of it is no longer of use to me.
You may have heard of the bestselling book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering & Organizing by Marie Kondo. She is well known for the decluttering question “Does this possession spark joy?”. If not, it is time to say goodbye to it. She also describes this as a form of introspection. However, as Gretchen Rubin points out in her article 7 Reasons I Disagree with Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up”, “I don’t think I can realistically expect to have a joyful relationship with every item in my apartment. I find it exhausting even to contemplate having an emotional reaction to so many common objects.” Certainly, this is true for necessary household items.
The following are a few ways we sort through stuff, even when not moving, but moving has increased the frequency and intensity of our decluttering.
1) One room at a time – contrary to Marie Kondo, we have taken a bite-sized approach to tackling the house. The storage room alone was a long process as the keepsakes and sentimental items build up over the lifespan of raising children. Many things such as the kid’s artwork are now memorialized through pictures as opposed to continuing to hang on to the physical pieces. Of course, we have kept some of the more meaningful and joyful pieces to display.
2) Create piles, then disperse – we have a donation pile (i.e. the library, local donation facilities), a give-away pile (to people we know), a small ‘to sell’ pile and a garbage pile (unfortunately). The key is for the piles to be dispersed before they get too big or then they cause a new form of clutter.
3) Catch family members in the mood – when my daughter decides she wants to sort through her closet, I jump at the opportunity. Usually, it is prompted by our loosely-enforced mantra that something has to leave in order for something to come in. So, in order to go shopping, we need some clothing items to find a new home. Recently, I was inspired to go through my books again with a whole new realistic outlook on what I will read or need in the future. I do have some that just bring me joy to know they are on my shelf. I thought I had already sorted through my books months ago but found a whole new pile to donate to the library.
Ask yourself – what do you want to leave behind?
Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the well-known Minimalists, tells a story of when his mother died and being so overwhelmed with the amount of “stuff” to sort through in her storage boxes that he just walked away from it all. Certainly makes sense when facing a task like that based on clutter.
It really makes you think, as I have been thinking through this move process, “what do I want to leave behind?” If my loved ones had to sort through my stuff, I would want them to see the things left behind as signifying me, and in turn, have meaning to them. This alone is reason to stay lean with possessions beyond essentials so that the trail we leave behind in turn brings joy to the people left to sort through it.