I am very bad at throwing things away. I suspect this comes from a few things; a fear that I’m going to need or want the thing one day, even if right now I don’t, or a general aversion to the idea of waste. The biggest factor though, for me, is guilt. And not in the way you’re probably thinking.
I look at the object, let’s assume it’s an old t-shirt that I haven’t worn in ages, and I know that I don’t need it. It’s not doing me any good taking up space in my drawer, it’s got moth-eaten holes all up the back, it’s time for it to go. I hold it over the bin.
I picture the shirt in the bin. I picture it amongst crumpled tissues and crisp packets. I imagine how it would feel, discarded, after years of faithful service. The shirt is re-folded, and back in the drawer, before I know it.
This is, of course, completely ridiculous. Please don’t think I’m not aware of that. I find it marginally easier to get rid of things which are going to charity shops, because I can imagine those things going on to find fulfilling new lives in homes where they are valued, but even that gives me a twinge of remorse. Like I’m sending an old dog to the shelter.
Does it make sense? Not at all. Does it lead to a truly overwhelming amount of unnecessary stuff? You better believe it!
My partner has pretty much the opposite approach to his belongings, in that he will trash without hesitation anything that he isn’t actively using or wearing. Luckily he finds my attachment to inanimate objects endearing, although he doesn’t feel that warmly towards the resulting clutter. Every so often I’ll walk into a room to find him irritably moving piles of my stuff from one surface to another, trying to create the illusion of open space in our small flat. He’ll stop guiltily, a stack of my books in one hand, an overflowing pencil case in the other, and I will promise that I’ll put it all away… somewhere… eventually. However much he loves me (and he really does, a lot) I know he found the heaps of unused notebooks and unworn shoes infuriating.
Despite my illogical dread of getting rid of things, I actually don’t like the mess either. I’m as envious of those minimalist living room pictures on Instagram as anybody. So I decided it was time to do something about it. Enter: Marie Kondo.
Yes, I know I’m late to this particular bandwagon, but I want to focus in on an aspect of her method that is often glossed over, or outright mocked, by people I’ve seen talking about it around the internet: Thanking your belongings before you get rid of them.
Just in case you aren’t familiar, Marie Kondo is a tidying guru with a step-by-step method (the KonMari method) for tidying and organising basically your whole life. Her rules have you tidy by category, starting with clothes, and you put every single thing you own in that category into a giant pile. Then you go through, taking each item and paying attention to whether it’s a thing that you love and want to keep, or something you don’t love and should be getting rid of. If it belongs in the latter category, you thank it for what it taught you and you set it aside to be binned or donated or whatever you’re doing with it next.
Partner was incredulous when he heard about that. “Doesn’t that just make you worse?” He asked, bemused. Turns out, far from making it harder for me to let things go, this was the exact change in approach that I needed. When I hold that t-shirt and thank it for all the times I wore it, how comfortable and flattering it was, I feel like I’ve acknowledged something that I would previously try to squash down. Instead of telling myself that it’s daft to view these things as having feelings, I’m honouring the fact that they’re not just scraps of meaningless materials, that they have meaning to me and it’s okay to have feelings about that meaning as I make the decision to donate or chuck something I no longer need.
However weird it sounds, so far this method has helped me get rid of easily a third of my clothes, almost 100 books, and a lot of body sprays and makeup. I haven’t caught Partner stress-tidying since I started the process, and however amusing he finds my sense of responsibility towards inanimate objects, I know he’s glad to have some clear surfaces again. So am I, as it happens! Even when I tidied up before, it largely consisted of that optimistic shifting of stuff from the middle of spaces to the edges. As if that somehow made it invisible. Now, I can see the top of my chest of drawers! The coffee table is almost entirely clear! We can eat at our table without needing half an hour’s notice in order to clear it off! I tell you, it’s a whole new world.
Thank you Marie Kondo, for saving my relationship and giving me back my bedside table.