I love to shop. I love the mall. I can’t help it—I’m from New Jersey, land of a thousand malls. I love shopping online, getting packages—it’s like presents in the mail, to me from me. I love coupon codes and sales and getting deals. My mom loves to shop, my sisters love to shop, my dad … wears socks that are older than I am, but also has 12 pairs of the same black, velcro sneakers.
Which is all to say, my family always had a lot of STUFF. We were constantly hauling garbage bags full of stuff to Goodwill, but with our prolific shopping (what can I say, we lived near a great mall!), there were always mounds of miscellany. I would clean my room by dumping a pile in my sister’s closet. She would clean hers by hiding stuff under my bed. The tide of the hoard ebbed and flowed, from the shores of the garage and the shoals of the basement, to under beds and high upon closet mountains.
And as the family clutter grew, we each built up our own personal hoards. Under my childhood bed I found cards and ribbons and bits of wrapping paper from my tenth birthday, secret journals with little locks and childish secrets (“I hit my sister and I’M NOT SORRY”). I’d always wished for a Bedazzler, even in college (don’t judge)—apparently I had one all along, hidden in the depths under my bed, still in it’s box.
One summer I came home from college to find a hamper full of my mom’s capri pants in my closet. She had hidden them from herself, so she wouldn’t wear them, because we’d made fun of them—too short pants + pulled up socks do not equal whole pants. Sorry, Mom!
Why didn’t she just get rid of them? Why did I keep the wrapping paper from my birthday gifts? Why doesn’t my dad throw out his old socks, full of holes? Things get imbued with a lot of meaning and sometimes we don’t know how to get rid of them.
Marie Kondo knows how. Marie Kondo wants you to throw out all your stuff. Marie Kondo wants you to live in a bare room, with only objects that make you happy. The book that explains her method of mental health through tidiness is called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and it’s sold more than two million copies worldwide.
Marie Kondo, or “KonMari,” as she is commonly known, wants you to hug those capri pants and thank them for covering (most of) your legs so you weren’t pants-less in the grocery store, and then say goodbye, because they don’t spark joy in your life.
Joy is the keyword here. Joy is the word that finally got my mom, lifelong sale-hunter and gatherer, to ditch three quarters of her stuff and move on. You see, my mom’s middle name is Joy and she’s totally obsessed with it. Before long she stopped agonizing and started getting rid of EVERYTHING, gleefully texting me photos of enormous garbage heaps on the sidewalk.
I was inspired. I read KonMari and dutifully considered whether all of my clothes spark joy in my life (and also if they still fit, which KonMari doesn’t really care about, just the joy part). I got rid off all of my CDs, the expensive towels that I hated, the throw pillows that came with my couch. Lots of STUFF.
When I stripped away all of the things I owned, but didn’t LOVE, I did feel freer. Like there was more space all around me and I could better enjoy the things I liked the most—I could notice them more. There’s also the factor of getting rid of things that give you weird feelings. You don’t have to keep anything you don’t love, even if it was expensive (but fits weird), or a gift (that’s just not your style).
I felt freer, but not totally free. Even though my apartment was organized and stripped of the non-joy giving detritus, I could still feel the weight of that lingering hoard, back in my childhood bedroom in New Jersey.
The next time I went home, I enlisted my husband and we got to work, stripping away everything. Gone was the Bedazzler, the school play programs, the old magazines, the weird clothes from Gap circa 1999. We filled bag after bag, filling my mom’s car trunk.
I saw my closet floor for the first time in years. We emptied the bookshelf, then got rid of that too. We bid adieu to my snowglobe collection, my keychain collection. My mom’s first grade class got a lot of prizes for good behavior from my childhood hoard.
The things I kept: my prom dresses, my milk mustache collection, my Beatles White Album lunch box, my fourth grade poetry collection. They may not be useful, but they bring me joy.
We cleared out that room, top to bottom, then painted it and made it over. No longer do we sleep in a dust-filled pink room, piled high with stuff, when we go visit. It’s a calming blue (literally a paint color called Zen), filled with a few objects that we love. It’s an oasis of calm in a house that’s still working on its KonMari.
One side effect of KonMari is that I’m now incredibly careful about what I buy. I can tell if I’m eventually going to KonMari something before I even buy it (or take it—free stuff = usually KonMaried). It’s saved me a lot of money, clutter, and extremely mediocre sale dresses. It felt amazing to get rid of the beige throw pillows on my beige couch and even better to replace them with cozy, bright pillows that I love. And now that I’ve whittled down my stuff and replaced some of the joyless objects with new ones I love, I’ve decided to stop shopping.
Inspired in part by Mrs. Frugalwoods and her ongoing two year new clothes ban, and my new streamlined wardrobe, c/o KonMari, I’m aiming not to buy any new clothes this year. To enjoy what I have (and love), instead of the thrill of the hunt of shiny new things and packages in the mail.
I will admit, I did just buy new sweatpants. The old ones didn’t bring me joy.