Just the other day I pulled a staple out of my sneakers. The sole had taken the abuse and had protected my feet from getting hurt. I thanked my shoes for doing such a good job and it felt odd at first. Who in the right state of mind, says THANK YOU to the shoes?
My footwear gets daily abuse. Like my bodyguards, they shield me from harm. A thank you was long overdue, yet the thought never even crossed my mind.
I told my husband about it, who, to my surprise, did not laugh it off, but listened to me when I told him about my shoes. Days later, he held his black workshoes in his hands. I saw him looking at it for a while and I wondered, is he thanking his footwear too?
What must sound like we have lost all common sense over the summer, is actually the opposite, never have I seen it clearer.
It all started so harmlessly, with a book. On my quest to find the perfect way of decluttering our home, I came across a book written by Maria Kondo, a tiny, gentle Japanese lady, who teaches us how to live with less, while sharing her grace and part of her traditions. No European or North American would ever thank their house, their car, or their shoes for doing a good job.
We buy it, we use it, we keep it, then we throw it away -sometimes we skip steps 2 and 3. We just buy, change our minds and discard them right away.
I have never thanked THINGS but I have cursed them, threatened them, have made promises. “I am going to throw you out”, “You better do your job.” I have smacked my phone, hit a receiver in an old phone booth, and I have kicked a few things too.
“Sit down on the floor and greet your house.” What a weird task.” Picture yourself in the middle of the living room, kneeling on the floor, head bowed, eyes closed, appreciating your home. Who does that?
Why don’t we? People like me who once didn’t have a home, why don’t we greet our house?
The first instinct was to laugh it off. Such a different culture than ours. Why would I want to learn about it or even practice it?
Yet, now we are decluttering our home the Japanese way and I am grateful. Never have I discovered more about my relationship with THINGS. I needed to read Maria’s book and it found me at a crucial time in my life.
I have accused my husband of being a hoarder, even though he is not. I call him a packrat, a form of endearment, actually I call him THE LEADER OF THE PACKRATS. He can’t let go of ‘stuff’ and hangs on to everything and who could blame him, just twelve years ago we lost almost all of our belongings. It has left a mark and it has changed us. I understand and let him get away with it, even help him to keep things we no longer use.
My husband is like my grandma, who rather drank out of her old, chipped coffee mug and who used the old saucer, instead of replacing them with the new ones she had waiting in her cupboard in the bedroom. That’s where she stored gifts and kept them hidden because the old things were still too good to be thrown away. So many presents were kept there for ‘later’ or were only used on special occasions. When she passed away and I cleaned out her wardrobe, I found many of my gifts that had been too good for daily use. How I wished she would have enjoyed them when she could.
I am organized, lots of our possession are in bins, boxes, and containers. I label things and store them neatly in crates and baskets. Surprisingly enough, according to the nice, gentle, and kind Japanese lady, I am an organized hoarder.
Boy that threw me off. How could I be called a hoarder? Hoarders are messy people, the ones you see on TV, living in old homes, stuff left and right, sometimes just a small walkway left to reach the other rooms. Hoarders in the making, people like my husband, who is not messy but comes up with all kinds of reasons why we can’t get rid of things. “Maybe, later on, we will need it?” No, honey, we won’t.
It’s true, I am hanging on to things as well and often act like my grandma, who had old tins filled with used rubberbands and old bread clips. “What if I will need it in the future?”, “What if there will be harder times?” The thought so many people had when they re-started their life after World War II. The thought I had when we had a home again.
I have decluttered and downsized before, but never in the way, I am doing it now.
The tiny Japanese lady has changed how I look at things.
When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order, too. As a result, you can see quite clearly what you need in life and what you don’t, and what you should and shouldn’t do. Once you have experienced what it’s like to have a truly ordered house, you’ll feel your whole world brighten. Never again will you revert to clutter. This is what I call the magic of tidying.
Marie describes her book as “a guide to acquiring the right mindset for creating order and becoming a tidy person.” (I thought I was a tidy person until I read her book). She further asserts that the only way to acquire the right mindset is to develop the “right technique” -in this case, her method, which she calls the KonMari method.
Does it spark joy?
What a silly task it seemed to be at first! What a great assignment it turned out to be.
Kondo instructs people to attend to their present moment feelings as they hold each object. Does it spark joy? Keep what sparks joy, discard the rest. Of course, there are things that have a special purpose or are only used at a special time, but all the other stuff, so much we hang on to for no particular reason.
