The art of letting go

One of the great contradictions of my personality: I want to be a minimalist, but I have difficulty letting things go. I also struggle to follow through on the ever popular resolution of being more organized. Nevertheless, it’s a new year and once again I’ve committed to paring down and organizing the house. Inspired (as many of us have been based on the amount of trash I see at the curb each week) by the Marie Kondo Netflix series, Tidying Up, and a helpful guide to living with less by one of my favorite You Tubers and blogger, Pick Up Limes, I hit the ground running.

If you haven’t watched the show or read her book, Marie’s approach to taking your home from disaster area to peaceful organized bliss is to focus on one category at a time; examine each item one by one and decide if it sparks joy. Start with clothing. For some people, that is a struggle. Not me. I easily purged several bags of clothes and donated them to a local charity, and I plan to donate my formal dresses when it gets closer to prom season. I folded my t-shirts into the cute little packages as demonstrated by Marie, which I have to say does actually bring a smile to my face when I open the drawer. Even my socks got the treatment!

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I felt energized and quickly moved onto the next item: accessories. Makeup and toiletries, easy-peasy. Purses and shoes, no problem (I loathe buying them in the first place). Jewelry was a bit tougher, but I decided which pieces held special memories or that I enjoy wearing and organized them so I would actually wear them more often.

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Next stop: books. Now some of you may have seen the controversy on Twitter regarding how many books is too many books. I have always had a problem with book collecting/hoarding. My grandmother left me her collection of paperbacks and my frequent trips to used book stores/book sales, etc. have caused a bit of a build up at our house. Moving around a ton in our early years of marriage should have put a damper on my compulsion, but it didn’t. We moved far too many extremely heavy boxes full of books. Each new place I would unpack them, shelve them in alphabetical order, then stare at them and smile.

Books give me joy. There’s no doubt about it. But it is time to let some of them go because all they are doing now is collecting dust on the shelves. Most of what I currently read comes from our local library, and the majority of my purchases are to support author friends. It is time for the others to find new homes. Yesterday I started in the youngest boy’s room. His bookshelf was bursting at the seams and filthy with dust. I pulled everything off the shelves and got to work.

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Seneca supervises the sorting

I saved a few of our favorite board and picture books along with some holiday classics and everything by Roald Dahl (of course) and piled up the rest for donation. Gave the boy an opportunity to go through and re-shelve anything that had meaning to him. He pulled a handful of seemingly random books out of a pile (I promised no judgement as who are we to decide what brings joy to another person?) and returned them to the now half empty shelves. It looks wonderful. I then popped my head into oldest’s room and asked him to do the same. We’re organizing the house; I’m coming for your books, I said. Eye roll and heavy sigh.

Today, it was my turn. I looked at the built-ins in our den for a long time. Books are all over the house, but most of mine live in the den, a room that makes me anxious every time I walk into it. It’s a hot mess, a dumping ground for everyone’s junk, the place where I hide our crap when company comes over. Currently it’s home to several completed Lego sets, as hubby’s contribution to minimalism is to sell all his castle Legos. They’ve been hidden in the basement and attic since before we had kids — his hope was that they’d be worth money some day. I had no idea we had so many Lego sets. It’s slightly insane.

Back to the bookshelves. I pulled everything down and went through the books one by one. Some clearly sparked joy — for the lessons they taught me or the feelings they brought to the surface. They immediately went back on the shelf. Others have been read and re-read, annotated and loved, and I couldn’t bear to part with them. I made a special shelf for books I haven’t read but want to, and made another giant pile for donation. Our library holds book sales throughout the year, so I’m hopeful my book friends will find a good home.

I feel a little worn out today — not as energized as I’d been with clothing and accessories — and I know the hardest is still to come. This is about how far I usually get in the process before giving up. But I am desperate to be able to walk into the den and find what I’m looking for instead of having a panic attack. To go into our basement storage and not get overwhelmed with waves of nostalgia.

We can live with less. If we concentrate on what we truly need and what sparks joy as Marie says, it makes it easier to let go. But it’s truly an art form, one that I’m determined to perfect.

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