What to Do with Unsparked Joy
I recently finished a full-fledged Marie Kondo treatment of my life. It was a deceptively intense process, one that knocked me down more than a few times. Moving through it, I felt myself molting. I re-examined my values, my beliefs, my relationships and my identity. I exposed and then shed old versions of myself. The order Marie recommends following does strengthen the muscle of identifying which of our things spark joy. And by the end, it’s abundantly clear that life is better if only those remain.
So I went for it, fully committed to parting with everything that did not produce that spark. In the few weeks since, it has been extraordinary. I love my belongings and know where everything is. I’m dressing better without the temptation of the worn out, damaged, or unflattering options available. I’m using my nice dishes, plating meals like little vignettes. And there’s profound comfort in it all having a thoughtful place. At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy, opening each drawer or closet is a thrill.
But between starting and now, there has been the tiny matter of what to do with all the non-joy-sparking things.
And there were a lot.
Once I determined what was going, the question was ‘to where?’. I could absolutely see the personal growth value in this process, but I struggled with the ethics because I’m also an environmentalist. I compost almost obsessively, rarely online shop to reduce the packaging I create, and have hoarded ripped, stained, or warped garments since college in hopes of re-fashioning them into something wearable. Ethical fashion is a core value of mine. I couldn’t bear the thought of fabric ending up in landfills.
I pondered this seeming incompatibility while I separated things into give away, resell, donate or, my most resistant pile, discard.
I kept a handful of things for friends. I decided not to let many people come over and go through everything because I know these people and they don’t need more shit. Even if it’s nice shit. Also, I wanted it to go as swiftly as possible. The substantial emotional upheaval needed to be controlled.
I meticulously separated the “for sale” items and figured out how to sell to different places. Contemporary things I thought Crossroads Trading would want dropped at their Fillmore location. Funky pieces Buffalo Exchange would want packed and shipped via UPS shipping label. Designer pieces Mercy Vintage might want brought in the upcoming weekend (last time I called I was assured they buy whenever they’re open).
Most of it, an entire Toyota truck-bed full, was donation. Anything that was in fair-to-good condition without major damage went here. Finding centers that still wanted donations was a bit of a challenge. That Kondo woman came up, with some resentment, more than once. But Salvation Army and Goodwill came through in the end. I floated out of there.
The ‘getting rid of’ process was some of the most challenging inner work I have ever done.
Determining what didn’t light me up made me realize that sitting unused forever in my closet is not much better than sitting in a landfill, so everything that didn’t fit into one of the above categories went into the garbage. I still feel weird about this but I could not find a fabric donation center in time. What else does one do with old underwear or unpaired socks? Marie says to clear the excess quickly. Don’t leave departing items to languish in trunks of cars or next to front doors. I can attest to the need for urgency once the process is underway. It just felt wrong to let things linger that are no longer wanted.
The ‘getting rid of’ process was some of the most challenging inner work I have ever done. The sheer volume is a lot to take in. Acknowledging that I had accumulated and hauled around so much stuff. Stuff that didn’t make me feel great or support me in being my best. Stuff that reinforced old patterns or kept me under the influence of old relationships. Stuff that weighed me down, dampened my spirit, kept me from growing.
Enter the irrational stress of selling the stuff. Thinking there is value for someone else only to have them swiftly rebut that notion. A large bin of things I took to Crossroads netted $7.32, barely covering the bridge toll to get there. Two bags to Buffalo Exchange earned $19.13. And probably the most heartbreaking, the two garment bags of special pieces I selected to take to the designer resale shop in Oakland gave me just over $200. All that effort and thousands of dollars worth of clothes and accessories returned less than $250, not accounting for the Lyfts, gas, or tolls required for distributing.
But in the end, I have no regrets about parting with it all. It feels amazing to be rid of what I didn’t truly love.
Actually the day I decided to take the nicest items to Mercy Vintage (via Lyft, parking is a nightmare on a Saturday and anyway I don’t have a car) was their annual sale weekend, and they told me it was one of only two days of the year they weren’t buying. I left nauseous and disoriented and sat on a bench for a few minutes, blinking in the sun. I was nearly in tears when I huffed it back in and told them I just couldn’t return this stuff to my apartment until they were buying again. If they didn’t want it, I’d donate it elsewhere. The clerk took pity on me (swayed by a Bottega Venetta handbag I plopped on the counter) and went through my items, taking a handful which resulted in the $200. I marched the rest of it down the street and added it to a pile at the American Cancer Society thrift store. I hope someone appreciates that Alexander Wang bag.
Stuff. ’Tis stressful. But in the end, I have no regrets about parting with it all. It feels amazing to be rid of what I didn’t truly love.
Two realizations came out of this process:
- Doing this thoroughly has already helped me make better buying decisions. I stressed a lot about the throwing away, but removing things from my environment that I don’t actually want inspires me to appreciate what’s under my care. It also helps prevents impulsive accumulation going forward. One big declutter now prevents tons of waste in the future. I’ve seen what can happen if I don’t pay attention.
- I will never again shop with the intent to resell items. I will only buy what I intend to fully enjoy now. Maybe KonMari enthusiasm will fade and resale shops will again buy things, lessening resentment of That Kondo Woman, but I won’t emotionally invest in re-selling my things. I don’t know why it’s so stressful but it is and it’s not worth it. If I’m done with it, it’s being thanked generously and then given away.
Marie says this process only happens once, and people don’t go back to that clutter life. I’m curious to find out if that’s the case. So far, I’m on board. When every item has its place to call home, clothes and books and jars don’t accumulate without me noticing. I can slowly introduce things knowing that if they serve to upgrade something, I can part with the old one. I can love my friends and family without keeping every record of our relationship in a box somewhere. In fact, I can love them better. I can appreciate what’s good in our connection, cherish the best memories. I have space for new experiences, allowing people to be who they are instead of who they were. I have already seen new sides of people since finishing this process.
I couldn’t be happier I went for it, despite the bumps along the way. I’m grateful to learn that I enjoy my life more without so much stuff. Marie Kondo talks about us finding the “right amount” of belongings. It’s like a sculptor whittling away the clay until the sculpture emerges. She describes how it just clicks when we find the right amount for ourselves.
The right amount of form and function, the right amount of sentimentality and forward-thinking. Freeing the dark corners, both physical and psychological, where stuff used to stockpile and be forgotten. Allowing ourselves to illuminate and expand into this new openness, grounded and evolving.
Our environments can nourish us day-in and day-out to live the lives of our purest joy. We just have to curate them to do so. This is the way.