When she ‘made’ me put all my clothes, out of all closets and drawers, on my bed, I was shocked to see how much I had. I was surprised to see so much clothing I hadn’t worn in years. Wrong sizes, up one, down two, and repeat! Why do I hang on to pats that don’t fit anymore?
I picked up each piece, and asked myself: Does it spark joy?
A lot did not spark anything, some were outdated or I tried it once or twice and it just wasn’t my style, or not comfortable enough. A lot of clothes did spark joy and I put them on a hanger, then went back into the closet. After I was done I had four large trash bags for donation.
Next stop, the knickknack, the trinkets, the collectible items, the dust collectors.
Gratitude toward things? For a while, it felt like Thanksgiving in our home in each and every room we gave thanks.
Some things had a purpose in the past, but now it was time to let go. Taking Kondo’s advice of thanking each object for the role it had in our lives, before discarding it may seem a little silly, but it works. It creates a context in which removing the object from your life is not about you expressing hatred for the object, rather it is acknowledging that it has served its purpose and we can move on. This makes it easier to fill the trash bag with entities like that dress you used to wear all the time and loved, but now has a stain on it.
Even when discarding objects it is done in a way that expresses appreciation and acceptance for all experiences the objects brought -both positive and negative.
It’s especially useful to recognize that we can needlessly hold on to things that have outlived their purpose, and it’s not hard to imagine how getting rid of them will help someone move on in some way.
Somehow I liked the idea of identifying things that have completed their role in our lives. Saying thank you and letting them go with gratefulness seemed appropriate. The letting-go part was the hardest to do, but when I started to feel thanks for the things I let go of, it got easier.
My old robe, with the broken zipper, hang behind our bathroom door for many years. How hard it had been to find one I could afford and liked -back then, you know when.
How much I admired some of them we saw, but knew they were out of our league. We really couldn’t afford a new robe for me, but right before Christmas, we found the one I had secretly hoped for at Sears in Memphis. It was still more than we wanted to spend, but I got it -a mix between present and necessity. An ankle-long, ocean-blue robe with side pockets and a front zipper closure. I wore it every day in the morning, and in the evening when I let the dogs out in the backyard. Years ago the zipper gave up, I couldn’t wear it anymore but still kept it. Why? What good does it do? I will never forget the time and cherish the memories we made and the lessons we learned, I don’t need an old robe to remind me.
When I finally put it in the trash bag I felt relief. I had quietly thanked it for doing such a good job for so many years. Many other things followed. Donation bins, trash bags full of items we don’t need anymore or have never used, like the roman clay pot I needed to have when I saw it in a resale shop. I used it once in ten years. It was a no-brainer.
My beloved books! That was another task. Focusing on choosing what we want to keep rather than what we want to get rid of it was another useful tip. Many books sparked joy, many will find new homes.
Letting go of gifts we received was complicated. Some presents we never used, but kept for sentimental reasons. We can’t let go, because somehow we feel it would hurt people’s feelings -dead or alive. Kondo recommends thanking the object for teaching you about what you like and/or for bringing you joy at the time you got it. Freeing myself from the guilt involved, and in doing so was as important to my well-being.
If we would have children we would hang on to everything, even the tiniest little scrape of paper. The poor kids would have to do the decluttering after they inherited everything we could not let go of. Well, we don’t have children, we have no excuse to hold on to things -other than being too weak to let go.
I had never considered the psychological impact too much stuff can have, but reading the book gave me the courage to unburden my space and mind, which I will always be forever grateful to have learned from Marie Kondo’s guiding voice in this book.
I didn’t follow all her advice and still folded my clothes and underwear the way I have for so many years. I felt rebellious and didn’t want to change my way. I can see why her way makes more sense and it bugs me -yet I am still rebellious!
I learned a lot, but we are still not done.
I am close to reaching the goal of going through every object in my home, workshop, garage, and storage area. There have certainly been lessons that didn’t resonate as much, but some of the anthropomorphizing of objects does resonate with me and help me keep things more methodical. When I see my shoes now out of place, left in the laundry room in a hurry, now I feel a twinge of empathy for my shoes which pushes me to place them gently in their proper location.
Everything in our house will soon have a ‘home’ a place where it belongs, so it can spark the joy it should!
What an experience that was, one that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Thank you, shoes!